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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Jennifer Rubin

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Jennifer Rubin

Last Build Date: Wed, 11 Feb 2009 00:35:42 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2009

Obama's Missed Opportunity with the Stimulus

Wed, 11 Feb 2009 00:35:42 -0600

Zogby's results were even more definitive: Amidst all the rhetoric surrounding President Barack Obama's first signature piece of legislation, a massive $800 billion economic "stimulus" bill, one thing is clear: a majority of Americans reject the President's handiwork. A just-released ATI-News/Zogby International poll shows that clear majorities of Republicans and Independents are against it. ... Overall, 53 percent of Americans agree that the Obama stimulus bill will actually hinder economic recovery; while only 31 percent disagree (16 percent are not sure). Fifty-six percent of Independent voters also agree, while only 27 percent disagree (17 percent are not sure). A staggering 88 percent of Republicans agree and just 6 percent disagree (another 6 percent are not sure). ... Fifty-seven percent of Independent voters agree that Obama's stimulus package spends too much and does little to stimulate the economy; while just 31 percent of Independents disagree (12 percent are not sure). Eighty-nine percent of Republicans also agree, while only 5 percent disagree (6 percent are not sure). The most definitive evidence that Americans are resistant to the president's effort to pump up spending and expand the size of government comes from Obama's own campaign book. He certainly didn't run on the promise to embark on a massive spending spree. To the contrary, he pledged to go line by line through the federal budget. (We're pretty certain he meant to subtract, not add, as he went along.) If anything, the "mandate" was to restrict the size of government. As for the war, the effort to establish a new Democratic majority, Obama seems to have thrown that endeavor overboard in the rush to get through his stimulus plan and placate the Democratic Congress. If the Democrats were going to occupy the center of the political spectrum and pull in all but the extreme rightwing of the GOP, you would expect not only a far different bill (one which mirrors the public's aversion to the spend-a-thon) but rhetoric which more closely tracked the New Politics and optimistic bipartisanship which were the cornerstone of Obama's campaign. Instead, the president has turned sharply partisan. He's now employing the harshest language of his brief political career. He has taken to misrepresenting the Republicans' position, as even the AP noted in his press conference Monday night: "At least three times he suggested that some unspecified number of his Republican critics want to 'do nothing' about the economic crisis. GOP leaders consistently have said they want the government to act, but they think Obama's plan is too heavy on spending and too light on tax cuts." Obama has also adopted the pretense that the Republicans lack well-grounded substantive objections to bill. They are, he says, merely peddling "failed theories." (That would presumably include Martin Feldstein, the Harvard economist who is on the president's advisory board and labeled the stimulus plan a "$800B mistake.") We are, many pundits have noted, back in "campaign mode," not presidential governing mode. Gone is the sort of inclusive, big-tent language or respectful attitude toward his foes which attracted many moderates and even Republicans to his campaign. Entirely absent is any effort to negotiate on the real substance of the bill, for example to include tax rate cuts which might draw in substantial Republican support or utilize defense spending (in lieu of domestic pork) which might allay concerns that the stimulus is nothing more than a Trojan Horse for the liberal welfare state's expansion. Instead, we have a mix of Jimmy Carter's peevishness and Bill Clinton's slipperiness. This is not the stuff of which broad-based coalitions are formed. Moreover, he is perfecting the art of scare-mongering. As Fred Barnes points out, bipartisanship has been replaced by fear as the favored technique: But if you only have three Republicans, it is not a bipartisan bill by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, when Democrats claimed that when George W. Bush got ten Republicans(ph) to v[...]

Obama Still an Enigma Days Before Inauguration

Sun, 04 Jan 2009 00:36:10 -0600

We have also learned that the media's love affair with the President-elect is largely unrequited. He dumped the transition team report regarding his staff's contacts with Blago the afternoon before a holiday, gave pabulum or non-answers at press conferences, and ditched the press pool to take his kids to an amusement park. The imbalance in his press relationship -- devotion on one side and evasion, verging on testiness, on the other -- may suggest rockier times lay ahead. President-elect Obama also demonstrated a reticence to weigh in on big and contentious issues when the end game was far from certain. He stayed away from the Georgia Senate run-off race, refused comment on the Gaza incursion, was mostly mum on the car bailout battle, and largely deferred comment on the unfilled Senate seats scattered about the country. What remains to be seen is whether this will be his presidential modus operandi -- sort of a Zen-like indifference to storms raging about him -- or whether he is just waiting to spring into action on January 20. We also confirmed, if there was any doubt remaining, that New Politics was a convenient campaign slogan and a hook for energizing the Democratic base, but not much more. The Clinton team is back in great numbers, Tom Daschle wasn't barred by whatever ironclad rule supposedly existed to bar former lobbyists from serving in high positions, and "transparency" in government doesn't extend to answering questions President-elect Obama doesn't like or revealing the interest groups which met with his transition team. This seems roughly on par with the degree of openness and interest group influence on display during the Bush administration. President-elect Obama also let it be known he's not interested in continuing the culture wars. Rick Warren got an invite to the inauguration and the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the military may get a reprieve. Gay supporters and elite columnists might not like it, but Obama made it plain that social issues are not high on his priority list, nor does he plan on doing much of anything to alienate social conservatives. In the last couple of months we also figured out that President-elect Obama has a low threshold for fools. That's bad news for Vice President-elect Biden, whose job has been downsized and now seems headed for the rubber chicken and funeral circuits. It's good news for highly-credentialed policy wonks. President-elect Obama has stocked his cabinet with brainy Ivy Leaguers and big personalities. That might not guarantee wise decisions or much input from private sector high achievers, but he has avoided placing dim-witted cronies in important positions. How this will play out once Obama is sworn is still an open question. Will he be a wishy-washy, indecisive figure like Jimmy Carter or a savvy deal-maker like LBJ? Will he be more like George W. Bush on national security than either his supporters or opponents ever imagined? Obama remains more of a mystery than most presidential victors, in part because he carefully crafted ambiguity and avoided taking tough stances during the campaign. That will certainly need to end once he is responsible for daily decisions on everything from economic recovery to the war on terror. But, if the transition is any clue, he is unlikely to be a radical, rely on underqualified yes men, spend too much time with the press, involve himself in extraneous issues, or refight divisive cultural issues. That is not a bad recipe for success.[...]

Who Will Be the Next Paul Weyrich?

Fri, 19 Dec 2008 00:34:35 -0600

There is not just an intellectual dilemma for conservatives -- which keeps pundits bickering about the meaning and direction of "conservatism" -- but a realization that the organizational and technological advantage which conservatives enjoyed for nearly a generation has been matched or exceeded by the other side. One can quibble that the liberal opposition is not an intellectually robust or coherent one, but it is a darn successful political force which has swept to coast-to-coast wins in two successive election cycles.

As for conservatives, the existing institutions don't quite seem sufficient to the task of growing the party, developing new talent, and incubating new ideas. Perhaps what is already there can be enhanced, but it may be that entirely new groups must be created to rebuild and revitalize a movement that is not just intellectually depressed but organizationally weak. So, while pundits already obsess over the next presidential nominee, a better question is: who will be the next Paul Weyrich?

The identity of the individual or individuals is not clear, but the need is apparent.

There is a gap currently on the Right. On one hand, there are familiar groups (e.g,. NRA, Right to Life) and conservative think tanks. But these don't provide the electoral machinery to groom candidates and to win elections. And their reach beyond hardcore conservatives is limited. The former have lost some of their relevance as their single-issue causes fade in importance, while the latter are not designed as political action groups.

On the political side is the creaky RNC, which is technologically bereft and nearly irrelevant as a political institution. Young techo-whizzes therefore have popped up, promising to revive the party with innovative marketing and technology. But they lack content. What do they want to organize for? What do conservatives want to social network about? It is not at all clear.

The time therefore is ripe for a new generation of conservative leaders who have the ability to organize, invigorate, and give purpose to conservatives outside the Beltway. It is not enough for conservatives to oppose cap-and-trade policies -- they need an alternative to left-leaning environmental action groups. It is not enough for pundits to bemoan the lack of Republican appeal to nonwhite voters -- they need Hispanic, African-American, and Asian-American conservatives to organize in their communities, support new candidates, and translate the conservative agenda into alternatives to the NAACP and LULAC.

The generation of Ronald Reagan, of which Weyrich was a prominent member, also carried with it a spirit and attitude which is largely absent on the Right today. They were feisty, fun, optimistic, and, yes, cool. The "establishment" was the Left while they were the counterculture, at least the political counterculture. They were not a bitter, paranoid, and angry bunch -- qualities too often in evidence today. And they were not scolds.

The Right reacted to Sarah Palin for many reasons, but in large part, I suspect it is that she was bright, cheery, and looked like she was having some fun out there. The generation of conservatives who are going to do the organizing, find the leaders, and translate think tank research into a viable political platform better be happy warriors or they will find it hard to find adherents.

So if Weyrich's passing gives conservatives time to reflect, they might recall two accomplishments of his generation. They built structures that advanced the conservative cause. And they had a good time doing it. That's an example worth following.

A Cautious Obama Picking His Fights Carefully

Sun, 07 Dec 2008 00:49:22 -0600

Next up is the auto bailout. Obama has gone from lauding the auto industry as the backbone of the American economy to cautioning that a viable plan to revive the industry and protect the taxpayers is essential. Moreover, he isn't personally on the phone twisting arms and cajoling his former Democratic allies in the Senate. It might have something to do with bailout fatigue and the latest poll showing the public is fed up with the car makers. (When the Big Three can't get the public in Michigan on their side, you know they're in trouble.) Congressional Democrats may whine that he is not more involved, but he (at least at this stage) has not shown any inclination to immerse himself in the morass of trying to cobble together conflicting interests (i.e., environmentalists and labor advocates) to construct a bailout deal which the public disdains and which likely would only be an initial down payment on the needed rescue funds. (He seems content to let Rahm Emanuel work out some interim deal.) The lesson once again: don't publicly clamor for something you can't deliver. What does this portend for the Obama administration? It would be a mistake to conclude that the president-elect doesn't have big plans. Rather, it leads one to the conclusion that he's not going to fritter away his political chits even before he is sworn in. He has huge goals, so his approach is coming into focus: be conciliatory on everything but the big ticket items he really wants. First, we see the conciliation. President-elect Obama delivered a line-up of national security nominees that didn't quite send a thrill up the leg of conservatives, but did surprise and please them. He enlisted Paul Volker, Ronald Reagan's right hand man at the Fed who beat back inflation in the 1980s, and Christina Romer, whose research on the impact of tax cuts cheered conservatives. And we saw him defang his former rivals. With Hillary Clinton's selection as secretary of state, Bill and Hillary Clinton are happy as clams. And the Clintons' supporters and former officials are filling the ranks of the new administration. Also, Obama is already backpedaling on tax increases. The windfall profit tax on oil companies came off the table. And he's making the Left nervous that he might be "buying into the right-wing frame that raising any taxes -- even those on the richest citizens and wealthiest corporations -- is bad for the economy." But before they conclude that Obama is confrontation-adverse, conservatives should be aware of what is coming down the pike: an enormous spending package dressed up as a "stimulus" and a campaign ripped from the presidential race's playbook to deliver national health care. On those items you can expect him to use the bully pulpit and his roledex, while unleashing Rahm Emanuel to round up every vote needed in Congress. There will be no half-measures on the items which are central to his re-election prospects. For if the economy does not revive and he fails to deliver on the Democrats' most cherished domestic agenda item (nationalized health care) it may be tough sledding in 2012. Aside from these big ticket items, it gets trickier. What about Big Labor's prized "card check" bill? His aide recently gave a curt sign of support for the measure which would spare Big Labor the trouble of secret ballot elections when unionizing workers. But would he really risk a battle royale -- especially without a certain 60 votes in the Senate to defeat a filibuster? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would certainly lick his chops at the prospect of defeating a measure which the public overwhelmingly opposes and which has been deemed critical to the Democrats' most important special interest group and ally. Then there are those knotty social issues. Will Obama avoid a public spat with the military and disappoint gay voters by leaving in place "don't ask, don't tell"? One report suggests he might. But then there is his promise to pass the Freedom of Choice legislation supersed[...]

VP Debate Preview: Will Biden Gaffe? Will Palin Be Set Free?

Thu, 02 Oct 2008 00:54:33 -0600

The McCain team is in need of a lift. McCain is clearly behind and could use a conversation changer and a shift of momentum which a surprising performance by Palin might provide. What could she do to turn around her own fortunes and that of her ticket? Several things would help. First, she needs to take it to her opponent on what is supposed to be Joe Biden's greatest strength: foreign policy. She's no Henry Kissinger but she can remind viewers that Biden championed the unworkable Iraq partition idea and opposed the surge. But it is in Biden's criticism of Barack Obama that she might really score points. Biden after all inveighed against Obama's vote to cut off funding for the troops in Iraq and was critical of his promise to meet unconditionally with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Between Biden and Obama they have supported just about every bad national security idea (e.g., opposition to Kyl-Lieberman, endless talks with Iran, opposition to FISA) in the last eight years. Palin can make that point. Second, she should use Biden's "higher taxes are patriotic" to do what McCain didn't do enough of in his own debate: hone in on the dangers of a tax increase during a recession and suggest that if Obama is really bent on all that domestic spending many more people than the "rich" will get a tax hike. Why, with the Fed and Treasury madly trying to pump liquidity into the private sector, would Obama suck it back out with a tax hike? It's illogical and bad economics. Third, she needs to pin the "insider" label back on the Obama-Biden ticket. There are plenty of earmarks to point to -- both by Biden and by Obama (nearly a billion in just the few years he has been there). But the real looming issue is why neither of them set about blowing the whistle on the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae fiasco in the making. It was the Obama-Biden duo and their Democratic allies who took gobs of money from Freddie and Fannie and then blocked any meaningful reform. If all else fails, Palin should give viewers directions to view this film detailing the willful indifference, and indeed obstructionism, of the Democrats. Or she can quote Bill Clinton for the proposition that the Democrats have a lot to answer for. In short, she needs to use the platform of the debate to tie the Obama-Biden ticket to their Congressional colleagues and, in turn, to the debacle of Congressional mismanagement and malfeasance. Fourth, she can talk with authority on energy policy. Why do the Democrats oppose domestic drilling and why aren't we developing resources at home rather than importing oil, which for the foreseeable future will be a vital part of our energy supply? And yes, it is probably a good idea to bring up that clean coal gaffe. And, finally, on a stylistic level Palin needs to get into the weeds and show some familiarity, not just with catchphrases, but with the particulars of McCain's own program. As for her lack of foreign policy experience, she should be frank: all she has to offer is judgment, belief in a foreign policy based on the principles enunciated by Ronald Reagan, and a determination to take whatever measures are needed to prevail in the war on terror. (She might even use her newness to the national scene to her advantage: "I'm new at this Joe but I fail to see why Osama bin Laden should be given habeas corpus rights when not even the Nazis at Nuremberg got those protections.") What about Joe Biden? Hard as it might be for him, he must know that the debate is not about him. It is about being invisible -- leaving no YouTube moment, no hint of condescension, and no whiff of obnoxious know-it-all-ism that might stir the pot. His team is ahead, and he needs to do no more than succinctly restate his running mate's position and bat away whatever incoming fire Palin sends his way. As for his own criticism of Obama -- whether on Iraq or Pakistan -- he should be modest: the voters didn't buy his criticism then and now Obama is running the show. And if he [...]

Into the Obama Tank for the Final Push

Mon, 15 Sep 2008 00:31:29 -0600

All of this follows the litany of personal attacks on Sarah Palin -- for everything from running for office while having kids to allegedly supporting Pat Buchanan (she didn't) to advocating creationism in the schools (she hasn't). Why the two-week spree of fury? Howard Kurtz declares that the media is "mad" -- mad at McCain for "manipulating them." Others bemoan that McCain has hijacked the storyline and "forced" them to talk about Obama's gaffes. Meanwhile, juicy stories that would be headlines if a Republican were involved -- the meager charitable donations by Joe Biden and a bizarrely inaccurate Obama ad asserting McCain doesn't use a computer (he does but can't type due to war injuries) -- are utterly ignored by the MSM. Rather the storyline continues unabated: those mean Republicans are lying again. But really, what's up? As a longtime prominent conservative editor says the media bias is "the worst I've ever seen." Well, the answer: it's what's down. Barack Obama's numbers -- both national polls and electoral vote tallies -- are taking a nose dive. The media is now, as is the rest of the Democratic establishment, in a frenzied meltdown. Their guy could well lose and they've staked their reputations, such as they are, on his victory. It is not hard to see why they have gone into overdrive to protect and bolster The One. This is not merely a matter of personal political preference. These journalists have a real problem: what if all those pundits and reporters actually have to cover (for four or eight years) the team they have trashed for the last year? What if the McCain people won't talk to them, if they are frozen out of the in-the-know circle of media elites? This is a real problem. But the increased venom and hyper-partisanship won't likely solve this problem. The lesson is only two weeks old but they have forgotten it already. Did vilifying Sarah Palin work? Of course not. It made her more popular and helped recruit a massive audience for her homerun speech. In the meantime it helped galvanize the GOP base which rallied to their VP nominee under siege. In the process, the media revealed themselves to be so heavily biased that even normally trusting readers and viewers have come to discount and flat-out ignore their spin. So what is everyone to do? The McCain camp likely will keep doing precisely what they are doing: run right over the media to the American people, afford Palin the opportunity to be seen and interact with as many people as possible and provide better access to her for whichever outlets can still manage to accurately convey what she says and does. Ditto for McCain. The MSM has a choice: double down and risk extinction, ridicule and potential ostracism from the McCain team or try to play it straight. The debates will be telling in this regard. You never know: they might become savvier about covering their tracks via late night alterations: the blogosphere is always watching. As for readers and viewers, they have the power of the purse and the clicker which they are increasingly exercising. Some 69% of voters think the media is rooting for a candidate - one presumes that they are already discounting the sycophantic coverage of Obama. But that still leaves Barack Obama trailing in the polls. You see, the MSM's act (i.e. ridiculous hit pieces on McCain coupled with glowing, defenses of Obama and non-reputing of stories adverse to Obama) is played out on its own stage. Ultimately he is on his own. No amount of Chris Matthews's commentary is likely to convince Americans that Sarah Palin is a rube. No matter how many "Cindy McCain took drugs" stories above the fold, Americans still are inclined to evaluate the character and record of John McCain on its merits. In the end the voters, and not the media, will elect a Presidential ticket. If they fail in their mission to revive the candidacy of their favorite son, the major newspapers and television networ[...]

The Top Ten Ways Sarah Palin Has Shaken Up the Race

Mon, 08 Sep 2008 00:31:23 -0600

First, the Republican base is now energized and enthusiastic like never before in this race. If the Obama team was betting on a "turnout race" and a depressed conservative turnout, they may need to reconsider. She offers the potential to galvanize conservatives to a greater extent than anyone thought possible. Second, Palin offers some geographic appeal and help in key swing states. If her appearance in Michigan on Friday is any clue, she may be a powerful weapon with blue collar voters there and in Ohio and Pennsylvania, the latter being places where Obama ran so poorly in the Democratic primary. And Palin may also give her ticket heft in the west. She and McCain now present a pro-gun, pro-property rights, pro-drilling duo of westerners in contrast to the urban duo of Obama-Biden. I don't imagine the Democrats will even try the ritual hunting expedition which has become a mainstay in presidential races. (Better not to compete against a gal who slays moose.) Third, Palin has helped revived McCain's maverick, outside the Beltway message. Get ready to hear more about her record of taking on GOP corruption and her disdain for the old boy network. McCain's acceptance speech promising to shake up Washington seemed newly credible with the addition of a VP who defeated an incumbent Republican governor hip-deep in cronyism. Fourth, there are likely to be more attacks from the McCain camp on Obama's own history of accommodation with the Daley machine in Chicago. As detailed in David Freddoso's new book The Case Against Barack Obama, Obama's own record is not one of reform but of complicity in old style Chicago politics. With the appearance of someone who really did take on machine politics, we may see some contrast ads and maybe even some new inquiry from mainstream media outlets. Fifth, the Hillary Clinton problem is back -- big time -- or rather, the problem with her disaffected voters. Hardcore pro-choice Democrats may not be tempted by the McCain-Palin ticket, but many apolitical women and female Reagan Democrats may be. By overlooking Clinton, Obama now faces new queries as to why the GOP was the one to break that much talked about glass ceiling. Even if a minority of the 18 million Hillary voters cross over to vote McCain-Palin, that would pose a significant problem for the Democrats who must do exceptionally well with women voters to make up for their historic difficulty with male voters. Sixth, for the first time in presidential politics Palin has engaged the community of families with special needs children. In her acceptance speech she declared: To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters. I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House. The exact number of voters who have special needs children is hard to come by, but could well be in seven figures. Moreover, the ability to champion a nonpartisan issue like this heightens the broader McCain theme of reaching across-the aisle and finding common ground to serve voters. Seventh, Palin will help McCain keep the energy issue front and center and pound home the message that the GOP is in favor of an all-out, multi-front effort to develop domestic sources of energy including oil and natural gas. She is an expert on the issue and can talk from experience about the desirability and environmental soundness of domestic oil and gas production. As the one who forced oil companies to renegotiate a pipeline deal in Alaska, she will be hard to pigeon-hole as the tool of Big Oil. Eighth, she has dealt a blow, a big blow, to the credibility of the MSM. We witnessed a MSM feeding frenzy (ranging from spurious allegations about her support for Pat Buchanan to suggestions she was neglecting her family) the likes of which we haven't seen in a[...]