Monday, November 30, 2009

Switzerland and the Minaret

Sunday's vote keeps European heads in the sand about Muslim immigrants.

Nearly 58% of Swiss voters Sunday cast their ballots in favor of banning the construction of new minarets in the Alpine republic, a surprise result that led at least one Swiss member of parliament to declare that "the foundations of Switzerland's direct democracy have failed."
That is clearly wrong. Swiss direct democracy shows its mettle when Swiss voters use it to stand up to their political elites, as happened here. Having said that, Sunday's vote, for all the hand-wringing leading up to it, was a decidedly mild-mannered sort of protest. The construction of new minarets is banned, but the building of mosques is unaffected, and the vote does not affect the four existing minarets in the country. Nobody's freedom of worship is threatened, but a symbolic message has been sent.
But what message, exactly? The vote betrays an undercurrent of fear among the Swiss—a fear that is not without cause. There is no denying the connection between radical imams and terrorist acts. Nor should anyone look away from the fact that too many European Muslims flatly reject the norms of their host countries, sometimes in ways that are criminal: honor killings, child brides and the like.
Yet banning minarets does nothing to address that fear. It merely makes it less likely that the average Swiss will be confronted by a visible symbol of Islam upon his skyline. Thus, even as a symbolic gesture, it seems to encourage a head-in-the-sand approach toward the 5% of Swiss who are Muslim. In much of Europe, this is the norm anyway, the result of political correctness and cowardice.
Rather than being a blow against that attitude, Sunday's vote seems only to reinforce it. Banning minarets won't do anything to assimilate Switzerland's or Europe's Muslims, or to ensure that economic opportunity is available to everyone of whatever creed, or to deal with Western Europe's demographic problem of too few newborns.
The ban, in other words, does too much and too little at once. Too much because it becomes a very visible and easily exploited symbol of supposed European intolerance. But it accomplishes too little because it seeks merely to hide from view the problems that gave rise to the fear of the minaret in the first place.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Voter Anger Is Building Over Deficits

The generic poll shows a 16-point swing to the GOP over last year.

After engineering an unprecedented spending surge for nearly a year, President Barack Obama now wants to signal that he takes deficits seriously. So this week the White House announced that it is considering creating a commission to figure how to fix the budget mess.
Well, almost. What seems to concern the president is not the problem runaway spending poses for taxpayers and the economy. Rather, what bothers him is the political problem it poses for Democrats.
Last year, Mr. Obama made fiscal restraint a constant theme of his presidential campaign. "Washington will have to tighten its belt and put off spending," he said back then, while pledging to "go through the federal budget, line by line, ending programs that we don't need." Voters found this fiscal conservatism reassuring.
However, since taking office Mr. Obama pushed through a $787 billion stimulus, a $33 billion expansion of the child health program known as S-chip, a $410 billion omnibus appropriations spending bill, and an $80 billion car company bailout. He also pushed a $821 billion cap-and-trade bill through the House and is now urging Congress to pass a nearly $1 trillion health-care bill.
An honest appraisal of the nation's finances would recommend dropping both of these last two priorities. But the administration has long planned to run up the federal credit card. In February, Mr. Obama's budget plan for the next decade projected that revenues would equal about 18% of GDP while spending would jump to 24% of GDP, up from its post World War II average of 21%. Annual deficits of about 6% of GDP were projected for years to come.
Getty Images 
When Mr. Obama was sworn into office the federal deficit for this year stood at $422 billion. At the end of October, it stood at $1.42 trillion. The total national debt also soared to $7.5 trillion at the end of last month, up from $6.3 trillion shortly after Inauguration Day.
This spending has been matched by a decline in the president's poll numbers. This week, Gallup found that his job approval rating slipped below 50%. Last March, Americans approved of Mr. Obama's handling of the deficit by a 52% to 43% margin in the ABC News/Washington Post poll. By October, his standing had flipped in the same poll, with 45% approving and 51% disapproving.

About Karl Rove

Karl Rove served as Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush from 2000–2007 and Deputy Chief of Staff from 2004–2007. At the White House he oversaw the Offices of Strategic Initiatives, Political Affairs, Public Liaison, and Intergovernmental Affairs and was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, coordinating the White House policy making process.
Before Karl became known as "The Architect" of President Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns, he was president of Karl Rove + Company, an Austin-based public affairs firm that worked for Republican candidates, nonpartisan causes, and nonprofit groups. His clients included over 75 Republican U.S. Senate, Congressional and gubernatorial candidates in 24 states, as well as the Moderate Party of Sweden.
Karl writes a weekly op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, is a Newsweek columnist and is now writing a book to be published by Simon Schuster. Email the author at or visit him on the web at
Or, you can send him a Tweet@karlrove.
Anger over deficits was picked up in a late October NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which asked voters if they'd rather boost "the economy even though it may mean larger budget deficits" or keep the "budget deficit down, even though it may mean it will take longer for the economy to recover." Only 31% chose boosting the economy; 62% wanted to keep the deficit down.
These numbers suggest trouble for Democrats. In 1994, a wave of budget concerns (among other factors) handed Republicans control of Congress. Just before Election Day that year, 33% of voters approved and 59% disapproved of President Bill Clinton's handling of the deficit.
Today the latest Quinnipiac Poll tells us that only 19% of voters believe that Mr. Obama's health-care reform won't add to the deficit. The rest of us have reason to be skeptical. The bill includes all sorts of budget gimmicks, two of which illustrate that there is no fiscal restraint in it. One calls for steep cuts in Medicare and the other imposes a 40% excise tax on private, gold-plated health plans. It's just not plausible that this Congress will actually cut Medicare or tax health plans the unions have spent decades creating.
The administration says it is now instructing agencies to either freeze spending or propose 5% cuts in their budgets for next year. This won't add up to much unless agencies use the budgets they had before the stimulus inflated their spending as their baseline in calculating their cuts.
For example, if the Education Department uses its current stimulus-inflated budget of $141 billion instead of the $60 billion budget it had before Mr. Obama moved into the White House, freezing its budget will do nothing to fix the fiscal mess the president has created.
Ominously for Democrats, concerns over spending have recently helped to flip the Gallup generic ballot to now favor Republicans by four points (48% to 44%). Last year, Democrats held a 12-point generic ballot advantage. The change has been driven by independents, who now favor Republicans by 22 points. By comparison, in the run-up to the 1994 congressional elections, Republicans first eclipsed Democrats in March of that year, when they gained a one-point advantage, before falling behind Democrats until the fall.
Mr. Obama's spending choices are dragging congressional Democrats into ugly electoral territory where many are likely to meet a brutal fate next fall.
Mr. Rove, the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, is the author of the forthcoming book "Courage and Consequence" (Threshold Editions).


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

N.E. governors’ races give GOP a chance to build on gains

By Sasha Issenberg 

CEDAR CREEK, Texas - Invigorated by state house victories earlier this month in Virginia and New Jersey, Republicans are turning their attention to governorships in New England, where they believe the retirement of four incumbents and a competitive race in Massachusetts has created wide-open opportunities.
Even though the GOP is a weak presence in the region’s national politics - no Republican congressmen and only three GOP senators represent New England in Washington - its leaders said at a national meeting last week in Texas that they are preparing a well-funded effort to contest a crowded slate of governors’ races in 2010.
All New England chief executive jobs will be on the ballot next year. In Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, Republican governors will be leaving office, as will Democrat John Baldacci of Maine. Only in New Hampshire, where Democrat John Lynch has yet to draw a serious Republican challenger, does an incumbent appear cer tain to stay on next November.
The competition to fill the open posts - and to unseat Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick - has energized Republicans who see new promise running as an out-of-power party at a moment of voter anxiety.
“We’re talking about jobs and solutions, and seeing the results from Virginia and New Jersey proves it works,’’ said Matt Jacobson, the president of Maine & Company, a business group, and one of 22 announced candidates for the state’s governorship.
A political newcomer, Jacobson attended a “candidate school’’ sponsored by the Republican Governor’s Association this summer. There, he refined basic skills like how to be a more confident fund-raiser.
Last week, at a hotel outside Austin, Texas, where the RGA was meeting, Jacobson said he was excited to learn from governors-elect Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie, whose campaigns in Virginia and New Jersey, respectively, have made them role models for class of 2010 recruits.
“They talked about issues and solutions,’’ said Jacobson. “This wasn’t a beauty pageant. This was about a clash of ideas.’’
Republicans nationwide have credited the RGA and its chairman, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, for playing a key role in this fall’s victories, through its advertising efforts and direct contributions to candidates. The group said this week that it already had more money on hand, about $25 million, for the 2010 cycle than it spent in 2006.
Barbour exudes confidence: “We can win anywhere, we really can,’’ he said.
Next year’s elections, however, will test the RGA’s reach: 37 governorships will be decided, 21 of them open.
Recruiting experienced candidates in New England has been a recurring challenge, party officials acknowledge, given the party’s inability recently to compete with Democrats in state-legislative or selectman elections.
While Republicans have struggled to enlist strong candidates in Connecticut and Rhode Island, they are confident they have the strongest possible standard-bearers in Vermont and Massachusetts, where health-industry executive Charlie Baker, who did not attend the RGA meeting, is challenging Patrick. Baker is a fiscal conservative who supports gay marriage and abortion rights, and he has selected an openly gay state senator, Richard Tisei, as his running mate.
In Maine, Republicans have drawn a broad field, including 2006 state Senate candidate Peter Mills and ski mogul (and former Red Sox part owner) Les Otten.
Talk of “problem-solving’’ and “real-world solutions’’ are common platitudes at gatherings of governors, who fancy themselves pragmatic managers undistracted by Washington’s ideological struggles. But candidates nurtured by the RGA are getting a focused tutorial on how to be a Republican on turf typically won by Democrats in national elections.
“Stay focused on those bread-and-butter issues including jobs,’’ said Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, the RGA’s vice chair, explaining the strategy. “In Minnesota, we get asked about how to advance the social issues, and I have views on that, as does most of my party, but we try to also present it in a way that is thoughtful, civil, respectful, and the tone of it isn’t harsh and judgmental and condemning.’’
New England’s current Republican governors have already mastered the practice of finding useful distance from their parties to sustain local support. Vermont Governor Jim Douglas, who is retiring, has been a supporter of President Obama’s stimulus. Rhode Island’s outgoing Republican governor, Donald Carcieri, said last week he might support domestic partnerships for gays.
“I think it’s like the Avis Rent a Car thing: you’ve got to work harder,’’ Vermont Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie, who is running to succeed Douglas, said of being a New England Republican. “I’m not running for Congress, I’m not running for Senate, but I’m running for governor of Vermont, and I’ll work with any administration.’’
Republican strategists suggested their gubernatorial candidates were able this year to carry two states won by Barack Obama not so much by moving to the center, as by banishing disputes on social issues from the conversation. That approach, they said, allowed them to assemble the type of broad, center-right coalitions that have recently eluded congressional Republicans but offer the only formula for the party to prevail in New England.
“You had very conservative, prolife Republicans voting for a prochoice candidate (Christie) and moderate, prochoice Republicans voting for Bob McDonnell,’’ said Barbour. “This election stood for the proposition that Republicans will stick together when they’ve got quality candidates, whether they’re moderate candidates or conservative.’’
Democrats are drawing up strategies to tap into voter discontent. In both Connecticut and Rhode Island, Republicans have controlled governorships for nearly 15 years, offering Democrats an advantage in a year when voters are expected to express their antipathy toward incumbents, said Democratic Governors Association executive director Nathan Daschle.
“One thing about governor’s races that’s different from the House and the Senate is they’re tough to nationalize,’’ said Daschle. “What happens in these races doesn’t have anything to do with President Obama or what’s going on in Congress.’’

Democrats at risk in 2010 shift from offense to defense

WASHINGTON — It's been more than a year since he was first elected to Congress, but for Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick, the race never really ended.
The first-term Idahoan still updates his campaign website. He travels back to his district every weekend to shake hands. And he has pulled in $1 million in political donations — an average of $3,000 a day — for his re-election campaign.
"I didn't make my first fundraising call until the Monday after the election," quips Minnick, a 67-year-old former businessman. "I took the balance of the week and the weekend off."
Faced with a down economy, high unemployment and polarizing decisions on health care and energy, Minnick and dozens of other vulnerable Democrats in Congress are juggling votes in Washington with a campaign that's in full swing a year before the 2010 elections.
The stakes are high not only for the lawmakers whose jobs are on the line, but for President Obama.
At this point, non-partisan political experts such as Charlie Cook don't expect a repeat of the 1994 "Republican revolution," when the GOP seized control of Congress after a Democratic president failed to revamp health care. But they do project losses that could complicate Obama's agenda.
The Democratic shift from offense to defense is partly a product of history: After World War II, the party of a first-term president has lost an average of 16 congressional seats in midterm elections, says Cook, editor of the non-partisan Cook Political Report. And 2010, he says, is shaping up as even more challenging for the Democrats.
"We know winter's coming," Cook says. "Some of these new plants aren't going to survive."
Democrats added 66 members to their House and Senate majorities in the past two elections by winning traditionally Republican seats. Forty-nine Democrats represent districts carried by Republican presidential candidate John McCain in 2008.
Republican wins in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races this month demonstrated that independent voters who have fueled past Democratic success in those districts are willing to elect GOP candidates as well. A November Gallup Poll showed voters favored Republican congressional candidates over Democrats, 48% to 44%.

Four years ago, before Democrats swept into office, a Gallup Poll found that 50% of voters favored Democrats compared with 43% for Republicans.
The dynamic already is affecting policy on Capitol Hill, where Democratic leaders have struggled to pass controversial legislation despite wider majorities than two years ago. Democrats representing conservative districts forced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California to include stronger abortion restrictions in the $1.1 trillion health care bill that the House narrowly approved Nov. 7.
Minnick, whose district supported McCain, voted against his party 60% of the time during his first six months in office, a Congressional Quarterly analysis shows. He opposed the health care bill, the $787 billion economic stimulus and a global-warming bill — all of which have been cast by Republican leadership as budget-busters or harmful to the economy.
Yet one of his GOP opponents predicts Minnick's voting record won't protect him in 2010.
"The people in Idaho are upset with the current direction the nation is going," says Vaughn Ward, 40, an Iraq war veteran. "They hold all Democrats responsible."
Tides, tables turn
Less than a year ago, Republicans were sulking.
Driven by President Bush's low approval rating and the Iraq war, Democrats took control of Congress in 2006. Two years later, the party won the White House and built a 60-vote majority in the Senate — enough to overturn filibusters if all Democrats and two independents vote together. In the House, Democrats secured nearly three in five seats.
As Democrats won, the GOP wrestled with how to fuse conservative values with the need to attract independent voters. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll in June found that 52% of people couldn't come up with a name when asked to specify "the main person" who spoke for Republicans.
"After the last election, the one word I would have used would be 'despondent,' " says Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Then in August, voters who were angry over the cost of the president's stimulus and the scope of his health care plan turned out to confront lawmakers at town-hall-style meetings across the nation.
Despite signs of economic progress, unemployment continued to rise — creating a talking point Republicans rarely fail to sound. "The American people are looking at what's going on in Washington and are saying we see a lot more government but a lot fewer jobs," says Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
As momentum started to build, star Republican candidates began jumping into races. A widely well-regarded state attorney general, Kelly Ayotte, launched a campaign for New Hampshire's open Senate seat. In Delaware, Rep. Mike Castle, a popular nine-term congressman, announced he would seek the Senate seat left vacant by Vice President Biden.
Now, even some veteran Democrats are in tough re-election battles. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has raised $17 million since 2005, but his approval rating at home has slipped. An October poll by the Las VegasReview-Journal found that half of voters had an unfavorable view of Reid, a senator since 1987.
"We're rebuilding," Cornyn said. "It's amazing how much a difference 10 months can make."
Not all smooth sailing for GOP
With the election almost a year away, there are warning signs for Republicans, too.
The GOP lost a House seat in Upstate New York this month after national Republican leaders and conservative groups rejected the party's nominee and backed a third-party conservative candidate. The district had been represented by Republicans for more than a century.
Similar internal ideological fights are shaping up in Republican primaries across the USA, including in Florida's Senate race. There, Republican Gov. Charlie Crist faces a challenge from the more conservative Marco Rubio. Crist is taking flak from the right wing of the GOP for supporting Obama's economic stimulus plan.
Though they've gained ground in public opinion polls, it's not as if Republican lawmakers are popular. A Gallup Poll last month showed that 37% of respondents trusted Republicans in Congress on health care. Almost five in 10 trusted Democrats.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, acknowledges that next year will bring a "very tough and competitive election" for Democrats. He also says Republicans are running without a clear platform of ideas.
"The public doesn't really see the Republicans as providing any answers," he says. "If you're a Republican, you've a got a hard message to say, 'Let's do what we were doing before the Democrats took over.' "
Cook says that's one reason Republicans are not likely to repeat the 1994 takeover, when they used their "Contract with America" to propose specific ideas.
"The Republican brand is still badly damaged," Cook says. "We think this is going to be a really rough election for Democrats, but it may not be nearly as bad as it could be."
Overall, the playing field in the Senate is more even than in the House. Out of 37 races, Cook rates six Democratic and four Republican seats as tossups. All four Republican tossup seats are being left open by retiring senators.
In Missouri, Republican Sen. Kit Bond is retiring after 22 years. Seven-term Republican Rep. Roy Blunt, 59, who is running for Bond's seat, is telling voters that Democrats shouldn't have a lock on Washington: "The whole issue of checks and balances in the federal government will be important in this race."
Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, a member of the state's most prominent Democratic political family, is pitching a message of change — similar to the one Obama used last year.
"Special interests have a stranglehold on Washington and we've got to break that stranglehold," says Carnahan, 48. "We know that change doesn't happen in one election."
A Public Policy Polling survey last week showed the two in a dead heat.
One deciding factor in close races will be whether young and black voters who were inspired by Obama in 2008 will turn out to the polls again next year even though he's not on the ballot, says Nathan Gonzales, political editor at the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report.
A key issue, Gonzales says, will be the economy. If it improves, so do Democrats' chances of success, he says. If it stagnates, and Republicans can paint the costly stimulus as a failure, Democrats will be in trouble.
"Right now, it's too early to know which side will benefit," he says, but "the economy is going to be a key factor to all the races."
Economic rebound, GOP turf battles could help level playing field
The stakes are high not only for the lawmakers whose jobs are on the line, but for President Obama.
Where Dems could pick up House seats
Republican seats considered by the non-partisan Cook Political Report to be the most vulnerable:
Tossups (3)
State District Incumbent
Illinois 10th Rep. Mark Kirk{+1}
Louisiana 2nd Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao
Pennsylvania 6th Rep. Jim Gerlach{+1}
Leaning Democratic (1)
State District Incumbent
Delaware At large Rep. Michael Castle{+1}
Where GOP could pick up House seats
Democratic seats considered by the non-partisan Cook Political Report to be the most vulnerable:
Tossups (14)
State District Incumbent
Alabama 2nd Rep. Bobby Bright
Arkansas 2nd Rep. Vic Snyder
Colorado 4th Rep. Betsy Markey
Florida 8th Rep. Alan Grayson
Idaho 1st Rep. Walt Minnick
Kansas 3rd Rep. Dennis Moore{+1}
Maryland 1st Rep. Frank Kratovil
Mississippi 1st Rep. Travis Childers
New Hampshire 2nd Rep. Paul Hodes{+1}
New Mexico 2nd Rep. Harry Teague
Ohio 1st Rep. Steve Driehaus
Ohio 15th Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy
Pennsylvania 7th Rep. Joe Sestak{+1}
Virginia 5th Rep. Thomas Perriello
Leaning Republican (1)
State District Incumbent
Louisiana 3rd Rep. Charlie Melancon{+1}
1 — Not running for re-election
Sources: The Cook Political Report; House Press Gallery

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Carter Ricochet Effect

Jimmy Carter's presidency offers a lesson in how the purest intentions can lead to the most disastrous results.

An idealistic president takes office promising an era of American moral renewal at home and abroad. The effort includes a focus on diplomacy and peace-making, an aversion to the use of force, the selling out of old allies. The result is that within a couple of years the U.S. is more suspected, detested and enfeebled than ever.
No, we're not talking about Barack Obama. But since the current administration took office offering roughly the same prescriptions as Jimmy Carter did, it's worth recalling how that worked out.
How it worked out became inescapably apparent 30 years ago this month. On Nov. 20, 1979, Sunni religious fanatics led by a dark-eyed charismatic Saudi named Juhayman bin Seif al Uteybi seized Mecca's Grand Mosque, Islam's holiest site. After a two week siege distinguished mainly by its incompetence, Saudi forces were able to recapture the mosque at a cost of several hundred lives.
By any objective account—the very best of which was offered by Wall Street Journal reporter Yaroslav Trofimov in his 2007 book "The Siege of Mecca"—the battle at the Grand Mosque was a purely Sunni affair pitting a fundamentalist Islamic regime against ultra-fundamentalist renegades. Yet throughout the Muslim world, the Carter administration was viewed as the main culprit. U.S. diplomatic missions in Bangladesh, India, Turkey and Libya were assaulted; in Pakistan, the embassy was burned to the ground. How could that happen to a country whose president was so intent on making his policies as inoffensive as possible?
Getty Images
Happy days no more: Jimmy Carter and the Shah of Iran.

The answer was, precisely, that Mr. Carter had set out to make America as inoffensive as possible. Two weeks before Juhayman seized the Grand Mosque, Iranian radicals seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking 66 Americans hostage. They did so after Mr. Carter had refused to bail out the Shah, as the Eisenhower administration had in 1953, and after Andrew Young, Mr. Carter's U.N. ambassador, had described the Ayatollah Khomeini as "somewhat of a saint."
They also did so after Mr. Carter had scored his one diplomatic coup by brokering a peace deal between Egypt and Israel. Today, the consensus view of the Obama administration is that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would ease tensions throughout the region. But worthy though it was in its own right, peace between Egypt and Israel was also a fillip for Sunni and Shiite radicals alike from Tehran to Damascus to Beirut to Gaza. Whatever else the Middle East has been since the signing of the Camp David Accords, it has not been a more peaceful place.
Nor has it been any less inclined to hate the U.S., no matter whether the president is a peace-loving Democrat or a war-mongering Republican. "Everywhere, there was the same explanation," Mr. Trofimov writes in his account of the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. "American institutions, declared a student leader in Lahore, had to be burned down because 'the Holy Kaaba had been occupied by Americans and the Jews.'"
On the other hand, among Muslims inclined to favor the U.S., the Carter administration's instincts for knee-jerk conciliation and panicky withdrawals only had the effect of alienating them from their ostensible protector. Coming as it did so soon after Khomeini's rise to power and the revolutionary fervors which it unleashed, the siege of Mecca carried the real risk of undermining pro-American regimes throughout the region. Yet American embassies were repeatedly instructed not to use their Marines to defend against intruders, as well as to pull their personnel from the country.
"The move didn't go unnoticed among Muslim radicals," notes Mr. Trofimov. "A chain of events unleashed by the takeover in Mecca had put America on the run from the lands of Islam. America's foes drew a conclusion that Osama bin Laden would often repeat: when hit hard, America flees, 'dragging its tail in failure, defeat, and ruin, caring for nothing.'" It is no accident, too, that the Soviet Union chose to invade Afghanistan the following month, as it observed a vacillating president who would not defend what previously were thought to be inviolable U.S. strategic interests.
Today, President Obama likes to bemoan the "mess" he inherited overseas, the finger pointed squarely at President Bush. But the real mess he inherited comes straight out of 1979, the serial debacles of which define American challenges in the Middle East just as surely as the triumphs of 1989 define our opportunities in Europe. True, the furies that were unleashed that year in Mecca, Tehran and elsewhere in the Muslim world were not of America's making. But absence of guilt is no excuse for innocence of policy.
Pretty soon, Mr. Obama will have his own Meccas and Tehrans to deal with, perhaps in Jerusalem and Cairo. He would do well to cast a backward glance at the tenure of his fellow Nobel peace laureate, as an object lesson in how even the purest of motives can lead to the most disastrous results.
Write to


Are Democrats exiting the sinking ship?

By: Michael Barone
Senior Political Analyst
11/23/09 11:39 AM EST

Comes the news that Democratic Congressman Dennis Moore of the 3rd district of Kansas is not running for reelection. Interesting. Congressman Moore was reelected by a 56%-40% margin in 2008, and Barack Obama carried his district 51%-48%, while losing the other three congressional districts in Kansas.
There could be many plausible reasons for Moore to retire from Congress. He turns 65 in 2010 and at the end of his term will have served 12 years in Congress. He served 12 years as Johnson County District Attorney in 1976-88, and so he’s devoted more than half his working lifetime to public service. Serving in Congress means having to go back and forth between your district and Washington all the time (and a quick look at a travel website shows only two flights per day between Reagan National and Kansas City International), constantly being reachable by your constituents, etc., etc.
All that said, this still seems an ominous sign for congressional Democrats. Moore was first elected in 1998 when he beat one-term incumbent Vince Snowbarger. Moore profited from a bitter split in the Republican party between hard-line opponents of abortion (including Snowbarger) and moderates based in Johnson County. That split persisted for a decade; the current governor of Kansas, Mark Parkinson, is a longtime moderate Republican and sometime state legislator who was chosen as a ticket-mate by Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius and who succeeded her when she resigned to become Health and Human Services Secretary; Parkinson has said he will not run for a full term in 2010.
Moore’s moderate mien and voting record, his history of winning votes in Johnson County and internecine Republican fighting enabled him to win reelection five times. He won 65%-34% in 2006, his best showing, and against challenger Nick Jordan, a moderate touted by national Republicans, he won by the very solid margin of 56%-40%. Moore was undoubtedly helped by the Obama candidacy in 2008 in the three distinct parts of the district.
●In Wyandotte County, which includes Kansas City, Kansas, with its black community; turnout was up 7% (despite zero population growth) between 2004 and 2008 and Obama carried the county 70%-29%, with a 23,000-vote margin.
●Historically Republican Johnson County, containing many of the affluent suburbs of metro Kansas City, is now the largest and highest-voting county in Kansas. Turnout in 2008 was up 10% from 2004. In that year Johnson County voted 61%-38% for George W. Bush; in 2008 it voted only 54%-45% for John McCain. The Republican margin was cut from 60,000 to 25,000—barely enough to offset the Obama margin in much smaller Wyandotte County. Johnson County has had robust population growth (8% in 2004-08) and turnout seems likely to be robust in this affluent area in 2010.
●The 3rd district also includes part of Douglas County, including most of the old New England Yankee-established town of Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas. Historically Douglas County was Republican and in presidential elections from 1920 to 1988 voted Democratic only once, in 1964. But starting in 1992 it has voted Democratic in every presidential election. Kansas was not a target state, so we can assume that the Obama campaign did not spend lavishly on organization here; even so, turnout was up 7% countywide in 2008 over 2004, and the Democratic margin increased from 57%-41% to 64%-34%. In popular votes the margin doubled from 8,000 votes to 16,000 votes.
That’s how the three parts of the district voted in 2008. Now look at the prospects for each of them in 2010 from Dennis Moore’s point of view, keeping in mind current public opinion polling and the results in the actual elections held in 2009. In Wyandotte County, black turnout is likely to be sharply down from 2008, when Americans elected our first African-American president.  Moore’s vote for House Democrats’ cap-and-trade bill could be a liability if Republicans can convince lower-income voters that it means higher utility rates for them. In Johnson County, opposition to the big government programs of the Obama administration and congressional Democratic leaders is likely to produce sharply increased Republican percentages and could produce robust offyear turnout.  Moore’s vote for the House Democrats’ health care bill is likely to be a political liability here. In Douglas County, turnout among students and college town denizens is likely to be off, particularly among those voters who hoped that Obama’s installation would produce a speedy end to American involvement in Iraq. Meanwhile, it seems unlikely that Kansas Republicans will be riven by the abortion war that raged between 1998 and 2006, as economic issues have overwhelmed cultural issues in voters’ minds.
In other words, 2010 undoubtedly looks like an uphill race for Dennis Moore. By announcing his retirement, he is free to vote for House Democratic leaders’ unpopular legislation without political repercussion and is spared the trouble of extensive campaigning. That’s fine for him. But if other Democratic incumbents in marginal districts—and, remember, the 3rd district voted for Obama—choose to follow Moore’s course, that could make it much harder to Democrats to maintain a big majority in the House and could make it easier for Republicans to gain most or all of the 41 seats they need to win a majority there.

Forecast for Dem primaries: Ugly

Sen. Arlen Specter answers a question.
The most closely watched Senate primary is in Pennsylvania, where Sen. Arlen Specter (above) and Rep. Joe Sestak are slugging it out in unusually personal terms. Photo: AP

Republicans aren’t the only ones staring at the unnerving prospect of a 2010 primary season filled with smash-mouth intraparty contests that threaten to distract the party and leave Senate nominees bloodied and cash-depleted.

In a handful of next year’s most competitive Senate races — and for a few of the Democratic Party’s most precariously perched incumbents — discordant Democratic primaries are already taking shape, complicating a midterm election landscape in which the party will be playing defense for the first time in four years.

In some cases, the Democrat-on-Democrat fights are simply about ambition. In others, ideology is at the heart of the conflict. The common denominator is that the intraparty battles stand to divert critical resources and divide the party at an especially inopportune time.

“There are a couple of big [states] that should concern them,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “It may not tear the national party apart, but does it tear the party apart in some states?”

The most closely watched Senate primary is in Pennsylvania, where Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Joe Sestak are slugging it out in unusually personal terms.

Specter has cast Sestak as ineffective and opportunistic, attacking him for his failure to register to vote in Pennsylvania until shortly before launching his 2006 congressional campaign and labeling the two-term congressman as “No Show Joe” — a reference to the House votes Sestak has missed while pursuing the Senate nomination.

Not to be outdone, Sestak has assailed the party-switching incumbent’s character, referring to Specter as a “flight risk” for Democrats and reminding the party rank and file of Specter’s decades-long career as a Republican. Last month, Sestak launched a website dedicated to “The Real Arlen Specter,” featuring quotes Specter would rather forget and past tributes to the five-term incumbent from a cast of GOP heavies including President George W. Bush, Sen. Rick Santorum, Vice President Dick Cheney and Bush adviser Karl Rove.

While Democrats are buoyed by polling that suggests either candidate would run competitively against presumptive Republican nominee Pat Toomey, Republicans are nevertheless enjoying the show, applauding Sestak’s attacks on Specter’s left flank in the hopes that both will be drawn further leftward in the battle to win over the Democratic base of activists.

“It’s going to be beyond ugly,” said Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin and Marshall College poll, speaking to the tone of the May primary. “I think it’s going to be at a level that’s virtually unprecedented.”

In that sense, Pennsylvania’s vitriolic Democratic contest resembles the one in Kentucky, where Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo and state Attorney General Jack Conway have been at each other’s throats for months.

In just the past week alone, Mongiardo accused Conway of selling out coal-dependent Kentucky by investing millions of dollars in a Texas energy company “that favors natural gas over developing Kentucky coal” and for failing to disclose his purchases of stock in the firm.

Conway has called the charges “flat-out false” and responded by accusing Mongiardo of having his own natural gas investments. Last week, Conway put out a news release asking, “If Steve Beshear Can’t Trust Dan Mongiardo, Why Should Kentucky Voters?” — a riff on Mongiardo’s well-known tension with the state’s Democratic governor.

Conway has also questioned the lieutenant governor’s ethics, tagging his foe “Double-Dip Dan.”

“Is Dr. Dan hiding his income, cheating on his taxes, overbilling the Kentucky Medicaid Program, lying on his federal and state disclosures or all of the above?” reads another press release, referring to Mongiardo’s medical practice.

“The fight’s gotten pretty nasty,” said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. “They’re getting pretty nasty pretty early.”

While contested primaries can sometimes prove beneficial, enabling candidates to hone their message and retail politicking skills, the risk in both Pennsylvania and Kentucky is obvious: The eventual nominees might be too damaged to overcome the expected stiff GOP opposition, and the candidates themselves might find their cash reserves drained and in urgent need of replenishment.

And there is another potential drawback, as well: The primaries could generate plenty of fodder for the other side to use in the fall.
“At this rate,” Cross said of the Kentucky Democratic Senate contest, “they’re going to be building up an ammunition magazine for the Republicans.”

The Democratic Senate primary in Illinois — largely quiet until recently — might be the next flash point, another example of Democrats field-testing attacks on each other that will most likely prove useful for the GOP.

There, the campaign of former Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman charges that state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias’s baggage from his career as a banker makes him unelectable, an argument that is likely to be revisited in some form by the GOP if Giannoulias, currently the front-runner in the polls, ends up as the nominee.

In a memo leaked to news organizations this week, a Hoffman pollster called Giannoulias’s perceived vulnerabilities “damning” and argued that Giannoulias “would put Barack Obama’s former Senate seat in extreme jeopardy for the Democrats.”

In Illinois, the Senate primary will take place in February, leaving plenty of time for the party and the eventual nominee to regain their balance. But in a place like Colorado, where a Senate primary between appointed Sen. Michael Bennet and former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff is only beginning to heat up, a bruising contest carries far more risk — not only are voters unfamiliar with Bennet but the August primary leaves little time for the party to unite before Election Day.

The late primary is “always an extra challenge for anyone who comes out of these things,” noted Floyd Ciruli, an independent Denver-based pollster.

While acknowledging that a handful of Senate primaries have been or are shaping up to be costly and contentious, Democrats argue that there are far less tough primaries on their side than on the Republican side. Equally important, they note, the Democratic contests generally aren’t rooted in ideological disputes.

“They are political contests for people who want jobs and are less ideological sessions,” noted Saul Shorr, a veteran Democratic pollster. “Clearly, in the Republican Party, there is an argument about what they are.”

“We have a few primaries, but they pale in comparison to their 12 bloodletting, ideological, anti-establishment battles that are not only indicative of profound party schisms but could also dramatically impact their party’s ability to win these seats in November,” said Eric Schultz, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Asked if the DSCC would spend money for its preferred primary contenders this cycle, Schultz responded: “We absolutely have [invested in primaries] in the past and may this cycle, as well.”

Some in the party privately worry that it might come to that in several states, including one that isn’t even on the radar at the moment. In what was widely perceived as a warning shot to Sen. Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat facing a difficult 2010 reelection, the progressive group announced earlier this month that it has raised $3.5 million to fund a primary to any Senate Democrat who votes against the health care bill.

There happens to be a possible candidate who might find the offer tempting in the event Lincoln casts a “no” vote: Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who is thought by some to be mulling over a primary challenge to Lincoln and who is currently positioning himself as a champion of health care reform. On Wednesday evening, Halter appeared on MSNBC’s “Countdown” to promote a free medical clinic being held in Little Rock this weekend.

“One question is whether she will get primaried if she votes against this,” said one senior Democratic strategist. “Will MoveOn find $6 million to get the lieutenant governor of Arkansas to run?”

Asked if MoveOn’s threat was a problem for the party, the strategist responded: “[Expletive] yes.”

Be a part of the daily political debate with PROJECT POLITICO powered by YouTube. Click here to submit your video now and be featured on

Pressure From the Right: GOP Candidates Bet On Obama Fatigue

John McCain rails against a bipartisan global warming bill two years after sponsoring one himself? He says he's "dear friends" with Sarah Palin and enjoyed her book? The one that trashes his 2008 presidential campaign? Strange, I thought. Then I saw a poll that showed the sometime maverick-moderate vulnerable to a primary challenge next year from the right.

The Republican primary process has triggered an epidemic of identity crises among prominent and promising Republicans. Between Sarah Palin, tea parties, and the Club For Growth, there are Senate candidates scurrying rightward on everything from taxes and health care to energy, national security, labor issues, and President Obama's stimulus package.

Conservative groups and celebrities already are looking at a short-term win, since the primary victors will either be people they endorsed or people they've helped push to the right. The longer term is more questionable. It's certainly possible that joblessness and Obama fatigue will be so widespread that conservative candidates will go on to win a year from now. But it's equally possible that they'll find themselves out of step with public views, fighting off flip-flop allegations, or both.
Get the new
PD toolbar!

Parties tend to go through pendulum swings of practicality vs. ideology. As a political reporter back in 1992, I'll never forget the many New Hampshire Democrats who told me their hearts were with Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, the most liberal candidate in the primary race, but they were going instead with a centrist Southern governor named Bill Clinton. It had been 12 years since a Democratic president and all they could think about was winning.

A recent CNN poll backs up my sense that it's too soon for Republicans, less than a year out of the White House, to feel that pragmatic or desperate. The poll found that 51 percent of Republicans prefer candidates who agree with them on issues, versus 43 percent who prefer candidates who could beat the Democrat. Meanwhile, fresh off eight years of George W. Bush, Democrats were far more interested in winning, 58 to 38 percent.

Pressure from the right has already defined a Senate race in Pennsylvania, where the anti-tax Club For Growth has endorsed its former president -- former congressman Pat Toomey. That put such a scare into moderate Sen. Arlen Specter that he became a Democrat rather than face Toomey in a primary. Pennsylvania turned out conservative Rick Santorum three years ago in favor of Democrat Bob Casey and last year went for Obama by 10 points. While Specter won five terms as a moderate Republican, Toomey could prove too conservative for the state.

National recruiters were thrilled that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a popular moderate, agreed to run for the Senate. But the Club for Growth and political action committees such as the Senate Conservatives Fund have endorsed conservative former state House speaker Marco Rubio and gone on offense against Crist. The governor is no longer pushing a cap-and-trade system to limit carbon emissions, or hosting global warming summits in Florida. He hosted two but canceled a third last summer.

Crist is also disavowing his literal and political embrace of Obama and his recovery plan last winter when the national economy was on the brink of collapse. He told Rolling Stone last spring that he "absolutely" would have supported that plan if he were a senator. But this month he told CNN that "I didn't endorse it. I didn't even have a vote on the darn thing."

So far the Club For Growth's formal endorsements in Senate races are limited to Florida and Pennsylvania, while Palin has weighed in for Texas Gov. Rick Perry in his re-election fight against moderate GOP senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. But the indirect impact of conservative pressure is much broader, affecting Senate races in places like Connecticut, Illinois, Arizona, Kentucky, New Hampshire, and Delaware. GOP hopefuls are mostly toeing the line, even if it means doing 180-degree turnarounds.

Club president Chris Chocola told me that his group exists to convert candidates to its way of thinking. "I don't think it's problematic at all" that some candidates are changing their minds, he said. "It's a good thing. It's positive. If we're influencing their view on the issues, then we feel like we're doing our job." If some or even all of those people lose, Chocola doesn't plan to be a scapegoat. "There are always people that want to blame us for less than ideal outcomes, but we don't worry about that," he said.

For those of us who closely covered Democrat John Kerry's 2004 campaign for president, it's hard to view flip-flops as a minor issue or a positive for a candidate. In that race it was a hammer that Republicans used to pound Kerry and paint him as untrustworthy.

Mark Mellman, Kerry's pollster that year, doesn't think Republicans will get a pass. If the one-time moderates manage to prevail, he told me, '"They're going to have huge problems because they flip-flopped for crass political purposes and because they're flip-flopping to positions that are going to be unpopular. They are going to end up with both a substance problem and a character problem." The consistent conservatives such as Toomey and Rubio wouldn't have the character problem, he said. They'd just have "a serious substance problem."

YouTube is a trove of entries in the Republican purity sweepstakes. One particularly awkward clip shows Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk saying he voted for a House climate-change bill last June because "it was in the narrow interests of my congressional district" to do so. As a senator, the GOP Senate hopeful said through boos at a September rally, "I will vote no on the bill coming up."

It's unclear how Kirk would do that, since he wouldn't be in the Senate when it plans to take up the bill in spring. Nor is it clear that the bill has "largely died" in the Senate, as he asserts. Furthermore, a bipartisan compromise emerging in the Senate likely will include new nuclear plants and offshore drilling, two steps Kirk told his audience are necessary. Never mind all that. Conservatives have branded the bill "cap-and-tax" because of its cap-and-trade system of curbing emissions -- and once supportive GOP candidates now are fleeing from it.

McCain is one of them. He talks of cap-and-tax and calls current bipartisan efforts by his Senate friends "horrendous." But he can be found on YouTube in his former life as a three-time lead co-sponsor of similar bipartisan energy and climate bills. We may be handing young people "a very damaged planet," McCain said in New Hampshire in summer 2007. "We have to move forward with green technology. We have to have this cap-and-trade system where if somebody reduces greenhouse gases, they earn a credit and they can sell it to somebody else ... It's not as though it's something that's going to be terrible for the American people, although we may have to make some sacrifices."

McCain is feeling squeezed from the right in Arizona. Conservative talk-show host J.D. Hayworth, a former congressman, is in a statistical tie with the most recent GOP presidential nominee -- and hasn't even decided whether to run. Rob Simmons, a former Connecticut congressman running for Senate, is also moving right, reversing past support for cap-and-trade and legislation making it easier to form unions. Centrist Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware voted against health reform under pressure from his party. Now he's trailing Attorney General Beau Biden in the 2010 Senate race.

Obama won Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Florida last year, and might have won Arizona had favorite son McCain not been at the top of the Republican ticket. These are not states dominated by ideologically conservative voters. So Republican primary candidates and voters are placing a bet here. They're betting that jobs will continue to vanish, the deficit will continue to rise, health reform will continue to be unpopular, and Obama's approval rating will continue to erode. They are positioning themselves for the post-Obama era, betting that majorities will be ready to see it end less than two years after it began.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Palinophobes Hate First, Ask Questions Later

By Jonah Goldberg

Slate magazine is just one of the countless media outlets convulsing with St. Vitus' Dance over that demonic succubus Sarah Palin. In its reader forum, The Fray, one supposed Palinophobe took dead aim at the former Alaska governor's writing chops, excerpting the following sentence from her book:

"The apartment was small, with slanting floors and irregular heat and a buzzer downstairs that didn't work, so that visitors had to call ahead from a pay phone at the corner gas station, where a black Doberman the size of a wolf paced through the night in vigilant patrol, its jaws clamped around an empty beer bottle."

Other readers pounced like wolf-sized Dobermans on an intruder. One guffawed, "That sentence by Sarah Palin could be entered into the annual Bulwer-Lytton bad writing contest. It could have a chance at winning a (sic) honorable mention, at any rate."

But soon, the original contributor confessed: "I probably should have mentioned that the sentence quoted above was not written by Sarah Palin. It's taken from the first paragraph of ‘Dreams From My Father,' written by Barack Obama."

The ruse should have been allowed to fester longer, but the point was made nonetheless: Some people hate Palin first and ask questions later.

My all-time favorite response to John McCain's selection of Palin as his running mate was from Wendy Doniger, a feminist professor of religion at the University of Chicago. Professor Doniger wrote of the exceedingly feminine "hockey mom" with five children: "Her greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman."

The best part about that sentence: Doniger uses the pronoun "her" - twice.

Just this week, a liberal blogger at The Atlantic who has dedicated an unhealthy amount of his life to proving a one-man birther conspiracy theory about Palin's youngest child (it's both too slanderous and too deranged to detail here) shut down his blog to cope with the epochal, existential crisis that Palin's book presents to all humankind. The un-self-consciously parodic announcement seemed more appropriate for a BBC warning that the German blitz was about to begin, God Help Us All.

Indeed, some of us will always be sympathetic to Mrs. Palin if for nothing else than her enemies. The bile she extracts from her critics is almost like a dye marker, illuminating deep pockets of asininity that heretofore were either unnoticed or underappreciated.

In fairness, just as there are people who hate Palin for the effrontery she shows in daring to draw breath at all, there are those who love her with a devotion better suited for a religious icon.

I hear from both camps, often. And while I don't think both sides are equally wrong (after all, the acolytes of the Doniger school openly reject reality more than any so-called creationist), I don't think either position is laudable or sufficient.

Sarah Palin is neither savior (that job has been taken by the current president, or didn't you know?) nor is she satanic. She is a politician, a species of human like the rest of us.

I'm fairly certain that if you read many of her public-policy positions but concealed her byline, many of her worst enemies would say "that sounds about right," and some of her biggest fans would say "that sounds crazy." But most people would say that her views are perfectly within the mainstream of American politics. She may be more religious than coastal elites in the lower 48, but that is something some bigots need to get over, anyway.

I'm happy about the books she's selling thanks to the controversy over her, but that doesn't mean I think these controversies are justified. Palin holds no public office and, as of yet, is not running for one. But the Associated Press assigned eleven reporters to "fact-check" her book, while doing nothing like that to fact-check then-candidate Obama's or current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's no doubt riveting book.

As it stands, my sense is that Palin is good for the Republican party but not necessarily great. She generates enthusiasm among, and donations from, the base. But she also turns off many of the people the GOP needs to persuade and attract. That could change with this book tour, and I hope it does. Whether she's ready or qualified for the presidency is another matter. But the presidency is a long way off, and besides, that's what primaries are for.

Time To Clean House

Dealing with ethics problems will be a tough task for House Democrats in 2010.

by Charlie Cook

Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009

As House Democrats try to avert political disaster by limiting their 2010 losses to about 16 seats, the norm for post-World War II presidents' first midterm elections, dealing with their members' ethics problems may be one of their toughest tasks.

With health care reform off their plate for now, House Democrats are showing that they understand the tightrope they must walk -- address unemployment without exacerbating worries about the size of government and the federal deficit. Meanwhile, though, the ethical clouds over House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.; Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee; and several other members of that subcommittee bring back memories of the House Bank and Post Office scandal, which in 1994 helped end 40 years of Democratic rule in the House, and the scandals involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Republican Reps. Bob Ney of Ohio, Tom DeLay of Texas, and Mark Foley of Florida that helped topple the GOP majority in 2006. Independent voters, who swung toward Democrats by an 18-point margin in 2006 and cost Republicans their majority, are particularly sensitive to ethics charges. They will be watching to see whether Democrats clean their own House.

Although a grand jury is unlikely to indict Rangel, he has become a huge embarrassment for Democrats.

The Defense Appropriations Subcommittee smells like a cesspool, one that is threatening to foul the entire Democratic Congress. Several subcommittee members look as if they have been engaging in "pay to play," with campaign contributions being accepted in exchange for earmarks and with government spending decisions linked to jobs or consulting deals for relatives and former staffers. Democrats not on that smarmy subcommittee will likely suffer if they fail to clean the mess up.

Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., is honest as the day is long, but he is incapable of controlling Murtha. Only Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., can rein the Pennsylvanian in. Because Murtha was one of Pelosi's most important supporters as she climbed the leadership ladder, she finds it difficult to turn her back on him. Yet allowing Murtha to keep his subcommittee chairmanship jeopardizes the seats of other Democrats and possibly her speakership.

Although a grand jury is unlikely to indict Rangel, he has become a huge embarrassment for Democrats. If he chaired anything other than the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, his failure to report all his income to the IRS might be less of a problem for his party. Rangel's leadership role is a Democratic headache that's apparently not going away, given the outrage that members of the influential Congressional Black Caucus expressed over early efforts to strip one of their own, William Jefferson, of his Ways and Means seat after $90,000 was found in his freezer. Imagine the Black Caucus's reaction if Pelosi moved against Rangel.

Complicating the Rangel situation is that Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., is next in line in seniority on Ways and Means. He is erratic, controversial, and widely viewed as incapable of being an effective chairman. In some ways, Stark is Rangel's insurance policy.

What many House Democrats would clearly prefer is for Murtha and Rangel to announce that they won't seek re-election, thus avoiding the bloodletting that trying to oust them would cause. The filing deadline for Rangel's seat is July 15. For Murtha's it is March 9.

The leadership can deal with the Ways and Means succession problem after the election. Assuming they keep control of the House, Democrats could turn Ways and Means over to one of the four members immediately behind Stark in seniority -- Sander Levin, D-Mich.; Jim McDermott, D-Wash.; John Lewis, D-Ga.; or Richard Neal, D-Mass.

So the question is whether the Democratic leadership feels it should risk taking no action against Rangel and Murtha; should try to take away their gavels; or should give them a hearty thank-you for their long years of service -- a thank-you accompanied by a big push toward retirement. If Rangel and Murtha signal that they are headed for the exit, they might make themselves less appetizing targets for ambitious prosecutors seeking to nail a politician's scalp to the door.

House Democrats need Speaker Pelosi to lead gently, or not so gently, by moving Rangel and Murtha in the direction that would benefit the overall Democratic Caucus. She is unlikely to act without considerable pressure from caucus members. As the election gets closer and anxiety gets higher, that pressure will probably mount. Otherwise, Democrats will just have to take their chances with Rangel and Murtha onboard and hope for results different from 1994 and 2006.

GOP Governors Emphasize Results Over Rhetoric

By Mike Memoli
CEDAR CREEK, Texas -- As Barack Obama began crafting his administration last year, the term "competence over ideology" was often used to describe the incoming president's approach. Fast forward past another election: as the top Democrat's job approval rating dipped below 50 percent and his signature first-year initiatives face increasing doubts, a bullish group of Republican governors emphasized results over rhetoric as they predicted continued success in 2010.
In Washington, Republicans have been branded as the party of no for achieving near-constant unanimity on major votes on stimulus and health care. Gov. Haley Barbour, chair of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), called that an inevitable consequence of both diminished numbers and simple procedural roadblocks. But because of that Beltway reality, victories in the gubernatorial arena are a needed sign of life for the party, he said.

Receive news alerts

[+] More
"In states where there are Republican governors, people can see if conservative and Republican ideas, when actually implemented, work," Barbour, a two-term Mississippi governor, said at the RGA's conference here this week.
As the focus turns to the midterm races for Congress and state offices, the RGA event was designed not just as a warning to Democrats, but as a guide for the rest of the GOP. One clear message seemed to be that as an ideological schism felled the party in a Congressional race, Republicans won key gubernatorial tests by focusing relentlessly on the top concern of voters.
"Every moderate Republican in Virginia voted for Bob McDonnell even though he was a conservative. Every conservative Republican in New Jersey voted for Chris Christie even though he was clearly the moderate candidate," Barbour said. "Folks should campaign on the right things - it helps keep the base together, and also wins a majority of the independents in both of these cases."
"Focusing on bread and butter issues and having not just rhetoric, but ideas and solutions ... I think is a big part of the equation in places like Minnesota and Vermont, all across this great country," Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota said. Borrowing again from an Obama campaign theme, he added: "If you're positive and optimistic and hopeful and civil, you're reaching out even if people don't agree -- those are some of the ingredients that you see are common to candidates being successful."
The governors here did not shy from a policy fight, with most of the attending governors joining together to make a forceful case against proposed health care legislation in Congress. In doing so, however, they were careful not to deny the necessity for changes in the system, and offered ideas that they said would be met with bipartisan agreement. Some of the rhetoric was more politically charged from some on the dais, but the general message was that the party welcomed a respectful contest in the issues.
"People want our presidents to succeed. They want our country to succeed," Barbour said. "So in my opinion it doesn't serve any purpose to be critical of the president personally." That sentiment showed in some of the governors' rhetoric - criticizing Democratic Congressional leaders by name but speaking generally of "the administration" and not Obama individually.
Looking ahead, Barbour told a larger gathering at the conference that 2010 is "going to be a good year for us." Comparing it to 1994, when he chaired the RNC, Barbour said: "This feels better this early," in part because of the increasingly unpopular policies at the federal level.
Those federal issues will "really matter in these governors races," RGA executive director Nick Ayers said. The lesson of 2009 was not that the mood of the electorate is anti-incumbent, but anti-spending and anti-government overreaching. That's more cause for concern on the part of Democrats looking to hold on to their majority of governorships -- of nine Democrats seeking re-election in 2010, "seven of them at this point have Corzine-like numbers and have Corzine-like governing problems," Ayers said.
Nathan Daschle, Ayers' counterpart at the Democratic Governors Association, countered that a number of Republican-held seats are in the same jeopardy because of their own challenges. New state-by-state unemployment data shows at least a half dozen states with Republican governors had higher unemployment rates than New Jersey's, which means "that both parties are going to have to carry the same burden next year."
"The RGA didn't have to put up any of their incumbents in '09, which was a huge boost for them. But next year they do," Daschle said. "And some of them are very vulnerable."
Among them were Republican governors not in attendance: Nevada's Jim Gibbons. Other GOP held seats in California, Connecticut and Florida are in jeopardy as well, with the declining fortunes of the retiring governors tied in part to the economy as well.
Daschle also said that Republicans need to nationalize gubernatorial contests to "cover up deep divisions" that have poured into state races as well - affecting candidate recruitment in Colorado recently, for instance. There is even a tough GOP race shaping up involving the host governor, Rick Perry. These factors lead Daschle to make what may be an optimistic assessment of the role federal issues may have.
"In 2010 voters will have other candidates on the ballot to make a statement about on national issues," Daschle said, referring to House and Senate contests that will also be on the ballot next fall.
Even if the specific federal issues themselves aren't on the ballot, a broader concern over the size of government that may translate at the state level. One governor far away from Washington offered an example of how that message would play in his race.
"Clearly the federal government is taking away our freedoms and our opportunities for a strong-growing economy," Alaska's Sean Parnell said in an interview. "We're fighting them off every day that I'm governor."
Mike Memoli covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Why We're Not 'Post-Racial'

Jesse Jackson versus Artur Davis.

When Alabama Congressman Artur Davis voted against the health-care bill that passed the House earlier this month, he probably expected some grief from fellow Democrats. But he couldn't have anticipated being accused of selling out his race.
Mr. Davis was the only black Member to oppose the legislation, and his vote earned him a rebuke from Jesse Jackson at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation reception Wednesday night. "We even have blacks voting against the health-care bill," said Mr. Jackson. "You can't vote against health care and call yourself a black man."
Mr. Davis is running for governor in a state that John McCain won last year, and his vote was surely influenced by the reality that Alabamans aren't the biggest fans of ObamaCare. The Congressmen, to his credit, took the high ground in response to Mr. Jackson's low blow. "One of the reasons that I like and admire Rev. Jesse Jackson is that 21 years ago he inspired the idea that a black politician would not be judged simply as a black leader," he said in a statement referencing Mr. Jackson's 1988 Presidential bid. "The best way to honor Rev. Jackson's legacy is to decline to engage in an argument with him that begins and ends with race."
Liberals insist that America still isn't "post-racial," notwithstanding the election of President Obama. But when a politician's skin color is gratuitously invoked in a debate about whether the government should have more control of health care, you have to wonder if the political left has any serious interest in a color-blind society. Former President Jimmy Carter suggests that whites who oppose the President's policies are racists; Mr. Jackson says blacks who oppose them are betraying their race.
Even in the age of a black President, too many liberals still believe they have more to gain from identity politics than from a post-racial America.