Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Message of Massachusetts

A crisis is a terrible thing to exploit.

Whether or not Republican Scott Brown wins today in Massachusetts, the special Senate election has already shaken up American politics. The close race to replace Ted Kennedy, liberalism's patron saint, shows that voters are rebelling even in the bluest of states against the last year's unbridled pursuit of partisan liberal governance.
Tomorrow marks the anniversary of President Obama's Inaugural, and it's worth recalling the extraordinary political opportunity he had a year ago. An anxious country was looking for leadership amid a recession, and Democrats had huge majorities and faced a dispirited, unpopular GOP. With monetary policy stimulus already flowing, Democrats were poised to get the political credit for the inevitable economic recovery.
Twelve months later, Mr. Obama's approval rating has fallen further and faster than any recent President's, Congress is despised, the public mood has shifted sharply to the right on the role of government, and a Republican could pick up a Senate seat in a state with no GOP Members of Congress and that Mr. Obama carried by 26 points.
What explains this precipitous political fall? Democrats and their media allies attribute it to GOP obstructionism, though Republicans lack the votes to stop anything by themselves. Or they blame their own Blue Dogs, who haven't stopped or even significantly modified any legislation of consequence.
Or they blame an economic agenda that wasn't populist or liberal enough because it didn't nationalize banks and spend even more on "stimulus." It takes a special kind of delusion to believe, amid a popular revolt against too much government spending and debt, that another $1 trillion would have made all the difference. But that's the latest left-wing theme.
The real message of Massachusetts is that Democrats have committed the classic political mistake of ideological overreach. Mr. Obama won the White House in part on his personal style and cool confidence amid a recession and an unpopular war. Yet liberals in Congress interpreted their victory as a mandate to repeal more or less the entire post-1980 policy era and to fulfill, at last, their dream of turning the U.S. into a cradle-to-grave entitlement state.
We had been encouraged a year ago by Mr. Obama's selection of Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff because we thought he would have learned from the Clinton failure of 1993-1994 and knew enough to stand up to the Congressional left. How wrong we were. Mr. Emanuel and his boss have instead deferred to Congress's liberal barons on every major domestic policy.
All images: Associated Press
Barney Frank; Ed Markey

These committee chairmen are all creatures of the Great Society and what was called the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s. They have spent their lives in government and know almost nothing about the private sector or how to grow an economy. They view the Reagan era as an historical aberration, and they have stayed in Washington for decades precisely in wait of this moment to realize 40-years of pent-up policy ambition. They believe this is their 1965, or 1933.
While Mr. Obama campaigned as a young postpartisan Democrat who wanted a new era of comity in Washington, his victory has instead empowered these ancient left-wing warriors. These are the men who have run Washington this past year, and they are Mr. Obama's de facto cabinet. The nearby photos show some of the most powerful, clockwise from the top right:
[1obama] Associated Press
George Miller; David Obey
• Ed Markey of Massachusetts, first elected in 1976, helped to ram the cap-and-tax bill through the House and has pushed relentlessly for the EPA to declare carbon a pollutant under the Clean Air Act that didn't mention carbon.
• Wisconsin's David Obey, elected in 1969, is the House Appropriations chairman who steered the $787 billion stimulus to focus on Medicaid expansion and other transfer payments that have done nothing for economic growth.
• Henry Waxman, first elected in the Watergate class of 1974, deposed John Dingell in 2008 as too moderate to run the Energy and Commerce Committee. The Hollywood liberal is co-author of the cap-and-tax vote that will cost numerous Blue Dogs their seats.
[1obama] Associated Press
Pete Stark; Henry Waxman
• Pete Stark, class of 1972, runs the health subcommittee on Ways and Means and has written most of the House health reform that has forced moderates to walk the plank on the "public option."
• George Miller, class of 1974 and chief enforcer for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has pushed to nationalize the college student loan market. Like Mr. Stark, he's from California.
• Barney Frank of Massachusetts, class of 1980 and chief protector of Fannie Mae, wrote the financial reform that would make too-big-to-fail the law for the largest banks. He has also pushed the mortgage foreclosure programs that have extended the housing recession by preventing home prices from finding a bottom.
It is the combination of all of these and other policies that has ignited the political revolt we are now seeing in Massachusetts, and first saw last November in Virginia and New Jersey. Had Democrats modified their agenda to nurture a fragile economy and financial system, they could now claim their policies worked and build on them later.
Instead, their frenetic agenda has frightened voters and businesses about the vast expansion of government power and enormous tax increases to come. The resulting uncertainty and the anticipation of higher costs for labor, taxes and energy have undermined what ought to be a more robust pace of job creation and overall recovery.
The lesson of Mr. Obama's lost first year is that an economic crisis is a terrible thing to exploit. As they have each time in the last 40 years that they have had total control of Washington, Democrats are proving again that America can't be successfully governed from the left. If that is the lesson Mr. Obama learns from Massachusetts, he might still salvage his Presidency.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Martha Coakley's Convictions

The role played by the U.S. Senate candidate in a notorious sex case raises questions about her judgment.

The story of the Amiraults of Massachusetts, and of the prosecution that had turned the lives of this thriving American family to dust, was well known to the world by the year 2001. It was well known, especially, to District Attorney Martha Coakley, who had by then arrived to take a final, conspicuous, role in a case so notorious as to assure that the Amiraults' name would be known around the globe.
The Amiraults were a busy, confident trio, grateful in the way of people who have found success after a life of hardship. Violet had reared her son Gerald and daughter Cheryl with help from welfare, and then set out to educate herself. The result was the triumph of her life—the Fells Acres school—whose every detail Violet scrutinized relentlessly. Not for nothing was the pre-school deemed by far the best in the area, with a long waiting list for admission.
All of it would end in 1984, with accusations of sexual assault and an ever-growing list of parents signing their children on to the case. Newspaper and television reports blared a sensational story about a female school principal, in her 60s, who had daily terrorized and sexually assaulted the pupils in her care, using sharp objects as her weapon. So too had Violet's daughter Cheryl, a 28-year old teacher at the school.
But from the beginning, prosecutors cast Gerald as chief predator—his gender qualifying him, in their view, as the best choice for the role. It was that role, the man in the family, that would determine his sentence, his treatment, and, to the end, his prosecution-inspired image as a pervert too dangerous to go free.
The accusations against the Amiraults might well rank as the most astounding ever to be credited in an American courtroom, but for the fact that roughly the same charges were brought by eager prosecutors chasing a similar headline—making cases all across the country in the 1980s. Those which the Amiraults' prosecutors brought had nevertheless, unforgettable features: so much testimony, so madly preposterous, and so solemnly put forth by the state. The testimony had been extracted from children, cajoled and led by tireless interrogators.
Associated Press
Martha Coakley, attorney general of Massachusetts, at a campaign stop, Jan. 13.

Gerald, it was alleged, had plunged a wide-blade butcher knife into the rectum of a 4-year-old boy, which he then had trouble removing. When a teacher in the school saw him in action with the knife, she asked him what he was doing, and then told him not to do it again, a child said. On this testimony, Gerald was convicted of a rape which had, miraculously, left no mark or other injury. Violet had tied a boy to a tree in front of the school one bright afternoon, in full view of everyone, and had assaulted him anally with a stick, and then with "a magic wand." She would be convicted of these charges. Cheryl had cut the leg off a squirrel.
Other than such testimony, the prosecutors had no shred of physical or other proof that could remotely pass as evidence of abuse. But they did have the power of their challenge to jurors: Convict the Amiraults to make sure the battle against child abuse went forward. Convict, so as not to reject the children who had bravely come forward with charges.
Gerald was sent to prison for 30 to 40 years, his mother and sister sentenced to eight to 20 years. The prosecutors celebrated what they called, at the time "a model, multidisciplinary prosecution." Gerald's wife, Patricia, and their three children—the family unfailingly devoted to him—went on with their lives. They spoke to him nightly and cherished such hope as they could find, that he would be restored to them.
Hope arrived in 1995, when Judge Robert Barton ordered a new trial for the women. Violet, now 72, and Cheryl had been imprisoned eight years. This toughest of judges, appalled as he came to know the facts of the case, ordered the women released at once. Judge Barton—known as Black Bart for the long sentences he gave criminals—did not thereafter trouble to conceal his contempt for the prosecutors. They would, he warned, do all in their power to hold on to Gerald, a prediction to prove altogether accurate.
No less outraged, Superior Court Judge Isaac Borenstein presided over a widely publicized hearings into the case resulting in findings that all the children's testimony was tainted. He said that "Every trick in the book had been used to get the children to say what the investigators wanted." The Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly—which had never in its 27 year history taken an editorial position on a case—published a scathing one directed at the prosecutors "who seemed unwilling to admit they might have sent innocent people to jail for crimes that had never occurred."
It was clear, when Martha Coakley took over as the new Middlesex County district attorney in 1999, that public opinion was running sharply against the prosecutors in the case. Violet Amirault was now gone. Ill and penniless after her release, she had been hounded to the end by prosecutors who succeeded in getting the Supreme Judicial Court to void the women's reversals of conviction. She lay waiting all the last days of her life, suitcase packed, for the expected court order to send her back to prison. Violet would die of cancer before any order came in September 1997.
That left Cheryl alone, facing rearrest. In the face of the increasing furor surrounding the case, Ms. Coakley agreed to revise and revoke her sentence to time served—but certain things had to be clear, she told the press. Cheryl's case, and that of Gerald, she explained, had nothing to do with one another—a startling proposition given the horrific abuse charges, identical in nature, of which all three of the Amiraults had been convicted.
No matter: When women were involved in such cases, the district attorney explained, it was usually because of the presence of "a primary male offender." According to Ms. Coakley's scenario, it was Gerald who had dragged his mother and sister along. Every statement she made now about Gerald reflected the same view, and the determination that he never go free. No one better exemplified the mindset and will of the prosecutors who originally had brought this case.
Before agreeing to revise Cheryl's sentence to time served, Ms. Coakley asked the Amiraults' attorney, James Sultan, to pledge—in exchange—that he would stop representing Gerald and undertake no further legal action on his behalf. She had evidently concluded that with Sultan gone—Sultan, whose mastery of the case was complete—any further effort by Gerald to win freedom would be doomed. Mr. Sultan, of course, refused.
In 2000, the Massachusetts Governor's Board of Pardons and Paroles met to consider a commutation of Gerald's sentence. After nine months of investigation, the board, reputed to be the toughest in the country, voted 5-0, with one abstention, to commute his sentence. Still more newsworthy was an added statement, signed by a majority of the board, which pointed to the lack of evidence against the Amiraults, and the "extraordinary if not bizarre allegations" on which they had been convicted.
Editorials in every major and minor paper in the state applauded the Board's findings. District Attorney Coakley was not idle either, and quickly set about organizing the parents and children in the case, bringing them to meetings with Acting Gov. Jane Swift, to persuade her to reject the board's ruling. Ms. Coakley also worked the press, setting up a special interview so that the now adult accusers could tell reporters, once more, of the tortures they had suffered at the hands of the Amiraults, and of their panic at the prospect of Gerald going free.
On Feb. 20, 2002, six months after the Board of Pardons issued its findings, the governor denied Gerald's commutation.
Gerald Amirault spent nearly two years more in prison before being granted parole in 2004. He would be released, with conditions not quite approximating that of a free man. He was declared a level three sex offender—among the consequences of his refusal, like that of his mother and sister, to "take responsibility" by confessing his crimes. He is required to wear, at all times, an electronic tracking device; to report, in a notebook, each time he leaves the house and returns; to obey a curfew confining him to his home between 11:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. He may not travel at all through certain areas (presumably those where his alleged victims live). He can, under these circumstances, find no regular employment.
The Amirault family is nonetheless grateful that they are together again.
Attorney General Martha Coakley—who had proven so dedicated a representative of the system that had brought the Amirault family to ruin, and who had fought so relentlessly to preserve their case—has recently expressed her view of this episode. Questioned about the Amiraults in the course of her current race for the U.S. Senate, she told reporters of her firm belief that the evidence against the Amiraults was "formidable" and that she was entirely convinced "those children were abused at day care center by the three defendants."
What does this say about her candidacy? (Ms. Coakley declined to be interviewed.) If the current attorney general of Massachusetts actually believes, as no serious citizen does, the preposterous charges that caused the Amiraults to be thrown into prison—the butcher knife rape with no blood, the public tree-tying episode, the mutilated squirrel and the rest—that is powerful testimony to the mind and capacities of this aspirant to a Senate seat. It is little short of wonderful to hear now of Ms. Coakley's concern for the rights of terror suspects at Guantanamo—her urgent call for the protection of the right to the presumption of innocence.
If the sound of ghostly laughter is heard in Massachusetts these days as this campaign rolls on, with Martha Coakley self-portrayed as the guardian of justice and civil liberties, there is good reason.
Ms. Rabinowitz, a member of the Journal's editorial board, is the author of "No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusations, False Witness And Other Terrors Our Times" (Free Press, 2003).


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lessons of '66 and '94 Loom Over Democrats: Part 1

by Thomas Del Beccaro
Midterm elections can present a considerable risk for a new President.  Often viewed as a referendum on a President’s policies, the last 45 years featured such huge party losses as 54 House seats under Clinton, 48 seats under Ford, and 47 seats under Johnson.  While Ford’s fate was not entirely his own, the fates of Johnson and Clinton present foreboding scenarios for Democrats in 2010.
Johnson and Clinton: Unpopular Policies Lead to Midterm Losses.
In 1964, the Democrats were sitting atop the political world.  They held 68 Senate seats and gained 36 House seats for an overwhelming margin of 295 to 140 – not to mention winning the White House.  Just two years later, however, they lost 48 seats.  Why? A series of policies that were unpopular including a “credibility gap” on the Vietnam War and what one Democrat Governor said was “Frustration over Vietnam; too much federal spending and… taxation; no great public support for your Great Society programs; and … public disenchantment with the civil rights programs.”  Despite the economy growing 6% because of the Kennedy/Johnson tax cuts, the divide between Johnson’s policies and public opinion produced a 49% approval rating for Johnson and resulted in historic losses for the President and his party in 1966.

In 1994, the Democrats lost a stunning 54 seats and control of the House for the first time in over 40 years.  Bill Clinton was elected because Bush 41 broke his “no new tax” pledge, the economy was weak, the deficit was high and Ross Perot siphoned votes – all of which gave the young Clinton, promising middle class tax cuts, a plurality victory.  Clinton then overestimated his victory, got off to a rocky start and raised taxes instead of cutting them.  The divide between Clinton and voters over policy played out in his first midterm election when Republicans picked up 54 seats amidst an approval rating of 46% for Clinton – despite a recovering economy.
Obama’s Growing Divide.
Barack Obama won the Presidency in large part because of a weak economy.  Although he gave the voters only a vague sense of what Change would really mean, the damage Republicans did to themselves between 2005 and 2008, along with the economy, was enough for Obama to win – along with Media help and the dynamic of an historic first chance to elect a black President.  It is important to note that Obama won only 52.9% of the vote – a victory but not an overwhelming victory.
Today, Obama’s approval rating is in the mid to high 40s – an historic drop for a first year President.  Democrats rightly point out that the economy Obama inherited hurts his ratings.  It is his policies, however, that are increasingly more at odds with Americans and are truly the cause for his plummeting ratings.
Keep in mind that Obama approval rating in April was in the 60% range despite the bad economy.  Yes the continuing bad economy has a corrosive effect on Obama’s popularity; his divisive policies, however, have had a worse effect.
The so-called “stimulus” spending and resultant higher deficits are unpopular and hardly working. The Health Care bill is strongly opposed; the cap and trade/global warming policies are unpopular as are the coming tax hikes.  Those divisive policies have played a central role in quickly driving down Obama’s ratings.
2010 – No Room for a Turnaround.
Given lagging job growth and high deficits, and policies that many know will hurt, not help, the economy, the economic situation will not be the Democrats friend in 2010.  The unpopular Health Care bill will dominate the 1st quarter of 2010 as the reconciliation process takes center stage – along with cap and trade, a record federal deficit, along with tax hikes, and an immigration battle that may scare and anger many voters.
Obama’s mounting policy divide with Americans, combined with a weak economy should leave Obama’s approval ratings in the low 40s by the summer and through the fall.
All of that is bad news for Democrats House candidates next fall.  Over the last 40 years, the average loss, in House seats, for the Presidents party when his approval rating is below 50% was 41 seats.  Recalling that even in a recovering economy that Clinton lost 54 seats and Johnson 47, unless Obama can bridge the growing policy divide he has with Americans or the economy roars back, unlikely scenarios both, Obama may well suffer the same fate as Johnson and Clinton with losses that exceed 40 seats – enough for the Republicans to retake the House.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Upset In The Making? Brown Leads Coakley In MA Sen Poll

Democrats have been playing a careful game as the Massachusetts Senate contest winds down, raising the stakes in an effort to keep supporters engaged, but unwilling to admit any real concern. But this survey out late Saturday from Public Policy Polling (D) (744 LVs, 1/7-9, MoE +/- 3.6%) is sure to have Democrats across the country in a more obvious panic.
Special Election Matchup
Brown (R) 48
Coakley (D) 47
Und 6
Brown, who has had the airwaves largely to himself since the December primary election, has strong net +32 rating, while Coakley is just +7. And that is helping him with indies. From PPP:
Brown leads 63-31 with independents and is winning 17% of the Democratic vote while Coakley receives only 6% support from GOP voters. Both candidates are relatively popular, with 57% viewing Brown favorably to only 25% unfavorable and 50% with a positive opinion of Coakley to 42% negative.
Brown has run on the idea that he would be the "41st vote" in the Senate to oppose health care, and it seems those who are more likely to vote on January 19 would favor that decision: 47 percent oppose the Democratic plan, while 41 percent support it. President Obama's approval rating among these likely voters is a slim 44 percent, to 43 percent who disapprove.
It seems unlikely a final health care vote will happen in the Senate until after this special election, which certainly raises the stakes for Democrats here. The Coakley camp has announced that President Clinton will campaign with the attorney general this Friday. Perhaps now you'll see some sort of direct appeal from the White House. And Democrats will certainly have to try and raise Brown's negatives and tie him to the national GOP if they are to right the ship.
Though he's been clear he'd side with his party on the key issues like health care, Brown called himself as an independent in an interview with RCP this week who wouldn't be beholden to anyone if he was elected. You can read more from that interview here.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

McCain vs. Obama's 'Left-wing crusade'

Obama and McCain on immigration.jpg
The Swamp
by Mark Silva
John McCain has run against Barack Obama before.
He's running against him again.
With campaign radio ads billing the five-term Republican senator as "Arizona's last line of defense,'' the GOP's nominee for president in 2008 is attempting to bolster his 2010 campaign for reelection to the Senate with a slam at the president.
"President Obama is leading an extreme left-wing crusade to bankrupt America,'' McCain says in one of the radio ads his campaign is airing.
McCain after meeting with Obama.jpg
"I stand in his way every day,'' McCain says. "If I get a bruise or two knocking some sense into heads in Washington, so be it.''

McCain got his own head-knocking in the 2008 presidential election, and now he could be facing a party primary contest from a former Republican congressman, J.D. Hayworth, who is an outspoken critic of immigration reform -- an issue which McCain has championed in the Senate, and an issue on which McCain, Obama and some of the Senate's leading Democrats happen to agree. They support a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.
But on the radio, McCain and Obama could not be further apart.
"He's lived through a battle or two, vanquished many a foe,'' a narrator says of the retired Navy pilot and admiral's son who spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. "But perhaps no battle in our lifetime is more vital than the one John McCain fights now... a battle to save America, save our jobs...
"John McCain leads the charge to slash government spending, bloated bureaucracies and ridiculously unaffordable ideas like government run health care.''
In another ad playing on a battle-tested McCain campaign tactic of invoking his days as a POW - reminding voters in Arizona that he could have come home to the U.S. earlier from that prison camp than he did (though Arizona was not home at the time) - the narrator says:
"John McCain is leading the fight against President Obama every day.''
It could get interesting when they get to that immigration bill.
(Sen. John McCain is pictured above after a meeting between President Barack Obama and the Democratic Caucus to push the health care reform plan at the Capitol in December, in a photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images. And McCain is pictured above with President Barack Obama, meeting with members of Congress to discuss immigration in June at the White House in a photo by Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Young Guns II

Some of the GOP's heavy hitters are giving thought to the party's future.

Through the tall trees of northern Wisconsin, Republican Sean Duffy is stalking a giant. The 38-year-old district attorney is talking fiscal responsibility, job creation, entitlement reform. He's scoring Washington for higher taxes, and for a health-care takeover. He's Facebooking and Twittering. He comes across as a serious yet positive reformer, a combo that has caught the public's eye.
He'll need that eye, and more, since his Goliath is one David Obey, Democratic head of the Appropriations Committee, the liberal bull who has occupied Wisconsin's Democratic-leaning 7th congressional seat since before Mr. Duffy was . . . born. That the Republican is getting some traction says something about how bitter voters are with the Democratic agenda. It says something equally important about a nascent GOP effort to rebrand the party.
Meet the new Young Guns.
The recent wave of Democratic retirements bodes well for Republicans. Yet they are still largely winning by default. The public doesn't like the Democratic agenda, but it hasn't forgotten the GOP's own corruption and loss of principle. And crafting a new image is a tough haul for a minority that is stuck responding to events, and that is still populated by many of the same, entrenched faces.
What is happening instead is a real (if underreported) effort to reshape the party from the bottom up—to, in effect, repopulate it with a crop of reformist candidates in the midterm. Behind the effort are three congressmen—Wisconsin's Paul Ryan, Virginia's Eric Cantor and California's Kevin McCarthy.
Melissa Maund Rasmussen
Republican Sean Duffy on the campaign trail.

In 2007, Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard profiled this trio as the "Young Guns" of the GOP. Hailing from different parts of the country, from different perspectives, what the three shared was a core belief in fiscal conservatism, a wonkish interest in tackling systemic government failures (budget, entitlements), and an ability to connect to younger voters.
At a recent interview, Rep. McCarthy remembers that not long after the article, the three sat down and vented frustration that party leaders seemed more interested in protecting old faces than investing in new talent. Inspired by Mr. Barnes's label, they began the Young Guns program, to recruit and bring along a new generation of House Republicans.
In the 2008 election, the program singled out 24 conservative candidates, providing them money and help. Seven went on to win in the GOP wipeout. Several of the victors—Texas's Pete Olson, Florida's Tom Rooney—are already proving to be aggressive new voices. Pete Sessions, who took over the National Republican Congressional Committee, was impressed enough to bring the program within the committee structure and expand it.
Participation in Young Guns today is more challenging. Candidates must hit benchmarks to qualify for the title, money and support; 47 candidates are working to qualify. And what exactly is a prospective Young Gun? It isn't as mapped out as Newt Gingrich's Contract With America. Yet it also isn't Rahm Emanuel's famous Red-to-Blue program, which simply ran candidates—regardless of ideology—who could win.
Mr. McCarthy says Young Guns tend to "fit their district." What they have in common is "that they are all fiscal conservatives" who believe in entrepreneurship and limited government. Many were already unhappy with Republican earmarking and spending, and the bailouts and deficits have provided a new focus on cleaning up government and tackling crony capitalism.
Most are running bread-and-butter economic campaigns, similar to Virginia Gov. Elect Bob McDonnell's. They are folks like Stephen Fincher, a farmer running for retiring Democratic Rep. John Tanner's Tennessee seat, or Frank Guinta, mayor of Manchester, challenging New Hampshire's Carol Shea-Porter. Mr. McCarthy is quick to note these are not backroom-anointed candidates, a la Dede Scozzafava in New York. In some districts, more than one prospective Young Gun is running in a primary.
Wisconsin's Mr. Duffy describes it this way: "I'm running because this is the fight of my generation. The prior one fought the Cold War, before that it was World War II. But our fight is becoming one for the principles of free markets and against creeping socialism." He's targeting Mr. Obey for writing the $787 billion stimulus, highlighting Democrats' failed economic program. The DA (who is also a professional lumberjack athlete) is crisscrossing the district to warn about rampant spending, Medicare cuts, higher taxes and overregulation.
But he's also aware that Republicans can only shake a tarnished reputation by embracing a modern, reform agenda. He's been laying out conservative alternatives to government-run health care. He's honest about the coming entitlement bomb. He's proposing a flatter, smarter tax code. In his first fund-raising quarter, he raised $140,000—a record for the district.
Young Guns is no panacea. Party leaders are still searching for a clear message. The NRCC is struggling to raise money to support its recruits. Voters remain skeptical of the GOP, and the environment may improve for Democrats as the year goes on.
Yet what the program does suggest is some of the GOP's heavy hitters are giving thought to the party's future. Given the Republicans' recent years of wandering, that's a start.
Write to kim@wsj.com

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Exit Stage Left

Chris Dodd retires ahead of the voter posse. 

Something odd is happening to the permanent progressive majority that the U.S. was supposed to have elected 14 months ago: Its Members are announcing plans to leave Congress even before the voters get a chance to pass judgment on their liberal governance.
"This is my moment to step aside," Christopher Dodd said yesterday in front of the East Haddam, Connecticut home that he once financed with the help of Countrywide Financial. The 65-year-old, five-term Senator said his decision not to seek re-election was his own, but there's little doubt he was heading toward a well-earned defeat this fall amid personal scandal and an angry electorate unsettled by the Obama-Pelosi agenda.
A day earlier, North Dakota's 67-year-old Byron Dorgan announced he also won't seek re-election. Though a left-winger in a conservative state, Mr. Dorgan's brand of prairie populism has sold well enough to keep him in Washington for 30 years, and the Senate for three terms. Mr. Dorgan has not had a truly close election since Barack Obama was in grade school, but this year he might have faced popular GOP Governor John Hoeven in a state where 64% of those polled in December by Rasmussen Reports opposed ObamaCare. Mr. Hoeven, if he runs, or some other Republican will likely win the seat, assuming the GOP is remotely competent.
The Dodd retirement means that his seat is also up for grabs. We wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Dodd, so far down in the polls, was told by fellow Democrats that he needed to clear the field for someone with a chance to win in the bluish state. Democrats think that man is the seemingly eternal state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, but the national environment favors Republicans.
As the state's highest-ranking law-enforcement official, Mr. Blumenthal rejected any suggestion of investigating the state's senior Senator for his participation in Countrywide's VIP program. This may make voters rightly skeptical of his potential to be an agent of change. Mr. Blumenthal certainly offers nothing new on policy for those voters grown weary of Mr. Dodd's agenda.
The potential for GOP gains in these states, and others, underscores how much the Democrats' 60-seat Senate majority is a fleeting historical accident. Alaska Republican Ted Stevens barely lost even after he was convicted of a crime that was overturned after the election. Trailing after election night in 2008, Minnesota Democrat Al Franken surged to victory during a "recount" distinguished by more ballots than voters in 25 precincts and preposterous inconsistency in the enforcement of rules by the state's Canvassing Board. Pennsylvanian Arlen Specter switched parties last year after his vote for the Obama stimulus became so unpopular that he concluded he could never win again as a Republican.
The looming collapse of the Democrats' momentarily filibuster-proof majority is reason enough not to ram through a health-care bill on a partisan vote. The brute political force will only look more willful and dismissive of public opinion.
The other immediate policy implication is that Republicans now have a much stronger hand to reject Mr. Dodd's blueprint for financial reform. Combining a safety net for too-big-to-fail behemoths with expensive consumer regulation that would fall on small community banks, his proposal has a limited constituency outside Goldman Sachs.
Republicans should resist the collegial urge to bestow a taxpayer-funded capstone on Mr. Dodd's Congressional career. They are likely to be in a much stronger position in 2011.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dorgan says he will not seek re-election in 2010

WASHINGTON – North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan says he will not seek re-election to the Senate in 2010, a surprise announcement that could give Republicans an opportunity to pick up a seat from the Republican-leaning state.
Dorgan, who was first elected to the Senate in 1992 after serving a dozen years in the U.S. House, said he reached the decision after discussing his future with family over the holidays.
The moderate Democrat said he has other interests he wants to pursue.
Republican Gov. John Hoeven has been mulling a possible challenge to Dorgan and the veteran lawmaker's retirement could clear the path for the popular governor. Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy could be interested in seeking the seat.

2006 Flashback: Pelosi Says Dems Will Have Most Honest & Ethical Congress in History

Watch Out for GOP Populism

Rep. Paul Ryan an enemy of business?

It's easy to underestimate conservatism's chances in these dark days. Over the last year, the Republican Party has appeared to be either a gang of obstructionists or a confused relic of some prehistoric past; its thinkers seemed to do little more than repeat catch-phrases you've heard dozens of times before; even its most earnest activists sometimes appeared to be the pawns of lobbying organizations.
But the movement might stage a comeback yet. According to the demented logic of American politics, the world began anew with the Obama presidency, and so it is the Democrats who will have to go before the public this fall and defend the bailout of Wall Street. Similarly, it might be the Republicans who seize the opportunity to capture public outrage this time around, denouncing concentrated economic power, insisting on holding big business accountable, and promising to settle scores with the nation's erstwhile financial rulers.
Given the GOP's doings over the past 30 years, such a reversal may strike you as implausible, if not downright ridiculous. But it can be done. The first step in what could become a movement in that direction is the essay by Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) that appeared in Forbes magazine in December. Its title: "Down With Big Business."
Now, Mr. Ryan seems at first like no more of a radical than do the editors of Forbes. The "philosophy of governing" spelled out on his campaign Web site rails against the New Deal, "class envy economics," and a federal "regulatory leviathan."
Mr. Ryan's fund raising also follows an unremarkable conservative pattern. According to the Web site maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics, many of his donations come from people or Political Action Committees associated with insurance, banking and a certain private equity firm that invests in banks and insurance companies.
Associated Press
Rep. Paul Ryan

But the tone Mr. Ryan takes in his Forbes article makes him sound like the Jacobin of Janesville.
He savages "crony capitalism," pausing to note the "resentment" it is inspiring. He depicts the Troubled Asset Relief Program, better known as TARP, as a well-intentioned measure that has become "an ad hoc, opaque slush fund for large institutions that are able to influence the Treasury Department's investment decisions behind-the-scenes." He complains about lobbying, offers the obligatory denunciation of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, and bemoans the economic disasters befalling small companies while the rescued banks enjoy "record profits."
Had he stopped there, Mr. Ryan might have become my favorite Republican since William Allen White.
But the problem seems not to be that government made poor decisions over the past year; it's that government made any decisions at all. Government, in Mr. Ryan's view, is alternately the tool and the terror of big business, doing one firm's bidding as it crushes another one. The solution is to get government out of the game altogether, and Mr. Ryan fondly recalls the great deregulatory campaigns of the past (leaving out the embarrassing story of how he and his colleagues overturned Glass-Steagall and then watched the banking industry explode in a fireball of freedom).
This was once a familiar line of criticism: Big business's sin was that it wasn't entrepreneurial enough. If given the opportunity, business would use government to form cartels and suppress competition. Free markets must thus be protected from the grasp of the corporate monster. The way to bring big business down is by deregulating even more.
If this sounds twisted and counter-intuitive, that's because it is. This is an argument that might have sounded good in 1979 but for it to make sense today one has to disregard the wreckage all around us courtesy of three decades of regulatory rollback.
Still, for a large part of the Republican base all this will no doubt ring true: the problem with big business is big government.
For millions of disaffected independent voters, meanwhile, the tail-chasing logic behind the "down with big business" rhetoric probably won't make any difference. All that will matter will be the sincerity of the emotion, and if Mr. Ryan's essay is any indication, this is a job Republicans can do as well as any Code Pink activist.
That's why we may be heading for the greatest burst of fake populism since those TV commercials 10 years ago that showed a mob breaking down the doors of a stock exchange—not because the revolution was on but because they wanted to trade like the pros, which the sponsor promised to let them do.
Democrats, for their part, will find it difficult to respond in kind, especially after having spent their first year delivering regal gifts to the insurance industry and dithering over the urgent matter of new financial regulation. Their friends in the labor movement, meanwhile, got a lump of coal.
Oh well, many Democrats probably figure. Those people have nowhere else to go.
We shall see.
Write to thomas@wsj.com.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Obama's last year

A Republican win would rob him of power — and make him a better president

Welcome to 2010: The final year of the Obama administration.
Not literally. For all I know, by 2012 the economy will be hotter than a terrorist’s underpants, Afghanistan will be no more unruly than Indianapolis Colts fans after their coach decided to throw away a perfect season and President Obama will resoundingly win re-election after Diane Sawyer gets Republican nominee Sarah Palin to confess she thought going rogue meant adding some pink makeup to her cheeks.
But a Democrat strategist told Bryon York of the Washington Examiner that House empress Nancy Pelosi was comfortable with losing “20 to 40” seats in the lower chamber as the price for getting health care “reform” passed. A loss of 40 seats would mean flipping the House to GOP hands, and instead of crossing swords with bogeymen like radio talk show hosts or unemployed former governors, the president would for the first time have to deal with a Republican who wields real power. The prospect of Obama trying to wheedle and cajole John Boehner the way Ronald Reagan wooed Tip O’Neill should brighten every conservative’s outlook.
A Republican Congress improved Clinton's presidency - the same could happen to Obama.
A Republican Congress improved Clinton's presidency - the same could happen to Obama.
If even Pelosi is writing off up to 40 seats, it should be a bright year for Republican House candidates. Assuming incoming Speaker of the House Boehner or another Republican leader is able to keep his troops united — and lately the Republicans have displayed the harmony of an Olympics-caliber synchronized swimming team — that means an end to the glory days for Team Obama.
The liberal path to our national salvation is about to get itself a nice concrete roadblock.
Tick, tick.
So how much can the Obamatrons get accomplished in the next 12 months? Twelve months, it turns out, isn’t even enough to accomplish something Obama thought he could do with a stroke of a pen — close Guantanamo Bay. Administration officials are now saying that won’t happen until at least 2011.
Tick, tick.
With 60 seats in the Senate and a huge majority in the House, Democrats still needed the entire year to pass their health care bill — and that project isn’t even finished. Lately reports out of the Hill have been saying that the final push to reconcile the House and Senate bills won’t take place until February. If the rejiggered bill loses even three votes in the House, it fails. Pro-life Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mi.) has said he can’t support a bill that is as friendly toward federal abortion funding as the Senate version, and he says he there are 10 other Dems who voted for the House version who feel the same way.
Tick, tick.
Finalizing passage of the health care bill is practically the easiest item on the Obama agenda. If they complete the health care marathon, dazed and gasping and dodging tomatoes thrown by their own constituents, how much regulatory mojo are lefty lawmakers going to have remaining to dive into cap-and-trade?
Politico reports “at least a half-dozen Democrats” in the Senate have told the White House to drop cap-and-trade. Recessions are notoriously harsh on the sales of luxury goods, and the nation is in no mood to spend hundreds of billions of lost economic output in order to buy a magical amulet to ward off global warming. Suggested compromise: Mr. President, why not deal with global warming with a nice interfaith prayer summit? You can invite every imam and Buddhist monk you know — don’t forget the pagans! — to hold hands and ask for a solution from whatever all-inclusive, nonpatriarchal supreme force might be inclined to listen. It’ll have the same effect on global warming as walloping everybody who uses carbon-based energy with a huge tax.
Remember how ambitious the Clinton administration was in its first two years? All that changed when Sheriff Gingrich arrived at the party and took away the keg. Suddenly it was Gingrich who was dictating the agenda — his capital gains tax cuts and welfare reform were the major policy accomplishments of the last six years of Clinton’s presidency.
Ultimately, though, Obama should be grateful if the Republicans do retake the House this year. Poll after poll shows that people like him personally more than they like his policies. If Republicans take away his ability to ram through any more of his ill-advised ideas, the appeal of Obama’s personality might regain precedence in citizens’ minds. He can blame the Republicans for saying no to everything, since that is indeed the party’s primary job, and the American voter can return to the pose he finds most comfortable: Simultaneously castigating the Washington forces that oppose change and enjoying the bounty that comes from stability.
By defeating Obama-ism in 2010, Republicans might find themselves repaid with an Obama victory in 2012.
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