It’s obviously premature to celebrate “victory” in Libya when no one knows what will happen next, or how difficult and bloody the process of state-building will be. (And Gadhafi is not yet actually gone.) But the news is good, and Obama’s strategic approach to the conflict — allowing France and NATO to take the lead to minimize the chance that America was seen as leading another Iraq-style war of aggression — seems to have been the right one. (Strategically. Not necessarily legally.) As Steve Kornacki wrote this morning, this should be the end of the “Obama is too weak to lead” talking point from the right. It should be, but … it isn’t.
Today’s Wall Street Journal editorial page takes a break from excusing the criminality of the executives in charge of its parent company to deliver an official house reaction to the developments in Tripoli that starts off cautious and then just descends right back into the exact same lame arguments it’s been using for the last six months:
Having helped to midwife the rebel advances with air power, intelligence and weapons, NATO will have some influence with the rebels in the days ahead. The shame is how much faster Gadhafi might have been defeated, how many fewer people might have been killed, and how much more influence the U.S. might now have, if America had led more forcefully from the beginning.
Planning for this moment is precisely why we and many others had urged the State Department to engage with the rebels from the earliest days of the revolt, but the U.S. was slow to do so and only formally recognized the opposition Transitional National Council in mid-July. The hesitation gave Gadhafi hope that he could hold out and force a stalemate.
Libyans will determine their own future, but the U.S. has a stake in showing the world that NATO’s intervention, however belated and ill-executed, succeeded in its goals of removing a dictator, saving lives, and promoting a new Libyan government that respects its people and doesn’t sponsor global terrorism.
I’m not sure how long the editors of the Wall Street Journal think your average revolution lasts, but assuming Gadhafi’s hold on power is as weak as it appears today, I would argue — as a layman, of course — that NATO’s intervention seems neither “belated” nor “ill-executed.” (I mean, it seems well-executed, in the sense that it seems to have accomplished its goal?)
But it’s the line about America leading “more forcefully from the beginning” that the neocons and GOP hawks will continue to cling to no matter what actually happens in Libya. It’s the same argument BFF Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham used in their joint response to this weekend’s developments: “Americans can be proud of the role our country has played in helping to defeat Qaddafi, but we regret that this success was so long in coming due to the failure of the United States to employ the full weight of our airpower.”
All-out war! From day one! With the full force of American airpower! One definite way to make a civil war faster and less bloody is for a foreign country to enter it fully, right? (It tends to unite the populace, for one thing!) And conflicts are always less bloody when America drops more American bombs. That’s how we won Vietnam!
There’s no point in countering McCain and the Journal’s arguments with reason, of course, because these are not actually fact-based responses to news, they’re just rote recitations of Republican dogma: Obama weak! (Except domestically, where he is an autocrat.)
And this is the “respectable” Republican talking point. The line from the real nuts — I’m guessing something along the lines of “radical Obama allows Muslim Brotherhood to seize control in Libya” — will begin bubbling up from the sewers to talk radio and Fox News and Michele Bachmann’s campaign soon enough.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon War Room, August 22, 2011
“If This guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas.”
Thus spoke Republican Gov. Rick Perry on Monday, referring to Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. You might chalk the remark up to a weak attempt at humor —if you watch the video, you’ll hear a few nervous laughs from the small crowd — but then Mr. Perry went on in an even less appropriate vein.
“Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous, or treasonous, in my opinion,” Mr. Perry said.
“To play politics”? Mr. Bernanke was appointed chairman of the Fed by a Republican president, George W. Bush. He was reappointed by a Democratic president, Barack Obama, in an acknowledgment of how indispensable he had become in a time of crisis. In fall 2008, when global finances threatened to spin out of control, Mr. Bernanke responded with a steeliness that may have saved the country from disaster far worse than the severe downturn it has experienced.
That’s our view; it’s the view, we’d wager, of most economists. Mr. Bernanke’s actions had the support of both Mr. Bush and then-candidate Obama, of Republican Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and future Democratic Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. And in the years since, Mr. Bernanke and his team have done as much as the Fed should do to get the economy moving again.
Now, if Mr. Perry disagrees, that’s fine. The actions of the Fed leading up to, during and after the crisis will be studied and critiqued for decades. Maybe Mr. Perry could have done better; we’ll be interested to hear about his economic program in the days to come.
But there has never been a whisper, let alone any evidence, that Mr. Bernanke’s actions have been motivated by anything but patriotism and determination to see the U.S. economy regain its footing. There was never a whisper, let alone any evidence, that the Republican-appointed Fed chairman sought to help Republican candidate John McCain in 2008, and there is no reason to believe he is playing politics now.
If Mr. Perry has evidence to the contrary, he should present it. If not, he should apologize.
But questioning his opponents’ good faith seems to be part of Mr. Perry’s early playbook. He already has disparaged Mr. Obama for not serving in the military, something that Mr. McCain — with far greater claim on the nation’s gratitude for his military service than Mr. Perry has — never stooped to. And when asked whether Mr. Obama loves his country, Mr. Perry responded, “I dunno, you need to ask him. . . . You’re a good reporter, go ask him.”
When we asked the campaign about these remarks, a spokesman e-mailed, “The Governor never said the President does not love his country.” As to his remarks concerning Mr. Bernanke, “The Governor was expressing his frustration with the current economic situation and the out of control spending that persists in Washington.” But frustration does not excuse accusing people of treason if you don’t like their policies.
In the days after the Jan. 8 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 18 others just outside Tucson, there was widespread revulsion at the nastiness of much political rhetoric and widespread commitment to argue about issues without questioning opponents’ motivations or character. Mr. Perry’s presidential campaign, not yet a week old, suggests he didn’t get the message. We hope he begins to make his case in a way that will reflect better on his own character.
By: Editorial Board Opinion, The Washington Post, August 16, 2011
Conservatives have attempted to credit George W. Bush for President Barack Obama’s success in killing Osama bin Laden in various ways, from exaggerating the role of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” to praising Bush’s unsuccessful seven year attempt to do so.
Today, Ross Douthat offers the latest version of this argument: That killing Bin Laden constitutes “the most visible proof” so far of Bush-Obama continuity in matters of national security:
The death of Osama bin Laden, in a raid that operationalized Bush’s famous “dead or alive” dictum, offered the most visible proof of this continuity. But the more important evidence of the Bush-Obama convergence lay elsewhere, in developments from last week that didn’t merit screaming headlines, because they seemed routine rather than remarkable.
This is an odd formulation that ignores that the hunt for bin Laden predated the Bush administration — remember that conservatives accused President Bill Clinton of “wagging the dog” when authorizing missile strikes against al Qaeda in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Yet Douthat does not praise Clinton in making this argument about “continuity,” because doing so would acknowledge that any president, regardless of party, would regard it as part of his duty to defend American citizens from terrorism.
While there are indeed many examples of Obama continuing Bush-era policies to the frustration of liberals, killing bin Laden is not one of them. Rather, Obama’s focus on bin Laden represents a departure from his predecessor, who had decided shortly after 9/11 that bin Laden was “just a person who’s been marginalized,” just a small part of a much larger battle. As Michael Hirsh wrote last week, Obama rejected the Bush approach that “conflated all terror threats from al-Qaida to Hamas to Hezbollah,” replacing it with “with a covert, laserlike focus on al-Qaida and its spawn.”
During the 2008 election, Bush mocked Obama for asserting he would target bin Laden if he was hiding in Pakistan. GOP presidential candidate John McCain attacked Obama as “confused and inexperienced” for saying so.” It is a bit rich to regard the results of an operation that Bush and McCain would have opposed as “continuity” with the prior administration. There are a number of disturbing continuities between Bush and Obama on national security, but the singular focus on bin Laden isn’t one of them.
What is notable however, is that the major distinction between Obama and Bush that has formed the basis of GOP criticism of Obama — the President’s rejection of torture — has proven so decisively wrongheaded. Conservatives attempting to attribute successfully killing bin Laden to torture are merely attempting to take credit for what President Bush pointedly failed to do. Far from yielding the necessary intelligence, the two al Qaeda suspects who were waterboarded pointedly resisted identifying the courier whose activities lead to the U.S. discovering Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts. The pro-torture argument ignores the obvious — that if torture was so effective, bin Laden would have been dead long ago. Bin Laden was found through years of painstaking intelligence gathering, not through the barbarous methods supported by many Bush apologists.
One cannot discount how shattering the Obama administration’s killing of Bin Laden has been to the self-image of conservatives who have convinced themselves of that the fight against al Qaeda hinges not just on torture, but on how many times the president says the word “terrorism,” or on Obama’s refusal to engage in juvenile expressions of American toughness.
While we’re far from the moment where terrorism ceases to be a threat, what torture apologists fear most now is a future in which al Qaeda is destroyed without the U.S. embracing the war-on-terror “dark side” that’s become central to their identity. Indeed, having rejected torture, Obama has nevertheless lead the country to its greatest victory in the fight against al Qaeda.
By: Adam Serwer, The Washington Post-The Plum Line, May 9, 2011
As a participant in the great health-care wars of 2010, it’s been — I don’t know: Amusing? Depressing? Annoying? Vindicating? — to watch Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget run over every principle or concern that Republicans considered so life-or-death a mere 400 days ago. A partial list:
Big changes need to be bipartisan changes. “The only bipartisanship we’ve seen on [the health-care] bill is in opposition to it,” said Eric Cantor, now the House majority leader. “When the stakes are this high – reforming 20 percent of the U.S. economy – there must be constructive conversations and negotiations from Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress,” wroteformer representative Tom Davis. The Ryan budget, which is unquestionably a more ambitious document than the Affordable Care Act, passed the House with no Democratic votes and four Republicans voting no. The only thing bipartisan was the opposition, etc. This appears to have given no Republicans anywhere any pause.
Polls matter. In March 2010, John Boehner was very, very upset that Democrats were working to pass a health-care law that a slight plurality opposed in polls. “President Obama made clear he is willing to say and do anything to defy the will of the people and force his job-killing health care plan through Congress,” he thundered. Last week, Speaker Boehner and the Republicans passed Ryan’s budget. How do its elements poll? Much, much worsethan the Affordable Care Act.
The Affordable Care Act’s Medicare cuts will devastate hospitals! Last fall, Ryan’s health-policy guru was saying,“The official Medicare actuaries have determined that approximately 15 percent of hospitals will be driven out of business in less than ten years if these cuts go through and called the cuts ‘clearly unworkable and almost certain to be overridden by Congress.’” Now those same cuts are in Ryan’s budget. C’est la vie, I guess (that’s French for “only Democratic cuts hurt hospitals”).
The Affordable Care Act’s savings don’t begin quickly enough! When the tax on expensive employer-provided insurance plans was pushed back to 2018, conservatives were outraged. “The odds are high that the excise tax will never actually happen,” wrote David Brooks. “There is no reason to think that the Congress of 2018 will be any braver than the Congress of today.” It was a fair argument: Cost savings that begin in the future are less certain than cost savings that begin now. So when does, say, Ryan’s voucherization of Medicare begin? Not 2012. And no, it’s not 2018. It’s 2022.
There’s no reform in the Affordable Care Act. “It would take Sherlock Holmes armed with the latest GPS technology and a pack of bloodhounds to find ‘reform’ in the $2.5 trillion version of the health-care bill we are supposed to vote on in the next few days,” then-Sen. Judd Gregg wrote. But apparently Holmes got his iPhone out, because now the Affordable Care Act is chock-full of reforms. In fact, it’s the model Republicans are following. “It’s exactly like Obamacare,” Sen. John Cornyn saidof the Ryan plan. “It is. It’s exactly like it.” And he meant that as a compliment!
The Congressional Budget Office will score anything you tell it to. “Garbage in, garbage out,” Sen. John McCain said. “Can you really rely on the numbers that the Congressional Budget Office comes out with?” asked Fox’s Steve Doocy. Now, of course, Republicans are touting CBO’s estimates of Ryan’s savings.
First, “do no harm.” That was former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s big applause line. “Republicans want reform that should, first, do no harm, especially to our seniors,” he wrote in The Washington Post. Cantor said the Affordable Care Act would “cut Medicare for our seniors and increase premiums for many Virginians.” Say what you will about Ryan’s budget, but going from paying 25-30 percent of your Medicare costs to 70 percent cuts your Medicare while increasing your premiums. Steele also said that “we need to protect Medicare and not cut it in the name of ‘health-insurance reform.’ ” Instead, it’s getting cut in the name of tax cuts. To be fair, Ramesh Ponnuru saw this one coming, so I can’t say conservatives were denying it at the time.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten a couple, but that’s what the comment section is for. The natural next question is whether Democrats have been similarly hypocritical in their opposition to Ryan’s plan. So far as I can tell, we’ve not seen it: Democrats think the plan puts too much of a burden on the backs of seniors and the poor — two things they worried about constantly during the Affordable Care Act — and cuts too many taxes for the rich. They also note that the Congressional Budget Office says privatizing Medicare will make it more expensive — the same finding that led to liberal advocacy for a public option. But if I’m missing something here, I imagine it, too, will come up in comments.
By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, April 21, 2011