Google+

Tags: Barack Obama

Guess Who’s Giving the Keynote Address at SXSW This Year?



Text  



“South by Southwest” — usually referred to by the initials SXSW — is a group of technology, film, and music festivals and conferences held each spring in Austin, Texas. Each year it hosts an extremely diverse range of panels, speakers, and performances, but the keynote address or interview usually features a key figure in the tech community.

Last year it was SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, co-creator of PayPal, founder of Tesla motor sports, and the inspiration for Robert Downey’s portrayal of Iron Man.

In 2012, it was legendary rock star Bruce Springsteen. In 2011, Seth Priebatsch, founder and CEO of the mobile-gaming platform SCVNGR. In 2010, an interview of the CEO of Twitter, Evan Williams. In 2008, the keynote was an interview of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

One of this year’s keynote speakers is . . . Chelsea Clinton.

She is “expected to speak about the Clinton Foundation’s health programs and Millennium Network.”

This is SXSW Inc.’s festival, and they’re free to invite whoever they like.

But the news that Clinton will follow astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson illuminates two of the most annoying aspects of our era of celebrity politics. The first is politics’ ability to infiltrate all aspects of life; even a technology conference, now embracing the theme of “social good,” must include a speaker whose presence and message will inevitably be interpreted through the lens of her mother’s presidential ambitions. The release helpfully notes, “She has also worked as a correspondent for NBC News.” This was what the Baltimore Sun television critic called “awkward and failed attempts at imitating a network correspondent . . . I won’t revisit all the tricks the NBC News producers had to use to try to make her wretched work only semi-painful to watch.”

The second is our political celebrities’ handlers’ insistence, and our acquiescence to the notion, that they’re worth listening to on all topics, including those far from their stated area of expertise, and celebrating of them relentlessly. We all had to pretend that Chelsea Clinton deserved to have her first job in journalism be that of a prime-time network correspondent. Now we all have to pretend she deserves the keynote-address slot at SXSW, as if these weren’t all efforts to suck up to her mother in case she becomes president in January 2017.

If you are a key Democratic-party figure, you will be saluted and celebrated relentlessly, even in ways that are so off-base they’re ridiculous. Men’s Fitness named Barack Obama one of the 25 fittest men in America twice . . . while he was still a smoker. Hillary Clinton received 19 awards in the year after she left the State Department, including the Helen Keller Humanitarian Award, The Elton John Foundation’s Founders’ Award, and the Michael Kors Award for Outstanding Community Service. From 2005 to 2008, the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album went to Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama again. Really? Those were the single-best spoken word performances in the country four years running? Better than all those other nominees, like George Carlin, Steve Martin, Maya Angelou, Bob Newhart, David Sedaris?

If we must award politicians for transparent reasons, can we at least put them in a different category, so the rest of the world can compete on fairer terms? Could a conference include “Way Too Long Keynote From Political Speaker We Want on Our Side” or “Best Political Speech by a Politician We Really Liked Already”?

Tags: Chelsea Clinton , Hillary Clinton , Barack Obama

Senate Democrats, Obediently Toeing the White House Line



Text  



From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Senate Democrats More Likely to Nod Approvingly at Obama’s Proposals Than a Collection of Bobblehead Dolls

The NRSC is chuckling:

Last week, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) sent out a press release with a peculiar new message: “At a time when all voters are sick of Washington partisanship, independence and willingness to put the state ahead of national party are among the most important attributes for successful candidate,” they wrote.

While this is one instance where we agree with their assessment, it’s an extremely harmful message for Democratic Senatorial candidates who have consistently championed President Obama’s agenda for the last five years. As you may have seen, new percentages released today illustrate that Democratic Senatorial candidates have done just the opposite.

For example, the Congressional Quarterly (CQ)/Roll Call, shows that Hagan voted with President Obama 96% of the time in 2013, despite the fact that a majority of voters disapprove of him in North Carolina. In fact, President Obama’s approval rating is struggling to top 40% in North Carolina according to recent polls. That doesn’t sound like the “independence” that the national Democrats say makes a successful candidate.

Additionally, these Democrats are a part of the most partisan caucus in recorded history. According to CQ, Senate Democrats voted unanimously on 52% of the party unity votes in 2013 — an all-time high for either party in either chamber, up from 40% in 2012.

So, let’s see how often those Red State Senate Democrats voted with the President’s position, shall we?

Presidential support level for Mark Pryor, Arkansas? 90 percent!

Mark Begich of Alaska? 97 percent!

Mary Landrieu of Louisiana? 97 percent as well!

Mark Udall of Colorado? 99 percent!

Jean Shaheen of New Hampshire? 99 percent!

Al Franken? A perfect 100 percent!

For perspective, even Harry Reid only voted with Obama’s position 90 percent of the time.

Alleged independent-minded Mark Warner of Virginia? 97 percent. Heck, even Bernie Sanders of Vermont only hit 94 percent!

There are clones that show more independence than this crop of Senate Democrats.

Exhibit A.

You can find the whole list for Congress here.

Tags: Senate Democrats , Barack Obama

Barack Obama, Gridiron Great



Text  



As noted in today’s Morning Jolt, the White House’s official Flickr feed reveals that they play a lot of football in that building.

I mean, a lot.

;

Maybe they canceled all those “how Healthcare.gov is progressing” meetings to toss the ball around.

Tags: Barack Obama

‘The number of jobs in the economy still is about 1.2 million lower than December 2007.’



Text  



This point, from the Washington Post’s Fact-Checker column, seems rather important:

Obama: “The more than eight million new jobs our businesses have created over the past four years.”

The president is cherry-picking a number that puts the improvement in the economy in the best possible light. The low point in jobs was reached in February 2010, and there has indeed been a gain of about 8 million jobs since then, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. But the data also show that since the start of his presidency, about 3.2 million jobs have been created — and the number of jobs in the economy still is about 1.2 million lower than when the recession began in December 2007.

You can argue that the employment number of December 2007 was artificially inflated by the housing bubble. And the unemployment rate is down because of a steep drop in the labor-force participation rate, driven partially by the retirement of the Baby Boomers. But it’s still a pretty “meh” economy at best.

This is how Obama can be bragging about an economic recovery one moment . . . 

The lowest unemployment rate in over five years. A rebounding housing market. A manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s. More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world — the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years. Our deficits — cut by more than half. And for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is.

. . . and lamenting the state of the economy the next:

Average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by — let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.

Tags: Economy , Barack Obama

Forget the SOTU Laundry List. Let’s Try Setting Up Three Accounts.



Text  



Urgh. An interminable State of the Union Address. So let’s forget that, and focus on a completely different approach, laid out in today’s Morning Jolt . . . 

The Three-Accounts Plan for a Real American Recovery

We’re stuck with this guy until January 2017. We don’t know exactly what the future holds, but the outlook on the horizon isn’t good. The economy sputtering along, unemployment still high by historical standards, low workforce-participation rate, a complicated mess in health care, annual deficits that are merely ludicrously high instead of incredibly ludicrously high, chaos overseas, hoping our numbskull big campaign-donor ambassadors manage to avoid exacerbating a crisis . . . 

Imagine somebody comes along and says, “Okay, America. We’ve tried that approach and we’ve seen what it gets us. Let’s try a different approach. Let’s try an approach that sets you up with the future with three accounts.”

Those three accounts are a 401(k) or IRA, a 529 plan for education, and a Health Savings Account.

Each of those accounts operates on the same basic concept: you put money in, sometimes your employer kicks some money in, and the government gives both of you some big tax incentives. Unlike a bank savings account paying one tenth of 1 percent to 1 percent (annual percentage yield), money put in these accounts gets invested in a fund that you choose and most years increase in value by several percentage points. These funds can go down in value, but most years will go up in value, and some years will go up a lot, depending on how the market and broader economy perform and the judgment of the folks managing the fund.

The 401(k) or Individual Retirement Account: These types of accounts accumulate retirement savings; 401(k)s are set up by employers, IRAs are, as their name suggests, set up by individuals.

The 529: This is an education-savings plan operated by a state or educational institution designed to help families set aside funds for future college costs. Your contributions are not deductible when you make them, but your investment grows tax-deferred, and when you withdraw to pay for the college costs, you pay no federal tax on that. Plan assets are professionally managed either by the state treasurer’s office or by an outside investment company hired as the program manager.

The Health Savings Account:

Health savings accounts, the investment account that typically accompanies high-deductible health plans, are enjoying a boost: In 2013, some 7.2 million people had HSAs, up from 6.6 million in 2012, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. During that period, assets also leapt, reaching $16.6 billion in 2013, up from $11.3 billion in the previous year.

HSAs typically run in tandem with a high-deductible health care plan, with the intention that insured people tap the HSA itself to cover qualified medical expenses. Employers and insurers generally like HSAs because insured people are using the account to foot the bill for services until they hit their deductible. In theory, if employees are aware of the real cost of medical services because they are shelling out for those expenses, they’ll become more educated consumers, according to Paul Fronstin, senior research associate at EBRI.

Employers and employees can contribute to HSAs, and the chief benefit is that the funds contributed won’t be subject to federal income taxes when deposited. Any distributions made for qualified medical expenses can be made without incurring taxes.

Many successful, secure Americans have these accounts. If everyone in America had these three accounts, their worries about paying for their retirement, paying for their children’s education, and paying for their health care would be greatly ameliorated. Not completely erased, but everyone in America would have one, two, or three little nest eggs, each enjoying the fruits of compounding returns. As time goes by, your accounts would grow and your worries would shrink.

We could either mandate these accounts for every American . . . 

(sounds of conservatives drawing swords from sheaths)

. . . or we could make it unbelievably easy to set up these accounts. (My aim, of course, is to turn every American into an investor, from birth to death.)

You’ve just had a child? Congratulations, mom and dad, here’s the setup form for your 529 plan with your child’s new Social Security card. Plug a bit in every year over 18 years, and you’ll have a nice pile of money to put towards college, trade school, etc. If anything, we should expand it so that your 529 never goes away, and you can put money in at any time to use on a graduate degree, certification programs, or any other instructional course.

You’ve just turned 18? Congratulations. As you pick up your driver’s license, here’s the setup form for your IRA and Health Savings Account.

Instead of fining people 1 percent of their income for not having health insurance — up to 2 percent in 2015 and 2.5 percent in 2016 — let’s make it easy to put 1 percent of your pre-tax paycheck into any or all of these accounts. Let’s let Americans pay one less percentage point of their current 6.2 percent Social Security tax into their IRA or 401(k). Let’s let Americans pay a half a percentage point of their current 1.45 percent Medicare tax payment into their Health Savings Account!

(Sound of Democrats drawing swords from sheaths)

We can fiddle with the tax code to give employers huge incentives to match donations to these accounts. (Democrats: “Hey, you’re reducing revenue!” Me: “Yes, and ameliorating three big problems that all of this federal spending has tried to address and largely failed: anxiety over paying for health care, education, and retirement.”)

You know who once supported one piece of this proposal? Hillary Clinton, back in 2007, who wanted a universal 401(k). One wrinkle was that she had the federal government matching the first $1,000 in savings for married couples who earn up to $60,000 a year and would match the first $500 for married couples who earn $60,000 to $100,000 a year. These matching donations from Uncle Sam would cost $20 billion to $25 billion per year. Not her worst idea ever, but I’d prefer to give an employer a tax incentive to the employer or give the individual an expanded tax deduction — deduct 105 percent of your annual contribution? 110 percent? — than the U.S. Treasury matching your contribution.

Last night, Obama took a baby step in the right direction with this idea:

And while the stock market has doubled over the last five years, that doesn’t help folks who don’t have 401ks. That’s why, tomorrow, I will direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: MyRA. It’s a new savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest egg. MyRA guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in. And if this Congress wants to help, work with me to fix an upside-down tax code that gives big tax breaks to help the wealthy save, but does little to nothing for middle-class Americans. Offer every American access to an automatic IRA on the job, so they can save at work just like everyone in this chamber can.

As I understand it, the MyRA would have no minimum deposit or balance, and is designed to help low-income earners sock away enough money until they can get a regular IRA.

A “Three Accounts” approach to Americans’ economic security would be big, it would be bold, and it would tap into Americans’ distrust of Washington, now reaching Deepwater Horizon–level depths. We can tweak the details, but the idea is to give all Americans the tools to build their own prosperity and restore their confidence that tomorrow will be better than today.

Tags: Barack Obama , Social Security , Education , Health Savings Accounts , Retiirement

The State of the Union: The Self-Congratulatory Blowout of the Governing Class



Text  



Jonah, Kevin,

Yes! The State of the Union Address feels like a national ritual that is stuck on autopilot, lumbering along year by indistinguishable year, immune to reform or adaptation or updating, usually instantly forgotten and increasingly irrelevant… and yet unstoppable. Even the speech text is pretty much the same every year, regardless of the actual condition of the country.

National Journal’s Matt Vasilogambros points out how often the opening statement must include the cliché, “the State of our Union is strong!” (It’s become a catch phrase. The audience expects it like the bar crowd shouting “NORM!” on Cheers, or Kramer exploding into a room on “Seinfeld”.)

What’s worse, the actual state of the nation hasn’t been anywhere near strong lately, at least not since the crash of autumn 2008 and perhaps not since 9/11. The economy plods along at best, sputters and stumbles. Wages are stagnant. We had a complicated, headache-inducing health care system before Obamacare, and now it’s exponentially worse. Too many schools fail our kids. The debt grows. The world beyond our borders looks like chaos.

And yet every year, the president, and this president in particular, goes out and says, in effect, “We’re doing pretty darn good! And things are looking up! Hooray for us!” before heading to a laundry list of focus-grouped spending initiatives. The president’s party almost always wants to turn every sentence after “good evening” into an applause line, so you see lawmakers instinctively leaping out of their chairs for mundane statements. The whole thing looks like a giant self-congratulatory blowout celebration of how well our governing class has done their jobs, an opinion that is not shared by a majority of the electorate.  

Yes, yes, we’re a nation of optimists and we want our leaders to be optimistic, blah blah blah. But the public is feeling pretty darn gloomy lately.

If lawmakers want us to listen to them again, they can start by leveling with us.

Tags: State of the Union , Barack Obama

What’s Really Driving the Push to Hike the Minimum Wage: Union Dues



Text  



This morning, President Obama is announcing that by executive order, he’s raising the minimum wage to $10.10 for those working on new federal contracts.

The two-page “fact sheet” for the move fails to mention how many workers would be getting better wages. Note that the executive order only sets the minimum wage level for new contracts, as the White House cannot change the terms of existing contracts.

Representatives Keith Ellison (D., Minn.) and Raul Grijalva (D., Ariz.), co-chairmen of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, pushed for the change, and contended the raise would affect 2 million workers, which seems astonishingly high, considering that the high estimates of number of federal contractors is about 4.4 million.

These comments from the Government Executive site indicate a federal contractor making minimum wage is rarer than hen’s teeth:

Can only speak from experience of contracting out logistics functions; never seen one contract where a single employee was paid “just the minimum wage” . . . 

I am Contracting Officer and haven’t seen any contract that pays minimum wages. Most of the contractors make more than their counterparts in the private sector. Then you have administrative cost to manage the contract, so it already cost more to contract it out . . . 

If they raise the lower wage for non-skilled labor people, will that mean that OPM will have to adjust all the pay scales all the way up the line? I know that the WG [worker grade] scales are based on the local market but GS [general schedule] is only offset by local. Will4567 is right about contractors paying higher than minimum wage. Here at this location, the contractors pay on average $.50 to $1.25 higher than the local economy.

But that little talking point really hinges on how broadly you define “affect.”

Richard Berman:

The Center for Union Facts analyzed collective-bargaining agreements obtained from the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards. The data indicate that a number of unions in the service, retail and hospitality industries peg their base-line wages to the minimum wage. . . . The two most popular formulas were setting baseline union wages as a percentage above the state or federal minimum wage or mandating a flat wage premium above the minimum wage.

And now you see why raising the minimum wage is such an intense priority for Democrats. A higher minimum wage means higher wages for union workers, which means higher union dues, which gives unions more money to spend during campaign season.

Tags: Minimum Wage , Barack Obama

The State of Our Union Is Dependent Upon the State of Our Families



Text  



From Tuesday’s Morning Jolt:

The State of Our Union Is Entirely Dependent Upon the State of Our Families and Communities

So the big theme of tonight’s State of the Union address is going to be income inequality.

One of President Obama’s big ideas is getting a bunch of large corporations to “sign a White House pledge agreeing not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed when making hiring decisions.”

Shrug. That’s nice. I guess we’ll see whether the CEOs’ pledge to the White House filters down to the human-resources departments, and whether those corporate recruiters will give those long-term unemployed folks a call, or find some other reason to not call.

You can lay the problems of the unemployed, underemployed, poor and struggling at the feet of corporate America’s HR office, but we all know there’s more to it than that.

Mr. President, meet Joe. (Not his real name.)

Joe’s a friend of mine. He grew up in less-than-ideal circumstances, in one of the blue-collar corners of the Northeast. His dad wasn’t around. Money was tight.

Joe studied hard, went to a good school, and got both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. He moved to the D.C. area, where he works in education. I don’t know how much money he makes, but from what I see, he’s doing okay. He married a great girl, and they’re raising two kids in the suburbs. The guy’s one of the most devoted fathers I know.

The rest of Joe’s family back home . . . is still having a tough time. Kids without fathers around. Cops getting called over domestic disturbances. Real concerns about whether the children are being raised in the kind of environment that every kid deserves.

From where I sit, Joe’s a role model, a spectacular example of rising above hardship and living the American dream. As I understand it, the rest of Joe’s family back home doesn’t appreciate him that way, and a good portion of their interactions are marked by a tone of resentment towards him.

Sometimes we on the Right can be a bit insufficiently empathetic to those stuck in bad situations. It’s hard for a kid to grow up with his values and priories in the right place without any role models. It’s hard to function when you’re surrounded by dysfunction. There’s a lot less room for error at those poorer communities, those with more violence, fewer stable families, fewer “little platoons” to help a family through tough times.

But I get really steamed when I hear about Joe’s family, and the way they resent the success he’s had in life, his rock-solid bond with his family, the money he makes, the fact that he moved away from their dysfunctional environment. Dang it, he did what you’re supposed to do, and the fruits of his labor and good judgment are obvious. He’s the one they should be emulating. Instead, they seek out ways to convince themselves that he’s the bad guy, that somehow he did something wrong by pursuing a different, and ultimately happier and more successful, path than they did.

We can argue about how representative this individual situation is, but I suspect it’s not that unusual. Yes, poverty is partially driven by a lack of opportunities and sometimes misfortune. But judgment and habit and values are big factors as well. This isn’t to say that the poor deserve to be poor, only that they cannot rise above their problems until they take responsibility for their own situation in life and resolve to make better choices: to stay in school; to stick around and take responsibility when they get a girl pregnant; to avoid drugs; to avoid excessive drinking, to not resolve every dispute with fists through doors, windows, or faces; to put a little money away for a rainy day; to put their children’s interest first. Those aren’t always easy choices, particularly when life gets tough, but they pay off in the long run.

Of course, there’s no Federal Department of Instilling a Sense of Individual Responsibility. So we probably won’t hear much about that in tonight’s State of the Union.

Tags: State of the Union , Barack Obama , Poverty

We’re Divided Because One Half of Us Won’t Leave the Other Half Alone.



Text  



Also in today’s Jolt:

Did Glenn Beck ‘Tear the Country Apart’? Did Anybody?

You won’t believe who’s accusing Glenn Beck, formerly of Fox News and currently running The Blaze, of “helping tear the country apart”!

Well, maybe you will believe, but I’m not sure you’ll agree:

Later in the segment, [Megyn] Kelly asked Beck to reflect on his time as a TV host at Fox News. His answer may surprise some people.

Though he remembers the job being a lot of fun, Beck also revealed that he has some regrets about the way he handled himself on the air.

“I remember it as an awful lot of fun and that I made an awful lot of mistakes, and I wish I could go back and be more uniting in my language,” he said. “I think I played a role, unfortunately, in helping tear the country apart.”

First, has the country been “torn apart”?

I think you can set the bar for “torn apart” pretty high, considering how we’ve had an actual civil war in this country. We’ve had unsuccessful secession movements pretty regularly. Mansfield University geography professor Andrew Shears built a map to depict what the country would look like if every local secession movement had succeeded, a country of 124 states:

If Beck really means America is deeply politically divided, indeed, it is, but I’m not so sure our divisions would look that much better or different if Glenn Beck had remained a wacky “Morning Zoo” radio DJ his entire life. I’m glad Beck developed his interest and passion for politics, and developed The Blaze; he and his folks have been kind enough to have me on several times, including on Election Night 2012. Beck articulated a viewpoint, and built a devoted following, but he didn’t create the division in this country, he just reflected it.

We’re a divided country because we have 317 million people, and at least two major strands of thought and philosophy about the role of the government.

It’s a broad generalization, but we have red states and blue states. Ideally, we would have let each part of the country live the way it wants, as long as its laws didn’t violate the Constitution. You want high taxes and generous public benefits? Go ahead and have them; we’ll see if your voters vote with their feet. Let Illinois be Illinois, and let South Carolina be South Carolina.

Last fall I took a trip to Seattle, Washington, and the surrounding area. It seemed like every menu, store display, and sign emphasized that the offered products were entirely organic, biodegradable, free range, pesticide-free, fair trade, cruelty-free, and every other environmentally conscious label you can imagine. (The television show Portlandia did a pretty funny sketch about the ever-increasing, ever-more-specific variety of recycling bins, with separate bins for the coffee cup, the coffee-cup lid, the coffee-cup sleeve, and the coffee-cup stirrer; there’s a separate bin if the lid has lipstick on it.) Maybe it’s just a natural consequence that when you have Mount Rainier and Puget Sound outside your window, you become a crunchy tree-hugging environmentalist. If that’s the way they want to live up there, that’s fine. The food was mostly excellent. Let the Seattle-ites elect a Socialist to their city council. Let Sea-Tac try a $15/hour minimum wage and see if the airport Starbucks starts charging 20 bucks for a small latte.

As long as other parts of the country are allowed to pursue their own paths, that’s fine.

But a big part of the problem is that we have an administration in Washington that is determined to stomp out the state policies it doesn’t like. The president doesn’t want there to be any right-to-work states. His Department of Justice is doing everything possible to obstruct Louisiana’s school-choice laws. They’re fighting state voter-ID laws in court, insisting that it violates the Constitution, even though the Supreme Court ruled, 6 to 3, that requiring the showing of an ID does not represent an undue burden on voters.

This you-must-comply attitude can be found in the states as well, of course. Hell, in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to drive pro-lifers, Second Amendment supporters, and what he labels “anti-gay” out of his state. Mayors decree that they won’t allow Chick-fil-A in their cities because of the opinions of the owners. In Oregon, state officials decreed that a baker must make a wedding cake for a gay wedding; the state decrees you are not permitted to turn down a work request that you believe violates your conscience or religious beliefs.

The country would be “torn apart” less if we were allowed to address more of our public-policy problems on a local or state basis. But anti-federalism is in the cellular structure of liberalism. All of their solutions are “universal,” “comprehensive,” or “sweeping.” Everything must be changed at once, for everyone, with no exceptions. Perhaps it’s a good approach for some other species, but not human beings.

That’s not Glenn Beck’s fault.

Tags: Glenn Beck , Politics , Federalism , Barack Obama

Wendy Davis: When the Truth Is Not Enough



Text  



“Where were you born?” Every few months, I sit across the table from a new client with a recording device. “Let’s start from the beginning,” I say, after pouring a cup of coffee and settling in to hear their story. I’m a “ghostwriter,” or – as some prefer to say — a “celebrity collaborator.” That means I listen to the details of people’s lives and help form them into narrative, book form.

Over the course of my occupation so far, I’ve traveled over 12,000 miles and conducted interviews on a presidential-campaign bus, in an Olympic training center, in a Tex-Mex restaurant, and in a nail salon. Regardless of location, however, every book begins with questions designed to get to the heart of each person’s story.

Lately, I’ve wondered what it would be like to sit across from Wendy Davis.

Davis, as you may remember, is the Texas state senator who filibustered for abortion rights and was instantly catapulted into the Democratic stratosphere. She’s attempting to parlay her newfound fame into being her state’s first Democrat governor in almost 25 years. Her story of adversity, strife, and hard work has been a cornerstone of her campaign and fundraising.

Davis, we were told, was a divorced teen mother who worked her way from a trailer to Harvard through true grit and independence. What she claimed to be a “real Texas success story,” however, has turned out to be a bit more nuanced. Some of the details were wrong.

Davis divorced when she was 21, not 19 as she has claimed. She did live in a mobile home – her parents’ – but it was only for a few months until she found an apartment. Then she married a lawyer who was 13 years her senior. He paid for her last couple of years of college and her years at Harvard Law School. She divorced him the day after he paid the last bill. During the divorce, he accused her of adultery and received custody of their two children. Her husband said she claimed she said she “didn’t have time for children.”

Of course, she’s not alone in misrepresenting her story. Barack Obama’s memoir has many claims that turned out to be distortions, according to Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist David Maraniss, including:

• His claim that his grandfather – a cook in the British Army – was detained by the British in Kenya and tortured.

• The story of his dad’s stepfather being killed by Dutch soldiers as he fought for Indonesian independence.

• Obama’s claim that his father abandoned him when he was two years old.

• His complaint that upper-class Hawaiian girls wouldn’t date him.

And a character called Ray whom Obama called a symbol of “young blackness” was actually half Japanese, part native American, and part black. And he wasn’t a close friend of Obama’s.

If we’re truthful, many of us tell stories in ways that enhance our own reputations. Right?

Read the three reasons why I believe it’s so hard to tell one’s own story . . . honestly.

Tags: Wendy Davis , Barack Obama

‘Wendy Davis is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.’



Text  



From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

The Airbrushed, Polished, Rewritten History of Wendy Davis

Nobody can seek office as they are, huh? Everybody’s got to be born in a log cabin, and have worked himself up from nothing. Choom gangs, William Ayers, and Tony Rezko get airbrushed from history; ineffective years of community organizing are rewritten into a dedication to the poor that rivals St. Francis of Assisi. Al Gore couldn’t be just another senator; he had to invent the Internet. Wartime service isn’t enough; “If you have any question about what John Kerry is made of, just spend 3 minutes with the men who served with him.” John Edwards is Father of the Year. “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”

Throw Wendy Davis onto the pile, as the Dallas Morning News took a closer look at her life story and found some details not quite matching her tales:

Davis was 21, not 19, when she was divorced. She lived only a few months in the family mobile home while separated from her husband before moving into an apartment with her daughter.

A single mother working two jobs, she met Jeff Davis, a lawyer 13 years older than her, married him and had a second daughter. He paid for her last two years at Texas Christian University and her time at Harvard Law School, and kept their two daughters while she was in Boston. When they divorced in 2005, he was granted parental custody, and the girls stayed with him. Wendy Davis was directed to pay child support.

In an extensive interview last week, Davis acknowledged some chronological errors and incomplete details in what she and her aides have said about her life.

“My language should be tighter,” she said. “I’m learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail.” . . . 

A former colleague and political supporter who worked closely with Davis when she was on the council said the body’s work was very time-consuming.

“Wendy is tremendously ambitious,” he said, speaking only on condition of anonymity in order to give what he called an honest assessment. “She’s not going to let family or raising children or anything else get in her way.”

He said: “She’s going to find a way, and she’s going to figure out a way to spin herself in a way that grabs at the heart strings. A lot of it isn’t true about her, but that’s just us who knew her. But she’d be a good governor.”

A good governor . . . once you get past the pathological lying!

Andrew Kaczynski points out . . . an inconvenient truth:

Davis did however testify under oath in 2012 that she was 19, when she divorced, not 21. Davis was testifying before a three-judge panel that was was deciding whether the new Texas legislative district map violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

She sent a statement to Buzzfeed that at age 19, she was “on her way to a divorce.”

An enormous ego is almost a requirement for running for office, so we shouldn’t be surprised that those who want our votes carry more than their share of self-aggrandizement, conveniently edited memories, and borderline-insane belief in their own personal heroic narratives. The thing is, we don’t really need any larger-than-life heroes in public office. Governors, senators, congressmen, presidents . . . they’re temp workers. The more grandiose the ambitions get, the larger the scale of potential failure gets. Sometimes the idea is to fundamentally transform the culture and politics of the Middle East. Sometimes the idea is “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” It’s tough to get people to stand up and cheer, much less write out checks, for anything less than forever changing life as we know it.

Immanentizing the eschaton requires a messiah figure, which mean every contender for the throne needs to have that pitch-perfect life story. Details be damned.

A frequent lament on the right since the frustrating defeats of 2012 has been, “we need to become better storytellers.” Dare I flip it around and say, the American electorate needs to stop needing all of its information in convenient storybook form? Because the basic facts of, say, the need for entitlement reform don’t necessarily lend themselves well to the convenient plucky-underdog-takes-on-the-system-and-wins Erin Brockovich template that apparently many Americans require to understand.

Thomas Lifson:

It is not exactly a surprise that the latest feminist political icon, Texas state Senator Wendy Davis, turns out to be a phony and an exploiter. Davis, you may recall, rocketed to progressive superstardom by conducting an ultimately futile filibuster on a bill tightening health regulations on abortions after 20 weeks of gestation when the life of the mother is not in peril. The fact that Davis is an attractive blond and speaks fairly well in public was enough to gladden the heart of the pro-abortion faction, eager to find a champion who can be packaged as an inspiring profile in courage. She has already raised $12 million for her campaign for governor, tapping into the victimology cult among wealthy feminist women.

Here’s how Tanene Allison, “political consultant and Texan,” characterizes the latest developments in the Huffington Post:

A gang of men in Texas are trying to burn State Sen. Wendy Davis on a proverbial stake. Almost as soon as the Davis campaign announced that, over the final six months of 2013, they had raised more money that her opponent, the knives came out. As Texans are beginning to unite around Wendy, Greg Abbott and his out-of-touch operatives are scared and relying on the oldest playbook in the world: Tear the woman apart by examining her personal life and saying she isn’t perfect enough.

That “gang of men in Texas” she’s sneering at is the reporting staff and editors of the Dallas Morning News. The falsehoods are not in dispute; Davis admits to the newspaper that she’s been saying things that aren’t true. Had the newspaper run the headline, “She isn’t perfect enough,” it would be a laughingstock.

The allegedly nonpartisan mainstream media seems to think well of the Huffington Post, and when you see something like the above, it’s really hard to understand why. This isn’t merely a passionate defense of Davis; this is an attack on the newspaper as somehow being sexist and malicious.

Tags: Wendy Davis , Barack Obama , John Kerry , John Edwards , Al Gore

Senate Report: CIA Reported Benghazi ‘Terror Attack’ Within 24 Hours



Text  



Big, busy Morning Jolt to close out the week. First, the depressing news that one of the Senate’s best, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, is retiring; then another roundup of news that fans of Obamacare would prefer to ignore, and Michelle Obama’s desire to “travel more” in post–White House life. But here’s the big splash . . . 

Senate Offers Bipartisan Report That’s Damning to Obama, Hillary, and the New York Times

This morning in the category of, ‘News That Is Surprising Only to Readers of the New York Times’:

A Senate report on the Benghazi attack that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans bolsters Obama administration critics who suspected from the start that al-Qaeda was involved and that it was not a spontaneous protest that went out of control.

The report, released Wednesday by the committee’s Democratic majority, said individuals affiliated with groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were in on the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. compound.

Whether the attack was ordered by a high-level al-Qaeda chief or planned on short notice by people on the ground remains unclear, the report said. But the report left no doubt that it was an organized terror attack — a fact denied for days after the deaths by President Obama and former secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Here’s that blockbuster report from the self-proclaimed Paper of Record back on December 28:

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

It gets worse for the Obama administration:

The White House and Clinton have said that no one was sure it was a terror attack or that al-Qaeda was involved until well after the incident. But within 24 hours the CIA station chief in Libya reported that it was a terror attack, and the CIA advised the White House that it appeared likely that al-Qaeda-linked terrorists were involved.

The report alluded to “contradictory” intelligence accounts it said came out in the immediate aftermath of the attack that may have confused the picture of how the attack happened.

But Gen. Carter Ham, head of AFRICOM at the time of attack, said Defense officials did not believe the attack was from an out-of-control demonstration and had no evidence of it, according to declassified testimony released this week by House investigators.

Ham said a U.S. military surveillance drone was sending back to Washington real-time video of the attack within minutes of its start.

“When we saw a rocket-propelled grenade attack, what appeared to be pretty well-aimed small-arms fire — again, this is all coming second- and third-hand through unclassified, you know, commercial, cellphones for the most part, initially,” he told House Armed Services.

“To me, it started to become clear pretty quickly that this was certainly a terrorist attack and not just not something sporadic.”

The administration keeps coming back to the “it was unclear, the evidence was contradictory, the information was confusing” excuses. Except they never seem to be able to point to much evidence that led them to believe it was a protest. It’s not like there were people marching in the streets with banners and posters beforehand.

There were two explanations, one accurate, one inaccurate. The accurate explanation had all kinds of bad repercussions for the White House and State Department — a wild overestimation of the stability of post-Qaddafi Libya, a blind dismissal of security concerns on the ground, an embarrassing inability to mount a rescue in a region adjacent to a host of NATO bases, and a humiliating refutation of Obama’s reelection-year boast that “al-Qaeda is on the run.”

The inaccurate one put the blame on some YouTube filmmaker.

I guess it wasn’t much of a contest.

Tags: Benghazi , Barack Obama , Hillary Clinton , The New York Times

Why Is the Administration So Credulous About Iran?



Text  



The midweek edition of the Morning Jolt features a new poll showing that New Jerseyans still like and trust Governor Chris Christie, another roundup of troubling indicators for Obamacare that the administration would rather ignore, and then this ominous point about our foreign policy:

Why Is the Administration So Credulous About Iran?

“Wary” is my word of 2014 so far. On front after front, we, the American public, are being asked to accept on faith that the big changes afoot will lead to good outcomes, despite ominous indicators. The State of the Union Address might as well begin with John Williams’ Jaws theme.

It’s full speed ahead on the individual mandate despite the headaches and messes so far. Full speed ahead for the employer mandate in 2015, despite the fear that some employers will prefer to pay the fine and dump their employees into the exchange. We’re told expanding Medicaid won’t leave state governments or federal taxpayers on the hook for much higher costs of providing medical care. We’re assured that raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour will help all the low-income workers and won’t slow down already sluggish hiring, and we won’t notice the price hikes at the cash register. Let’s leave Iraq to sort out its own troubles. Let’s get out of Afghanistan. “Trust us,” they say.

And oh, by the way, the Iranians say they’re giving up their nuclear weapons.

Now, we know these guys. We know these guys from taking over our embassy from 1979. We know these guys from the Khobar Towers attack. We know these guys from our recent State Department report on terrorism:

Despite its pledge to support the stabilization of Iraq, in 2011 Iran continued to provide lethal support — including weapons, training, funding, and guidance — to Iraqi Shia militant groups that targeted U.S. and Iraqi forces. Iran also continued to provide weapons, training, and funding to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups, including Palestine Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. Since the end of the 2006 Israeli- Hizballah conflict, Iran has provided significant quantities of weaponry and funding to Hizballah, in direct violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701.

In 2011, the United States discovered that elements of the Iranian regime had conceived and funded a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States in Washington D.C. Mansour Arbabsiar, an Iranian-born U.S. dual-national working on behalf of the IRGC-QF, was arrested in September 2011 for his role in the plot; also indicted in the case was an IRGC-QF officer who remains at large. Arbabsiar held several meetings with an associate whom Iranian officials believed was a narcotics cartel member. This associate, in fact, was a confidential source for U.S. law enforcement. The thwarted plot underscored anew Iran’s interest in using international terrorism — including in the United States — to further its foreign policy goals.

Qods Force provided training to the Taliban in Afghanistan on small unit tactics, small arms, explosives, and indirect fire weapons, such as mortars, artillery, and rockets. Since 2006, Iran has arranged arms shipments to select Taliban members, including small arms and associated ammunition, rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107mm rockets, and plastic explosives. Iran has shipped a large number of weapons to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in particular, aiming to increase its influence in this key province.

In 2011, Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior AQ (al-Qaeda) members it continued to detain, and refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody. It also allowed AQ members to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iranian territory, enabling AQ to carry funds and move facilitators and operatives to South Asia and elsewhere.

This is, arguably, the most ruthless, underhanded, amoral and dangerous regime in the world. (Maybe North Korea. I’ll take other nominations, but let’s face it, Iran is top three, even in a rebuilding year.)

Why would we think these guys are going to honor their word?

When the Iranians aren’t insisting that the deal guarantees their right to enrich uranium — contradicting John Kerry — and claiming that they have a secret side agreement with the U.S. — meaning either they’re lying, or our government is lying to us — they’re offering messages like this:

Here’s Jeffrey Goldberg’s pitch:

So why support negotiations? First: They just might work. I haven’t met many experts who put the chance of success at zero. Second: If the U.S. decides one day that it must destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, it must do so with broad international support. The only way to build that support is to absolutely exhaust all other options. Which means pursuing, in a time-limited, sober-minded, but earnest and assiduous way, a peaceful settlement.

Er, really? That’s the best argument? Most experts put the chance of success at better than zero? Or we need to go through the motions to persuade the world we’re not warmongers? Look, the world’s opinion on our alleged warmongering has very little to do with our actual mongering of any wars. If we were “warmongers,” we wouldn’t have “led from behind” in Libya and Bashir Assad would be a red spot on Damascus rubble right now. Besides, the world’s usual suspects are going to call us “warmongers” no matter what we do.

Here’s the Israeli Defense Minister with a . . . different interpretation of what’s driving our foreign policy:

Ya’alon had lashed out at Kerry and savaged Washington-led peace talks in private conversations, according to a report Tuesday in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily. The paper recounted the defense minister lambasting the proposed security arrangements drawn up by Kerry as part of his peace proposal, saying it was “not worth the paper it is printed on” and would not provide security for Israel.

The report also quoted Ya’alon calling Kerry “inexplicably obsessive” and “messianic” in his efforts to coax the two sides into a peace agreement. The defense minister reportedly said Kerry has “nothing to teach me about the conflict with the Palestinians. All that can ‘save us’ is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace.”

Legacy time, baby! Time to reach out to the world’s worst and get their signatures on the dotted line, because nobody ever garnered a reputation for being a peacemaker by warily assessing their foes.

Tags: Iran , Barack Obama , John Kerry

Touchdown, Iran!



Text  



Do you fist-pump or signal “touchdown” when you sign a deal with the Iranians? The White House Flickr feed just released this photo, taken back on November 23:

“Ben Rhodes and Tony Blinken both give thumbs up as the President talks on the phone with Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva to discuss ongoing negotiations with Iran. The call was on a Saturday which accounts for the casual attire.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Ben Rhodes and Tony Blinken are really pumped. Or maybe they’re really cheering about the secret side deal with Iran:

Key elements of a new nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers are contained in an informal, 30-page text not yet publicly acknowledged by Western officials, Iran’s chief negotiator said Monday.

The U.S. State Department denies the existence of any secret side agreement. Of course, this isn’t the first time the Iranian and U.S. statements about the deal have flatly contradicted each other.

Tags: Iran , Barack Obama

‘Bridgemageddon,’ and the Lost Art of Taking Our Time



Text  



The first Morning Jolt of the week spotlights another big roundup of bad news for the Obamacare rollout and its new enrollees — the kind of news Obamacare fans would prefer to ignore — and then this note about the media’s sudden obsession with BRIDGEMAGEDDON, and what it says about our politics . . . 

The Lost Art of Taking Our Time

So why did the national press decide that BRIDGEMAGEDDON will dominate several news cycles? How much time will we spend discussing toll routes and foul-mouthed e-mails this week, compared to, say, Afghanistan, or long-term unemployment?

Christie is getting covered like he’s a presidential candidate because the national press has decided he is a presidential candidate, even though any official announcement from Christie is probably a year away. Big, national, horse-race coverage is now a staple of journalism large and small, and the beast commands you to feed it. Those hours of cable news aren’t going to fill themselves.

(Reader: “Hey, am I reading a complaint about horse-race coverage from the guy who writes ‘The Campaign Spot’?” Well, yeah, but the point of my blog — on its better days, at least — is that there’s always somebody running for something — governor, Senate, House races, special elections as lawmakers die in office or resign, etc. Campaign Spot doesn’t cover everything, but I hope it manages to provide decent coverage beyond the presidential cycles. Besides, by the time somebody’s running for president, they’ve been covered and profiled to death. On good days, this results in profiles of Marco Rubio back in August 2009, concluding “the smart money might be on Rubio” in a primary against Crist.)

James Poulos packs a lot of wisdom into just a few paragraphs, noting that the relentless pace of coverage is eating away at a once-natural process of leaders building confidence and winning trust:

This isn’t about “conservatism” versus “liberalism.” It’s about the moderate tempo at which our institutions of governance need to move in order not to malfunction. As Greg Weiner explains in the overlooked study Madison’s Metronome, our constitutional architecture is premised on the moral axiom that impulsive impatience breeds misrule. Rather than the anti-majoritarian fetish it is often mistaken for, “temporal republicanism,” as Weiner calls it, simply intends to slow the pace of democratic decision-making to more deliberate — get it? — speeds.

Sadly today we hate that idea. Hate it. Everything else moves at the speed of light, why not politics? Because racism! Or classism, or old boy networks, or fat cats, or the corrupting influence of money on politics — anything answer will do, including correct answers, so long as they elbow out the one scandalous truth: a democracy conducted at light speed will twist our judgments and disfigure our justice. It will give us a government of weapons that kill instantly anywhere, computers that know everything everywhere, and money that can be printed at whim in any quantity . . . 

Why do we suffer such a lack of confidence in our private and public-sector elites? In our big State and our big Market? “For a reason of biblical simplicity,” writes philosopher and urbanist Paul Virilio, “confidence can never be instantaneous. It must be built, earned, over time. Instant confidence, like instant faith, doesn’t work.”

It’s early. We don’t know what the world is going to look like in January 2016, when Iowa holds its caucuses, much less January 2017, when the next president will take office.

The real mission for the next American president may be to persuade us that we can be Americans again. Not this easily distracted, cynical, tuned-out, Balkanizing mob that hobbles along with an economy that hits 3 percent growth at the best of times, is growing acclimated to slogging along in a waist-deep bureaucratic morass, and endures a public discourse that alternates among the nasty, inane, and petty, punctuated by perpetual cycles of offensiveness and grievances of the offended. We deserve better than a government that falters and flails in the face of drug cartels and gang violence but that can come down like a ton of bricks on big sodas and incandescent light bulbs. The history of this nation was driven by those who overcame the siren call of acquiescence, the anti-rallying cry of, “What’s the use?”

Humans are hope-fueled creatures. Anybody who gets up out of bed with a spring in his step does so because he’s got some hope that the next day might be better than the last. Obama’s 2008 campaign tapped into this with remarkable power (and an enthusiastically helpful press). But then again, so did the Tea Party, in its own way. Entrepreneurs, pro athletes — everybody starts by “envisioning a compelling future,” as Tony Robbins, Oprah, and all the lifestyle coaches put it. Hell, even jihadists think that someday they’re going to reinstate the Caliphate and everybody on the planet will think the way they do or be dead.

The Left probably has an advantage here, as their core philosophy is “yes, we can” build utopia, and our core philosophy is, “no, you can’t, and you’ll do a lot of damage trying.”

Tags: Chris Christie , Media , Barack Obama , Conservatism

Tune in Tonight!



Text  



I’ll be joining the panel on Greta Van Susteren’s On the Record on Fox News this evening. We’ll be discussing the contrast between how Chris Christie and Barack Obama handle scandals, and the news that the Obama administration is letting CGI Federal’s contract to handle the Healthcare.gov site expire, and turning the job over to Accenture.

Of course, some may see the departure of CGI Federal as closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. They’ve already collected $93 million on the expiring contract to build Healthcare.gov.

CGI had some serious problems on earlier government tech projects up in Canada. Vermont and Massachusetts are also threatening to withhold future payments and discussing an attempt to get a refund. CGI also did contracting work on the state exchanges in Hawaii and Colorado.

Hope you can tune in.

Tags: Obamacare , CGI Federal , Chris Christie , Barack Obama

Al-Qaeda Controls More Territory Than Ever Before



Text  



The Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt features a great deal of discussion of Christie administration’s bridge scandal, and how the winners of 2009 — Christie and Bob McDonnell — have amounted to colossal disappointments for the Right. But there’s also this fairly important news from overseas . . . 

Ahem. Minor Bit of News: Al-Qaeda Controls More Territory Than Ever Before

Yet another foreign-policy triumph of the Obama administration, spotlighted by Peter Bergen:

From around Aleppo in western Syria to small areas of Falluja in central Iraq, al Qaeda now controls territory that stretches more than 400 miles across the heart of the Middle East, according to English and Arab language news accounts as well as accounts on jihadist websites.

Indeed, al Qaeda appears to control more territory in the Arab world than it has done at any time in its history.

And that’s not even counting the Taliban’s comeback in Afghanistan. That criticism from former defense secretary Robert Gates seems kind of important now, doesn’t it?

Gates writes that, unlike Bush, Obama lacked “passion, especially when it came to the two wars.”

“I worked for Obama longer than Bush and I never saw his eyes well up,” Gates writes. “The only military matter, apart from leaks, about which I ever sensed deep passion on his part was ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ ” the law prohibiting gays from serving openly in the military that Obama successfully pushed to repeal.

Remember, “Bin Laden is dead and Detroit is alive”? Detroit is bankrupt and al-Qaeda now controls more territory than ever.

Tags: al-Qaeda , Bob Gates , Barack Obama , Terrorism

Obama Announces ‘Promise Zones,’ Because We All Know How Reliable an Obama Promise Is



Text  



The news this morning:

President Barack Obama will announce five “Promise Zones” this week as part of his effort to focus on income inequality in the lead-up to his State of the Union address. On Thursday, Obama will announce the first Promise Zone locations: San Antonio, Texas; Philadelphia; Los Angeles; southeastern Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

The rest of the country will be designated an “Obama Broken Promise Zone.”

Three of the zones are located in politically uncompetitive areas, at least in U.S. House of Representative races. Southeastern Kentucky’s fifth congressional district is heavily Republican, as is Oklahoma’s second district, which encompasses the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Most of Los Angeles’s congressional districts are heavily Democratic. Of course, Democrats like the odds of Alison Lundergan Grimes’s knocking off Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky in 2014.

San Antonio is the home of Mayor Julian Castro, one of the Democrats’ rising stars, and his twin brother, Joaquin Castro, is the congressman from that district, traditionally heavily Democratic but scoring a a D+3 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index.

Philadelphia’s inner city is heavily Democratic, but the city’s suburbs feature three currently GOP-held congressional districts that usually rank among the nation’s most competitive: the R+1 sixth district, where Representative Jim Gerlach is retiring; the even seventh district, represented by Representative Pat Meehan; and the R+1 Bucks County–​dominated eighth district, represented by Representative Mike Fitzpatrick.

Tags: Barack Obama

Cheering Up Frank Luntz, and Ourselves



Text  



From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Cheering Up Frank Luntz, and Ourselves

Assume for a moment, that the conclusions that have driven pollster Frank Luntz into deep depression and angst are true:

“I spend more time with voters than anybody else,” Luntz says. “I do more focus groups than anybody else. I do more dial sessions than anybody else. I don’t know [squat] about anything, with the exception of what the American people think.”

It was what Luntz heard from the American people that scared him. They were contentious and argumentative. They didn’t listen to each other as they once had. They weren’t interested in hearing other points of view. They were divided one against the other, black vs. white, men vs. women, young vs. old, rich vs. poor. “They want to impose their opinions rather than express them,” is the way he describes what he saw. “And they’re picking up their leads from here in Washington.” Haven’t political disagreements always been contentious, I ask? “Not like this,” he says. “Not like this.”

Luntz knew that he, a maker of political messages and attacks and advertisements, had helped create this negativity, and it haunted him. But it was Obama he principally blamed. The people in his focus groups, he perceived, had absorbed the president’s message of class divisions, haves and have-nots, of redistribution.

Before we go any further, let’s look a little closer at the phenomenon Luntz describes, and how the trend probably predates the president and is driven by a lot more than just who’s sitting in the Oval Office. Let’s start with those “class divisions, haves and have-nots, of redistribution.”

Imagine if the most bland and milquetoast president had been in office since January 20, 2009. Instead of electing uber-celebrity Munificent Sun-King Barack Obama, we elected President Boring Center-Left Conventional Wisdom — the genetic hybrid of David Gergen, David Brooks, Tom Friedman, and Cokie Roberts.

America would still have endured Wall Street crash of late 2008 and the Great Recession. This recession (still ongoing, in the minds and experiences of millions of Americans) was driven by many factors but largely from the bursting of the housing bubble and the mortgage securities and asset-backed derivatives that came out of that. We can argue that better policies would have generated a more significant recovery from 2009 to 2012, but indisputably, America’s economy fell far and fast, and climbing back up to say, 2007 levels of employment and average household retirement savings was destined to be a long, slow, tough slog. All those folks employed in the housing bubble — the home builders, the construction guys, the suppliers, the realtors, the house-flippers, all that real-estate advertising revenue, etc. — had to find some other work. And with the exception of the energy sector, there hasn’t been much of a boom in the U.S. economy in the past five years.

At the same time, we spent most of 2001 to 2009 absorbing millions of illegal immigrants, a wave of unskilled labor flooding the market for the few unskilled-labor jobs out there. The multi-decade decline of American manufacturing hasn’t abated much, schools and universities continued to pump out new American workers who are only partially prepared for the reality of the modern job market, and new technology continues to wreak havoc in established industries (ask Newsweek). Competition from cheaper labor overseas continues unabated. The era of spending your career at one company is gone. The era of traditional defined-benefit pension plans is gone. The era of a college degree automatically providing a ticket to a white-collar job and middle-class lifestyle is gone.

Economic anxiety is baked in the cake in American life right now. It’s not that surprising that a lot of our fellow countrymen are receptive to a message seeking scapegoats. In other words, even under President Cokie Gergen Friedman Brooks, Luntz would be seeing a similar cranky, resentful, demanding mood in the electorate. This president may be particularly skilled at opportunistically exploiting that anxiety to further his agenda — in fact, it may be the only thing he’s really good at — but it’s not like he invented it, nor like he’s the only one to ever practice it (remember Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich calling Mitt Romney a “vulture capitalist”?), nor like he’ll be the last to try it.

If Luntz is right that a large chunk of the American electorate has turned angry, entitled, resentful and spiteful — and I’ll bet a lot of us have suspected this in the past year or five — then it is indeed ominous for the next few elections, and suggests American life will get worse before it gets better.

But there’s also an upside to this, at least for us. Because it means large numbers of our fellow countrymen are embracing a philosophy and attitude that is destined to fail them and leave them miserable. Anybody who sits and waits for the government to improve his life is going to get stuck in endless circles of disappointment, anger, self-destructive rage, and despair.

We would be foolish if we told ourselves that being conservative means we’ve got life all figured out. We all have our flaws, our foibles, our sins, and our moments of not practicing what we preach. But if you’re conservative, you’ll probably manage to avoid certain mistakes and pitfalls on this journey called life.

If you’re conservative, you’ve probably learned that there’s no substitute for hard work. Even great talent can only get you so far, particularly if you don’t apply yourself. Yes, luck is a factor, but we also acknowledge that old saying, “the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

If you’re conservative, you probably at least try to embrace individual responsibility — meaning you realize the quality of your life is primarily up to you — and there’s no point in blaming mommy or daddy, no point in blaming the boss, no point in blaming society at large, no point in complaining that life isn’t fair. It isn’t. We can’t control a lot of things. The only thing we can control is how we react to things.

If you’re conservative, you hopefully don’t spend much time worrying about or grumbling about somebody else who’s doing well for themselves. You want to figure out how to join them! Or at least “do well” enough for yourself and your family, and maybe have a little something left over to help out somebody who really needs it.

If you’re conservative, you may or may not believe in a higher power, but you probably believe in right and wrong and you’re wary of people who talk about the world as a murky blur of grey and endorse a moral relativism. You know doing the wrong thing catches up with you sooner or later. You know the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and life’s bad guys are always insisting that the ends justify the means.

If you’re conservative, you believe there’s evil in the world, and we’re not likely to successfully sweet-talk with it, negotiate with it, ignore it, or reason with it. Confronting it, on terms most beneficial to us, or containing it seem to be the best option.

If you’re conservative, you may or may not have the level of impulse control you wish — I sure as heck don’t at mealtimes — but you at least seem to recognize the consequences. Completely embracing “If it feels good, do it” will leave you in a dark alley, hung over and going through withdrawal, and perhaps with a venereal disease.

Individual responsibility, hard work, gratitude and appreciation, a conscience, fortitude — these things will never go out of style, no matter how cranky the electorate gets. What Luntz is witnessing is a lot of people embracing ideas that are going to fail them. At another point in that interview:

The entitlement he now hears from the focus groups he convenes amounts, in his view, to a permanent poisoning of the electorate — one that cannot be undone. “We have now created a sense of dependency and a sense of entitlement that is so great that you had, on the day that he was elected, women thinking that Obama was going to pay their mortgage payment, and that’s why they voted for him,” he says. “And that, to me, is the end of what made this country so great.”

I wonder if Luntz is referring to the oft-quoted Peggy Joseph, declaring in 2008, “I don’t have to worry about putting gas in my car, I don’t have to worry about my mortgage! If I help him, he’s going to help me.”

Except Barack Obama never paid for Peggy Joseph’s gas or mortgage. At least on that front, she’s probably found Obama’s presidency to be deeply disappointing, presuming she never found a way to serve on the board of Solyndra.

Both liberals and conservatives were appalled by the administration’s management and handling of the Obamacare rollout, but only the liberals were surprised. (Well, maybe we were surprised at just how epic the failure was.) We don’t expect government to do a lot of things right. We don’t count on it to immanentize the eschaton — to build God’s Kingdom, or utopia, on earth. But year in and year out, the Left always convinces itself anew that government can do it — even after it completely botches a website and fails to tell the president before the unveiling.

One final note:

Luntz lives alone. Never married, he tells me he is straight (and that no reporter has ever asked him about his sexual orientation before), just unable to sustain a romantic relationship because of all the time he spends on the road. “My parents were married for 47 years. I’m never in the same place more than 47 minutes,” he says. When I point out he’s chosen that lifestyle, he says, “You sound like my relatives.”

Marriage is a useful indicator of voting patterns. More Republicans are married than Democrats — and the benefits of marriage are enormous.

Maybe we need to set up Luntz with some nice woman, and maybe his outlook on life will brighten.

Tags: Barack Obama , Polling , Culture

TGIF, Huh, Mr. President?



Text  



The day’s headlines . . . 

  1. The individual mandate, requiring the purchase of health insurance or paying a fine of 1 percent of annual income, is repealed for Americans who have had their plans canceled. The sudden change leaves some wondering whether the administration will enforce the individual mandate at all in 2014, including Chuck Todd this morning “If you put together all the different ways that they have delayed or grandfathered certain things in . . . I’m starting to wonder if anybody is ever going to pay the penalty in the first year. Is there going to be a single person that is going to be responsible for paying that $95? At this point it doesn’t look like it.” (Note that the fine is $95 or 1 percent of your income, whichever amount is higher.)
  2. CBS News: “Teresa Fryer, the chief information security officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), told congressional interviewers that she explicitly recommended denial of the website’s Authority to Operate (ATO), but was overruled by her superiors. The website was rolled out amid warnings Fryer said she gave both verbally and in a briefing that disclosed ‘high risks’ and possible exposure to ‘attacks’.”
  3. A growing consensus finds the Obama administration’s NSA policies indefensible: “From the moment the government’s massive database of citizens’ call records was exposed this year, U.S. officials have clung to two main lines of defense: The secret surveillance program was constitutional and critical to keeping the nation safe. But six months into the controversy triggered by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the viability of those claims is no longer clear.”
  4. In the Iran negotiations, “A bipartisan group of 26 senators introduced legislation Thursday that threatened new sanctions against Iran, dismissing warnings from the White House that such a move could scuttle efforts to peacefully resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.
  5. According to a forecasting model from the Washington Post’s John Sides, “Democrats currently have a 1 percent chance of retaking the House.”

Finally, today President Obama departs for his 17-day Christmas vacation in Hawaii. Must be tough to leave Washington when everything is going so well!

Tags: Barack Obama

Pages

Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

Subscribe to National Review