“Every Republican in Congress Supports Reform” is a Stronger Message Than “No”

Mitch McConnellI usually have little patience for people on either the right or the left who claim that only the other side plays politics, or only the other side has this attribute or that one.  (Earth to fellow conservatives:  Ann Coulter is every bit as much of a self-caricature as Michael Moore or Senator Unfunny Franken.  Maybe more so.)

But sometimes it seems like only the Democrats know how to win an argument by framing the issue strategically.  For example, there is no controversy about the established historical fact that Saddam Hussein actually used weapons of mass destruction (chemical weapons) not just against the Iranians in the Iran-Iraq War, but also against his own Kurdish citizens in Halabja.  I can’t help thinking that the Bush Administration would have enjoyed more support for the Iraq War if Bush and every senior Republican had insisted, in every interview and public statement from 2003 through 2006, that the only proper way to frame the debate was to consider whether Saddam still had WMD.

But I digress.  (Even before I get started!)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — who has always struck me as a fairly reasonable guy, at least by the standards of partisan Congressional leaders — today calls out the other side for dishonest framing of the healthcare debate, in a USA Today op-ed (emphasis added):

Listening to [Congressional Democratic leaders], you would think Republicans haven’t been part of the health care debate at all. I understand the tactic. It’s an old political trick to accuse one’s opponents of being against something very worthwhile when what they’re really against are the specifics that you’re proposing.

In this debate, though, proponents of the administration’s health care plan have turned this old strategy into something of an Olympic sport.

The simple fact is, every Republican in Congress supports reform.

Health care costs are too high, and too many Americans lack health insurance. I have said so in just about every one of those 50 speeches and in dozens of interviews. And every other Senate Republican is on record favoring common-sense reforms for a system that needs them — ideas such as medical liability reform and equalizing the tax treatment for businesses and individuals who buy insurance.

Republicans are also on record about what we don’t favor, and that’s a 1,500-page bill that includes a lot of things Americans didn’t ask for and very little of what they did.

An intellectual case can be made that conserve-atives should proudly embrace the Democrats’ derisive description of the GOP as “the party of no.”  (Bill Buckley standing athwart history yelling Stop, and all that.)  But “no” is intrinsically… well… negative.  I fear the Republicans may have lost the healthcare battle simply by letting the issue be framed, improperly, as healthcare “reform.”

Huck_Finn_Travelling_by_RailRather than let themselves be tarred as the enemies of reform, the Republicans should propose a different enemy, and McConnell hints at it above when he uses the term “medical liability reform.”  The more precise term is “tort reform,” and the “enemy” is John Edwards and every other legal charlatan who has ever struck it rich by repeatedly rolling the dice in hopes of getting a third of an unjust award from an inflamed jury.

Oh, and the reference above to “tarred”?  That comes from the Early American practice of tarring and feathering.  No, dammit, it’s not racial code — and opposing the President’s proposal is not racism just because the President is black.

Thank You, Mr. President, For Your Message to Kids

obama schoolCan we now please have an end to the silliest non-controversy of the young Obama administration?

I caught the tail end of the President’s speech on CNN’s live stream, and I’ve read the prepared text.  The kids just saw a highly accomplished black man, who lives with his wife and plays an active role in raising their delightful young children, tell students of all races that it’s important to stay in school and do their best.

Any excuse for staging such an event is a good enough excuse for me.  Given that the black man in question is our President, it would be a huge opportunity lost for him not to provide a back-to-school message.

Here’s the beginning of the part I caught, from the prepared text:

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.
And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

Hear, hear. Fellow conservatives would be well-advised to save their criticism for more consequential debates.

MSM Discovers Van Jones — After He Resigns

Van Jones“Green Jobs Czar” and 9/11 “Truther” Van Jones resigned this morning, shortly after midnight on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. Echos of Chas Freeman: Once again an Obama appointee has been forced out amid controversy — before much of the mainstream media got around to covering the controversy.

As Jennifer Rubin of Commentary‘s Contentions blog wrote before the resignation was announced shortly after midnight this morning, “It’s hard to believe this isn’t a fictional character dreamed up by Obama’s conservative critics.”  The latest revelation was that he participated in an anti-American recording narrated by convicted cop-killer and far-left poster child Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Even now, the online New York Times feels the story is worth only a bland headline in tiny type near the bottom of the homepage: “White House Adviser on ‘Green Jobs’ Resigns.”  The Washington Post, to its (comparative) credit, has a prominent link near the top of the homepage: “Embattled Obama Aide Resigns.”

Can you imagine the wall-to-wall coverage that would have ensued if a Bush appointee were discovered to have views that far out on the opposite fringe?

Obama Pays for Gates-gate in the Rasmussen Poll

obama_index_july_26_2009President Obama has slipped to the worst rating of his young presidency in the daily Rasmussen Presidential Tracking Poll, weighing in at -11 points.  That’s based on likely voters with strong opinions.  He fares better when you look at total approvers vs. total disapprovers — although for the first time, or at least the first time I’ve noticed, he’s in slightly negative territory there as well, with 49% at least somewhat approving of his performance and 50% disapproving.

As soon as I saw that strong uptick in the red strongly-disapprove line above, I knew it had to be a result of Gates-gate, and Rasmussen confirms that.  It’s unfortunate that Obama chose to squander some of his post-racial cred by meddling in an ambiguous incident in a town with a black police commissioner and a black mayor, in a state with a black governor, in a country with a black president.

BTW, I would not show up on Rasmussen’s tracking poll, because I would tell the pollster that I “somewhat disapprove.”  Foreign policy is key for me in evaluating a president, and I give Obama positive marks for continuing President Bush’s policies on Iraq and Afghanistan. (Iran, not so much, although he eventually decided which side to back.) But I’m opposed to pretty much everything he’s trying to do domestically.

Flash Reaction to Obama’s Walk-Back of “Stupid” Comment

This will continue to be debated and analyzed for days, but my first thought was, “good for Obama.”  If you go looking for things to criticize in his six-minute statement, you’ll no doubt find them, but he clearly intended to reduce tension, and I suspect he’ll succeed.  I give the man props for talking with Sergeant Crowley.

The president said, “to the extent that my choice of words didn’t illuminate, but rather contributed to more media frenzy, I think that was unfortunate.”  You can call that a non-apology apology, but to me it sounded like contrition.

Plenty of Stupidity to Go Around in Arrest of Gates

APTOPIX Harvard Scholar DisorderlyIt took President Obama five days to speak out critically about the brutal suppression in Iran.  He said he didn’t want to be “seen as meddling.”  Law enforcement officials around the country are no doubt wishing today that the president had shown the same courtesy to the Cambridge Police Department.

Strictly on the basis of factual accuracy, I think Obama was correct in saying that the cops there “acted stupidly” when they arrested prominent Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.

But after examining the incident through the prism of a personal incident from three decades ago, I’ve concluded that there’s no shortage of stupidity here.  Other people who acted stupidly include Mr. Gates… and Mr. Obama.

Is it understandable that Professor Gates, who is black, would be offended that a white police officer was investigating him for breaking and entering at his own home?  Of course.  But the idea that this was simply “racial profiling” doesn’t bear scrutiny.

Pretend for a moment that Gates is white.  Now read this uncontested account (with emphasis added) of how the incident began:

This much is known for sure: The 58-year-old professor had returned from a trip to China last Thursday and found the front door of his home jammed shut. Gates entered the back door, forced open the front door with help from a car service driver, and was on the phone with the Harvard leasing company when a white police sergeant arrived.

Obviously, somebody had called in a report of what appeared to be suspicious behavior.  Whether the professor is black, white or green, that’s more than enough reason for the police to show up asking questions.  This isn’t a “driving while black” incident, where a cop pulls over a black man just because he’s driving a nice car.

Gates on some level should have realized that the cop was there to protect the property rights of the homeowner… not knowing that the homeowner was Gates.  Thus far, at the time the cop knocks on the door, nothing stupid or racist has occurred.

Let’s pause for a flashback: Thirty years ago, when I was an undergraduate, I was looking out my window early one evening when I saw a man walk by a university-owned apartment across the street — an apartment that I knew was the residence of  a female assistant dean.  The man paused at a window for a moment, reached up and appeared to rattle it briefly, then walked around the corner of the building and out of sight.

After a brief internal debate about whether I was overreacting, I called the campus security office and said it looked like someone had just “tried the window” at Dean So-and-So’s apartment.  Security proctors were dispatched, and as they later explained to me, they determined the man in question was a friend of the assistant dean, arriving for dinner.  When he saw her while walking past her window, the guest tapped on it by way of greeting.

You may have guessed by now that the dinner guest was black and the assistant dean was white.  I know in my heart that I’m not a racist, but forever after I’ve been haunted by the question of whether I would have made the same phone call if the man had been white.

I don’t know the answer to that question, but it’s irrelevant to the issue at hand.  My point is that in both cases, the public safety officials were acting entirely properly when they responded to the scene.

So why do I agree with Obama that the cops “acted stupidly”?  Let’s let an ex-cop explain:

I was an auxiliary police officer for 20 years, 11 in Michigan where a wise chief told us never, under any circumstances, were we to arrest someone for disorderly conduct. He said that if we couldn’t find a more serious charge it was up to us to calm the person down. Otherwise he told us that using this charge was just an easy way to end a situation with a disruptive citizen without using the skill we were supposed to have to de-escalate.

Works for me.  By all accounts, the responding officer in Cambridge quickly determined that Gates was the owner of the house.  At that point he needs to say “I’m sorry for the inconvenience” (not: I apologize for doing my job while white) and leave the scene — ignoring the homeowner’s taunts if necessary.

Another wise police chief explained to me once, after noting that people can be jailed for “contempt of court,” that sometimes people get arrested for “contempt of cop.”  He added, “the problem is, there’s no such crime as contempt of cop.”

Accounts vary, but it seems pretty clear that Professor Gates was essentially arrested for contempt of cop.  So why did I open by saying he also had acted stupidly?  Note that I’m not saying the professor’s actions were moral or immoral, justified or unjustified.  What I’m saying is that whatever reason he may have had for being angry, it’s just stupid to get into an obstreperous argument with a man carrying a gun.

Which brings us to the real, potentially more consequential stupidity, by a man who should know better, and who doesn’t have the excuse of talking in the heat of the moment.  When asked about the incident at yesterday’s news conference about health care, President Obama started his response by saying:

Well, I should say at the outset that “Skip” Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here. I don’t know all the facts.

In the words of Bob Parks, a black commentator who speaks more harshly of Obama than I do, “This is where the president should have stopped and minded his own business, but the all-about-me man just couldn’t contain himself. … President Obama admits he didn’t know much about the case, and yet slams a police department on national television. Is this stupid or what?”

It’s stupid on several levels, and lashing out at law enforcement is only one of them.  As Megan McArdle notes, Obama’s statement is stupid because he’s undermining his own agenda: “The Gates story is sucking up the public’s very limited attention span for health care.”

Most importantly, I think, it was stupid because of the hard work Obama has done for years to differentiate himself, successfully, from the racial grievance industry.  Obama at his worst is a better man than Al Sharpton at his best… but ask yourself if this passage from the press conference transcript doesn’t sound like Sharpton impersonating a reasonable observer:

Now, I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that, but I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge Police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home; and number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact.

Yes, Mr. President, there is a long history — and everybody is already aware of it. You have not made America more aware of it by taking sides in an ambiguous incident.  All you have done is provided protective cover for Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and others who make their livings by fanning the embers of racial resentment.

(The snapshot of Gates in handcuffs, said to have been taken by a neighbor, is widely available on the internet)

Al "Thug" Sharpton Takes His Incendiary Show on the Road

Al Sharpton, and the logos of some of his extortion victims

It is POSSIBLE, of course, to construe the NY Post “chimp” cartoon as a racist slam at President Obama — even though neither Obama nor his administration “wrote” the porkulus bill. That’s why I said in my previous post that the cartoon was “stupid” — in a city with a history of racial tension, the paper has no business comparing ANYBODY with a lower primate.

But to insist, in the face of the cartoonist’s denials, and in the face of the actual factual basis for the cartoon, that the cartoon was aimed at Obama is to believe that a long-time cartoonist at one of the largest newspapers in the country is consciously trafficking in the most contemptible kind of racial imagery. It is, quite literally, unbelievable.

A responsible black leader would acknowledge the Post’s apology and move on. In fact, a responsible black leader did exactly that. I would have preferred if Governor Paterson had explicitly criticized Sharpton, but his description of the Post apology as “very honorable” is a strong implicit slap at Sharpton. President Obama, who understandably had to cultivate Sharpton while establishing himself in politics, should repudiate Sharpton’s comments as well. (Click photos for sources)

These thoughts all are sparked by a comment “ockraz” made about my prior post. He first heard about the cartoon via NPR, which offered no explanation OTHER THAN racism. As ockraz said,

People who heard Sharpton (or NPR) first will probably be more responsive to that interpretation. It’s like holding up a Rorschach test and saying, “am I the only one who sees a bat?”

Exactly right.

It’s not possible to completely unring the bell, and because of Sharpton’s spin, some people will be saying for years that the Post called Obama a monkey. And that’s why Sharpton’s long history of racial demagoguery is so contemptible.

Whatever else he may be, Al Sharpton is not unaware of the effects his agitation can cause. He has used that knowledge to make a lucrative living for years, shaking down some of the largest and most well-lawyered corporations in America.

Sharpton HAS to understand that the cartoon was ill-advised rather than bigoted. He HAS to know that his incitements to riot can lead to riots. He HAS to know that he has blood on his hands from previous episodes of race-baiting.

I generally avoid expressing contempt for people on this blog, even if they are public figures. I’ve criticized President Obama’s actions and policies and I proudly voted for John McCain, but I will not express contempt for my President — and if he is not YOUR President, then you are not my countryman. The most derisive thing I’ve ever said about Obama as a person is to call him “The One” — and Oprah did it first.

I make exceptions to the no-contempt policy for people with a long history of reprehensible behavior. Sharpton has qualified as a “thug” (no, it’s NOT racial code) at least since 1987, when he was one of the architects of the Tawana Brawley hoax, and continued to endanger the life of Steven Pagones by branding him a racist, long after a grand jury refused to indict Pagones. Even Salon, a left-liberal bastion, has recognized that Pagones was “the Brawley case’s true victim.”

A black man has now been elected to the world’s most powerful position, leaving Sharpton desperately trying to protect his race-baiting industry. Instead of moving on, Sharpton has ramped up his condemnation of the Post and has started to peddle it in new venues. Today he repeated his phony charges in Syracuse, as part of what a local TV station called “a drive to boost membership in a local chapter of his National Alliance Network.”

As of yet there are no reports of rioting by the good citizens of Syracuse, so perhaps Sharpton is losing his mojo. One can only hope.

(Am I too hard on Sharpton here? If so, please comment to tell me how — I promise I will not bite or bark at you. If it is possible to make a thoughtful defense of Sharpton, I would really like to see it. I would especially welcome comments, pro or con, from black readers.)

How NOT To Talk About Race

This week brings two reminders of the fact that it is possible to make statements that are both a) intellectually defensible, and b) really, really stupid.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether Americans focus too much on race, or not enough. Attorney General Eric Holder believes that to make progress in race relations, “we must feel comfortable enough with one another and tolerant enough of each other to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.”

OTOH, Jonah Goldberg argues today that:

Holder is wrong. America talks about race incessantly, in classrooms, lecture halls, movies, oped pages, books, magazines, talk shows, just about every third PBS documentary by my count, blogs, diversity training sessions and, yes, even mandatory Black History Month events. 

I lean toward Goldberg’s view, but Holder’s belief that we need more frank conversations about race certainly is intellectually defensible. The really, really stupid part occurs, of course, when Holder says the lack of such discussions means that America is “a nation of cowards.”

The statement is stupid because it undercuts the outcome Holder advocates. Now that one of the highest-ranking black people in America has said that Americans are cowards on racial issues, would you expect that I as an American and a white person would be a) more likely, or b) less likely to feel comfortable discussing racial issues with black people? (I suppose one could argue “more” on the evidence of this blog post, given that the blog has black readers, and that I would not likely be posting on racial issues today in the absence of Holder’s speech. But the answer I’m looking for is “less.”)

The other reason the statement is stupid is it undercuts Holder’s own boss — you know, America’s first black president, who appointed the first black attorney general. The guy whose election vividly demonstrates how far America has come from the days of his early childhood, when Barack Obama would have been forbidden to use certain public drinking fountains. The guy who admirably seeks to position himself not as a black president, but as America’s president.

This week’s other example of intellectually defensible but really, really stupid statements comes from the New York Post, in the form of the cartoon below:

(If you’re reading this from an RSS feed, the cartoon depicts a cop who has just shot a chimpanzee as saying, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”)

This is intellectually defensible as a criticism of the stimulus bill, and as anyone who followed the debate knows, President Obama did not “write” the bill — Congressional Democrats did. But in an environment where race-neutral terms like “socialist” and “inexperienced” have been described as racial code, it’s really, really stupid to compare anybody to a lower primate.

Perhaps the worst thing about the Post cartoon is that it has temporarily interrupted Al Sharpton’s descent into the obscurity he so richly deserves. Chris Muir sums it up more eloquently than I can in his cartoon today:

(Holder photo from Fox News)

Honeymoon-Over Watch: Daschle and the Post-Racial Presidency

Tom Daschle withdrew as nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services yesterday, reportedly to enable him to audition for a better-paying movie gig as Harry Potter’s dad.

The Washington Post reports (emphasis added):

Obama officials had sought a seamless transition, nominating most of his Cabinet at record pace and taking office ready to implement a raft of new policies. His reversal yesterday suggested that speed may have come at a cost, and that Obama, despite the overwhelming popularity he had upon taking office and the major challenges facing the nation, will not be spared from the same kind of scrutiny his predecessors have faced.

MoDo takes the gloves off:

It took Daschle’s resignation to shake the president out of his arrogant attitude that his charmed circle doesn’t have to abide by the lofty standards he lectured the rest of us about for two years.

Dana Milbank wrote, “If this is Obama’s honeymoon, one shudders to think what a lovers’ quarrel would look like. “

Going “meta” for a moment, the honeymoon may be over for the “Honeymoon-Over Watch.” A Google search for Obama honeymoon returns 2,880,000 results, indicating that the metaphor may not be quite as fresh and insightful as I imagined when I turned it into a category on my blog.

I think the end of the honeymoon is a good thing — and not because of any ill will toward Obama. I see it as a sign that Obama is making a transition from being the first African-American president to the much more essential and powerful role of being simply the American president.

For now, it may still be the case that only an Establishment liberal like Maureen Dowd can call Obama “arrogant” without prompting accusations that it’s a code word for “uppity.” We are just a few short months removed from the ludicrous notion that observations about Obama’s “inexperience” constitute some sort of racial code. But as Obama adapts to a role where he can no longer vote “present,” he will have additional opportunities to attract criticism from across the political spectrum. If people grow used to the idea that it’s possible to criticize a black person without being a racist, our society will have made an important step toward racial equality.

(Photo: UPI)