Category Archives: American Thought

Wake Up, Republicans!

Henninger: The Building Blocks of a GOP Agenda – WSJ.com.

Almost hard to believe that a few Republicans actually “Get it.”

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The “smart money” says Barack Obama is cruising to re-election because of Republican disarray. Pick up a paper, visit a blog, turn on the TV or radio, and reports of Republican misadventure will engulf you:

Mitch Daniels just said no. Newt Gingrich says too much. On Tuesday, voters in New York’s normally Republican congressional district 26, near Buffalo and Rochester, “shocked” the political world by electing a Democrat. The smart money now says NY-26 means that if the Republicans run on Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform proposal, they risk losing the presidency.

The smart money is often stupid.

Standing against the tornadoes of political spin isn’t easy. But if the Republicans will step back from these storms, they’ll see that the GOP prospect is in better shape than they think. A clear and defensible agenda for 2012 is being assembled outside the presidential campaigns.

One Republican analyst of the GOP’s NY-26 defeat said the takeaway is: “2010 is over.” This is the opposite of the truth. That 2010 vote was the American public screaming at their elected officials to stop the country from hurtling toward fiscal and economic calamity.

They’re still screaming. A Washington Post poll out yesterday buttressed this core concern: Voters across the spectrum say their prime worry is what happens if Congress expands American indebtedness beyond $14.3 trillion. In their wisdom, the people suspect what will happen won’t be good. Their vote in 2010 was the basis for a genuine Republican reform movement.

Normally when the presidential entrepreneurs take over our politics, the parties recede. This means the parties end up yoked to whatever random, variable ideas their nominee patches together. The smoke-filled room has been replaced by hot-air trial balloons.

Something new is happening this time. Since 2009, the Republican Party’s best members have been constructing the building blocks of an agenda distinct from what Barack Obama represents.

The most significant figure in this process is not Paul Ryan but Chris Christie, New Jersey’s charismatic governor.

Before Chris Christie, nearly every Republican would bend to the conventional wisdom of doing deals with the public unions, raising taxes, and rolling debt obligations into the future. Chris Christie blew the whistle on this nonsolution. He gave the Republicans the courage to say the most basic truth in American politics: We are going broke. Chris Christie made the sources of fighting fiscal ruin popular, even cool.

Along with Mr. Christie, Govs. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, John Kasich of Ohio and Scott Walker of Wisconsin have made fiscal restoration the cornerstone of the new Republican Party. Mitch Daniels’s appeal was that he was a member of this new movement.

Fiscal rectitude, of course, can be its own form of conventional wisdom, expressed by raising taxes to “balance” the budget. Last month, another significant Republican derided the tax-and-balance solution. The man who called this “root canal economics” is the Speaker of the House. This too is new.

When it came to pass that John Boehner would assume the speakership, one would have thought the party was inheriting Millard Fillmore. Instead, Mr. Boehner has been using his office to lift another building block atop the GOP’s restored fiscal foundation—the primacy of the private sector.

Leading governors and members of Congress know them: entitlement reform, fiscal restoration and lightly taxed long-term economic growth

A speech Mr. Boehner gave last month to the Economic Club of New York was an important defining statement. Mr. Boehner ran straight at what is probably the most unshakable conventional wisdom in politics: “The big myth of the current budget debate is the notion that in order to balance the budget, we have to raise taxes. The truth is we will never balance the budget and rid our children of debt unless we cut spending and have real economic growth. And we will never have real economic growth if we raise taxes on those in America who create jobs.” [Call collect if you find a better quote.] No speaker has so categorically repudiated using taxes to bail out Washington.

To Paul Ryan fell the job of reshaping the heaviest stone of all—entitlements. For saying the entitlement status quo is fake and false, Mr. Ryan has earned ridicule from the current president and derision from Republican pragmatists who say he’s destroying the party by attempting Medicare reform.

But without entitlement reform, these other GOP building blocks—fiscal restoration and lightly taxed long-term economic growth—are unstable. Notwithstanding the results in suburban Buffalo, an electorate that understands the danger of $14.3 trillion in debt surely can be made to understand by November 2012 the risk of many trillions more in future entitlement obligations.

The campaigns of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman no doubt will still try to fashion a campaign from whole cloth. Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, looks for now to be closest to building out from the structure of economic reform that the Republican governors, the House speaker and the Wisconsin congressman have been creating for their party.

This is still presidential politics. Some people will never vote for any of this, and the person atop the ticket matters. But Republicans despondent about an election 18 months off need to see they are not fighting the incumbent with nothing. A coherent opposition exists, one that fits with an electorate justifiably anxious about the future of what was once the world’s most prosperous private economy.

Write to henninger@wsj.com

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Second GOP Senator Opposes Medicare Plan

Second GOP Senator Opposes Medicare Plan – WSJ.com.

I have yet to see Republicans demonstrate qualitative differences on who, how, what they are vs Democrates.   Guess I should start looking at Independents …

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A GOP plan to overhaul Medicare faces its first vote in the Senate this week, presenting a test of just how risky Republicans view one of the party’s signature proposals.

Sen. Scott Brown (R., Mass.), who is running for re-election next year in a heavily Democratic state, on Monday became the second Republican to announce opposition to the Medicare plan, joining Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

Mr. Brown’s opposition comes a week after he was quoted in a local newspaper saying he would vote for the Ryan plan, but a spokesman said he was misinterpreted.

Also announcing his opposition to the budget, which Senate Democrats plan to bring to a vote on Wednesday or Thursday, was Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a conservative who said the GOP budget did not balance the budget quickly enough.

In western New York, voters on Tuesday will cast ballots in a special House election that could turn in part on the Medicare plan. Newt Gingrich, the presidential candidate and former House speaker, criticized it this month as “right-wing social engineering,” a critique he later retracted under fire. (He has no principle – just testing for soft spots…)

The proposal, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), would replace the popular Medicare program with government-subsidized private insurance for people now under the age of 55 when they retire. Older Americans would not be affected. The plan passed the House last month on a near party-line vote as part of a broader budget bill.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) said Monday that GOP presidential candidates should embrace the plan, and that Mr. Ryan himself would make a strong contender for the White House.

Democrats are looking for ways to keep the spotlight on the proposal, because they believe the public is on their side. “This issue will have staying power and be a defining issue in 2012,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), a member of the Democratic leadership.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has said he would vote for the House budget but not lean on GOP colleagues to join him, because he expects other Republican proposals to be offered. “What I’ve said to my members [is] that we’re not going to be able to coalesce behind just one,” said Mr. McConnell Sunday on Fox News.

One GOP alternative from Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), would make deeper spending cuts and balance the budget faster than the House budget, but without specifying Medicare changes as broad as Mr. Ryan’s. That difference, a GOP leadership aide said, could attract support from Republicans wary of Mr. Ryan’s Medicare plan.

While Mr. Brown and Ms. Collins oppose the Ryan proposal, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R., Maine), who faces a conservative primary challenge next year, has voiced opposition without saying what she would do when it comes to a vote.  (Another one – the primary thing she cares about is re-election. )

In an op-ed article in Politico, Mr. Brown said he opposed the proposal because he worried it would shift too much financial burden onto elderly beneficiaries.

“Our country is on an unsustainable fiscal path,” Mr. Brown wrote. “But I do not think it requires us to change Medicare as we know it. We can work inside of Medicare to make it work.”  (Is he serious?)

In New York’s 26th congressional district, voters will fill a vacant seat that has traditionally been held by a Republican. The Democratic candidate, Kathy Hochul, has made an issue of Republican Jane Corwin’s support for Mr. Ryan’s budget.

A third-party candidate is complicating the race and possibly drawing voters from Ms. Corwin. For that reason and others, Mr. Cantor and other Republican leaders have said the race cannot be seen as a referendum on the House Medicare plan.

Still, a victory for Ms. Hochul will fuel Democrats’ hope that criticism of the GOP budget could help them shift political momentum in their favor.

—Siobhan Hughes contributed to this article.

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Release the Prisoners! – US Supreme Court

“Most of them will not be prisoners with medical conditions or severe mental illness, and many will
undoubtedly be fine physical specimens who have developed intimidating muscles pumping iron in the prison gym.”
JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA, in a dissent on inmates who might be released under a Supreme Court ruling that ordered California to reduce its prison population.

Ah, what does Scalia know…

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Saving President Assad

Review & Outlook: Saving President Assad – WSJ.com.

Hearty salutations and reassurances from Damascus. After killing more than 600 (and counting) and arresting and injuring thousands more in a seven week crackdown, the Syrian regime wants you to know that it thinks it has the upper hand over protestors. And Bashar Assad appreciates the support and understanding in these trying times from so many in the Arab world, Europe and the U.S.

That’s the word this week from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s adviser Bouthaina Shaaban, who called in the New York Times man in Beirut for a security update. It’s all under control now, she said, and the world can relax. “I hope we are witnessing the end of the story. I think now we’ve passed the most dangerous moment.”

The regime’s confidence is playing out in towns like Homs, where reports filtering out via Facebook and smuggled phones tell of indiscriminate artillery shelling of entire civilian neighborhoods. Mass arrests are common and intensified this week. Human rights groups estimate that more than 10,000 people have been detained.

A correspondent for the Times of London, Martin Fletcher, who snuck into Syria on a tourist visa last week, reported that he found “scores of young men” held at secret detention centers in Homs. “It was quite obvious that . . . the regime had been arresting almost every young man of fighting age that they could find on the streets of Homs.”

A French journalist spent 23 days inside Assad’s jail and tells a harrowing story about his ordeal. He was beaten in the first few days, but “the psychological torture was hearing the screams of all the other detainees,” said Khaled Sid Mohand, who reported for Le Monde daily and France Culture radio from Syria before his arrest. “Any time they would take a detainee from his cell you would hear him scream like hell. Sometimes for 15 minutes, sometimes as long as an hour.”

And the world’s reaction? The U.N. Security Council couldn’t muster the courage to put out a press release. Iran, Russia, China, India and the Arab states all have President Assad’s back. Six weeks into the crackdown, the U.S. did impose financial sanctions on three top Syrian officials, the intelligence agency and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The European Union followed by freezing the assets and putting a travel ban on 13 officials.

Statements have also been issued. “There may be some who think that this is a sign of strength but treating one’s own people in this way is in fact a sign of remarkable weakness,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday in Greenland.

But neither the U.S. nor the EU put President Assad on the sanctions list or travel ban. President Obama didn’t call for him to step down or even pull the U.S. Ambassador from Damascus. In an interview with the Atlantic website published Wednesday, Mrs. Clinton elaborated on the U.S. approach to the Syrian dictator: “What we have tried to do with him is to give him an alternative vision of himself and Syria’s future.”

In other words, America thinks Bashar Assad may still reform, cut ties with Iran, seek peace with Israel and therefore deserves to be treated like a potential friend of the U.S.—notwithstanding the brutality of the last two months.

Damascus certainly appreciates the forbearance, and it looks forward to normal relations once all this unpleasantness passes. The comments by U.S. officials were “not too bad,” Ms. Shaaban told the Times. “Once security is back, everything can be arranged. We’re not going to live in this crisis forever.”

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