Archives: 05/2011

Sit Down, Mitt, You’re Not Helping

An excerpt from my latest Kaiser Health News column:

Mitt Romney’s reversals on abortiongay marriagegun controlcampaign finance and immigration leave one with the impression that when Mitt Romney is with you, he’s with you. At least until he leaves the room….

Romney once said, “I would be happy to take credit” for ObamaCare. As he should: Romney bears as much responsibility for ObamaCare as any Democrat. Now he wants to repeal it. This absurd attempt to have it both ways is turning Romney into a laughing stock. The longer he drags it out, the more oxygen he will suck out of the effort to repeal ObamaCare.

Along the way, I explain why every distinction he tries to draw between RomneyCare and ObamaCare falls flat.

Freedom vs. Entitlements

A new World Bank working paper by Jean-Pierre Chauffour (author of the Cato book, The Power of Freedom: Uniting Human Rights and Development) finds that freedom is the root cause of development. In contrast to economic, political and civil freedoms, Chauffour finds that “beyond core functions of government… the expansion of the state to provide for various entitlements, including so-called economic, social and cultural rights, may not make people richer in the long run and may even make them poorer.”

Tuesday Links

Yes He Can…Use School Kids as Campaign Props

Two years ago, when there was major controversy over President Obama’s first national address to America’s school children, it was clear that the televised spectacle was about more than just telling kids to work hard and stay in school. It was about President Obama, his inspirational personal story, and displaying just how much he cares about education. It was, in other words, free campaigning with our children as props.

At the time, unfortunately, people who dared to suggest this were roundly accused of hating President Obama, or the presidency, or just being cracked. Well, in the President’s most recent education photo-op – his second annual address to the winners of the administration’s “Race to the Top Commencement Challenge” – Mr. Obama blatantly infused campaigning into commencement, using several variants of his “Yes we can” campaign slogan while talking up the challenges he had to overcome in his life. And doing that got him just what he’d want from a campaigning perspective, at least from NBC News: A nice, long clip of his talk showing him, presumably, inspiring the kids, and hopefully the voters. Oh, and that far fewer schools than the administration had hoped for competed to get the President to their graduation? Well, there’s no mention of that.

Pelosi’s Constituents Found out What’s in ObamaCare, and They Don’t Like It

From the Daily Caller:

Nearly 20 percent of new Obamacare waivers are gourmet restaurants, nightclubs, fancy hotels in Nancy Pelosi’s district

By Matthew Boyle - The Daily Caller 12:07 AM 05/17/2011

Of the 204 new Obamacare waivers President Barack Obama’s administration approved in April, 38 are for fancy eateries, hip nightclubs and decadent hotels in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Northern California district.

That’s in addition to the 27 new waivers for health care or drug companies and the 31 new union waivers Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services approved.

Pelosi’s district secured almost 20 percent of the latest issuance of waivers nationwide, and the companies that won them didn’t have much in common with companies throughout the rest of the country that have received Obamacare waivers.

This Time They Said, ‘We’re Going’

Two weeks ago I wrote about the documentary “Stonewall Uprising” and the line from a police official that caught my attention:

“This time they said, ‘We’re not going.’”

That’s how Seymour Pine of the New York Police Department’s Morals Division described the raid he led on the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village on June 28, 1969, and the unprecedented refusal of the gay men in the bar to hang their heads in shame and go silently into the paddy wagons. The “Stonewall riots” that resulted are generally regarded as the beginning of the gay rights movement in the United States.

Last night on PBS’s “American Experience,” I saw another excellent documentary, “Freedom Riders,” about the white and black civil rights activists who boarded Greyhound and Trailways buses in May 1961 to travel through the Deep South, sitting together and dining together during stops. For someone too young to remember the Freedom Rides, it was a shocking and eye-opening film. Watching the violence directed at these “outside agitators” – a bus firebombed, people beaten, a mob threatening to burn a packed church – as police and elected officials stood by and let it happen, brings home the plight of black Americans before the civil rights revolution. And may also shed some light on the question of whether America is more or less free than it used to be.

At the Stonewall Inn, gays were ordered into paddy wagons, and “This time they said, ‘We’re not going.’” Without planning to, they started a social revolution. The Freedom Riders planned carefully. They took training in nonviolence. When the first Riders encountered violence throughout Alabama, other young people decided, in the words of Diane Nash, who had been a student at Fisk University, “It was clear to me that if we allowed the Freedom Ride to stop at that point, just after so much violence had been inflicted, the message would have been sent that all you have to do to stop a nonviolent campaign is inflict massive violence.” So she and other young Nashvillians decided to get on buses and continue the effort. John Seigenthaler, a Nashvillian who was working for Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, called Nash and said, in effect, Don’t go to Alabama. It’s too dangerous. People will get killed. And Nash responded that the students had all made out their wills, knew what they were facing, and were getting on the buses in the morning.

Eventually federal marshals got the Freedom Riders out of Alabama and into Mississippi, where they were arrested and sent to the notorious Parchman Farm penitentiary to do hard labor on a chain gang. And then yet more Riders, from all over the country, got on buses and headed to Jackson, Mississippi. It’s an incredible story of courage and conflict, one that demonstrates the value of nonviolent resistance in dramatizing moral issues. And although they didn’t quite use this phrase, I kept thinking that, in spite of cautionary advice from their parents and from the Kennedy administration,

This time they said, “We’re going.”

The President’s Next Middle East Speech

The news media is abuzz with speculation about what President Obama will say in an address this Thursday at the State Department. The topic is the Middle East, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney explained, “we’ve gone through a remarkable period in the first several months of this year…in the Middle East and North Africa,” and the president has “some important things to say about how he views the upheaval and how he has approached the U.S. response to the events in the region.” The speech, Carney hinted to reporters, would be “fairly sweeping and comprehensive.”

If I were advising the president, I would urge him to say many of the same things that he said in his June 2009 speech in Cairo, this time with some timely references to the recent killing of Osama bin Laden, and an explanation of what the killing means for U.S. counterterrorism operations, and for our relations with the countries in the region.

Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s long-time number two (now, presumably, its number one) railed for years about overthrowing the “apostate” governments in North Africa and the Middle East. And yet, one of the biggest stories from the popular movements that have swept aside the governments in Tunisia and Egypt, and may yet do so in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain, is al Qaeda’s utter irrelevance. President Obama won’t need to dwell on this very long to make an important point.

The killing of Osama bin Laden doesn’t signal the end of al Qaeda, but it might signal the beginning of the end. In reality, al Qaeda has been under enormous pressure for years, but that hasn’t stopped the organization from carrying out attacks—attacks which have mainly killed and injured innocent Muslims since 9/11. It is no wonder that al Qaeda is enormously unpopular in the one place where bin Laden and his delusional cronies sought to install the new Caliphate. How’s that working out, Osama?

Al Qaeda had nothing to do with the reform movements that have swept across North Africa and the Middle East; the United States has had little to do with them either. That is as it should be. These uprisings were spontaneous, arising from the bottom up, and they are more likely to endure because they were not imposed by outsiders. Sadly, the same will not be said of the Libyans who rose up against Muammar Qaddafi, without any special encouragement from the United States. If the anti-Qaddafi forces ultimately succeed in overthrowing his four-decades long rule, President Obama’s decision to intervene militarily on their behalf ensures that some will question their legitimacy. The same would be true in Syria, or in Iran, if the United States were seen as having a hand in selecting the future leaders of those countries.

Barack Obama was elected president in part because he publicly opposed the decision to go to war in Iraq at a time when many Americans, including many in his own party, were either supportive or silent. He had a special credibility with the American people, and among people in the Middle East, because he worried that the Iraq war was likely to undermine American and regional security, cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and claim many tens of thousands of lives. Tragically, he was correct.

There is a right way, and a wrong way, to go about promoting human freedom. In Thursday’s speech, I hope that the president reaffirms the importance of peaceful regime change from within, not American-sponsored regime change from without.

The United States remains, as it has been for two centuries, a well-wisher to people’s democratic aspirations all over the world. But we learned a painful lesson in Iraq, and we should be determined not to repeat that error elsewhere. That is a message worth repeating, both for audiences over there, and for those over here.

Cross-posted from The National Interest