That's pretty much par for the course these days. In a recent piece she wrote for New York Review of Books, Elizabeth Drew lamented the disappearance of what once constituted a political center in this country, especially since the 2008 elections. After the public rejected the Republicans at the polls, the GOP determined - correctly - that it could regain its stride by opposing the White House agenda. Since then, Republicans have rejected the Obama administration's ideas about the fiscal stimulus, cap and trade, financial services regulation and, now, health care.
So with the final health care vote now only days away, post-mortems are already being written. None are likely to be glowing. Washington's in too sour a mood and it's easy to understand why. If you're a liberal Democrat, you didn't get the public option; if you're a moderate Democrat, you're worried about cost and if you're a conservative, you're not sanguine about carving out an even bigger role for government.
And then there are the politics: Health care reform, the most closely-watched legislative knock-down, drag out in recent memory, has been an especially sorry spectacle, one in which obnoxious behavior got rewarded by higher television ratings and page views.
In the latest installment of his long-running critique of the Obama administration's policy in the Middle East, Bolton counsel Israel's Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to flip off President Obama and get back to the business of taking out Iran's nuclear facilities.
It's an argument that the neo-con crowd adores. Douglas Feith, a former under secretary for defense in George W. Bush's administration, writes that U.S. criticism of Israel "is one of a number of strange shots that Obama administration officials have taken at U.S. allies and friends abroad." John Podhoretz offers a similar take.
Both are ideological bedfellows of Bolton - who is itching with frustration at the administration's apparent decision to restrain Israel from going after the mullahs.Continue »
With the Obama administration racing to make its self-imposed deadline to pass health care reform legislation by the end of the week, conservatives are stepping up attacks on the credibility of the White House's foreign policy.
Both Republican House Whip Eric Cantor as well as the Wall Street Journal's editorial page came to the rescue of Benjamin Netanyahu, after the U.S. sharply criticized Israel for announcing new settlements during Vice President Joe Biden's visit last week.
In a statement, Cantor ripped the Obama team as Continue »
Each time I return from a visit to the other side of the Atlantic, Don Rumsfeld looks smarter all the time - though for all the wrong reasons. I'll keep this brief because I'm still jet-lagged, but remember back in early 2003, when France and Germany opposed George Bush's Iraq invasion plan? That's when the then-U.S. Secretary of Defense took a public swipe at French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. In doing so, he also managed to insult a lot of Europeans to the delight of the neo-con crowd back home.
When you look at "vast numbers of other countries in Europe, they're not with France and Germany... they're with the U.S.," Rumsfeld said. "You're thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't. I think that's old Europe."
Old Europe. What a great turn of phrase. Though his immediate problem was with Chirac and Schroeder over Iraq, Rumsfeld was really voicing the weariness, if not contempt, many conservative critics in the U.S. felt toward the liberal-left political culture that informs Western Europe. (A more pedestrian expression of the same sentiment was the renaming of french fries on the House of Representatives' cafeteria menu to "freedom fries?") Since the 2008 election, the U.S. right wing has accused Barack Obama of trying to pattern our country on social engineering models engineered by Europe's "Socialist elites." And that would be a bad thing, they say. Their argument being: "We're from Mars, they're from Venus; we're the rugged individualists, they're the welfare-state dependents; we created Silicon Valley, they created the baguette; we're the vanguard of freedom, they're cheese-eating surrender monkeys." I'd be careful about buying into the cliche. Europe obviously has issues to sort through. Yet a headline scan turns up no shortage of bizarre and untoward behavior in our own backyard. Consider the following:
- A major American city's educational system teeters on the brink. Kansas City announced that it will have to shut almost half of its schools at the end of this school year because of a projected $50 million budget shortfall. Hard to imagine a Western European nation letting that happen to one of their own.
- It's telling that at this point, even the WSJ allows that some kind of financial reform is going to be necessary. Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate can't figure out what to do - and this, 18 months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. You can blame incompetence in Washington but don't forget to credit the mighty efforts of banking lobbyists to block steps that threaten the status quo. If you have the time and the energy, the report by the court-appointed examiner of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan makes for fascinating reading. Among other choice nuggets: Lehman execs ignored accounting regularities and rigged the corporate balance sheet to snow outsiders. And Brutus is an honorable man.
- More fodder for those who believe corporations control the Congress. Nearly 15 months after a reform-minded president came into office, we still don't have health care reform.
- Speaking of Congress, the habits of a former member with a predilection for tickle fights became a prime time obsession. As if we should really care.
- And silly me. I thought the judiciary was supposed to be immune from partisanship. Yet here was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court zinging the President of the United States for conducting what he described as a "political pep rally."
- A high school in Mississippi cancels its prom following a request by a gay female student to attend the party with her same-sex date. (Here's the wording from the official statement: "Due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events, the Itawamba County School District has decided to not host a prom at Itawamba Agricultural High School this year.") Distractions? Is this 2010 or 1910?
- Karl Rove told the BBC that he "was proud" that the U.S. used harsh interrogation techniques on detainees, including waterboarding, which he asserted was not torture. "They're appropriate, they're in conformity with our international agreements and with U.S. law." So says Rove. That statement surely falls into the "Mars-Venus" category.
- And while we're out in the remoter sectors of the constellation, let's not forget Glenn Beck, who urged his listeners to leave their churches if their clergy focus on "social justice" or "economic justice." A recommendation that ought to qualify our generation's Howard Beale as possessing the most pinched heart regularly appearing on prime-time television.
Well, that's just the short list. I could go on but why belabor the point? Most of the hired help in Washington either is too clueless or to gutless to acknowledge that when it comes to oddball and feckless behavior, the U.S. still has Europe beat by a country mile. The late, great George Carlin said it best. When you're born, they give you a pass to the freak show. When you're born in the United States, you get a front row seat. That's one thing we'll still have over Old Europe, every day of the week.
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