The Lonely Centrist

A place for reasoned debate about the issues of the day.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Why Democrats Don't Deserve to Win in November

Peter Bienart, the bright young editor of one of my favorite publications, the New Republic, explains - inadvertently - why Democrats still don't deserve to win in November: a) they have no agenda at all for governing; and b) if they did, it would be less popular than what President Bush and the Republicans are offering.

Sad, but true.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Another example of Government Waste

Ryan Sager has this column on one of the more wasteful programs in government.

To me the oddest thing about having the government pay for campaigns is that there is no need for it. Typically, we have government pay for things that private citizens won't pay for, but which we as a society have deemed valuable. But the private sector will pay for political campaigns. Public financing of campaigns is a bit like having the government pay to brew beer. It's just not necessary.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Wertheimer and Potter vs. Potter and Wertheimer

Does campaign finance reform clean up government in the sense that it can prevent scandals such as Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham? In this earlier post, I discovered that most reformers seem to think so - it seemed as though reform guru Fred "the Most Naive Man in America" Wertheimer and his sidekick Trevor Potter were out of touch with their colleagues in the reform community, who seemed to unanimously agree that the answer to lobbying scandals is campaign finance reform.

This matters, because reformers often - as my earlier post noted - use these scanals to argue for more reform. If that's the case, then it seems fair to criticize past reform efforts when they fail to stop corruption scandals such as Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham. But Mr. Potter and Mr. Wertheimer, in a tough column, sharply denied a connection.

So once again, I grabbed my trusty Google search engine and headed out to ask some real reformers what they thought - only this time, the reformers were Mr. Wertheimer and Mr. Potter themselves:

The logic behind attempting to lay the Jack Abramoff and “Duke” Cunningham scandals on BCRA’s doorstep for failing to stop corruption, completely escapes us. Bribery of public officials was illegal before the passage of BCRA, remains so today and must continue to be rooted out to protect the integrity of our government. BCRA did not affect the bribery laws, nor make them obsolete.

Fred Wertheimer (the Most Naive Man in America), President Democracy 21 and Trevor Potter, Chairman, Campaign Legal Center, August 16, 2006.

The Core issue that must be addressed in th end to deal with corruption and lobbying scandals in Washington is fundamental campaign finance reform.
Fred Wertheimer, Democracy 21 President, in Congressional Testimony, March 2006.

We have been functioning without a Sheriff of Judge for Congress... that ends up in scandals like the Abramoff affair... The Federal Election Commission, for example, which is responsible for enforcing campaign finance laws, is a failed agency... The issues involved here also raise larger questions about campaign finance practices and the need for fundamental reform.

Fred Wertheimer, Congressional Testimony on Lobbying Reform, Jan. 25, 2006

Under the Pence bill, a Washington lobbyist, such as convicted criminal Jack Abramoff, or a defense contractor, such as convicted criminal Mitchell Wade of Representative Duke Cunningham infamy, could contribute a million dollars to support the campaign of a Member from whom they were seeking favorable government treatment.
Fred Wertheimer, quoted at Common Dreams, March 21, 2006

It's openly accepted that lobbyists will help members of Congress in various ways, through campaign contributions and other financial favors, and will get appropriate help in return for their clients,
Fred Wertheimer, quoted in the Des Moines Register, January 15, 2006

The six benchmarks we are jointly proposing today are, we believe, the right blueprint for Congress to follow as members work through these issues... While we are focusing primarily on lobbying reforms today, we want to make clear that campaign contributions are at the heart of the lobbying and corruption scandals now engulfing Congress.
- "Statement of Trevor Potter on Lobbying Reform, Jan. 24, 2006," and attached list of six benchmarks.

In our last entry, we wondered if Mr. Wertheimer and Mr. Potter were at odds with the reform community. Now we wonder if maybe they are just political opportunists who will say whatever seems convenient at the moment.

Click in next week, when our roving reporter asks the question: Why do so many reporters in the mainstream press take these guys seriously?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Potter and Wertheimer vs. the Reform Community

Recently, a pair of card carrying anti-campaign finance reform lawyers, Bob Bauer and Jan Baran, actually got the New York Times to run a column they wrote in which they note that campaign finance reform has failed to prevent scandals such as the activities of Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham.

This set off two of the denizens of the reform community, Fred "the Most Naive Man in America" Wertheimer and Trevor Potter. In a New York Times letter and in a lengthy column posted on their own web sites, they emphatically denied that campaign finance reform can be blamed for the failure to stop Abramoff and Cunningham. After all, they claim, they never said it would.

So I was curious: Does campaign finance reform clean up government in the sense that it can prevent scandals such as Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham?

To find out, I took a camera crew (well, actually I took a Google search engine and 10 minutes of my day) and headed out to ask some real reformers: "Are the Abramoff scandals connected to campaign finance reform?" Because it seems to me that the reformers cannot have it both ways - either they are connected, in which case campaign finance reforms of the past can be criticized for having failed to prevent them, or they are not, in which case the scandals can hardly be used to support the case for more reform.

Here's what I learned:

Yes, they are connected
The indictment of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay; the metastasizing investigation into the web-spinning of lobbyist Jack Abramoff; and the revelation that Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham accepted over $2.4 million in bribes from a defense contractor all tended in favor of strengthening the FEC.
- James Samples, Associate General Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice

Yes, connected
Full public financing of Congressional elections is not an idea whose time has come. But the public disgust with the Abramoff scandal will make the case for some public money in elections.
Reformer Norm Ornstein

Yes, connected
Lobbyists and the wealthy special interests they represent would have very little of the kind of power deployed by fixers like Jack Abramoff if Members of Congress weren't so desperate for the one thing they provide: Big Money to finance their campaigns. If you don't change that, even the best-intentioned Members of Congress will find themselves altering their behavior to suit the needs of Big Money.
- Micah Sifry, Senior Analyst, Public Campaign

Yes, connected
Just last week, Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), the infamous "representative #1" from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's January plea agreement, announced he would not run for re-election after all. Ney allegedly accepted a long list of favors from Abramoff in exchange for helping the lobbyist and his clients.

Ney was immediately declared the latest political casualty of the Abramoff scandal, joining the ranks of former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), who resigned last April and former Christian Coalition golden boy Ralph Reed, who lost his Republican primary race for the lieutenant governorship of Georgia. Other lawmakers, among others, caught in the Abramoff net include Reps. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), Richard Pombo (R-CA), John Doolittle (R-CA), and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MN). All took contributions from Abramoff or his clients and took actions in their interests.

Clean Elections represents a way out of the pay-to-play system that ensnares so many members of Congress.
Nick Nyhart, Executive Director, Public Campaign

No, not connected
The logic behind attempting to lay the Jack Abramoff and “Duke” Cunningham scandals on BCRA’s doorstep for failing to stop corruption, completely escapes us. Bribery of public officials was illegal before the passage of BCRA, remains so today and must continue to be rooted out to protect the integrity of our government. BCRA did not affect the bribery laws, nor make them obsolete.
Fred Wertheimer (the Most Naive Man in America), President Democracy 21 and Trevor Potter, Chairman, Campaign Legal Center, August 16, 2006.

Hmmm. It appears that Mr. Wertheimer and Mr. Potter are out of step with the "Reform Community."

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Using Laws to Frustrate Competition

Bradley Smith has this column in today's Washington Post, about the use (abuse) of election laws to limit competition. Smith's column addresses laws that prevent candidates from appearing on the ballot. Carol Platt Liebau, however, quite correctly notes that campaign finance laws are probably the most abused of election laws. For some, these laws are nothing more than cynical ploys aimed at restricting competition. Others are true believers. But what the true believers can't seem to grasp is that whatever the motivation behind their enactment, the fact is that campaign finance laws - and other elections - will in fact be used as weapons on the arsenals of political actors, and accordingly will be abused for partisan gain.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Contempt of Lawmakers for their Constituents

This is an amazing article that was just recently brought to my attention. Now, I am basically pro-immigration, nor would do I agree with the author's speculation as to lawmakers' intentions, so that's not the point. It's the contempt these lawmakers seem to have toward their own constituents. The author seems credible.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

One Screwy Opinion

Here is Judge Taylor's opinion in ACLU v. NSA, the case finding the Administration's program of wiretapping the phone calls to and from suspected terrorists, to be unconstitutional. It's kind of wierd. The gravamen of the plaintiffs' complaint - their alleged injury that gets them into court - is this:

Each Plaintiff has alleged... that the TSP substantially chills and impairs their constitutionally protected communications. Persons abroad who before the program spoke with them by telephone or internet will no longer do so.

She then goes on, in a lengthy opinion that I won't try to dissect for its other flaws, to issue an injunction against the program.

But think about it: the harm suffered by plaintiffs is that since this top secret program was disclosed by the New York Times in December, people won't talk to them because they are afraid that the government is listening in. Makes you wonder what they're talking about, but that's not the point. The point is, the harm to these plaintiffs is not because of the program itself, but because the people they want to talk to now know about the program and won't talk to them anymore, thanks to the leak and the Times decision to publish the information regardless of any threat to national security.

Is the judge then saying, then, that the Administration will be OK if it terminates this program, then starts it up again under another name - so long as it stays secret? It would seem so, wouldn't it? Because if it is secret, then the people - alleged terrorists - overseas will be comfortable talking again, and the plaintiffs suffer no harm, and lack standing. The alternative is that these people overseas remain suspicious and still won't talk to the plaintiffs - but if that's the case, then the court ordered injunction is no remedy at all, and the case should be dismissed for that reason.

Meanwhile, beginning in about two weeks it will be illegal for all of these plaintifs - the ACLU, Greenpeace, all the rest - except for a couple individuals, to run a broadcast ad urging members of Congress to vote for or against increased presidential powers in the war on terror, thanks to McCain-Feingold.

Has our judiciary got the Constitution screwed up or what?

Was the 2006 Election Stolen?

Yes, we're still nearly 3 months away from election day 2006, but it's not too early to ask the question. Why? Because we know that, if Republicans actually gain ground in 2006, or even hold their own, we will have another round of "the election was stolen" hysteria from the left.

In today's press, as basically every day, I find the usual type of column about how unhappy the public is, and in particular how unhappy it is with Congress. Apparently, all of the polls show Republicans nose-diving this year. I can certainly believe that this will be the case. I'm an independent voter who, in recent elections, has tended to vote for Republicans. But in these pages, I have expressed dissatisfaction with the GOP, and when you see polling data over and over pointing to substantial Democratic gains, you ignore that data at your peril.

And yet, I'm not so sure that 2006 will be a big year for Democrats. Because frankly, Democrats have nothing much to offer - something else I have complained about in these pages. It is hard to take the Democrats seriously on fighting terrorism, where they have opposed profiling, opposed even the most modest surveillance measures, opposed detaining terrorists captured on the field of battle without providing them the full array of American criminal protections, opposed, it seems, every measure to improve security. It is hard to take them seriously on controlling government spending, given that, when you actually ask what they would do about spending and budget priorities, everything seems to be to spend more and tax more. On immigration, the current unrest seems to come from those who want stricter controls on immigration. I don't agree with that view, but frankly, nor do Democrats. Even more than Republicans, they want fewer restrictions on immigration. Ned Lamont, the current Democratic poster boy, still thinks national health care is the ticket - I think that that's a nuttier position than anything he's said on the war in Iraq.

Meanwhile, there are other voices. Jay Cost argues, I think with some persuasiveness, that too much attention is paid to the generic ballot numbers. Cost also argues, less persuasively, in my view, that fund-raising numbers are being misread. Micahel Barone, a very serious vote counter, thinks that the primary election returns may show a lot more Republican voters than the polling data is revealing (later hedging a bit, but not too much, in this post). An astute sounding observer from across the pond makes a similar argument. Whistling in the dark by folks who simply want a GOP win? Certainly that's a strong possibility.

Yet I feel much the same way. Beyond the failures of the Democrats to articulate an opposing agenda of any resonance, I just don't feel this unrest. Most people I know seem more apathetic than anxious or angry. Being honest, the economy is in great shape, and there have been no terrorist assaults in the U.S. since 9/11. Is that enough, in the face of frustration in Iraq and high gas prices, bipartisan corruption in Congress, and no immigration policy? I don't know. But I certainly don't sense the anger. Rather, I suspect that the constant bout of news and opinion stories proclaiming how unpopular the Republicans are may be having its own effect on how people talk - folks know they're supposed to be unhappy, so that's what they tell pollsters. A few years ago a friend of mine introduced me to this concept, which sociologists call, "preference falisification."

Let's suppose that the doubters are right, that 2006 is not a Republican disaster. Does anyone doubt that the looney left will refuse to accept the results? No matter how much their theories are debunked by facts? As in Mexico, it seems we have reached the point where a sizeable percentage of the public is refusing to accept any election result in which it does not win. This is not a good state of affairs.

Frankly, for me it is one more reason that, despite my dissatisfaction with the GOP, I won't be voting for many if any Democrats this fall, because I believe this nonsense - dangerous and damaging nonsense - can be traced in large part not just to the looney left, but to the failure of the mainstream Democrats to accept election results, and their willingness, every since the November of 2000, to indulge and encourage the conspiracy theorists.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Reality Disconnect in the "Reality Based Community"

Many on the far left have taken to referring to themselves as "the reality-based community." But the fact is, it is the left that is increasingly disconnected from reality, at least on the war against terrorism and the threat that radical Muslims pose to the West. It is this disconnect, in my view, that keeps Republicans in power despite the very questionable decision to invade Iraq, a number of blunders in carrying out the occupation, and at home the inability to control government spending and a series of ethical scandals.

I don't feel like I have much original to add to discussing the war on terror, but the issue is so crucial, it is the issue of our time, and given the week's events I at least feel this need to relay good columns on.

Michael Barone has a good column on this cognitive dissonance that is afflicting so much of the Democratic Party. Great passage:
The mindset of the Left blogosphere is that there's no real terrorist
threat out there. We wouldn't have any serious problem if we'd just do something
different -- raise the minimum wage or reduce the number without health
insurance (the first issue Lamont mentioned on election night), withdraw from
Iraq or (as some Left bloggers suggest) sell out Israel.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Hello? Anyone home at the New York Times?

Read this New York Times article about the added powers that British police have to break up terrorist plots and to put suspected terrorists under arrests or surveillance. Makes you wonder if the Times editorial guys, so apoploctic about any concrete anti-terrorism steps taken by the U.S. government, read their news pages.

And more realism on Arabs, Israel, and terror

An coming of age column by a liberal Jewish writer in today's WSJ on line.

Appeasement or else!

Read this column from Britain's Independent, and tell me - does this sound not so vaguely like blackmail, demanding that the British acquiese in the demands of Islamic terrorists, or else, well... we've seen the or else, haven't we?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

On terror: Worth Noting

This editorial gets it. Key quotes:
People ... can't possibly believe that jihadist terror is the product of 4 1/2 years of war waged by the United States in Afghanistan and then Iraq - no matter how counterproductive or stupid they consider those conflicts to have been.

Otherwise, how could they account for 9/11 itself, or for the host of attacks on U.S. facilities here and abroad stretching back two decades earlier? How would they explain Osama bin Laden's declaration of war against the infidel West in the 1990s? Otherwise, how could they account for 9/11 itself, or for the host of attacks on U.S. facilities here and abroad stretching back two decades earlier? How would they explain Osama bin Laden's declaration of war against the infidel West in the 1990s?
Those fascists do not merely desire all of the West Bank. They seek all of Israel. They do not desire accommodation with the West. They seek an end to its supremacy. And in those European countries where they exist in large numbers, their long-term goal is to transform those societies into Islamic states.

On the specifics of how the war is being fought, and what we should do to win it, this Wall Street Journal editorial merits attention. It points out that while Democrats have many valid criticisms of the military campaign in Iraq, they are basically unserious about any plan to otherwise wage war on and defeat Islamic terrorists; which the message of my post yesterday.

Friday, August 11, 2006

On Terror and Politics: I think I get it

The Centerman has made no bones about his desire to have a realistic Democratic alternative to the Republican Party. Does anyone see it coming?

As I understand the New York Times and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, it is improper for the Bush administration, Republicans, or really anyone, ever to suggest that the policies favored by many Democrats would be ineffective in the war on terror, or send a wrong message to our enemies, or undermine the nation's defense effort or morale. Democrats, however, are allowed to say anything they want about Mr. Bush and supporters of the war: he "lied" to take us into war (not merely was mistaken) is merely the standard charge. He is routinely accused of breaking the law, of violating the constitution, of intentionally dividing the country for political gain, of fighting the war for the benefit of Halliburton, etc. etc. Anything can be said about the president and the war's supporters, but they are not allowed to reply.
Even if the replies are valid.

Take, for instance, E.J. Dionne's latest. Here are a few excerpts and some commentary:

[Quoting Dick Cheney]:

"The thing that's partly disturbing about it is the fact that, [from] the standpoint of our adversaries, if you will, in this conflict, and the al-Qaeda types, they clearly are betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task."

The rejection of Lieberman made Cheney wonder if "the dominant view of the Democratic Party" is "the basic, fundamental notion that somehow we can retreat behind our oceans and not be actively engaged in this conflict and be safe here at home."

Wow! I bet the 145,000 free citizens of Connecticut who voted for Lamont will be shocked to learn that they were really sending signals of "retreat" to "al-Qaeda types.

They may well be. Of course, Cheney didn't say that. But more to the point, what is actually inaccurate about the Vice President's statement? Al-Qaeda almost certainly is banking on breaking the will of the American people to finish the fight. And is it not fair to wonder if the dominant view of the Democratic Party is the notion that someone we can just pretend this conflict is not underway? Isn't that largely Ned Lamont's position? I mean, I've not heard of Lamont suggesting anything other than pulling our soldiers home. That may be a good idea, but what then? Lamont offers nothing, nor do other Democrats calling for a quick and total pullout, such as Senator Kerry and Rep. Murtha, or Howard Dean, let alone the snarling bloggers at Daily Kos.

More Dionne:
[RNC Chairman Ken] Mehlman ... explained Ronald Reagan's defection from the Democratic Party this way: 'He saw the beginning of the end, as a party that had vowed to fight communism became a party that set itself against those who fought communism.' Ah, yes, the party of Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale was nothing but a bunch of anti-anti-communists.

Well, E.J., you tell me: It's strong rhetoric, to be sure, though probably not as strong as "Bush lied;" -- Yet it's kind of right, isn't it? By the end of the Carter era, through Mondale's 1984 campaign and the rest of the 1980s, the Democrats were largely defeatist. They opposed the operation ousting the Communist government of Grenada; they opposed U.S. support for the democratic government of El Salvador in its fight with communists; they opposed U.S. support for contra fighters and civilian democratic movements in Sandinista Nicaragua; they supported a unilateral nuclear freeze and/or disarmament; and they were relentlessly critical of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush's foreign policy right up to the moment the Berlin Wall fell. At each stage they sought to use these issues to defeat Republicans at the polls. It was this policy that pushed many of us to the politic right.

From there it was an easy leap to saying a Democratic Party -- cleverly renamed the "Defeat-ocrat Party" by the RNC chairman -- "that once stood for strength now stands for retreat and defeat." Translation: Anyone who dares question our botched approach is in favor of surrender.

Well, that's E.J.'s translation. I'll just focus on Mehlman's comment - isn't it largely correct? E.J. makes no effort to persuade us it is not. Rather, he is simply outraged that anyone should suggest it. In other words, Democrats can say anything about Bush, but anything Bush or Republicans say in reply is unfairly "politicizing the war."

Well, that's ridiculous.

Iraq has not gone well. We never much liked it here. And it is perhaps unfair to blame those who opposed the war for events that followed. But from this perch, it seems that one reason the anti-war arguments lost out in March of 2003 is that the opponents of the war on the left - i.e. within the Democratic Party (and of course many Democrats - a majority - supported the war) were so ridiculously irresponsible, silly, and driven by Bush hatred that good arguments against the war were not made. From the left we heard only silly arguments, such as "no blood for oil," (like we couldn't have just lifted the oil embargo) or Bush merely "wants revenge for his father," or even exchange rates! The average, relatively non-political centrist voter heard this nonsense, and figured there wasn't much case to be made against the war. A few conservative cranks, such as Pat Buchanan, made the argument, but buried it in conspiracy theories.

This is the cost of our lacking a responsible opposition. For over 5 years, from the day George Bush took office, the Democrats have offered little but the most extreme Bush hatred, partisanship, and obstructionism. We deserve better from an opposition party.

  • The Skeptic
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  • Michael Barone
  • The New Republic
  • National Review
  • Democracy Project
  • Bob Bauer
  • Center for Competitive Politics
  • Ryan Sager
  • Going to the Matt
  • Professor Bainbridge
  • Volokh Conspiracy
  • Mystery Pollster
  • Amitai Etzioni
  • Alexander Chrenkoff
  • Middle East Media Research Institute
  • Right Democrat
  • Democrats for Life