Entries from November 2009

Republican-Leaning Independents Hate the Party Leaders

November 30th, 2009 at 4:44 pm 8 Comments

It seems that a man called “Nobody” is leading the pack for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination amongst independents.

Over half of Republican-leaning independent adults say that they either dislike the entire crop of 2012 wannabes or would rather just run John McCain again. Miss Media Blitz can’t even rack up a fifth of their support, and Mitt Romney lags in the single-digits.

I would have to concur: I look forward to nobody’s acceptance speech if it’s between Palin, Romney, and Mike Huckabee.

Here’s the poll:


16. (ASKED OF LEANED REPUBLICANS) If the 2012 Republican presidential primary or caucus in your state were being held today, for whom would you vote?

Sarah Palin

17

Mike Huckabee

10

Mitt Romney

9

John McCain

7

Newt Gingrich

2

Bobby Jindal

1

Ron Paul

1

Rudy Giuliani

1

Tim Pawlenty

1

Charlie Crist

*

Haley Barbour

*

Jeb Bush

*

Other

8

None/Nobody

12

Would not vote

2

No opinion

28

Romney’s Religion Problem is Mine Too

November 30th, 2009 at 4:01 pm 35 Comments

I am a Mormon patent attorney in Utah.  I travel frequently, and I can tell readers that even David Frum underestimates the prejudice faced by Mormons.  I am the victim of the stigma associated with Mormonism in every corner.  A friend of mine in Norfolk invited me and my family to a barbeque on the Fourth of July a long time ago when I was in a Naval commissioning program.  When we got there, his born again wife wouldn’t let us on the property because we weren’t “Christians,” so we had to leave.  Almost the same thing happened in Bakersfield, CA, where my car was vandalized and keyed with anti-Mormon phrases by a pastor.  A cop in Arkansas told me Utah license plates weren’t welcome in the state while ticketing me.  When I tried to buy something at the U.S. commissary in Portugal with a valid military ID, I was thrown out because I was carrying a Portuguese Book of Mormon.

My mother was in Mitt Romney’s congregation before he ran for Senate in 1994.  Romney excommunicated members of his congregation who had abortions, and their spouses if they let them.  He’s always been against abortion.  The whole flip-flopper label is itself a dishonest stigma imposed by evangelicals.  He’s a principled man.

Should Romney’s Faith be an Obstacle?

David Frum November 30th, 2009 at 2:15 pm 3 Comments

Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical Christian leaders last week issued a bold political statement. They intended to target the Obama administration. Inadvertently, they may have also hit probable Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney ought to rank atop the Republican candidates for president in 2012. He finished second in votes cast in the primaries of 2008. He is a candidate with immense private-sector economic expertise in a time of urgent economic debate. But Romney has a political problem: his Mormon religious faith. A Gallup survey in December 2007 found that 18 percent of Republicans would not vote for a Mormon for president.

Romney has worked hard to persuade Republicans to think again. In the 2008 cycle, many conservative Christians showed support for his candidacy. But the important new statement by Christian leaders suggests that Romney may face even greater religious resistance in 2012.

The Manhattan Declaration — that is the statement’s name — offers an ominous assessment of the Christian condition in Barack Obama’s America. It warns that the administration and its supporters will “trample upon the freedom of others to express their religious and moral commitments.” It worries that Christians may soon face outright persecution at the hands of government authorities:

“[W]e remember with reverence those believers who sacrificed their lives by remaining in Roman cities to tend the sick and dying during the plagues, and who died bravely in the coliseums rather than deny their Lord. … Like those who have gone before us in the faith, Christians today are called to proclaim the Gospel of costly grace.”

In the face of these looming threats, more than 125 signatories pledged themselves to outright civil disobedience.

“[W]e will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family.”

Now notice something curious: not one of the initial publicly identified signatories of the Manhattan Declaration is Mormon.

Through the cultural conflicts of the past decade, Mormons and the Mormon church have played a decisive role. The church itself gave $190,000 to the fight to repeal same-sex marriage in California. Individual church members many millions more. (McClatchy newspapers have quoted estimates as big as $20 million, although that seems improbably high.)

That degree of commitment might seem to entitle you to a seat at the table. But no. The framers of the Manhattan Declaration say they “act together in obedience to the one true God, the triune God.” Mormons do not accept the concept of God as three-in-one.

Conceded: Every religious grouping sets its own boundaries and definitions. Sikhs revere Muhammad as a prophet, but they are not Muslims. Jews for Jesus sometimes keep kosher, yet they are not regarded as Jews by most religious authorities. Christians are of course entitled to decide for themselves whether they will accept Mormons as “part of us.”

But when it comes time to act in politics, it’s the American way to leave sectarian tests behind. The most important social conservative group of the 1970s, Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, made room for Mormons and Jews too.

Now that tradition is to be departed from. The next wave of social conservatism is presenting itself as a particularly Christian cause, with Christian defined in a way that would exclude not only Mitt Romney, but also the man who created Tiny Tim and Ebenezer Scrooge. (Charles Dickens was a Unitarian, not a Trinitarian.) For that matter, neither George Washington, nor John Adams, nor Thomas Jefferson, nor Abraham Lincoln was a believer in the Trinitarian God of the Manhattan Declaration.

Now here’s the question. If this is a time when Christians must act as Christians together with other Christians — and if Mormons do not qualify — how can such Christians accept a Mormon like Mitt Romney as their political leader?

Evangelical leaders in 2008 tried to sell the idea that a man could be religiously repugnant yet politically acceptable. The influential Charles Colson famously cited the reputed remark of Martin Luther: Better to be governed by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian.

Yet just as Gallup predicted at the beginning of the 2008 cycle, the pro-Romney sympathies of some evangelical leaders did not translate into pro-Romney primary votes. Romney not only failed to win a single southern state in the Republican primaries, but he did not even finish second anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line.

The exit polls strongly suggest the power of unease over Romney’s faith. In Alabama, 78 percent of GOP primary voters described themselves as evangelicals. Half of them voted for Mike Huckabee, and that boost helped Huckabee win the state. In Georgia, 64 percent of Republicans identify as evangelicals. They voted 41 percent for Huckabee, 28 percent for Romney.

Romney did best in the secular Northeast (he won Massachusetts and Maine, and finished second in New Hampshire, New Jersey and Connecticut) and the West (he won Wyoming, Colorado and Nevada, and finished second in California and Arizona).

In the end, while Romney won almost 400,000 more votes than Huckabee and three more states, it was Huckabee who finished second in the delegate count: 270 vs. 140.

Since 2008, Huckabee’s strength has grown inside the GOP. Romney’s has sagged. Romney’s 56 percent favorability rating among Republicans badly trails Huckabee’s 72 percent.

Like many Republicans, I have many questions about Mitt Romney’s bid for party leadership. They all relate to his public record and his civic convictions. I don’t share his religious views. But is it not disturbing that in the United States in the 21st century a man of unquestioned personal rectitude should feel compelled to say, as Romney said in December 2007:

“If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.

“There are some for whom these commitments are not enough. They would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do. I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers — I will be true to them and to my beliefs.”

Mormon America has provided leadership and support for conservative politics out of all proportion to its numbers. If there’s a test for conservative identity that excludes Mormons, it’s not a good test. And if conservatism has shrunk too small to contain conservative Mormons, it is not only Mormons who will search for something bigger.


Originally published November 30, 2009 at CNN.com.

Romney’s Religion Problem

David Frum November 30th, 2009 at 2:02 pm 11 Comments

My column for CNN.com expands on the discussion of this issue here last week.

The next wave of social conservatism is presenting itself as a particularly Christian cause, with Christian defined in a way that would exclude not only Mitt Romney, but also the man who created Tiny Tim and Ebenezer Scrooge. (Charles Dickens was a Unitarian, not a Trinitarian.) For that matter, neither George Washington, nor John Adams, nor Thomas Jefferson, nor Abraham Lincoln was a believer in the Trinitarian God of the Manhattan Declaration.

Now here’s the question. If this is a time when Christians must act as Christians together with other Christians — and if Mormons do not qualify — how can such Christians accept a Mormon like Mitt Romney as their political leader?

Evangelical leaders in 2008 tried to sell the idea that a man could be religiously repugnant yet politically acceptable. The influential Charles Colson famously cited the reputed remark of Martin Luther: Better to be governed by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian.

Yet just as Gallup predicted at the beginning of the 2008 cycle, the pro-Romney sympathies of some evangelical leaders did not translate into pro-Romney primary votes. Romney not only failed to win a single southern state in the Republican primaries, but he did not even finish second anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Taking Aim at Auto Insurers

November 30th, 2009 at 2:00 pm 3 Comments

With health insurance dominating the political debate, few Americans give much thought to automobile insurance. A developing situation in economically devastated Michigan, however, may revive an issue that hasn’t aroused much political concern lately.

Some background: In the 1980s, rising tort costs coupled with state-imposed price controls made auto insurance increasingly expensive and difficult to get. In response, states experimented with different regulatory schemes and politicians gained votes bashing auto insurers. Ultimately, however, leaders in both parties couldn’t help but notice that states like Illinois, Virginia, and Ohio that lacked price controls, subsidies, and the like actually had lower rates and greater levels of consumer satisfaction. Most states followed their lead and, by the late 1990s, the crisis ended and auto insurance dropped from public view.

Through the chaos, Michigan stood apart. Since the late 1970s, it has required all auto insurers to provide unlimited medical benefits for auto accident victims while making it virtually impossible for drivers to sue over accidents. The resulting rates are higher than those in surrounding states but, except in the City of Detroit–where high theft and fraud rates raise premiums to over $5,000–basically affordable at around $925 a year.

The state’s recent economic turmoil (unemployment stands at around 15 percent), however, has begun to change things. Even though auto rates have actually fallen recently, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and her allies in the state legislature (mostly from Detroit) have begun to agitate for a series of reforms that would make auto insurance into a political hot potato once again.

The first set of new proposals—a series of “bad faith” bills aimed at punishing insurers that wrongly deny claims—would likely scare away an industry that provides over 50,000 Michigan jobs. The set of seven bills, which has already passed the Michigan House of Representatives, would replace modest fines for wrongful denial of insurance claims with jail terms for executives whose companies fall astray of the law. While Michigan’s current laws may let companies off too easily, it’s hard to imagine that many companies would bother doing business in a state where a bad management decision could land an executive in jail.

A forthcoming Michigan ballot proposal misleadingly named “Fair Affordable Insurance Rates” (FAIR) would make things worse through an impossible promise of across-the-board auto insurance rate cuts coupled with the creation of a massive new state insurance bureaucracy and a 100 percent tax on insurance company advocacy activities.  All this would leave untouched laws that require insurers to charge rates high enough to pay likely claims. In other words, the state will have to give up on either the bureaucracy or ignore the rate cuts (the latter is explicitly allowed.)

Given Detroit’s desperate straits and, for that matter, the general distaste for paying auto insurance bills (it’s only useful when something bad happens and too many insurance companies provide bad service), the proposals could go somewhere. Together, they’ll worsen the perceived problems they’re intended to address. But, if they produce votes for their backers, they’ll spawn imitators throughout the country.

We’re Mad as Hell…

David Frum November 30th, 2009 at 1:31 pm 61 Comments

My takeaways from the Washington Post survey this morning of Republican opinion:

1)    Republican political leaders have very little room to maneuver. With 46% of Republicans and Republican-leaners declaring themselves “angry” at the Obama administration – and 77% refusing any compromise on healthcare – it’s unsurprising that Republican leaders do not dare to negotiate a better deal.

2)    Had Congressional Republicans tried to exercise more far-seeing leadership, they would almost certainly have failed to carry their supporters with them. Rank-and-file Republicans feel little confidence in their supposed leaders. While 56% of Republicans and Republican-leaners credit the party with sharing “some” of their values, only 37% say that their party leadership shares “most” of their values. Only 55% think their leaders in Congress understand the problems of people like themselves.

3)    Republicans disdain President Obama as culturally alien. 61% “strongly” feel that he does not stand for traditional American values, another 13% “somewhat” feel so.

4)    Yet one has to wonder: how much of the anger felt by Republicans is explained by things Obama has actually done – and how much by the generally miserable situation of the country. Republicans have 401Ks too. Only 1% of Republicans name George W. Bush as the person who epitomizes Republican values, and 24% blame him greatly or somewhat for the problems of the country today.

For all the anger felt by Republicans, they are not a very radical group of people. They divide 50-50 on whether they wish to see religion exercise more influence in American life than it does today. Only one-fifth of Republicans think abortion should be illegal in all cases. The party still holds a substantial pro-choice minority: 35% think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Half of the Republicans and Republican leaners surveyed said they “never” listen to Rush Limbaugh – more than say they never listen to MSNBC.

Punishing the SEALs

November 30th, 2009 at 10:44 am 31 Comments

Earlier this week, news broke that three Navy SEALs were charged and may be court-martialed for allegedly punching a prisoner.  The prisoner, a high-value target (HVT) was turned over to authorities with a bloody lip.

According to a source of mine — a retired SEAL who like myself still serves in other capacities — the feeling going around the Special Operations community at Fort Bragg is that this latest development is a kneejerk reaction to the situation a couple months ago when SEAL operators rescued Captain Phillips – Captain of the Maersk Alabama – off the coast of Somalia.

At the time of the capture, the media played up the angle that President Obama himself gave the order to the SEAL snipers to open fire. Having done extensive time in anti-terrorist units myself, I can tell you from personal experience this is ridiculous, a total fabrication. Nobody except those with “eyes on” the targeted individuals can make the judgment call to open fire.

The truth of the situation was that the SEALs were held off from infiltrating the AO (Area of Operations) for over 36 hours. There was a lot of resistance from the White House in letting them in theater in the first place; once they were in place they were given very restrictive ROE (Rules Of Engagement); so restrictive that they really couldn’t engage their targets. There were two previous opportunities to rescue Captain Phillips, and they were not allowed to engage their targets.

When they finally did execute, they did so by liberally interpreting the ROE; the onsite commander finally had enough with the situation and gave them a weapons-free command and they were able to engage and rescue Captain Phillips. The fallout from the National Command Authority was immediate and extremely unpleasant; the White House did not want the rescue to be conducted in the way that it was.

So the word on the street is that this latest development is payback for the SEALs violating the ROE in rescuing the captain of the Maersk Alabama. The Chain of Command is asserting itself, letting everybody know what’s going to happen to you if you don’t follow orders.

As this was expressed to me, this opinion is based on very good, solid inside information. In my personal experience with Navy brass I have found they are very political and very politically correct. The Naval Command’s reaction to the prisoner situation was so overblown and out of proportion that I somehow find this latest angle quite believable. Unfortunately.


Originally posted at STORMBRINGER.

A Jobs Summit that Works

David Frum November 30th, 2009 at 10:16 am 47 Comments

Good for Newt for calling his own.

Here are some things we should be talking about:

1) A 5-year extension of the Bush tax cuts. This is no time to be raising taxes. While the ideology of the governing party rules out making the Bush tax cuts permanent, economics tells us that short extensions do no good at all. Shoving off the expiration date from 2011 to 2013 will make no difference. Five years at least. There will be time in the next administration to think through the revenue reforms we need to achieve budget balance in future: consumption taxes or energy taxes, not taxes on saving, work and investment.

2) Military re-equipment. Our John Guardiano has been arguing here that re-equipping the armed forces after a decade of exhausting war can provide stimulus to some of the economy’s high technology sectors, badly battered by the collapse in business investment. We’re hearing a lot of 1930s analogies these days. Consider this one: the FDR bill that had the most dramatic impact on employment was his Naval bill of 1938, a then-astounding $1 billion for new ships and naval aircraft. That money helped pull the economy out of the “second depression” of 1937. A military capital budget could help sustain both employment and necessary rearmament over the difficult months ahead.

3) An exchange rate deal. The dollar has declined against the yen and euro, as it needs to do. Through complex central bank operations, China has thus far managed to push its currency down in tandem with the dollar. This is good news for Chinese exporters: their goods stay cheap in American stores. But for everybody else in China, the currency decline implies inflation ahead: Unlike the recession-struggling U.S., China is growing and super-abundant liquidity translates into asset bubbles and soaring consumer prices. In its own interest, China needs to revalue its currency sooner or later. Trade inducements from the U.S. might help nudge that decision forward to “sooner.”

4) An immigration slowdown. The job growth of the past year heavily disproportionately benefited immigrant rather than native-born labor, as economist Ed Rubinstein has shown.  Federal stimulus dollars are headed toward immigrant-heavy sectors: construction above all. Given the especially appalling unemployment numbers among young black males, we need to be acting decisively to ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars provide relief to U.S. nationals.

5) Avoid direct federal job creation. These programs become dead ends: see especially the sorry history of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act. Created in 1973 to expand a program created in the Kennedy administration (!) to help workers displaced by automation (!!), CETA rapidly devolved into a permanent holding tank for lightly committed workers.

6) TARP 2. I know, I know: everybody hates TARP. But 14 months after the Lehman crash, credit remains ultra-tight, in great measure because the books of banks and other lending institutions are clogged with bad debts. Inability to produce a plan to clear these bad debts remains failure 1 of the Obama administration domestic policy … a better TARP remains today as it has always been a prerequisite for rapid recovery. Otherwise we are in a Japan-like situation of hoping that general economic improvement will turn bad assets into good. That can happen too, but it takes time – and nobody should wish to dawdle.

Dubai Bust

David Frum November 29th, 2009 at 2:53 pm 3 Comments

My National Post column this weekend focuses not on Dubai’s default, but on the illusions spawned by Dubai’s rise.

Dubai’s banking sector could exist only because it was backed by an implicit security guarantee from the United States. The credibility of that guarantee was spectacularly enhanced by the first Gulf War of 1990-91, and not so coincidentally Dubai took off soon afterward.

As with Dubai, so with so many other emerging economic powers, from South Korea to Chile. Their wealth depends on security provided to them by the United States.

Far from indicating a “post-American world,” the skyscrapers of Dubai are symbols of that American world as much as the monuments of American cities. Arguably even more so: Every rich country has skyscrapers, but there is only one that can be counted on to defend the skyscrapers of others.

Palin: Still Not Ready for the Spotlight

November 29th, 2009 at 2:44 pm 31 Comments

As someone who was ready to give Sarah Palin a second chance after her wonderful speech delivered in Hong Kong, I must say that I am walking away with little to be hopeful about after watching the batch of Going Rogue interviews. The book itself was only partially revealing; some issues were conspicuously glossed over — her shotgun wedding, for instance — while some genuinely had light shed on them (such as the early campaign press release about Bristol’s pregnancy). But then there were the endless interviews. Has the former governor taken time to train her impulses and gain some depth on the issues? This list, which goes in order from the least-cringe-worthy remarks to the most, should reveal why I have been highly disappointed by her recent showing. She is not anywhere near ready to take on President Obama.


10. “Obama’s got it all back-asswards.”

This wasn’t folksiness. It’s just dumb.

Remarking upon Obama’s economic policies, Palin stated: “Those are back-assward ways of trying to fix the economy.” Interviewer Barbara Walters replied: “You certainly have a way with words.”

Politico had the story.


9. “My critics are lonely and need prayer.”

This just drips with bitterness. Try to imagine Ronald Reagan whining like this.

Palin said: “These are probably some lonely people, some shallow people…and we need to pray for these people…”

David Frum is in Palin’s prayers.

Read all about this one here.


8. “The ‘lame-stream media’ is out to get me.”

I have a natural aversion to self-styled victims. Especially for a woman who’s supposed to be such a fighter, this is embarrassing.

Speaking to Sean Hannity on his radio show, Palin remarked that “some on the left, that lamestream media, they’re contradicting what I wrote in the book…Yeah, lamestream…They are contradicting those facts that I laid out regarding what Reagan had to say.”

Speaking of Reagan, he used a much more potent weapon than whining to defuse the bombs laid by his critics: humor.

Politico covered this one.


7. “If you don’t agree with me by now, then I’m not even going to try to win you over.”

This was not the sign of a woman sure of her convictions. It was the sign of a politician who doesn’t know how to communicate with the public. Even conceding that there’s a good forty percent of the public who would never credit Palin with any smarts at all even if she penned the new Nicomachean Ethics tomorrow, there are certain things that an aspiring president just does not say — and one of them is “screw you.”

Palin’s remark to Greta van Susteren was: “Well, for instance, the book is a good tool to get – hey, read the book, and if you still don’t like the positions that I take or if you don’t like who I am after reading the book, unfiltered through the media, then so be it. You know, I’m never going to win you over…I’m not going to try.”

David Frum covered this the other day.


6. “The Newsweek cover was sexist!”

One thing that Sarah Palin has done extraordinarily well is reveal the latent PC nonsense in the right-wing base. The former crusaders against political correctness are now crying sexism at every turn.

Palin wrote on her Facebook page: “The out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist and oh-so-expected by now. If anyone can learn anything from it: it shows why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, gender, or color of skin.”

Live by the sword, die by the sword, madam! If Palin looked like Helen Thomas, she would never have been on the McCain ticket. Moreover, there is no double-standard. I know that it’s a ‘DC elitist’ magazine, but…

More.


5. “I would consider Glenn Beck for VP.”

No comment.

Read all about it.


4. “Let’s primary Lindsey Graham!”

About center-right South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, Palin told Rich Lowry of National Review: “His constituents may want to send him a message to say ‘shore it up’ and come back to some more commonsense, conservative ideals.”

Is she kidding?

Read the interview in full here.


3. “Israel’s settlements are required due to…population growth!”

There are many good geopolitical and philosophical justifications for the continued expansion of Israel’s settlements. This preposterous explanation is not one of them:

I disagree with the Obama administration on that. I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon because the population of Israel is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don’t think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand.

That is an answer given by someone who literally has no idea what she is talking about.

The Jerusalem Post picks this apart here.


2. “India and Pakistan need to stop fightin’, ya know?”

A shockingly embarrassing BS answer. In full, the exchange with Greta van Susteren about India and Pakistan went like this:

SARAH PALIN: Geez, well, with India, we have to make sure that we’re working closely with India, the largest democracy in the world, such a strategic partner of ours. We have to make sure that India and Pakistan know that, Hey, the last thing that this world needs is conflict between these two countries. That’s the last thing that we need. In fact, they both need to understand that each other are not the problem, the Taliban is the problem.

OK, so her remarks are: conflict is bad. “Hey, the last thing that this world needs is conflict between these two countries. That’s the last thing that we need.” A little late for that.

Read the interview in full.


1. “Has Katie Couric learned anything about Alaska yet?”

Palin can’t seem to decide whether she wants to concede that her interview was truly disastrous or continue the charade that Katie Couric was out to get her. Regardless, I don’t think that she understands that an interview with a candidate for the vice-presidency is not an exchange of ideas involving what the newscaster thinks about the candidate’s home state!

Watch the remarks in full.