The Coming Obama Thugocracy
A Commentary by Michael Barone
“I need you to go out and talk to your friends and talk to your neighbors,” Barack Obama told a crowd in Elko, Nev. “I want you to talk to them whether they are independent or whether they are Republican. I want you to argue with them and get in their face.” Actually, Obama supporters are doing a lot more than getting into people’s faces. They seem determined to shut people up.
That’s what Obama supporters, alerted by campaign emails, did when conservative Stanley Kurtz appeared on Milt Rosenberg’s WGN radio program in Chicago. Kurtz had been researching Obama’s relationship with unrepentant Weather Underground terrorist William Ayers in Chicago Annenberg Challenge papers in the Richard J. Daley Library in Chicago — papers that were closed off to him for some days, apparently at the behest of Obama supporters.
Obama fans jammed WGN’s phone lines and sent in hundreds of protest emails. The message was clear to anyone who would follow Rosenberg’s example. We will make trouble for you if you let anyone make the case against The One.
Other Obama supporters have threatened critics with criminal prosecution. In September, St. Louis County Circuit Attorney Bob McCulloch and St. Louis City Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce warned citizens that they would bring criminal libel prosecutions against anyone who made statements against Obama that were “false.” I had been under the impression that the Alien and Sedition Acts had gone out of existence in 1801-02. Not so, apparently, in metropolitan St. Louis. Similarly, the Obama campaign called for a criminal investigation of the American Issues Project when it ran ads highlighting Obama’s ties to Ayers.
These attempts to shut down political speech have become routine for liberals. Congressional Democrats sought to reimpose the “fairness doctrine” on broadcasters, which until it was repealed in the 1980s required equal time for different points of view. The motive was plain: to shut down the one conservative-leaning communications medium, talk radio. Liberal talk-show hosts have mostly failed to draw audiences, and many liberals can’t abide having citizens hear contrary views.
To their credit, some liberal old-timers — like House Appropriations Chairman David Obey — voted against the “fairness doctrine,” in line with their longstanding support of free speech. But you can expect the “fairness doctrine” to get another vote if Barack Obama wins and Democrats increase their congressional majorities.
Corporate liberals have done their share in shutting down anti-liberal speech, too. “Saturday Night Live” ran a spoof of the financial crisis that skewered Democrats like House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank and liberal contributors Herbert and Marion Sandler, who sold toxic-waste-filled Golden West to Wachovia Bank for $24 billion. Kind of surprising, but not for long. The tape of the broadcast disappeared from NBC’s Website and was replaced with another that omitted the references to Frank and the Sandlers. Evidently NBC and its parent, General Electric, don’t want people to hear speech that attacks liberals.
Then there’s the Democrats’ “card check” legislation, which would abolish secret ballot elections in determining whether employees are represented by unions. The unions’ strategy is obvious: Send a few thugs over to employees’ homes — we know where you live — and get them to sign cards that will trigger a union victory without giving employers a chance to be heard.
Once upon a time, liberals prided themselves, with considerable reason, as the staunchest defenders of free speech. Union organizers in the 1930s and 1940s made the case that they should have access to employees to speak freely to them, and union leaders like George Meany and Walter Reuther were ardent defenders of the First Amendment.
Today’s liberals seem to be taking their marching orders from other quarters. Specifically, from the college and university campuses where administrators, armed with speech codes, have for years been disciplining and subjecting to sensitivity training any students who dare to utter thoughts that liberals find offensive. The campuses that used to pride themselves as zones of free expression are now the least free part of our society.
Obama supporters who found the campuses congenial and Obama himself, who has chosen to live all his adult life in university communities, seem to find it entirely natural to suppress speech that they don’t like and seem utterly oblivious to claims that this violates the letter and spirit of the First Amendment. In this campaign, we have seen the coming of the Obama thugocracy, suppressing free speech, and we may see its flourishing in the four or eight years ahead.
A Strategic Opening For McCain
Published on DickMorris.com on August 28, 2008.
Many political campaigns run against the wrong candidate. The opportunity to pick on a vulnerable target is so tempting that they are lured into attacking someone who isn’t running. In 1992, the Republicans unleashed their convention barrage at Hillary and left Bill unscathed. In 1996, Dole still ran against Clinton the liberal and ignored the changes in his political positioning. Campaigns go after the flaming red cape, so glittering a target, and leave the matador alone.
That’s what the Democratic convention has been doing in Denver. They are so anxious to run against Bush, their animosity is so pent up, that they persist in running against a man who is not seeking a third term. In speech after speech, the Democrats knock the Bush record and then add, lamely, that McCain is the same as Bush. Or they call the McCain candidacy Bush’s third term. It was no accident — or Freudian slip — when Joe Biden spoke of John Bush instead of George in his litany of attacks.
This pattern of shooting at the decoy, not the duck, gives McCain a bold strategic opportunity. He can nullify the impact of the entire Democratic convention simply by distancing himself from Bush.
The truth is, of course, that McCain is the most unlike Bush of any of the Republican senator. (When Obama’s people claim that Bush and McCain voted the same 94 percent of the time, they forget that most of the votes in the Senate are unanimous.) The fact that McCain backs commending a basketball team on its victory doesn’t mean that he is in lockstep ideologically with the president.
The issues on which McCain and Bush differ are legion:
* McCain fought for campaign finance reform — McCain-Feingold — that Bush resisted and ultimately signed because he had no choice.
* McCain led the battle to restrict interrogation techniques of terror suspects and to ban torture.
* McCain went with Joe Lieberman on a tough measure to curb climate change, something Bush denies is going on.
* McCain opposed the Bush tax cuts when they passed.
* McCain urged the Iraq surge, a posture Bush rejected for years before conceding its wisdom.
* McCain favors FDA regulation of tobacco and sponsored legislation to that effect, a position all but a handful of Republican senators oppose.
* McCain’s energy bill, also with Lieberman, is a virtual blueprint for energy independence and development of alternate sources.
* After the Enron scandal, McCain introduced sweeping reforms in corporate governance and legislation to guarantee pensions and prohibit golden parachutes for executives. Bush opposed McCain’s changes and the watered-down Sarbanes-Oxley bill eventuated.
* McCain has been harshly critical of congressional overspending, particularly of budgetary earmarks, a position Bush only lately adopted (after the Democrats took over Congress).
Remember that McCain ran against Bush in 2000.
McCain’s Republican advisers need to realize that they won the primary and that they do not need to cotton to the delegates at their convention or to appease the Bush White House. The more they respond to Obama’s and Biden’s attacks on Bush by saying, “It ain’t me, babe,” the more he will moot the entire purpose of the Democratic convention.
It is a rare opportunity to nullify the entire Democratic line of attack, and McCain should seize on it.
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Sunday, July 27, 2008
One of the wisest men I ever knew in Washington was the late James H. Rowe Jr. He came out of Montana, went to Harvard Law School and was recruited by Felix Frankfurter for a job on FDR’s White House staff. In later years, he became a counselor to Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey and other Democrats of that generation.
His law office was a block from The Post. When we would bump into each other, he would conduct street-corner seminars on politics and government for my benefit.
One day he gave me a riddle. “Broder, if when I go to my reward, St. Peter were to say to me, ‘James, you have lived a good life, and your reward is that I’m going to give you one amendment to the Constitution of the United States,’ do you know what my amendment would be?”
“I have no idea.”
“It would be very simple,” he said. “No senator of the United States shall be eligible for the office of president.”This was a surprise, coming from a man who had been a great friend of Johnson, Humphrey and others who had sought or served in the White House.
“The reason,” Rowe said, “is that senators don’t know how to run anything. Their staffs have to tell them what to do. They walk around with little slips of paper in their pocket saying, ‘Call so-and-so,’ or ‘Remember to talk to so-and-so.’ “
John Kennedy was the last man to go straight from the Senate to the Oval Office, but this year, both presumptive nominees, John McCain and Barack Obama, are Senate products.
That’s why I’m recommending for their reading a book just published by another old friend, Bradley H. Patterson, who has made a specialty of examining the workings of the White House and probably knows as much as anyone about how to organize the presidency.
For 14 years, Patterson was on the White House staff under Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and Ford. In 1988 and 2000, he published books that were drawn from his interviews and analyses of the presidents from Truman through Clinton. Patterson’s new Brookings Institution volume, “To Serve the President: Continuity and Innovation in the White House Staff,” brings the story up to date by focusing on the operations of the current White House under our first president to hold an MBA.
One of the things Patterson teaches is that George Bush has been a morecreative manager than is generally recognized. He has added three significant offices to the White House structure — the Homeland Security Council, the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and the USA Freedom Corps. Patterson’s judgment is that these “add-ons will most probably be long-lasting,” no matter who succeeds Bush.
He also credits Bush with improving the physical facilities of the White House in ways that will benefit the next presidents. The Situation Room goes back to 1962, but Patterson reports that it was increasingly inadequate until Bush decided at the start of his second term to bring it up to date. Now it is a suite of 13 rooms equipped with the latest telecommunications facilities and securely isolated from the rest of the White House. It was brought in “ahead of schedule and under budget.”
Bush also ordered an upgrading of the White House briefing room and has launched a much overdue modernization of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door. Not surprisingly, the vast expansion in the White House use of the Internet has come during his terms.
The obvious question is: If the presidency has been so well managed, how come so many things have gone awry? The choice of people and policies is a lot more crucial than tables of organization. That will be true for Obama or McCain in his time as well.
But Patterson says there are lessons to be learned. One of the most important is to understand that “Cabinet government” is a myth. The big issues and the tough choices inevitably come to the White House, so it behooves a new president to spend more time and thought on his White House staff than on his Cabinet — exactly the opposite of what Bill Clinton did.
Another is to resist the temptation to economize by reducing the size of the White House staff, as Clinton claimed to do. “The issue,” Patterson says, “is not how large is the White House staff, but how it is organized, and how professionally it conducts itself.”
Pay attention, senators.