- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Moral certitude

“To hear Mr. Obama speak now on matters like the national defense is to recognize that the leader now in the White House is in every respect the person he seemed on the campaign trail: a man of immense moral certitude, prone to an abstract idealism and pronouncements that range between the rational and the otherworldly,” Wall Street Journal columnist Dorothy Rabinowitz writes.

“That’s not counting the occasional touches of pure rubbish. Having, on the second day of his presidency, issued executive orders effectively undermining efforts to extract (from captured al Qaeda operatives) intelligence essential to the prevention of terror attacks - and in addition seriously hampering the prosecution of terrorist detainees - Mr. Obama argued that it was just by such steps that we strengthened our security. In his own words: ‘It is precisely our ideals that give us the strength and the moral high ground to be able to effectively deal with the unthinking violence that we see emanating from terrorist organizations around the world.’

“What can this mean? What moral high ground, exactly, would have enabled us to deter the designs of the religious fanatics in search of martyrdom and the slaughter of as many Americans as possible on September 11? …

“During his grim inaugural address - never has the promise of a nation’s rebirth sounded so cheerless - he was similarly emphatic as he touched on the issue of our defense, proclaiming that ‘we will not give up our ideals for expediency’s sake.’ It was a line that evoked a loud upsurge of applause from his audience.

“They had heard in it again, Mr. Obama’s most dramatic and familiar campaign charge, delivered now in shorthand that needed no spelling out: The day of the Bush administration’s machinations against our sacred ideals, against democracy itself, all in the name of our security, was now over. In this new day of our national salvation, then - in a post-9/11 America that had seen 3,000 of its inhabitants murdered by terrorists - it was now acceptable to characterize strenuous efforts to avert more such catastrophes as ‘expediency.’ It was not only acceptable, but proof of a higher moral intelligence.”

Obama and Steele

“There has been no love lost between President Obama and newly elected Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, going back more than two years, to the fall of 2006,” White House reporter Jon Ward writes in a blog at www.washingtontimes.com.

“Obama was then a senator and came to Maryland to campaign against Steele’s run for the U.S. Senate. Steele has not been shy since then in expressing derision for Obama,” Mr. Ward said.

“On Monday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about Steele’s dramatic and historic win Friday to become the head of the RNC.

” ‘He is the other African-American male heading a major party in this country,’ said April Ryan, a radio reporter with American Urban Radio, who asked why the White House did not issue any statement upon Steele’s election.

“Gibbs was utterly uninterested.

” ‘I’d direct him to someone over at the DNC,’ Gibbs said abruptly and quickly moved to another reporter.

“Gibbs’ clipped response may have been triggered by Steele’s somewhat provocative jab last week. Upon winning the chairmanship, Steele was asked by reporters if he had any words for Obama and answered, ‘How do you like me now?’ ”

By the clock

“Barack Obama has billed himself as a new broom in Washington, but some of the town’s rituals apparently endure,” the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Dick Polman writes in a blog at www.philly.com.

“For instance, there’s the venerable tradition of releasing embarrassingly bad news at Friday twilight, presumably when few people are paying attention. Such was the case as darkness fell last Friday, when we suddenly learned that Tom Daschle, the ex-Democratic Senate leader and current Obama sidekick, had failed for three years to pay any taxes on his free limousine (which, of course, came with a driver).

“It’s instructive just to watch the clock on this one: ABC News had the story at 6:29 p.m. Politico had it at 9:05. The Associated Press had a fuller version at 11:21. And the major broadsheet newspapers had to run their stories on Saturday, which every White House knows to be a low-readership day,” Mr. Polman said.

“The problem, however, is that the Daschle story is too substantively embarrassing to simply live and die in one news cycle. It’s alive and well today, because Daschle - the Obama team’s choice to be the Health and Human Services secretary - is being compelled to explain himself behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, and because Daschle is already circulating a mea culpa.”

Lessons learned

“What did we learn from the last week’s unanimous rejection of the Democratic stimulus package by House Republicans?” Fred Barnes asks in the Weekly Standard.

“We learned President Obama, who ardently wooed Republicans, is more charming than he is persuasive. We learned Republicans, though they can’t win a vote, can win an argument. We learned the stimulus bill is too big, too porky and hardly stimulative at all. And we learned Nancy Pelosi, the aggressively partisan House speaker, is by her own admission really and truly ‘nonpartisan,’ ” Mr. Barnes said.

“That’s a lot of learning from one event at the outset of a new administration. But the stimulus - or ‘stimulus’ - is one of the most important pieces of legislation in the Obama era, if not the most important of all. So the manner in which it progresses through Washington matters.

“Let’s start with Obama. He has just about everything going for him: popularity, political clout, large majorities in the House and Senate, an adoring press. But since he promised to pursue bipartisanship and thus change the way Washington works, he is eager to gain at least a modicum of Republican support for whatever he proposes, starting with the stimulus.

“So he visited congressional Republicans on Capitol Hill and invited them to the White House, all the while talking up the $819 billion Democratic stimulus bill in the House. The Republicans found him quite impressive and also gracious and likeable. But not one of them - not even a mushy moderate or two - voted for the bill in the House.

“Why? They simply hated the bill more than they feared voting against a popular new president.”

• Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or Greg Pierce.

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