Peace Through Strength

Several national security conservatives led by former Reagan Attorney General Edwin Meese have put out a 10-point manifesto aimed at “restoring peace through strength,” and they are calling on candidates and elected officials to sign on. You can read it here.

Santorum Endorses Fiorina

Rick Santorum has endorsed Carly Fiorina in the California Senate race, giving Fiorina another prominent conservative backer following the Sarah Palin endorsement.

If you read Santorum’s statement, or watch video of him describing his decision on Fox, it’s pretty clear that he sees Fiorina as the most electable conservative candidate.

After the Palin endorsement, the Chuck DeVore campaign took solace in the fact that there was a backlash against Palin among some Tea Partiers for endorsing Fiorina. In the case of Santorum, critics of Fiorina could point out that he endorsed Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in the 2004 Pennsylvania Senate primary. And DeVore claims the support of Jim DeMint and Mike Huckabee.

With that said, the difficullty for DeVore is that he can’t afford to split conservative support with Fiorina. Far behind in money and resources, DeVore’s chances rested on his ability to consolidate conservatives, tap into the grassroots energy, and gain parity through online fundraising. But unlike Marco Rubio in Florida, DeVore has not been able to catch fire, and it’s hard to see that happening with less than a month to go before the June 8 primary.

When Tom Campbell entered the race, the development was largely viewed as something that would be more damaging to Fiorina. And for sure, Fiorina still trails Campbell in most polls. But in the end, Campbell’s candidacy may have hurt DeVore, because the presence of a moderate to liberal Republican in the race has enabled Fiorina to appear more conservative.

Obama Nominates Himself

Writing in the Washington Post in February, law professor Jeffrey Rosen made the provocative suggestion that President Obama should nominate himself to the Supreme Court. On Monday, Obama ended up doing just that.

Well, sort of.

In Elena Kagan, who is just one year apart from him in age, Obama has found somebody whose biography, temperament, and values (as far as they are known) closely resemble his own.

Like Obama, Kagan graduated Harvard Law School and taught law at the University of Chicago. Look into the backgrounds of Obama and Kagan, and you’ll find evidence of radicalism that was tempered by personal ambition. Obama served as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review and Kagan was the school’s first female dean, and they both had a reputation for treating conservatives fairly, despite ideological disagreements. Just as Obama ran for president on a thin public record, Kagan doesn’t offer much of a paper trail, leaving her views on many key issues open to speculation.

In 1980, according to the Daily Princetonian, Kagan got drunk on election night after liberal Democrat Elizabeth Holtzman lost a Senate race in New York, and regularly wrote editorials taking ideologically liberal positions.

“Where I grew up — on Manhattan’s Upper West Side — nobody ever admitted to voting for Republicans,” Kagan wrote after that election, according to the New York Times. As a child growing up in New York City, she wrote, those who were elected to political office were  “real Democrats — not the closet Republicans that one sees so often these days but men and women committed to liberal principles and motivated by the ideal of an affirmative and compassionate government.”

As her undergraduate thesis topic, Kagan chose to write about the demise of the American socialist movement, a story which she called “a sad but also a chastening one for those who, more than half a century after socialism’s decline, still wish to change America…. In unity lies their only hope.”

She explained in the acknowledgements that her brother’s “involvement in radical causes led me to explore the history of American radicalism in the hope of clarifying my own political ideas.”

While such statements will be repeated within conservative circles, they are unlikely to seriously damage her confirmation chances, just as connections to terrorist Bill Ayers, former PLO spokesman Rashid Khalidi, and Rev. Jeremiah Wright didn’t prove fatal to Obama’s presidential campaign.

In Obama’s case, the fact that his own public statements were more measured and reasonable-sounding than those he was being connected with allowed the campaign to portray any criticism as “guilt by association.”     

In Kagan’s case, the writings come from her time as a college undergraduate, and since then she has been (for the most part) careful to avoid controversy. Her thesis adviser, Princeton history professor Sean Wilentz, has already been publicly defending the socialism paper, arguing that “Studying something doesn’t necessarily mean that you endorse it.”

During the presidential campaign, speculation was rampant about what Obama truly believed. While conservatives were concerned about his radical roots, in the early stages of the primaries, a lot of liberals were worried that he’d be too conciliatory to the right, especially on domestic issues. The media liked to portray him as a post-partisan, non-ideological pragmatist. His meager track record on the national stage, and his tendency to speak in a nuanced manner to mollify both sides, led political observers to make all sorts of wild assumptions.

For instance, declaring himself a conservative for Obama in July 2008, economist Larry Hunter wrote that “I suspect Obama is more free-market friendly than he lets on.” Hunter’s reasoning at the time? “He taught at the University of Chicago, a hotbed of right-of-center thought.” (He subsequently became a critic of Obama.)

If the early reaction to the Kagan nomination is any indication, we’re likely in for a similar experience. While many conservatives are emphasizing evidence of her extreme liberalism, some have quietly argued that it’s about the best pick that can be hoped for out of Obama. At the same time, she’s drawn criticism from liberals who are concerned that she has overly broad views of executive power.

On Monday, documents surfaced revealing that while working in the Clinton White House, Kagan advised President Clinton to support a compromise bill on banning late-term abortions. But it’s unclear whether such advice tells us anything about her personal views on the issue. 

The mainstream media, as it did with Obama, is doing its part to portray Kagan as a centrist. A Washington Post headline Tuesday read, “For Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, a history of pragmatism over partisanship,” while a New York Times’ piece was titled, “A Pragmatic New Yorker on a Careful Path to Washington.”

In another piece published last Friday in anticipation of the Kagan nomination, the Times looked at her most controversial moment in the public spotlight when she denied military recruiters access to the Harvard Law School career office as dean, in protest over the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The Times story insisted that “Her management of the recruiting dispute shows her to have been, above all, a pragmatist, asserting her principles but all the while following the law, so that Harvard never lost its financing.” (Had Kagan totally barred military recruiters, the university would have stood to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid.)

The article cites Harvard Law professor Robert H. Mnookin, who delivers a quote typical of the sort of descriptions one often sees applied to Obama: “Elena is very good at reading the lay of the land, at having a sense of who is where on what issue and what the art of the possible might be, who can be influenced, who cannot.”

In announcing the nomination on Monday, Obama praised Kagan’s “temperament — her openness to a broad array of viewpoints; her habit, to borrow a phrase from Justice Stevens, ‘of understanding before disagreeing’; her fair-mindedness and skill as a consensus-builder.” He spoke of her recruitment of conservative professors and her encouraging students to “to respectfully exchange ideas and seek common ground…”

All of those are qualities that, coincidentally, Obama’s admirers see in him. In Rosen’s article making the case for Obama as Supreme Court justice, he writes that “it’s [Obama’s] even temperament and low boiling point that seem tailor-made for the court at this polarized moment.”

As president, Obama shed his carefully honed image as a post-partisan leader, and has governed decidedly from the left. In Kagan, he may have found somebody who will make rulings in the same manner.

Dems Wave White Flag in Hawaii Special Election

It looks like Republican Charles Djou is poised to win the special election in the district that includes President Obama’s birthplace of Honolulu, with national Democrats already withdrawing resources. CQ reports:

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Monday morning that it will no longer invest resources in the May 22 special election in Hawaii’s 1st Congressional district, effectively ceding the race to Republicans and likely setting the party up for what could be their first special election loss of the cycle.

I spoke to Djou about the race and his political philosophy back in March.

Why Kagan is Likely to Sail to Confirmation

By choosing Elena Kagan as his Supreme Court pick, President Obama will likely avert a bitter confirmation battle over the summer. While there’s always a chance that something unknown can surface to derail the pick, all the key signals point to a smooth confirmation.

The most important sign of how contentious any pick is likely to be is to look at the immediate reaction of the opposition. The most infamous example of this would be Ted Kennedy’s tirade against Robert Bork on the Senate floor within an hour of the nomination, in which Kennedy declared that, “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, and schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of the Government…” (Video here). And after President Bush nominated Harriet Miers, conservative activists immediately went to work trying to torpedo the appointment. But the case of Kagan, Republicans have been pretty tame initially, taking a respectful wait and see approach.

While critics will take issue with Kagan’s lack of experience as a judge, the advantage from a confirmation standpoint is that she’s much more of a blank slate and won’t have as much of a paper trail to go through, depriving opponents of ammunition.

Ultimately, Kagan is likely to face relatively smooth sailing because Republicans know Obama will get a nominee one way or another. It’s unlikely that anybody who Obama nominates would be any better than Kagan, but it’s quite possible that were her nomination rejected, that he could nominate somebody much worse.

Obama: Kagan Understands How Law “Affects Ordinary People”

President Obama just formally announced his appointment of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, touting her ability to understand the law intellectually while remaining aware of how it “affects lives or of ordinary people.”

Obama praised her temperment and her openess to different viewpoints, citing her recruitment of conservative professors when she served as dean of Harvard Law School. He also singled out her work as solicitor general on the losing side of the Citizen’s United free speech and campaign financing case.

On the personal side, Obama emphasized that Kagan was the granddaughter of immigrants whose mother served as a public shool teacher and father served as a housing lawyer representing tennants. He also described her as a “die hard Mets fan.”

Kagan echoed Obama’s general theme in her own statement, expressing her love for the law, “not because it’s challenging and endlessly interesting…but because law matters. Because it keeps us safe. Because it protects our most fundamental rights and freedoms. And because it is the foundation of our democracy.”

She thanked her two brothers, both school teachers, who were on hand for the announcement, while expressing sadness that her parents didn’t survive to be there. She reiterated that her parents were children of immigrants, and that her father worked to “represent everyday people” and to improve the community while her mother served her students.

McConnell Vows that Republicans Will Treat Kagan “Fairly”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell just released the following statement on Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Rather tame stuff:

“I congratulate Elena Kagan on her nomination.  As we did with Justice Sotomayor last year, Senate Republicans will treat Ms. Kagan fairly.  She has been nominated for a lifetime appointment on the nation’s highest court, and we will carefully review her brief litigation experience, as well as her judgment and her career in academia, both as a professor and as an administrator. Fulfilling our duty to advise and consent on a nomination to this office requires a thorough process, not a rush to judgment.

“The American people expect judges to apply the Constitution and laws of the United States fairly and impartially–as they are written, not how they could have been written but were not.  Even though the President who nominates them has personal policy preferences, judges must not be a rubberstamp for any administration. Judges must not walk into court with a preconceived idea of who should win.  Their job is to apply the law ‘without respect to persons,’ as the judicial oath states; it is not to pick winners or losers.

 “Senate Republicans will have a vigorous debate on the importance of this principle.  And we will diligently review the record of Ms. Kagan to ensure that she shares this principle and that she possesses the requisite experience to serve on the Supreme Court.”

Petraeus on the Surge of Ideas

Gen. David Petraeus was in Washington last night to accept the American Enterprise Institute’s Irving Kristol award. AEI has posted the speech online, and it offers a glimpse into the late 2005 through 2006 period, when he led a team from a wide range of backgrounds to develop to reshape the army around a series of principles that would manifest themselves in the surge in Iraq.

It’s a good talk, both as an historical capsule into how the surge strategy developed, but also as a study of how ideas are developed and can translate into action. “The truth is that ideas are all-important,” Petraeus quoted Kristol as observing over three decades ago. “The massive and seemingly-solid institutions of any society are always at the mercy of the ideas in the heads of the people who populate these institutions.” 

Petreaus recounts that:

As I saw it then–and as I still see it now–there are four steps to institutional change. First, you have to get the big ideas right–you have to determine the right overarching concepts and intellectual underpinnings. Second, you have to communicate the big ideas effectively throughout the breadth and depth of the organization. Third, you have to oversee implementation of the big ideas–in this case, first at our combat training centers and then in actual operations. And fourth, and finally, you have to capture lessons from implementation of the big ideas, so that you can refine the overarching concepts and repeat the overall process.

Meanwhile, Dave Weigel draws our attention to this quote at the end of the speech:

Our first president once captured very eloquently the feelings of those who serve our nation: “I was summoned by my country,” he said, “whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love.”

I explored the prospect of a Petreaeus presidential run in the May issue of our print edition. You can read it here.

Poll Shows Sestak Tied With Specter in PA Dem Primary

Via Jim Geraghty, I see a new poll showing that Sen. Arlen Specter now finds himself tied with Joe Sestak in the Democratic primary. Even though Specter brings a number of advantages over Sestak in a general election — organization, fundraising base, history of winning statewide, etc.), like Geraghty, I’ve always thought that Sestak would ultimately pose a stronger challenge to Republican Pat Toomey. In an anti-incumbent year, Specter epitomizes the sort of opportunistic politician that the public is fed up with. Toomey could win over non-ideological voters by portraying Specter as a creature of Washington who will do anything to cling to power. Toomey would still be able to present a clear contrast with Sestak at a time when voters are disenchanted with the Obama agenda, but the anti-incumbent line of attack would be weakened.

Economy Adds 290,000 Jobs in April, Unemployment Rate Creeps Up to 9.9%

The U.S. economy added 290,000 jobs in April, according to Labor Department data, but the unemployment rate crept up to 9.9 percent as the improved job market prompted more people to look for work.

While the jobs numbers received a boost from temporary hiring for the Census, that only accounted for a portion of the growth — 66,000 jobs.

Manufacturing added 44,000 jobs in April; mining added 7,000; construction added 14,000; professional and business services added 80,000; health care added 20,000 and leisure and hospitality added 45,000.