Thursday, January 12, 2012

In New Hampshire, 'acceptable' is pronounced 'winner'

by Jeff Jacoby

FOR ANYONE gauging the Republican presidential contest, this week's most significant poll results weren't the ones tabulated in New Hampshire last night. They were the ones released by Gallup yesterday morning.

To say such a thing is heresy, I realize, given the long months of New Hampshire campaigning and the media's obsessive focus on the state over the last few weeks. But more telling than Mitt Romney's long-expected victory in the Granite State -- he drew about 38 percent of the vote, followed at a considerable distance by Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman -- was Gallup's finding that among Republicans (and Republican-leaning independents) nationwide, only the former Massachusetts governor is regarded as an "acceptable" GOP nominee across the ideological spectrum.

A large majority of both conservative Republicans and moderate/liberal Republicans -- 59 percent in both cases -- told Gallup that a Romney nomination for president would be acceptable. No other candidate had majority support among moderate/liberals; and only Newt Gingrich (51 percent) and Santorum (50 percent) were deemed acceptable by at least half of the conservatives.

Granted, being seen as "acceptable" by most Republicans isn't the same as winning their hearts and minds. Romney has never fired the Republican base with enthusiasm, and the party's anyone-but-Romney contingent certainly hasn't thrown in the towel. According to Gallup's tracking polls, only 30 percent of Republican voters say that Romney is the candidate they would prefer to nominate. But that's after months in which conventional wisdom has insisted that Romney's ceiling of support was no higher than 25 percent. And it's significantly higher than anyone else in the field is drawing.

The old saw is that Democrats fall in love with their candidates while Republicans fall in line behind theirs. It's a dubious rule of thumb -- were Democrats in love with John Kerry in 2004? With Michael Dukakis in 1988? -- but this much is true: Conservative insurgents rarely win the GOP presidential nomination. The nod almost always goes to the party establishment's candidate.

This year that candidate is Mitt Romney. If Gallup's numbers are right -- and New Hampshire offers no reason to doubt them -- the GOP nomination is now his to lose.



Independents Sour On Obama Despite Improving Economy

Americans are feeling better about the economy, but they aren't giving President Obama credit as he seeks re-election, according to the latest IBD/TIPP survey.

The Economic Optimism Index shot up 11% in January to 47.5, still below the neutral 50 level but the fifth straight monthly gain and the best reading since February 2011.

Meanwhile, the Presidential Leadership Index fell 3.3% to 46.7, little changed over the last several months despite less gloomy views on the economy.

Most ominously for Obama, the president's support fell considerably among independents, with their presidential reading tumbling 9.7% to 41.7. They disapproved of his job performance by 52%-39% in January vs. 46%-44% in December.

Obama will find it very difficult to win in November without substantial support from this key voting bloc. He won them 52%-44% over GOP candidate John McCain in 2008. The IBD/TIPP poll shows that 40% of independents think Obama deserves a second term while 52% prefer a "different candidate." The re-elect numbers across all voters are 45%-49%.

January's economic bounce may reflect typical "New Year hopes," says Raghavan Mayur, president of TIPP, a unit of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, IBD's polling partner.

However, recent data suggest that the U.S. economy is gradually firming, including manufacturing and jobs. It's unclear though if that can continue with Europe falling into recession and global growth slowing significantly.

Independents also reported improvement on the personal economic situation. Twenty-three percent of independents expected the quality of their life to improve in the next six months vs. 14% in December.

"There is a wide delta between how (independents) perceive their own economic situation vs. the nation's economic situation," said Jim Kessler, senior vice president for policy at the center-left think tank Third Way. "They have a far sunnier view of their own personal finances than the nation's. That's something Obama needs to understand."

IBD/TIPP found mixed results on national issues. On the direction of the nation, 29% were satisfied vs. 69% unsatisfied, essentially unchanged from last month. On the issue of whether the U.S. economy will be better or worse in the next six months, a net 8% said it would be worse, though that's up from 22% in December.

Two other factors may be souring Obama's image among independents. Independents are worried about the deficit. In January, 55% of independents gave Obama a grade of D or F on handling the budget, up from 49% last month.

They also may have lost patience with the president on the economy. Independents were somewhat more satisfied with federal economic policies this month, 34%-64%, up from 30%-69% in December. But that is still a big deterioration from 44%-52% in January 2011.

It seems likely that for Obama's numbers to improve with independents, the economy will have to register some very strong growth in the next six months.

That becomes all the more crucial as the number of independent voters has grown over 320,000, or 3.4%, since 2008, according to a new Third Way study. The study shows that Republicans lost over 334,000 voters since 2008 while Democrats have lost over 834,000.

"This makes independents all the more important, more so than in any recent election," said Ellis. "The IBD/TIPP poll shows Obama has his work cut out for himself with independents. He hasn't yet closed the deal with them."



Supreme Court Rejects Obama Administration Power Grab Over Churches in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC

The Supreme Court has rejected the Obama administration’s argument that it can dictate who churches hire as ministers or clergy in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Obama administration unsuccessfully argued that the government can dictate who churches hire, as long as it also subjects secular employers to the same dictates regarding who they hire (so-called rules of general applicability).

Taken to its logical conclusion, this argument would allow the government to ban a church or synagogue from hiring based on religion (defeating the whole purpose of religious freedom, which is to allow churches to promote their own religion) or sex (preventing the Catholic Church from having a male priesthood). No Supreme Court justice bought the administration’s argument, made on behalf of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The Supreme Court unanimously found that such government control over who churches can hire would violate the religion clauses of the First Amendment.

If federal antidiscrimination laws covered churches’ hiring of clergy, as the Obama administration demanded, they would have to not just avoid discriminating based on things like sex or religion, but would also have to radically alter sensible hiring criteria by eliminating longstanding, neutral church practices that have the affect of inadvertently screening out more members of a minority group than of other groups (so-called “disparate impact” or “unintentional discrimination”).

For example, some branches of the Lutheran Church have hiring criteria for religious broadcasters on their radio programs, such as “knowledge of Lutheran doctrine,” and “classical music training,” that few minorities satisfy (only 2 percent of all people with Lutheran training are minorities, and only 0.1 percent of people with both Lutheran training and classical music training are minorities), given the Lutheran Church’s historical roots in overwhelmingly white areas like Germany, Scandinavia, and Minnesota. Even though they are happy to have black applicants, and do not treat black applicants worse based on their race, the EEOC could easily sue them for racially disparate impact if the Obama administration’s argument had been accepted. (The religion clauses of the First Amendment not only protect who churches hire as ministers, but also other people who serve as “voices of the church,” such as theology professors, and religious broadcasters on behalf of a church.)

We previously wrote about ways that the Obama administration is attacking religious freedom and separation of church and state at this link. We described how the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is wiping out jobs and discouraging hiring and job creation through onerous interpretations of federal employment laws, at this link.

The extreme position taken by the Obama Justice Department in the Hosanna-Tabor case is a reflection of ideologically-based hiring. Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department has chosen to hire only liberal lawyers, not moderates or conservatives, for key Justice Department posts that are supposed to be non-political career appointments. Although many experienced lawyers are out of work in the current economic slump, the Obama Justice Department has hired many liberals who have no real-world legal experience, rather than hiring based on merit.

More commentary about the Hosanna-Tabor case can be found at this link. (The Obama administration suggested in its briefs that freedom of association could provide a theoretical check on government demands that institutions not hire based on specified criteria, even if — as it claimed — religious freedom does not limit the reach of employment laws that apply to both secular and religious employers. But this suggestion was disingenuous, since the administration and the EEOC have argued in other cases that free-association rights are outweighed and overridden by the government’s compelling interest in eradicating discrimination. And free-association defenses, unlike religious-freedom defenses, are generally losers, as the Supreme Court’s Hishon, Jaycees , and New York State Club Association decisions illustrate. Those rulings held that the government’s compelling interest in eradicating discrimination overrode the mere free-association rights of a law firm and various private clubs.)



Why Liberals Favor Campaign Season Censorship

If people can be totally convinced by a few campaign ads, then the real objection is not advertising—but democracy itself

Liberals are nearly united against Citizens United. This means they are nearly united in favor of censorship. But that has not stopped the Supreme Court decision from being roundly denounced by everyone with progressive DNA – from the elderly solons at The New York Times to the youthful idealists of Occupy Wall Street.

Cities from Missoula to Miami have condemned the ruling. Now the prestige press has gotten in on the act, again.

Media outlets across the country have begun airing stories about how 2012’s campaign ads are the unholy spawn of 2010’s ruling. Already The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and the LA Times have run such stories. NPR has run a half-dozen. (“Illegal During Watergate, Unlimited Campaign Donations Now Fair Game,” ran the headline on one fair-and-balanced look at the issue.)

Media corporations such as those, which spend huge sums of money talking about politicians, just can’t stand it when non-media corporations get to do the same thing.

And lest anyone forget that is precisely what the case was about. In 2008 a nonprofit, incorporated group called Citizens United wanted to distribute a documentary about Hillary Clinton. But doing so during an election campaign would have violated a 2002 campaign-finance law prohibiting “electioneering communications” within 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election.

A law that forbids American citizens to urge the election or defeat of a political candidate raises some obvious First Amendment concerns. During oral arguments, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that book publishers are corporations. He asked the government’s lawyer if the law could prohibit publishing a book that said, “Vote for X.”

Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart said yes—the government: “could prohibit the publication of the book.” Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21 and former head of Common Cause, later agreed that “a campaign document in the form of a book can be banned.”

To its credit, the ACLU did not side with liberal censors. The provision in dispute is “facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment,” the ACLU said, “because it permits the suppression of core political speech.” And that is just how the high court ruled.

You won’t learn much of that from the scare stories about the new “super PACs.” Instead, you’ll get endless variations on a single theme: Citizens United has made possible a torrent of “negative ads” from “outside groups.”

The theme’s unstated premise is that ostensibly unfortunate results should trump the First Amendment. This is not a wise line of argument for anyone who values a free press to make, but never mind. Are the results really unfortunate? For instance, what is wrong with negative ads? Often they do just what journalists claim is their most noble task: speaking truth to power. As a general rule, “attack” ads from opponents contain more useful information than positive ads from candidates. Positive ads show Candidate X striding manfully across sun-drenched fields while he recites a script about how much he loves America and wants to make it great again. Negative ads tell you how the guy voted.

But the ads are made by (eek!) “outside groups.” Outside of what, exactly? The campaigns themselves—along with the political parties’ paid apparatchiks—which do not like to have their monologues about their candidates’ wonderfulness interrupted. But The New York Times is an outside group. So is the AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood, the Brady Campaign, and—along with the Chamber of Commerce, the NRA, and the National Right to Life Committee. To term such organizations “outside” is to imply that elections are for the party pros, and everyone else should sit on the sidelines.

If this is the great unspoken wish of campaign “reformers,” then their great unspoken fear is that campaign ads might actually persuade. After all, if campaign ads never worked, then who spent what on them would not matter. This raises two possibilities. The first is that the people are so incredibly stupid a few 30-second spots can lead them by the nose. If that is the case, then the real objection is not advertising—but democracy itself.

The second possibility is that people are not stupid. They listen to competing cases from all sides and then choose according to their own interests and values. If that is the case, then the problem is, again, democracy itself. Why? Because every demand that A be prevented from speaking is, equally, a demand that all others be prevented from hearing. Hence the ultimate aim of rationing political speech is to make sure people who can think for themselves don’t have too much to think about.




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