Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 22, 2008

Towards a Middle East Stalemate?

Both Barack Obama and John McCain have promised to make Middle East peace a priority if they are elected. Yet current diplomatic developments in the region seem to be pointing in a somewhat different direction: towards an indefinite military stalemate.

Consider two major zones of Israeli-Arab tension. On the Israeli-Palestinian front, Egypt has been mediating “national unity” talks between Hamas and Fatah for months. Historically, brief periods of “national unity” that have emerged from similar negotiations ultimately strengthened Hamas, with Israeli-Palestinian fighting intensifying in the aftermath. However, as al-Ayyam reported yesterday, Egypt is now insisting that Hamas maintain its truce with Israel as a formal condition of any Palestinian “national unity” arrangement. In turn, as Fatah increasingly signals its willingness to cooperate with Hamas – and as Tzipi Livni struggles to form an Israeli government supportive of making key concessions to the Palestinians – the Israeli-Palestinian sphere seems headed for a period of cold conflict management, rather than peace.

Meanwhile, on the Israel-Lebanon front, Israeli officials have been openly calling for a non-aggression pact with Beirut. Hezbollah has responded ambivalently to this prospect, but the Mubarak government appears poised to play a key role in bringing the Shiite group on board. Yesterday, Egypt invited Hezbollah representatives to meet with other key Lebanese officials in Cairo regarding strengthening “the Lebanese state and its institutions.” It is hard to imagine how Lebanese institutions might be strengthened without getting Hezbollah to concede to non-aggression with Israel, and we can therefore expect that this will be high on Cairo’s agenda.

Still, plenty of questions remain unanswered. How does the rumored poisoning of Hassan Nasrallah – if true – affect Hezbollah’s decision-making (h/t David)? Would this force Hezbollah to recognize its vulnerability and quietly accept a Lebanese-Israeli non-aggression pact? Or, if the report is publicly confirmed, will it cause Nasrallah to make good on his promises following the Mughniyeh assassination to attack Israeli targets? And what about reports that Saudi Arabia is targeting pro-Syrian forces in Lebanon (again, h/t David)? Will this force the Assad regime to draw closer with Iran and strengthen its ties with Hezbollah against pro-western states? Or will it convince the regime to pursue peace with Israel more actively, and thereby push Hezbollah to support an Israel-Lebanese non-aggression pact? (On this question, a recent interview with Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha only adds to the confusion.)

Time will tell. Either way, key Middle Eastern players are suddenly sounding a realistic tone: one that embraces the possibility of stalemate over the fantasy of peace.

Both Barack Obama and John McCain have promised to make Middle East peace a priority if they are elected. Yet current diplomatic developments in the region seem to be pointing in a somewhat different direction: towards an indefinite military stalemate.

Consider two major zones of Israeli-Arab tension. On the Israeli-Palestinian front, Egypt has been mediating “national unity” talks between Hamas and Fatah for months. Historically, brief periods of “national unity” that have emerged from similar negotiations ultimately strengthened Hamas, with Israeli-Palestinian fighting intensifying in the aftermath. However, as al-Ayyam reported yesterday, Egypt is now insisting that Hamas maintain its truce with Israel as a formal condition of any Palestinian “national unity” arrangement. In turn, as Fatah increasingly signals its willingness to cooperate with Hamas – and as Tzipi Livni struggles to form an Israeli government supportive of making key concessions to the Palestinians – the Israeli-Palestinian sphere seems headed for a period of cold conflict management, rather than peace.

Meanwhile, on the Israel-Lebanon front, Israeli officials have been openly calling for a non-aggression pact with Beirut. Hezbollah has responded ambivalently to this prospect, but the Mubarak government appears poised to play a key role in bringing the Shiite group on board. Yesterday, Egypt invited Hezbollah representatives to meet with other key Lebanese officials in Cairo regarding strengthening “the Lebanese state and its institutions.” It is hard to imagine how Lebanese institutions might be strengthened without getting Hezbollah to concede to non-aggression with Israel, and we can therefore expect that this will be high on Cairo’s agenda.

Still, plenty of questions remain unanswered. How does the rumored poisoning of Hassan Nasrallah – if true – affect Hezbollah’s decision-making (h/t David)? Would this force Hezbollah to recognize its vulnerability and quietly accept a Lebanese-Israeli non-aggression pact? Or, if the report is publicly confirmed, will it cause Nasrallah to make good on his promises following the Mughniyeh assassination to attack Israeli targets? And what about reports that Saudi Arabia is targeting pro-Syrian forces in Lebanon (again, h/t David)? Will this force the Assad regime to draw closer with Iran and strengthen its ties with Hezbollah against pro-western states? Or will it convince the regime to pursue peace with Israel more actively, and thereby push Hezbollah to support an Israel-Lebanese non-aggression pact? (On this question, a recent interview with Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha only adds to the confusion.)

Time will tell. Either way, key Middle Eastern players are suddenly sounding a realistic tone: one that embraces the possibility of stalemate over the fantasy of peace.

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Re: Re: The Markets Brought Down McCain

Jennifer, I think your posting is a very good corrective to mine. It’s certainly reasonable to examine what things could have been done better by Senator McCain and everyone else. I certainly don’t think he’s run an error-free campaign, and I’ve written on what I believe to be some of its flaws. Beyond that, there’s a reason why the GOP is in the difficult place it is, and that, too, is worth exploring.

I suspect I was oversteering a bit in reaction to some of the commentary, including by some of our fellow conservatives, who I sense are about to unleash a barrage of recriminations, most of which will be unhelpful and certainly won’t be offering commentary as fair-minded as, say, yours is/has been.

I continue to believe the financial/credit crisis was an enormously important political event, as well as an economic one, and has turned what was a very close race into a very difficult one for McCain. But your point is well-stated, and I accept it.

Jennifer, I think your posting is a very good corrective to mine. It’s certainly reasonable to examine what things could have been done better by Senator McCain and everyone else. I certainly don’t think he’s run an error-free campaign, and I’ve written on what I believe to be some of its flaws. Beyond that, there’s a reason why the GOP is in the difficult place it is, and that, too, is worth exploring.

I suspect I was oversteering a bit in reaction to some of the commentary, including by some of our fellow conservatives, who I sense are about to unleash a barrage of recriminations, most of which will be unhelpful and certainly won’t be offering commentary as fair-minded as, say, yours is/has been.

I continue to believe the financial/credit crisis was an enormously important political event, as well as an economic one, and has turned what was a very close race into a very difficult one for McCain. But your point is well-stated, and I accept it.

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Educating Voters About Obama

If you didn’t know anything about the Chicago Annenberg Challenge(CAC), had never read anything by Stanley Kurtz and didn’t know who Bill Ayers really was ( i.e. the New York Times target readership), you might still think it odd that in all the discussion about education reform — and in all the debates —  Barack Obama has never boasted about his work on the CAC. After all, he gained executive experience and had hands-on responsibility allocating millions of dollars in grant money to improve troubled schools. Why does he not flaunt this?

The answer is two-fold: CAC was ideologically extreme and largely unsuccessful. The New York Post explains:

[T]he Obama-led foundation funneled more than $200,000 to an outfit called the Coalition for Improved Education in South Shore. Its mission: training public-school teachers in “Afrocentric” education, a pseudo-scientific movement that (as a trainer brought in with CAC funds put it) rejects Western civilization, and America in particular, as “white supremacist” and seeks to “recover our disrupted ancestral culture.” Reading, writing and ‘rithmetic this isn’t. All of which gives the lie to Obama’s breezy assertion in last week’s debate that his CAC activities were somehow bipartisan or mainstream. It also certainly explains why schools chosen for the foundation’s largesse showed no gains in student performance. Sadly, this latest revelation also casts new light on one of Obama’s finest moments – his candid and hope-filled primary-season address on race in America. Back then, faced with Rev. Wright’s equally anti-American sermons, he made the plausible case that while his devotion to his pastor was based on 20 years of community involvement, he rejected Wright’s extreme views. But how can anyone now take that assertion seriously, given that he spent years funding the teaching of those ideas?

The ideological tilt and the results achieved by the CAC seem rather pertinent, yet they are among those topics utterly ignored by the MSM. One can imagine if McCain sat on a foundation doling out money to white separatist schools, which unsurprisingly didn’t do much of anything to improve students’ school proficiency, we’d have seen that on the front pages. It would not only have been held up as evidence of his whacky views on education, but pundits would have rightly argued that this showed a troubling tendency to place ideology above real reform. After all, it takes a certain mindset to place one’s own political aspirations and ideological goals above the needs of children — underprivileged ones at that.

It is easy then to figure out why Obama hasn’t wanted to raise any of this. It is less understandable why his opponents didn’t make a bigger deal of it. It is hardly a shock, but nevertheless dispiriting that MSM outlets have conspired to hide this revealing aspect of Obama’s life from view.

If you didn’t know anything about the Chicago Annenberg Challenge(CAC), had never read anything by Stanley Kurtz and didn’t know who Bill Ayers really was ( i.e. the New York Times target readership), you might still think it odd that in all the discussion about education reform — and in all the debates —  Barack Obama has never boasted about his work on the CAC. After all, he gained executive experience and had hands-on responsibility allocating millions of dollars in grant money to improve troubled schools. Why does he not flaunt this?

The answer is two-fold: CAC was ideologically extreme and largely unsuccessful. The New York Post explains:

[T]he Obama-led foundation funneled more than $200,000 to an outfit called the Coalition for Improved Education in South Shore. Its mission: training public-school teachers in “Afrocentric” education, a pseudo-scientific movement that (as a trainer brought in with CAC funds put it) rejects Western civilization, and America in particular, as “white supremacist” and seeks to “recover our disrupted ancestral culture.” Reading, writing and ‘rithmetic this isn’t. All of which gives the lie to Obama’s breezy assertion in last week’s debate that his CAC activities were somehow bipartisan or mainstream. It also certainly explains why schools chosen for the foundation’s largesse showed no gains in student performance. Sadly, this latest revelation also casts new light on one of Obama’s finest moments – his candid and hope-filled primary-season address on race in America. Back then, faced with Rev. Wright’s equally anti-American sermons, he made the plausible case that while his devotion to his pastor was based on 20 years of community involvement, he rejected Wright’s extreme views. But how can anyone now take that assertion seriously, given that he spent years funding the teaching of those ideas?

The ideological tilt and the results achieved by the CAC seem rather pertinent, yet they are among those topics utterly ignored by the MSM. One can imagine if McCain sat on a foundation doling out money to white separatist schools, which unsurprisingly didn’t do much of anything to improve students’ school proficiency, we’d have seen that on the front pages. It would not only have been held up as evidence of his whacky views on education, but pundits would have rightly argued that this showed a troubling tendency to place ideology above real reform. After all, it takes a certain mindset to place one’s own political aspirations and ideological goals above the needs of children — underprivileged ones at that.

It is easy then to figure out why Obama hasn’t wanted to raise any of this. It is less understandable why his opponents didn’t make a bigger deal of it. It is hardly a shock, but nevertheless dispiriting that MSM outlets have conspired to hide this revealing aspect of Obama’s life from view.

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Joe Clean Up

Responding to his VP’s mega-gaffe, Barack Obama essentially says Joe Biden has a habit of saying stupid things. That’s comforting?

Next repair job: explaining why his “spreading the wealth” comment shouldn’t be of concern. He tries to reinvent his comments to Joe the Plumber:

OBAMA: “The simple point I was making was that even assuming he’s at a point that he wants to buy a business that he hopes will generate more than $250,000, the point I was making was that ten years ago or five years ago or even a year ago when he was making a lot less than that, he was having a tough time. … We don’t mind people getting enormously wealthy because of their skills and their talents and their drive. But we always want to make sure that the playing field is such where everybody who’s got a good idea has a chance to succeed. Everybody’s got a chance to get financing. Everybody who works hard is able to raise their family. Everybody has an opportunity if they act responsibly to send their kids to college and retire with dignity and respect. And in that sense, that does involve us spreading around opportunity.

Actually Obama said the opposite: he’ll spread around the results of, not the opportunity for, wealth creation.

Both of these damage control efforts seem fairly weak, of course. But the reality is that Obama’s ultra-liberal economic outlook — his emphasis on “fairness”over wealth creation — is nothing new. Playing word games with voters likely isn’t going to obscure Obama’s meaning and intent. And as for Biden, explaining that his VP pick is an alarmist blabbermouth does not endear either one of them to voters concerned about national security. Biden — who was supposed to be the voice of reason and sobriety — has now been exposed as a foolish character. So those voters who were looking for ballast to steady the Obama presidency will have to prepare themselves for a very rough ride.

Responding to his VP’s mega-gaffe, Barack Obama essentially says Joe Biden has a habit of saying stupid things. That’s comforting?

Next repair job: explaining why his “spreading the wealth” comment shouldn’t be of concern. He tries to reinvent his comments to Joe the Plumber:

OBAMA: “The simple point I was making was that even assuming he’s at a point that he wants to buy a business that he hopes will generate more than $250,000, the point I was making was that ten years ago or five years ago or even a year ago when he was making a lot less than that, he was having a tough time. … We don’t mind people getting enormously wealthy because of their skills and their talents and their drive. But we always want to make sure that the playing field is such where everybody who’s got a good idea has a chance to succeed. Everybody’s got a chance to get financing. Everybody who works hard is able to raise their family. Everybody has an opportunity if they act responsibly to send their kids to college and retire with dignity and respect. And in that sense, that does involve us spreading around opportunity.

Actually Obama said the opposite: he’ll spread around the results of, not the opportunity for, wealth creation.

Both of these damage control efforts seem fairly weak, of course. But the reality is that Obama’s ultra-liberal economic outlook — his emphasis on “fairness”over wealth creation — is nothing new. Playing word games with voters likely isn’t going to obscure Obama’s meaning and intent. And as for Biden, explaining that his VP pick is an alarmist blabbermouth does not endear either one of them to voters concerned about national security. Biden — who was supposed to be the voice of reason and sobriety — has now been exposed as a foolish character. So those voters who were looking for ballast to steady the Obama presidency will have to prepare themselves for a very rough ride.

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Lost in Space

Today, India launched its first Moon probe. A Chinese one is now there, mapping “every inch” of the surface for minerals. Japan’s Kaguya spacecraft visited the Moon late last year, a stepping stone for future missions. The three Asian giants are competing fiercely in the heavens.

For now, China, which completed its third manned mission last month with a spectacular spacewalk, is way ahead of the other two. Beijing plans to put a taikonaut-the Chinese term for astronaut-on the Moon by 2017. Nasa projects a Moon landing by 2019. In recent times, China has been meeting its timelines and we have not. So in a very important sense, the Chinese are ahead of us in the space race. But “space race” is a misnomer. Only Beijing thinks there is a race in space. We are not even in the game.

President Bush announced a Moon-Mars mission in January 2004 but has not provided the funding. This is allowing others to take the “high ground” away from the United States. As CNN’s Bill Tucker said yesterday, we have a ” ‘been there done that’ attitude.” Yes, we have been to the Moon, but we have to realize how far we have fallen. In two years we will not even be able to put a human into space. We are retiring our shuttle fleet in 2010 and will have no replacement until 2014-assuming that the Orion program is completed on time, which appears extremely improbable at this moment.

So in a short period we will have to rely on the Russians to get to the International Space Station. Out of all the failures of the Bush administration, this has to be among the most embarrassing. In just about the time it takes to say “Neil Armstrong,” we will become a second-ranked space power, dependent on others to reach orbit.

The United States, I am afraid to say, is losing its way in space.

Today, India launched its first Moon probe. A Chinese one is now there, mapping “every inch” of the surface for minerals. Japan’s Kaguya spacecraft visited the Moon late last year, a stepping stone for future missions. The three Asian giants are competing fiercely in the heavens.

For now, China, which completed its third manned mission last month with a spectacular spacewalk, is way ahead of the other two. Beijing plans to put a taikonaut-the Chinese term for astronaut-on the Moon by 2017. Nasa projects a Moon landing by 2019. In recent times, China has been meeting its timelines and we have not. So in a very important sense, the Chinese are ahead of us in the space race. But “space race” is a misnomer. Only Beijing thinks there is a race in space. We are not even in the game.

President Bush announced a Moon-Mars mission in January 2004 but has not provided the funding. This is allowing others to take the “high ground” away from the United States. As CNN’s Bill Tucker said yesterday, we have a ” ‘been there done that’ attitude.” Yes, we have been to the Moon, but we have to realize how far we have fallen. In two years we will not even be able to put a human into space. We are retiring our shuttle fleet in 2010 and will have no replacement until 2014-assuming that the Orion program is completed on time, which appears extremely improbable at this moment.

So in a short period we will have to rely on the Russians to get to the International Space Station. Out of all the failures of the Bush administration, this has to be among the most embarrassing. In just about the time it takes to say “Neil Armstrong,” we will become a second-ranked space power, dependent on others to reach orbit.

The United States, I am afraid to say, is losing its way in space.

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Letter to a Young Conformist

These are dark days for genuine Christopher Hitchens fans. Hitchens’s very turbulent and very public life of the mind has always meant factoring disagreement with him into the price of fandom. Moreover, it’s usually a fun price to pay. Arguing with a piece of Hitchens requires the full engagement of your faculties, and you’re always better off for the dust-up. What’s depressing now is not that Hitchens is once more saying disagreeable things, but that he has become so determined not to.

His piece on Sarah Palin in Slate yesterday is most notable for the way it echoes the most wildly popular, if least fact-checked, narratives of this election. It is, of course, all about the Republican nominee’s supposed ignorance, and secrecy, and religious intolerance.

Hitchens goes into the well-worn creationist curriculum myth.

“You know, don’t be afraid of information,” as she so winningly phrased it in a gubernatorial debate. “Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.” I would like to ask her whether by this she means that creationism ought to be given equal time in science classes.

Funny that Hitchens and others with a burning desire to find out Sarah Palin’s thoughts on education have never bothered asking Barack Obama what kind of curriculum he promoted when sitting on the board of the Annenberg Challenge.

Anyway, one wonders why Hitchens wants to ask a question that was answered two years ago. Palin told the Anchorage Daily News:

“I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum.”

She added that, if elected, she would not push the state Board of Education to add such creation-based alternatives to the state’s required curriculum.

[…]

“I won’t have religion as a litmus test, or anybody’s personal opinion on evolution or creationism,” Palin said.

But then it seems Hitchens no longer takes his cues from news sources. Instead, he echoes the three-week-old “questions” of Hollywood muckrakers like Matt Damon. Hitchens asks, “How many years old does the Republican nominee for the vice presidency of the United States believe the Earth to be?”

It’s an okay question. But there is a better one: How long does the Democratic nominee for president believe the moral statute of limitations on homicide bombing should be?

Hitchens’s core complaint is that Sarah Palin has not granted a proper press conference during which she could be made to respond to these critical points. But as John Ennis points out:

If Palin wants to be spared the wrath of Hitchens, I think the location of her press conferences is more important than whether they occur. Because if the press conference isn’t in Hitchens’ living room, he ain’t going to know about it.

Palin holds press conferences with her beat writers on a somewhat frequent basis. They just happen to be occurring on the campaign trail-where Palin, the VP nominee, is, and where Hitchens, the Slate scribe, clearly is not.

Although, these days it’s hard to say exactly where Hitchens the Slate scribe has gone.

These are dark days for genuine Christopher Hitchens fans. Hitchens’s very turbulent and very public life of the mind has always meant factoring disagreement with him into the price of fandom. Moreover, it’s usually a fun price to pay. Arguing with a piece of Hitchens requires the full engagement of your faculties, and you’re always better off for the dust-up. What’s depressing now is not that Hitchens is once more saying disagreeable things, but that he has become so determined not to.

His piece on Sarah Palin in Slate yesterday is most notable for the way it echoes the most wildly popular, if least fact-checked, narratives of this election. It is, of course, all about the Republican nominee’s supposed ignorance, and secrecy, and religious intolerance.

Hitchens goes into the well-worn creationist curriculum myth.

“You know, don’t be afraid of information,” as she so winningly phrased it in a gubernatorial debate. “Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.” I would like to ask her whether by this she means that creationism ought to be given equal time in science classes.

Funny that Hitchens and others with a burning desire to find out Sarah Palin’s thoughts on education have never bothered asking Barack Obama what kind of curriculum he promoted when sitting on the board of the Annenberg Challenge.

Anyway, one wonders why Hitchens wants to ask a question that was answered two years ago. Palin told the Anchorage Daily News:

“I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum.”

She added that, if elected, she would not push the state Board of Education to add such creation-based alternatives to the state’s required curriculum.

[…]

“I won’t have religion as a litmus test, or anybody’s personal opinion on evolution or creationism,” Palin said.

But then it seems Hitchens no longer takes his cues from news sources. Instead, he echoes the three-week-old “questions” of Hollywood muckrakers like Matt Damon. Hitchens asks, “How many years old does the Republican nominee for the vice presidency of the United States believe the Earth to be?”

It’s an okay question. But there is a better one: How long does the Democratic nominee for president believe the moral statute of limitations on homicide bombing should be?

Hitchens’s core complaint is that Sarah Palin has not granted a proper press conference during which she could be made to respond to these critical points. But as John Ennis points out:

If Palin wants to be spared the wrath of Hitchens, I think the location of her press conferences is more important than whether they occur. Because if the press conference isn’t in Hitchens’ living room, he ain’t going to know about it.

Palin holds press conferences with her beat writers on a somewhat frequent basis. They just happen to be occurring on the campaign trail-where Palin, the VP nominee, is, and where Hitchens, the Slate scribe, clearly is not.

Although, these days it’s hard to say exactly where Hitchens the Slate scribe has gone.

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Re: The Markets Brought Down McCain

Peter, I generally agree with your take as a response to the generic question: “What was the single biggest factor leading to McCain’s poll collapse?” However, I think as a means of assessing this election and where Republicans go from here it is a mistake to omit the follow up: “But could it have been closer?” (Both of these assume, of course, that John McCain will not be able to pull off a shocking upset.)

It is perfectly fair, and quite helpful for Republicans, to examine whether a more ideologically grounded candidate would have fared better — and will in the future. It is quite appropriate once we know the final figures to see what percentage of the conservative base turned out, and to assess Sarah Palin’s role in that. It will be useful to consider whether a charismatic and articulate messenger has simply become a necessity in presidential politics. In essence, I’m suggesting that a fatalistic assessment of 2008 (“We were doomed no matter what”) is untestable and ultimately not very productive.

As to the tone of that assessment, I concur that calmer and more reasoned is better than hysterical and more emotive. But there are lessons to be learned from the style and substance of the Republican campaign and candidate whom Republicans selected.

Peter, I generally agree with your take as a response to the generic question: “What was the single biggest factor leading to McCain’s poll collapse?” However, I think as a means of assessing this election and where Republicans go from here it is a mistake to omit the follow up: “But could it have been closer?” (Both of these assume, of course, that John McCain will not be able to pull off a shocking upset.)

It is perfectly fair, and quite helpful for Republicans, to examine whether a more ideologically grounded candidate would have fared better — and will in the future. It is quite appropriate once we know the final figures to see what percentage of the conservative base turned out, and to assess Sarah Palin’s role in that. It will be useful to consider whether a charismatic and articulate messenger has simply become a necessity in presidential politics. In essence, I’m suggesting that a fatalistic assessment of 2008 (“We were doomed no matter what”) is untestable and ultimately not very productive.

As to the tone of that assessment, I concur that calmer and more reasoned is better than hysterical and more emotive. But there are lessons to be learned from the style and substance of the Republican campaign and candidate whom Republicans selected.

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Re: Nasrallah Poisoned?

Here’s another bit of Iranian posturing. Apparently a senior Iranian official is telling people that Iran is considering a pre-emptive strike against Israel. Haaretz, which is not exactly a hawkish paper, offers this take-down on Iran’s conventional military capability.

Here’s another bit of Iranian posturing. Apparently a senior Iranian official is telling people that Iran is considering a pre-emptive strike against Israel. Haaretz, which is not exactly a hawkish paper, offers this take-down on Iran’s conventional military capability.

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Palling Around With Smears

Kathleen Parker has gotten her share of bashing for her comments on Saraha Palin (who was instructed by Parker to exit the race before her quite effective debate performance). In her latest Parker writes:

“Palling around with terrorists,” as Sarah Palin said of Obama, gets to an underlying xenophobic, anti-Muslim sentiment. Using surrogates who strategically use Obama’s middle name, Hussein, feeds the same dark heart.

This tactic, denied but undeniable, has been effective with target audiences, some of whom can be viewed on YouTube entering a Palin rally in Pennsylvania.

That’s just hooey — all three sentences.

As to the first, the sly use of “gets to” hides Parker’s meaning and intent. Is she claiming that Palin’s reference, an obvious one repeated at many campaign stops, to terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dorhn was really not about them at all but about some suspicion that Obama hung out with Islamic terrorists? There’s simply no basis for that at all, unless “terrorist” is another banned word. (“Socialist” is also a racially-loaded term, I suppose.) Only if words have no meaning, and if Obama’s biography and record are totally ignored, does Parker’s accusation fly. One can debate the importance of the issue or the wisdom of raising it, but it’s frankly preposterous to suggest Palin wasn’t really referring to the white, socialist duo but to some other mysterious association, heretofore never raised and never revealed.

And if Parker uses “gets to” as a half-hearted, sloppy means of saying that people hear the reference to Ayers and Dohrn and make the erroneous jump to Islamic terrorists, then Parker is really suggesting that voters are xenophobic, ignorant dolts. That’s Parker’s prerogative, but for her to attribute that assessment to Palin is unfair.

As to the second sentence, this is straight from the Colin Powell playbook – a guilt by association game aimed at McCain who has done his level best to shush, chastise and castigate anyone who played the “Hussein” card. Parker doesn’t quite have the nerve to accuse McCain directly, so she employs the last refuge of smears — the passive voice (“using surrogates”). McCain has done so such thing, but he’s obviously earned no credit for his restraint.

And the final sentence essentially declares that you can’t argue with Parker’s smear. Well I did, so I suppose it isn’t “undeniable” after all.

Everyone has a right to join the tut-tutting about McCain’s campaign. They have every right, if they so desire, to ignore the age jibes from the Obama camp and the blatant xenophobia stirred by Obama’s immigration ad. They can ignore McCain’s refusal to reference Reverend Wright and his efforts to rein in everyone from comics to talk show hosts (not to mention pundits). Goodness knows there’s a market for McCain-Palin “tone”-bashing. But there’s no justification to smear, to imply and hint at conduct that simply didn’t occur, or to attribute evil motives to either McCain or Palin when a more obvious meaning is attributable to their words.

And before this winds up in the “conservatives are attacking conservatives” file, let me be clear. I’d say the same, and have, about liberal pundits who employ smears, half-truths and defective analysis. Conservatives shouldn’t get a pass when they do the same.

Kathleen Parker has gotten her share of bashing for her comments on Saraha Palin (who was instructed by Parker to exit the race before her quite effective debate performance). In her latest Parker writes:

“Palling around with terrorists,” as Sarah Palin said of Obama, gets to an underlying xenophobic, anti-Muslim sentiment. Using surrogates who strategically use Obama’s middle name, Hussein, feeds the same dark heart.

This tactic, denied but undeniable, has been effective with target audiences, some of whom can be viewed on YouTube entering a Palin rally in Pennsylvania.

That’s just hooey — all three sentences.

As to the first, the sly use of “gets to” hides Parker’s meaning and intent. Is she claiming that Palin’s reference, an obvious one repeated at many campaign stops, to terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dorhn was really not about them at all but about some suspicion that Obama hung out with Islamic terrorists? There’s simply no basis for that at all, unless “terrorist” is another banned word. (“Socialist” is also a racially-loaded term, I suppose.) Only if words have no meaning, and if Obama’s biography and record are totally ignored, does Parker’s accusation fly. One can debate the importance of the issue or the wisdom of raising it, but it’s frankly preposterous to suggest Palin wasn’t really referring to the white, socialist duo but to some other mysterious association, heretofore never raised and never revealed.

And if Parker uses “gets to” as a half-hearted, sloppy means of saying that people hear the reference to Ayers and Dohrn and make the erroneous jump to Islamic terrorists, then Parker is really suggesting that voters are xenophobic, ignorant dolts. That’s Parker’s prerogative, but for her to attribute that assessment to Palin is unfair.

As to the second sentence, this is straight from the Colin Powell playbook – a guilt by association game aimed at McCain who has done his level best to shush, chastise and castigate anyone who played the “Hussein” card. Parker doesn’t quite have the nerve to accuse McCain directly, so she employs the last refuge of smears — the passive voice (“using surrogates”). McCain has done so such thing, but he’s obviously earned no credit for his restraint.

And the final sentence essentially declares that you can’t argue with Parker’s smear. Well I did, so I suppose it isn’t “undeniable” after all.

Everyone has a right to join the tut-tutting about McCain’s campaign. They have every right, if they so desire, to ignore the age jibes from the Obama camp and the blatant xenophobia stirred by Obama’s immigration ad. They can ignore McCain’s refusal to reference Reverend Wright and his efforts to rein in everyone from comics to talk show hosts (not to mention pundits). Goodness knows there’s a market for McCain-Palin “tone”-bashing. But there’s no justification to smear, to imply and hint at conduct that simply didn’t occur, or to attribute evil motives to either McCain or Palin when a more obvious meaning is attributable to their words.

And before this winds up in the “conservatives are attacking conservatives” file, let me be clear. I’d say the same, and have, about liberal pundits who employ smears, half-truths and defective analysis. Conservatives shouldn’t get a pass when they do the same.

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Pens Down

Yep, the race has gone on too long:

Here’s something I’ve found myself speculating about recently: could the obesity epidemic have a political impact? In particular, could obesity in a pregnant woman influence the eventual political outlook of her child? I came to this question after mulling over a number of facts.

No kidding — approximately two years’ worth.

Yep, the race has gone on too long:

Here’s something I’ve found myself speculating about recently: could the obesity epidemic have a political impact? In particular, could obesity in a pregnant woman influence the eventual political outlook of her child? I came to this question after mulling over a number of facts.

No kidding — approximately two years’ worth.

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The Markets Brought Down McCain

A new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Oct. 16-19 among 2,599 registered voters interviewed on landline phones and cell phones, includes news that is across-the-board discouraging for McCain supporters.

According to the Pew data, Senator Obama enjoys his widest margin yet over McCain among registered voters (52% v. 38%). When the sample of voters is narrowed to those most likely to vote, Obama leads by 53% to 39%.

While this poll has Senator McCain down by 14 points, which is on the high end of all the polls taken, the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has Obama ahead by 10. The RealClearPolitics (RCP) average today is 7.4 percent.

It is hard to believe that about a month ago, Senator McCain was slightly ahead of Senator Obama if you aggregated all the polls, and there were stories of Republicans limiting the damage in both the House and the Senate. The wind seemed to be at the back of the GOP for the first time in many months. Liberals were beginning to get a bit panicky, worried that they would find a way to lose the presidential race.

What on earth has happened?

While it will take weeks for experts to pore over and interpret the data after the election, the answer, I think, is fairly straightforward: the financial crisis that hit in late September created panic among investors, the Dow cratered, credit froze, the economy lurched into a recession, casting aside all other issues, and voters became genuinely fearful. This combination created a political avalanche, and John McCain and his fellow Republicans have been caught in its path.

Senator McCain, understanding what was happening, made several efforts to get out of the way. At first he tried to be reassuring. That didn’t work. He then tried to appear bipartisan in his criticisms, blaming SEC chairman Christopher Cox for what had happened and suggesting Andrew Cuomo as a possible replacement. That didn’t work. He suspended his campaign to try to engineer a rescue package and said he would forgo the first debate if one wasn’t agreed to. That didn’t work. Senator McCain then announced an ambitious proposal, but did so in the midst of a debate in which no advance work was done and no roll-out was put in place. That didn’t work.

Senator McCain, desperate to do something to change the trajectory of the race, ended up acting in ways that deepened the public’s doubts about him. And Senator Obama, while contributing absolutely nothing to the policy debate and constantly invoking Warren Buffett’s support, looked smooth and unflappable in the process. The three debates also helped Obama enormously; the public judged him the victor in each one. And so we are where we are.

The truth is that even if Senator McCain had done everything right in the aftermath of the financial/credit crisis — and in a campaign, you almost never do everything right — it triggered a torrent of unhappiness which has, for reasons that I think are largely unfair, been directed almost exclusively at Republicans. All the gains that McCain and Republicans had made up through mid-September were more than washed away; it put them further behind than ever.

The financial meltdown that has hit this country has been the worst in more than three-quarters of a century. I actually think that when the history of these times are written, it will show that the President, Congress, and the other industrialized nations acted quite quickly and, for the most part, wisely, keeping the damage, which is considerable, from being much worse. But that’s not how most folks see it now. And the political effect of this crisis has been as broad and deep and consequential as any event I can recall.

Senator McCain is fighting back and, with an assist from “Joe the Plumber,” he’s using the tax message pretty well right now. He needs to continue to focus his message and do what he can, policy-wise, to increase doubts about Senator Obama. But McCain has been placed in a very difficult situation. His path to victory was always uphill; what has happened in the last month is that the climbing incline went, in almost the blink of an eye, from challenging to severe and almost unscalable.

As pre-criminations are beginning to increase by the day and as commentators (including conservative commentators) begin to ascribe blame for where McCain and the GOP find themselves, it’s worth considering that sometimes events happen that are unfavorable, unfortunate, and that have bad consequences. To then use ideological, political, and personal predispositions to explain away why things are going poorly — McCain is too cranky and negative, Sarah Palin is a fool, their campaign is a joke, conservatism and capitalism are dying, the nation has become enchanted with liberalism, and so forth — is unfair and unwise. And people, including those advocating more grace and high-mindedness in our politics, who begin to unsheath their knives and stick them into the most convenient target look rather petty.
Between now and the first Tuesday in November, conservatives and Republicans should continue to press their case and fight for their cause. Races can still change, margins can narrow, and a lot hangs in the balance. And McCain does have a scenario — if a very unlikely one — for victory, resting on him carrying Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and an upset in Pennsylvania.
But if the current polls hold and Republicans suffer badly on November 4, an intellectually and politically serious re-evaluation should occur. I hope it does; and I hope it’s done in a manner that is calm and reasonable — rather than emotional and bitter. Based on how things look at this point, that hope may be a fanciful one.

A new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Oct. 16-19 among 2,599 registered voters interviewed on landline phones and cell phones, includes news that is across-the-board discouraging for McCain supporters.

According to the Pew data, Senator Obama enjoys his widest margin yet over McCain among registered voters (52% v. 38%). When the sample of voters is narrowed to those most likely to vote, Obama leads by 53% to 39%.

While this poll has Senator McCain down by 14 points, which is on the high end of all the polls taken, the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has Obama ahead by 10. The RealClearPolitics (RCP) average today is 7.4 percent.

It is hard to believe that about a month ago, Senator McCain was slightly ahead of Senator Obama if you aggregated all the polls, and there were stories of Republicans limiting the damage in both the House and the Senate. The wind seemed to be at the back of the GOP for the first time in many months. Liberals were beginning to get a bit panicky, worried that they would find a way to lose the presidential race.

What on earth has happened?

While it will take weeks for experts to pore over and interpret the data after the election, the answer, I think, is fairly straightforward: the financial crisis that hit in late September created panic among investors, the Dow cratered, credit froze, the economy lurched into a recession, casting aside all other issues, and voters became genuinely fearful. This combination created a political avalanche, and John McCain and his fellow Republicans have been caught in its path.

Senator McCain, understanding what was happening, made several efforts to get out of the way. At first he tried to be reassuring. That didn’t work. He then tried to appear bipartisan in his criticisms, blaming SEC chairman Christopher Cox for what had happened and suggesting Andrew Cuomo as a possible replacement. That didn’t work. He suspended his campaign to try to engineer a rescue package and said he would forgo the first debate if one wasn’t agreed to. That didn’t work. Senator McCain then announced an ambitious proposal, but did so in the midst of a debate in which no advance work was done and no roll-out was put in place. That didn’t work.

Senator McCain, desperate to do something to change the trajectory of the race, ended up acting in ways that deepened the public’s doubts about him. And Senator Obama, while contributing absolutely nothing to the policy debate and constantly invoking Warren Buffett’s support, looked smooth and unflappable in the process. The three debates also helped Obama enormously; the public judged him the victor in each one. And so we are where we are.

The truth is that even if Senator McCain had done everything right in the aftermath of the financial/credit crisis — and in a campaign, you almost never do everything right — it triggered a torrent of unhappiness which has, for reasons that I think are largely unfair, been directed almost exclusively at Republicans. All the gains that McCain and Republicans had made up through mid-September were more than washed away; it put them further behind than ever.

The financial meltdown that has hit this country has been the worst in more than three-quarters of a century. I actually think that when the history of these times are written, it will show that the President, Congress, and the other industrialized nations acted quite quickly and, for the most part, wisely, keeping the damage, which is considerable, from being much worse. But that’s not how most folks see it now. And the political effect of this crisis has been as broad and deep and consequential as any event I can recall.

Senator McCain is fighting back and, with an assist from “Joe the Plumber,” he’s using the tax message pretty well right now. He needs to continue to focus his message and do what he can, policy-wise, to increase doubts about Senator Obama. But McCain has been placed in a very difficult situation. His path to victory was always uphill; what has happened in the last month is that the climbing incline went, in almost the blink of an eye, from challenging to severe and almost unscalable.

As pre-criminations are beginning to increase by the day and as commentators (including conservative commentators) begin to ascribe blame for where McCain and the GOP find themselves, it’s worth considering that sometimes events happen that are unfavorable, unfortunate, and that have bad consequences. To then use ideological, political, and personal predispositions to explain away why things are going poorly — McCain is too cranky and negative, Sarah Palin is a fool, their campaign is a joke, conservatism and capitalism are dying, the nation has become enchanted with liberalism, and so forth — is unfair and unwise. And people, including those advocating more grace and high-mindedness in our politics, who begin to unsheath their knives and stick them into the most convenient target look rather petty.
Between now and the first Tuesday in November, conservatives and Republicans should continue to press their case and fight for their cause. Races can still change, margins can narrow, and a lot hangs in the balance. And McCain does have a scenario — if a very unlikely one — for victory, resting on him carrying Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and an upset in Pennsylvania.
But if the current polls hold and Republicans suffer badly on November 4, an intellectually and politically serious re-evaluation should occur. I hope it does; and I hope it’s done in a manner that is calm and reasonable — rather than emotional and bitter. Based on how things look at this point, that hope may be a fanciful one.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

You’re not alone if you don’t know what Barack Obama stands for — a smart fellow in his neighborhood (no, not that one) doesn’t know either.

Iran is intent on saving the Obama administration from itself.

Elizabeth Dole is in a tough Senate race — which just got easier, unless her opponent can answer some questions about the segregated country club her husband belonged to.

Meanwhile, in New Hampshire former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen stumbles in a debate with a seemingly softball question against incumbent Sen. John Sununu.

ACORN has a whole lot of legal problems — according to its own lawyer, and related by the New York Times. Imagine how bad things must really be. Someone should ask Obama if his Justice Department will vigorously prosecute ACORN and whether, given his past affiliations, he’ll recuse himself from any decisions or involvement in the investigation.

Why is it that reasonable Democrats find Bill Ayers repulsive or intellectually vapid, but don’t mind that their favorite candidate seemed quite enamored of him? I thought Obama’s strong suit was his discerning intellect.

Sounds like a joke: the media has gotten so one-sided that Dan Rather is decrying media bias. Wait until Rather watches CNN.

A video-illustrated case against Obama. Sadly for John McCain, it’s more effective than 90% of what his own campaign has done.

I know it comes as no surprise that NBC is covering for Joe Biden. You have to admire the effort involved — editing clips, ignoring speeches, making sure guests don’t raise the topic, etc.

A good question: How is Biden more qualified than Palin since he’s been wrong on every major national security issue ? A better one: Why don’t reporters ask Obama if Biden’s hurt more than helped? He certainly has made more gaffes than Palin. Whatever you think of her qualifications, there really isn’t a single memorable thing Palin has gotten “wrong” on policy or message.

Not the most significant, but a poll McCain is likely most pleased by.

Lorne Michaels on Sarah Palin: “I think Palin will continue to be underestimated for a while. I watched the way she connected with people, and she’s powerful. Her politics aren’t my politics. But you can see that she’s a very powerful, very disciplined, incredibly gracious woman. This was her first time out and she’s had a huge impact. ”

Palin has certainly learned to give an effective interview.

Joe Biden’s gaffe was so bad the only option the Obama camp has is lying. If conservatives are down about a potential Obama administration they might be warmed by the knowledge that Biden will have ready access to microphones for four years.

Welcome to the brave new world at the Justice Department. Conservatives were supposed to have politicized things?

You’re not alone if you don’t know what Barack Obama stands for — a smart fellow in his neighborhood (no, not that one) doesn’t know either.

Iran is intent on saving the Obama administration from itself.

Elizabeth Dole is in a tough Senate race — which just got easier, unless her opponent can answer some questions about the segregated country club her husband belonged to.

Meanwhile, in New Hampshire former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen stumbles in a debate with a seemingly softball question against incumbent Sen. John Sununu.

ACORN has a whole lot of legal problems — according to its own lawyer, and related by the New York Times. Imagine how bad things must really be. Someone should ask Obama if his Justice Department will vigorously prosecute ACORN and whether, given his past affiliations, he’ll recuse himself from any decisions or involvement in the investigation.

Why is it that reasonable Democrats find Bill Ayers repulsive or intellectually vapid, but don’t mind that their favorite candidate seemed quite enamored of him? I thought Obama’s strong suit was his discerning intellect.

Sounds like a joke: the media has gotten so one-sided that Dan Rather is decrying media bias. Wait until Rather watches CNN.

A video-illustrated case against Obama. Sadly for John McCain, it’s more effective than 90% of what his own campaign has done.

I know it comes as no surprise that NBC is covering for Joe Biden. You have to admire the effort involved — editing clips, ignoring speeches, making sure guests don’t raise the topic, etc.

A good question: How is Biden more qualified than Palin since he’s been wrong on every major national security issue ? A better one: Why don’t reporters ask Obama if Biden’s hurt more than helped? He certainly has made more gaffes than Palin. Whatever you think of her qualifications, there really isn’t a single memorable thing Palin has gotten “wrong” on policy or message.

Not the most significant, but a poll McCain is likely most pleased by.

Lorne Michaels on Sarah Palin: “I think Palin will continue to be underestimated for a while. I watched the way she connected with people, and she’s powerful. Her politics aren’t my politics. But you can see that she’s a very powerful, very disciplined, incredibly gracious woman. This was her first time out and she’s had a huge impact. ”

Palin has certainly learned to give an effective interview.

Joe Biden’s gaffe was so bad the only option the Obama camp has is lying. If conservatives are down about a potential Obama administration they might be warmed by the knowledge that Biden will have ready access to microphones for four years.

Welcome to the brave new world at the Justice Department. Conservatives were supposed to have politicized things?

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Why Jews Are Voting Obama

As was previously established by polls, Barack Obama will be the candidate for whom Jewish Americans are going to vote. While getting the majority of Jewish votes, it looks as if Obama will not nab quite as large a percentage as previous Democratic candidates have. It is still interesting to understand the reasons for these voting patterns, and a new study has some answers.

“American Jews and the 2008 Presidential Election: As Democratic and Liberal as Ever?” (released by the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner) was conducted by distinguished experts. They affirm that “there is some reason to believe that this election may see a narrowing of the traditional gap between Jews and other Americans in their vote for president” – namely, Jews will not be as liberal as they were in recent years. The “gap”, though, hardly disappeared (note: the data quoted in this study is from September, so some changes should be expected):

The Jewish tilt toward the Democratic candidate may be seen through two comparisons. First, Jews split 67-33 in favor of Obama, producing a gap of 17 percentage points with the nation. Second, and even more telling, is the contrast with non-Jewish whites. While only 37% of white respondents declared a preference for Obama, 67% of Jews did so — a gap of 30 percentage points. In short, with undecided voters eliminated from consideration, non-Jewish whites tilted heavily toward McCain, while Jews tilted even more heavily toward Obama.

However, this study is not just about support but also about the reasons for this support. One conclusion: Israel, to say the least, is hardly a dominant issue:

Commentators have suggested that Jews’ concern for Israel may well serve to diminish their enthusiasm for the Democratic candidate. Indeed, Jews do care about the Israel-Palestine conflict more than other Americans. Yet, with that said, the Israel issue ranked 8th out of 15 issues in importance as a presidential election consideration for Jewish respondents. Aside from the economy (a prime issue of concern for the vast majority of respondents), ahead of Israel on Jewish voters’ minds were such matters as health care, gas prices and energy, taxes, and education. Ranking just below Israel in importance for Jewish respondents were appointments to the Supreme Court and the environment. In fact, when asked to name their top three issues, just 15% of Jewish respondents chose Israel as one of the three, and these were heavily Orthodox Jews.

So what is it that makes Jews vote Democratic, and what will make them vote for Obama?

While their political views tending in the liberal direction help explain their support for Obama, and their concern for Israel may actually pull them in the other direction, political views alone cannot explain their high levels of Democratic vote intention. Neither can the major socio-demographic variables. Rather, their vote intentions are a product of their political identities – their long-standing association with the liberal camp and the Democratic Party.

The professors responsible for this study should be commended for concluding on this bold and revealing point:

Ironically, Jews and other highly educated voters often view other Americans as responding to instinctual, historic habits, to their political heritage, if you will. People like to think of themselves as totally rational and driven by carefully considered values.

In fact, Jews in the upcoming election also respond to their identities. In their case, they will be reflecting their long-held, multi-generation attachment to the liberal camp in America, and to the Democratic Party.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that they vote for the candidate with the wrong views. It just suggests that they didn’t seriously ponder the implications of their vote — and didn’t even try to entertaine the other option.

As was previously established by polls, Barack Obama will be the candidate for whom Jewish Americans are going to vote. While getting the majority of Jewish votes, it looks as if Obama will not nab quite as large a percentage as previous Democratic candidates have. It is still interesting to understand the reasons for these voting patterns, and a new study has some answers.

“American Jews and the 2008 Presidential Election: As Democratic and Liberal as Ever?” (released by the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner) was conducted by distinguished experts. They affirm that “there is some reason to believe that this election may see a narrowing of the traditional gap between Jews and other Americans in their vote for president” – namely, Jews will not be as liberal as they were in recent years. The “gap”, though, hardly disappeared (note: the data quoted in this study is from September, so some changes should be expected):

The Jewish tilt toward the Democratic candidate may be seen through two comparisons. First, Jews split 67-33 in favor of Obama, producing a gap of 17 percentage points with the nation. Second, and even more telling, is the contrast with non-Jewish whites. While only 37% of white respondents declared a preference for Obama, 67% of Jews did so — a gap of 30 percentage points. In short, with undecided voters eliminated from consideration, non-Jewish whites tilted heavily toward McCain, while Jews tilted even more heavily toward Obama.

However, this study is not just about support but also about the reasons for this support. One conclusion: Israel, to say the least, is hardly a dominant issue:

Commentators have suggested that Jews’ concern for Israel may well serve to diminish their enthusiasm for the Democratic candidate. Indeed, Jews do care about the Israel-Palestine conflict more than other Americans. Yet, with that said, the Israel issue ranked 8th out of 15 issues in importance as a presidential election consideration for Jewish respondents. Aside from the economy (a prime issue of concern for the vast majority of respondents), ahead of Israel on Jewish voters’ minds were such matters as health care, gas prices and energy, taxes, and education. Ranking just below Israel in importance for Jewish respondents were appointments to the Supreme Court and the environment. In fact, when asked to name their top three issues, just 15% of Jewish respondents chose Israel as one of the three, and these were heavily Orthodox Jews.

So what is it that makes Jews vote Democratic, and what will make them vote for Obama?

While their political views tending in the liberal direction help explain their support for Obama, and their concern for Israel may actually pull them in the other direction, political views alone cannot explain their high levels of Democratic vote intention. Neither can the major socio-demographic variables. Rather, their vote intentions are a product of their political identities – their long-standing association with the liberal camp and the Democratic Party.

The professors responsible for this study should be commended for concluding on this bold and revealing point:

Ironically, Jews and other highly educated voters often view other Americans as responding to instinctual, historic habits, to their political heritage, if you will. People like to think of themselves as totally rational and driven by carefully considered values.

In fact, Jews in the upcoming election also respond to their identities. In their case, they will be reflecting their long-held, multi-generation attachment to the liberal camp in America, and to the Democratic Party.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that they vote for the candidate with the wrong views. It just suggests that they didn’t seriously ponder the implications of their vote — and didn’t even try to entertaine the other option.

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Polling for Dollars

One of the best pieces to be published in this campaign season has just popped up on the New Republic’s website by Michael Crowley: “Survey Says: How Many Pollsters Does It Take To Screw Up An Election?”

Crowley offers a pitch-perfect portrait of the way in which polling has overwhelmed this race and the political class in general; once an obsession solely of professionals, polling has become grist for the mills of dozens of websites and tens of millions of people, just at the moment at which polling itself has become statistically questionable at best owing to cultural changes that polling can’t properly take account of  — like increased cell phone use, fewer people at home in the evenings and on weekends, more resistance to calls from strangers, and the difficulty in determining both the size and composition of the actual electorate:

The glut of new polls–and vast spectrum of quality–has created a Darwinian environment in which pollsters and watchdogs attack one another with nerdy ferocity. (One pollster described a firm he considers disreputable to me as “a street gang with a calculator.”) Mark Blumenthal and his colleagues at Pollster. com routinely flag suspect polls, calling out their authors when they don’t disclose crucial information like the wording of their questions and their demographic weighting. Before the Iowa caucus, for instance, Blumenthal challenged pollsters to explain how they were screening for “likely voters” in that unusual contest; five pollsters refused to respond and others grudgingly provided incomplete answers–a fact Blumenthal publicized in an angry New York Times op-ed column….

Almost anyone with an Internet connection and an interest in cross-tabs can become an ombudsman–much like Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University. After the longtime Democratic pollster Celinda Lake co-produced national polling numbers showing surprising weakness for Obama earlier this month, for instance, Abramowitz sent Lake a tart e-mail, blind cc’d to several other recipients, demanding to see her raw data. Unappeased, he followed up a few days later: “Celinda–do you believe your own poll?” During this campaign, Abramowitz has badgered several other major pollsters this way, all for the benefit of the fellow academics and journalists he copies on his e- mails.

Sometimes it seems that pollsters spend nearly as much time arguing with their critics as they do actually gathering data. As a result, pollsters face the same fate as other traditional voices of political authority–not least the mainstream media. The more they bash one another in the public eye, the less the public trusts the objectivity of their work.

The interesting problem is that campaign polling was once a tool to help campaigns see their own weaknesses with clarity — a difficult thing to do in a human enterprise and one aided immeasurably by the use of “data” rather than analysis so that the ox being gored on a campaign wasn’t being gored by someone else’s ox, but rather by an empirical challenge. The useful questions that used to be asked were ones with yes-no answers or no more than two choices. Now, owing to the very fact that polls include dozens of questions and have response rates of something like 10 to 20 percent (meaning that most people hang up on poll calls), the likelihood that they mean anything is very low.

That’s why Real Clear Politics began aggregating blogs and coming up with an average — the simple idea being that while no one poll was trustworthy, perhaps mixing them all together would cancel out partisan leanings and response rate weaknesses and allow for a clearer, if vaguer, overall picture.

That picture indicates that Obama, today, enjoys a lead outside the margin of error, nearing 7 points. Which could mean Obama is up 11 or up 3. The only thing we probably do know is that if the election were held today, McCain would lose. His chance for victory lies with Obama’s lead being 3; if it’s 11, he can’t catch up.

One thing is for sure, as Crowley’s very fine piece makes clear: The polls are not going to help us with this, and neither will the exit polls. Only the vote totals.

One of the best pieces to be published in this campaign season has just popped up on the New Republic’s website by Michael Crowley: “Survey Says: How Many Pollsters Does It Take To Screw Up An Election?”

Crowley offers a pitch-perfect portrait of the way in which polling has overwhelmed this race and the political class in general; once an obsession solely of professionals, polling has become grist for the mills of dozens of websites and tens of millions of people, just at the moment at which polling itself has become statistically questionable at best owing to cultural changes that polling can’t properly take account of  — like increased cell phone use, fewer people at home in the evenings and on weekends, more resistance to calls from strangers, and the difficulty in determining both the size and composition of the actual electorate:

The glut of new polls–and vast spectrum of quality–has created a Darwinian environment in which pollsters and watchdogs attack one another with nerdy ferocity. (One pollster described a firm he considers disreputable to me as “a street gang with a calculator.”) Mark Blumenthal and his colleagues at Pollster. com routinely flag suspect polls, calling out their authors when they don’t disclose crucial information like the wording of their questions and their demographic weighting. Before the Iowa caucus, for instance, Blumenthal challenged pollsters to explain how they were screening for “likely voters” in that unusual contest; five pollsters refused to respond and others grudgingly provided incomplete answers–a fact Blumenthal publicized in an angry New York Times op-ed column….

Almost anyone with an Internet connection and an interest in cross-tabs can become an ombudsman–much like Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University. After the longtime Democratic pollster Celinda Lake co-produced national polling numbers showing surprising weakness for Obama earlier this month, for instance, Abramowitz sent Lake a tart e-mail, blind cc’d to several other recipients, demanding to see her raw data. Unappeased, he followed up a few days later: “Celinda–do you believe your own poll?” During this campaign, Abramowitz has badgered several other major pollsters this way, all for the benefit of the fellow academics and journalists he copies on his e- mails.

Sometimes it seems that pollsters spend nearly as much time arguing with their critics as they do actually gathering data. As a result, pollsters face the same fate as other traditional voices of political authority–not least the mainstream media. The more they bash one another in the public eye, the less the public trusts the objectivity of their work.

The interesting problem is that campaign polling was once a tool to help campaigns see their own weaknesses with clarity — a difficult thing to do in a human enterprise and one aided immeasurably by the use of “data” rather than analysis so that the ox being gored on a campaign wasn’t being gored by someone else’s ox, but rather by an empirical challenge. The useful questions that used to be asked were ones with yes-no answers or no more than two choices. Now, owing to the very fact that polls include dozens of questions and have response rates of something like 10 to 20 percent (meaning that most people hang up on poll calls), the likelihood that they mean anything is very low.

That’s why Real Clear Politics began aggregating blogs and coming up with an average — the simple idea being that while no one poll was trustworthy, perhaps mixing them all together would cancel out partisan leanings and response rate weaknesses and allow for a clearer, if vaguer, overall picture.

That picture indicates that Obama, today, enjoys a lead outside the margin of error, nearing 7 points. Which could mean Obama is up 11 or up 3. The only thing we probably do know is that if the election were held today, McCain would lose. His chance for victory lies with Obama’s lead being 3; if it’s 11, he can’t catch up.

One thing is for sure, as Crowley’s very fine piece makes clear: The polls are not going to help us with this, and neither will the exit polls. Only the vote totals.

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Re: The Fallacy of the $250K Barrier

In New Hampshire today John McCain finally distilled the Obama tax-and-spend plans:

So let’s try to get all this straight. My opponent says he’s going to cut income taxes for 95 percent of Americans — including that miraculous reduction for those who aren’t paying any right now. Then he commits to more than a trillion dollars in new federal spending. And even after voting for the 750 billion dollar rescue package earlier this month, he won’t even specify a single cut in spending that he would consider. That leaves us with almost two trillion dollars in new spending to which Barack Obama stands committed, and no explanation at all of how he is going to pay for it.

Does anyone seriously believe that these trillions of dollars are going to come from only the very highest income earners? Even his supporters are skeptical. Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia said of these plans, quote, “There is not enough money to do all this stuff.” An influential newspaper called his claims, quote, “neither politically nor economically plausible.” That critique came from the editorial board of The New York Times, and when Barack Obama loses them you know he’s gone too far.

This, of course, should have been the McCain message throughout the campaign, certainly at the Republican Convention when he had everyone’s attention. Voters are largely settled on their choice right now. But if they have a nagging sense that Obama’s not playing it straight on taxes or are worried that Obama can’t ever bring him to identify any real spending reductions they might think twice about their choice. And especially  in the Granite State, McCain and his tax warning may get a fair hearing.

In New Hampshire today John McCain finally distilled the Obama tax-and-spend plans:

So let’s try to get all this straight. My opponent says he’s going to cut income taxes for 95 percent of Americans — including that miraculous reduction for those who aren’t paying any right now. Then he commits to more than a trillion dollars in new federal spending. And even after voting for the 750 billion dollar rescue package earlier this month, he won’t even specify a single cut in spending that he would consider. That leaves us with almost two trillion dollars in new spending to which Barack Obama stands committed, and no explanation at all of how he is going to pay for it.

Does anyone seriously believe that these trillions of dollars are going to come from only the very highest income earners? Even his supporters are skeptical. Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia said of these plans, quote, “There is not enough money to do all this stuff.” An influential newspaper called his claims, quote, “neither politically nor economically plausible.” That critique came from the editorial board of The New York Times, and when Barack Obama loses them you know he’s gone too far.

This, of course, should have been the McCain message throughout the campaign, certainly at the Republican Convention when he had everyone’s attention. Voters are largely settled on their choice right now. But if they have a nagging sense that Obama’s not playing it straight on taxes or are worried that Obama can’t ever bring him to identify any real spending reductions they might think twice about their choice. And especially  in the Granite State, McCain and his tax warning may get a fair hearing.

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Lessons

The lesson a President McCain would take from the Bush presidency is: “Don’t spend so much. Go after Congress.”

The lesson a President Obama would take from the Bush presidency is: “Conservatism is discredited. It’s time for a liberal resurgence.”

The lesson they would both take is: “Do things competently.”

The lesson neither one shows any sign of grasping, but is the key to understanding success in the presidency is this: “Finish what you start.”

Discuss.

The lesson a President McCain would take from the Bush presidency is: “Don’t spend so much. Go after Congress.”

The lesson a President Obama would take from the Bush presidency is: “Conservatism is discredited. It’s time for a liberal resurgence.”

The lesson they would both take is: “Do things competently.”

The lesson neither one shows any sign of grasping, but is the key to understanding success in the presidency is this: “Finish what you start.”

Discuss.

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Is It 2012 Already?

Having decided that this race is over, the pundits are already moving on to 2012 and mulling over the Republican contenders. Sarah Palin is getting surprisingly positive reviews. Suddenly the boo-birds can appreciate her political talents and acknowledge that she has energized the GOP base like no other candidate.

I’d prefer to finish this election first, but Palin is a reminder for the pundit class, including conservatives, that the messenger counts every bit as much as the message. Mitt Romney dutifully checked the box on nearly every item on the conservative policy wish list, but ultimately couldn’t connect with voters as a credible, engaging spokesman for conservatives. (Yes, there was a divided field to break up the conservative base, but he never  galvanized actual voters.) John McCain has embraced much of the conservative agenda, but has proven to have limited skills of persuasion both as an orator and debater.

This isn’t to say policy doesn’t matter and a record doesn’t count. They do, more so for Republicans usually than for Democrats. But Republicans have learned the hard way in this general election that eventually their candidate has to go toe-to-toe with the Democrat and be more persuasive, more likable and more engaging. Or at least hold his own. When Republicans do get around to considering the 2012 race (hopefully not in three months) they should keep in mind that politics is convincing people who have something else to do and who aren’t professional pundits to follow you. That takes a compelling message –and a compelling messenger.

Having decided that this race is over, the pundits are already moving on to 2012 and mulling over the Republican contenders. Sarah Palin is getting surprisingly positive reviews. Suddenly the boo-birds can appreciate her political talents and acknowledge that she has energized the GOP base like no other candidate.

I’d prefer to finish this election first, but Palin is a reminder for the pundit class, including conservatives, that the messenger counts every bit as much as the message. Mitt Romney dutifully checked the box on nearly every item on the conservative policy wish list, but ultimately couldn’t connect with voters as a credible, engaging spokesman for conservatives. (Yes, there was a divided field to break up the conservative base, but he never  galvanized actual voters.) John McCain has embraced much of the conservative agenda, but has proven to have limited skills of persuasion both as an orator and debater.

This isn’t to say policy doesn’t matter and a record doesn’t count. They do, more so for Republicans usually than for Democrats. But Republicans have learned the hard way in this general election that eventually their candidate has to go toe-to-toe with the Democrat and be more persuasive, more likable and more engaging. Or at least hold his own. When Republicans do get around to considering the 2012 race (hopefully not in three months) they should keep in mind that politics is convincing people who have something else to do and who aren’t professional pundits to follow you. That takes a compelling message –and a compelling messenger.

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Nasrallah Poisoned?

This just in: According to Lebanese sources quoted in Haaretz, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was poisoned last week, and was in critical condition for several days before being saved by Iranian doctors flown in on a special military flight.

Of course Israel will be blamed (or credited) with the attempted assassination, assuming it happened at all. Yet there is something funny about the timing here — it comes on the heels of reports that Iran just uncovered an espionage ring involving carrier pigeons. And of reports yesterday that Iran just carried out a massive airforce training mission simulating an attack on Israel. And of Iran being a candidate for the UN Security Council. And of reports today that Iran hosted a meeting in which representatives of Iran, Russia, and Qatar are considering putting together a natural gas cartel that would parallel OPEC.

What do all these add up to? Maybe nothing at all. But whenever you get such a flurry of reports which, taken together, basically say “Iran is strong, growing, has allies, and is better at espionage than Israel,” you have to wonder if it’s not a coordinated campaign.

This just in: According to Lebanese sources quoted in Haaretz, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was poisoned last week, and was in critical condition for several days before being saved by Iranian doctors flown in on a special military flight.

Of course Israel will be blamed (or credited) with the attempted assassination, assuming it happened at all. Yet there is something funny about the timing here — it comes on the heels of reports that Iran just uncovered an espionage ring involving carrier pigeons. And of reports yesterday that Iran just carried out a massive airforce training mission simulating an attack on Israel. And of Iran being a candidate for the UN Security Council. And of reports today that Iran hosted a meeting in which representatives of Iran, Russia, and Qatar are considering putting together a natural gas cartel that would parallel OPEC.

What do all these add up to? Maybe nothing at all. But whenever you get such a flurry of reports which, taken together, basically say “Iran is strong, growing, has allies, and is better at espionage than Israel,” you have to wonder if it’s not a coordinated campaign.

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The Three Yikes Rule

Yesterday, speaking at Palm Beach Community College, Barack Obama said of the GOP ticket, “Instead of commonsense solutions, month after month, they’ve offered little more than willful ignorance, wishful thinking, outdated ideology.”

Willful ignorance
? You mean like plugging your ears and covering your eyes in response to an American victory in Iraq?

Wishful thinking? You mean like planning to chat Iran out of its 30-year quest to obtain nukes?

Outdated ideolog
y? You mean like “spread the wealth” democratic socialism?

I think Obama struck himself out.

Yesterday, speaking at Palm Beach Community College, Barack Obama said of the GOP ticket, “Instead of commonsense solutions, month after month, they’ve offered little more than willful ignorance, wishful thinking, outdated ideology.”

Willful ignorance
? You mean like plugging your ears and covering your eyes in response to an American victory in Iraq?

Wishful thinking? You mean like planning to chat Iran out of its 30-year quest to obtain nukes?

Outdated ideolog
y? You mean like “spread the wealth” democratic socialism?

I think Obama struck himself out.

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Go Ask Joe

Mickey Kaus observes:

What was troubling about Biden’s loin-girding gaffe . . . wasn’t the idea that Obama would be tested. It was the notion that we shouldn’t worry because he has Joe Biden as his backup! (“I’ve forgotten more about foreign policy than most of my colleagues know.”) … And here I was giving Biden a pass for his “I think I probably have a much higher IQ than you do” resume-inflating, campaign-ending 1988 embarrassment. … P.S.: It’s Obama’s fault. Obama picked him. It was a hack choice with known dangers, which are even now being realized.

Well, aside from suggesting an underlying lack of faith in the ability of his boss to get it right, Biden does reveal his assumption that he as VP would be there to set things right. Whoa. Didn’t Democrats spend eight years lambasting George W. Bush for subcontracting his presidency to Dick Cheney?

There’s nothing wrong with deferring to your VP, I suppose, but then Obama should be honest and let the voters assess not his own judgment, but Biden’s. If the answer, once in office, to each international challenge and crisis is “Go ask Joe” we should know this. And then Biden’s views on partitioning Iraq and his host of foreign policy misjudgments over the years become a whole lot more relevant.

But if Obama is going to be master of his own administration and not let his VP run the show, it might be a good idea to tell the voters — not to mention Biden — right now. Then we can write off Biden as an irrelevant blowhard instead of an immensely powerful and dangerous one.

Mickey Kaus observes:

What was troubling about Biden’s loin-girding gaffe . . . wasn’t the idea that Obama would be tested. It was the notion that we shouldn’t worry because he has Joe Biden as his backup! (“I’ve forgotten more about foreign policy than most of my colleagues know.”) … And here I was giving Biden a pass for his “I think I probably have a much higher IQ than you do” resume-inflating, campaign-ending 1988 embarrassment. … P.S.: It’s Obama’s fault. Obama picked him. It was a hack choice with known dangers, which are even now being realized.

Well, aside from suggesting an underlying lack of faith in the ability of his boss to get it right, Biden does reveal his assumption that he as VP would be there to set things right. Whoa. Didn’t Democrats spend eight years lambasting George W. Bush for subcontracting his presidency to Dick Cheney?

There’s nothing wrong with deferring to your VP, I suppose, but then Obama should be honest and let the voters assess not his own judgment, but Biden’s. If the answer, once in office, to each international challenge and crisis is “Go ask Joe” we should know this. And then Biden’s views on partitioning Iraq and his host of foreign policy misjudgments over the years become a whole lot more relevant.

But if Obama is going to be master of his own administration and not let his VP run the show, it might be a good idea to tell the voters — not to mention Biden — right now. Then we can write off Biden as an irrelevant blowhard instead of an immensely powerful and dangerous one.

Read Less




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