Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 11, 2008

Rabin Day: Business as Usual

That Israel will have to cede territory to the Palestinians, including most of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem, is an established fact by now. The only serious debate–the one that isn’t about scoring points before elections, but rather about the country’s real security needs and policy concerns–is not about the “if,” but about the “when.” That is, about the conditions under which such concessions will be necessary. In plain language: how will Israel know that the other side is ready, and peace is indeed on the way?

In such debates, the skeptics–tagged “right wing”–will demand more proof, more verification before they cede the territory. The more hopeful, more optimistic–the “left wing”–will demand less.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has no time, now, either to be skeptical or hopeful. His time is up; soon, he’s going to leave office with no great achievements to show. So what did he do yesterday, the day Israel has dedicated to the memory of Yitzhak Rabin? According to the “Left,” he merely (the more pompous among them will add “courageously”) told the truth:

We must relinquish Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem, and return to that territory which comprised the State of Israel until 1967, with the necessary amendments stemming from the realities created on ground.

According to the “Right,” he used a memorial ceremony to send a political message:

“I have to tell you, it was terribly hard to listen to a man who is a symbol of a failed and corrupt government and who is trying to preach about morality and the future of the Middle East. It was pathetic,” said MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud).

This has become the traditional way of celebrating Rabin Memorial Day. The Left uses the assassination as a tool–one of its few remaining tools–with which to drive home its political message, while the Right complains that the Left is thus preventing half, if not more, of the country from properly mourning. Israelis, signs clearly show, are getting tired of it. The number of people showing up for the rallies and the services is going down. The major TV channels no longer change their prime time programming to mark the day.

But the anger over Olmert’s speech comes for the wrong reasons. It’s not what he was saying that should make people unhappy with him–it’s the fact that he has said such sweeping things at all. He’s leaving office soon. And it’s not his place to commit Israel to any future concessions, no matter how great his desire to be remembered as consequential.

That Israel will have to cede territory to the Palestinians, including most of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem, is an established fact by now. The only serious debate–the one that isn’t about scoring points before elections, but rather about the country’s real security needs and policy concerns–is not about the “if,” but about the “when.” That is, about the conditions under which such concessions will be necessary. In plain language: how will Israel know that the other side is ready, and peace is indeed on the way?

In such debates, the skeptics–tagged “right wing”–will demand more proof, more verification before they cede the territory. The more hopeful, more optimistic–the “left wing”–will demand less.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has no time, now, either to be skeptical or hopeful. His time is up; soon, he’s going to leave office with no great achievements to show. So what did he do yesterday, the day Israel has dedicated to the memory of Yitzhak Rabin? According to the “Left,” he merely (the more pompous among them will add “courageously”) told the truth:

We must relinquish Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem, and return to that territory which comprised the State of Israel until 1967, with the necessary amendments stemming from the realities created on ground.

According to the “Right,” he used a memorial ceremony to send a political message:

“I have to tell you, it was terribly hard to listen to a man who is a symbol of a failed and corrupt government and who is trying to preach about morality and the future of the Middle East. It was pathetic,” said MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud).

This has become the traditional way of celebrating Rabin Memorial Day. The Left uses the assassination as a tool–one of its few remaining tools–with which to drive home its political message, while the Right complains that the Left is thus preventing half, if not more, of the country from properly mourning. Israelis, signs clearly show, are getting tired of it. The number of people showing up for the rallies and the services is going down. The major TV channels no longer change their prime time programming to mark the day.

But the anger over Olmert’s speech comes for the wrong reasons. It’s not what he was saying that should make people unhappy with him–it’s the fact that he has said such sweeping things at all. He’s leaving office soon. And it’s not his place to commit Israel to any future concessions, no matter how great his desire to be remembered as consequential.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Sarah Palin – looser and more candid — seems well aware that her immediate task is governing and governing well.

And the interview with Greta? I think we’ve all heard enough about her clothes to last a lifetime. She seems to have figured out that the key to her future rests with appearing less confrontational (lots of talk about Democrats in her administration and not yelling at political opponents).

And on the ongoing sniping, Bill McGurn writes: “We are asked to believe that Mrs. Palin was not ready for a national campaign. On what evidence from any part of this election are we to conclude that anyone on the McCain campaign team was ready for a national campaign?” Ouch.

Now that our suspicions about which polls are routinely and wildly inaccurate have been confirmed, shouldn’t future reporting acknowledge that? (“The Newsweek poll, which has historically be the most inaccurate of all major polls, today showed. . . “) It is simply misleading voters to offer all polling material as equally reliable.

I can’t think of a worse move for the Democrats than bringing in Clinton confidante Terry McAuliffe to run for Virginia Governor next year. The Democrats who have been successful have been non-partisan, homegrown types (e.g. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner). The Republicans will be grinning ear-to-ear if McAuliffe jumps in, makes for a fight among Democrats, and then can be painted as a Washington insider — from the deep, dark Clinton past, no less.

Howard Dean’s disappearance from the national scene will do much, I suspect, to change the tone and lower the level of vitriol.

Apparently decisiveness and speed will not be the new Administration’s strong suit.

Bobby Jindal and his staff pass the first test for presidential timbre: they aren’t dummies. “While the official reason that Jindal took his name out of contention was his lack of a desire to leave the Louisiana governorship, there was also real trepidation within his political inner circle that Jindal might wind up as the pick — McCain was attracted to his comprehensive health-care knowledge — and be caught up in what they believed to be a less-than-stellar campaign that could pin a loss on Jindal without much ability to change or control the direction of the contest.”

Pundit, heal thyself. Was there anyone more gushy about Obama than Mark (“Land of Lincolner”) Halperin? Well, anyone who didn’t work for MSNBC, I mean.

Mark Salter’s defense of John McCain inadvertently reveals the weaknesses of the campaign — too much personality, too much biographical obsession, and not enough ideas.

Rudy Giuliani for Governor? Seems hard to believe he would be interested, Still, that’s the office where Republicans have had the most success and made the most impact of late.

Talk about failing upward! What’s next? Mark Penn as head of the DNC?

Sarah Palin – looser and more candid — seems well aware that her immediate task is governing and governing well.

And the interview with Greta? I think we’ve all heard enough about her clothes to last a lifetime. She seems to have figured out that the key to her future rests with appearing less confrontational (lots of talk about Democrats in her administration and not yelling at political opponents).

And on the ongoing sniping, Bill McGurn writes: “We are asked to believe that Mrs. Palin was not ready for a national campaign. On what evidence from any part of this election are we to conclude that anyone on the McCain campaign team was ready for a national campaign?” Ouch.

Now that our suspicions about which polls are routinely and wildly inaccurate have been confirmed, shouldn’t future reporting acknowledge that? (“The Newsweek poll, which has historically be the most inaccurate of all major polls, today showed. . . “) It is simply misleading voters to offer all polling material as equally reliable.

I can’t think of a worse move for the Democrats than bringing in Clinton confidante Terry McAuliffe to run for Virginia Governor next year. The Democrats who have been successful have been non-partisan, homegrown types (e.g. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner). The Republicans will be grinning ear-to-ear if McAuliffe jumps in, makes for a fight among Democrats, and then can be painted as a Washington insider — from the deep, dark Clinton past, no less.

Howard Dean’s disappearance from the national scene will do much, I suspect, to change the tone and lower the level of vitriol.

Apparently decisiveness and speed will not be the new Administration’s strong suit.

Bobby Jindal and his staff pass the first test for presidential timbre: they aren’t dummies. “While the official reason that Jindal took his name out of contention was his lack of a desire to leave the Louisiana governorship, there was also real trepidation within his political inner circle that Jindal might wind up as the pick — McCain was attracted to his comprehensive health-care knowledge — and be caught up in what they believed to be a less-than-stellar campaign that could pin a loss on Jindal without much ability to change or control the direction of the contest.”

Pundit, heal thyself. Was there anyone more gushy about Obama than Mark (“Land of Lincolner”) Halperin? Well, anyone who didn’t work for MSNBC, I mean.

Mark Salter’s defense of John McCain inadvertently reveals the weaknesses of the campaign — too much personality, too much biographical obsession, and not enough ideas.

Rudy Giuliani for Governor? Seems hard to believe he would be interested, Still, that’s the office where Republicans have had the most success and made the most impact of late.

Talk about failing upward! What’s next? Mark Penn as head of the DNC?

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Signs Of Life

Paul Ryan gives a peek at what the future of the GOP could look like, and shows why many find him an engaging leader for the next generation. He calls for more than just fiscal sobriety:

We must also offer bold alternatives to the destructive tax policies that the Democratic majority will work to enact. We must go beyond simply calling for lower taxes. We need a complete overhaul of our tax code. At a time of fierce global competition, the individual and business tax reforms I put forth earlier this year would encourage companies to invest in America, promote jobs here at home, and strengthen the paychecks of American workers.

We must take control of the health-care debate, and champion patient-centered alternatives to the socialized health-care proposals advocated by the Democrats. Health-care decisions should be made by individuals and their providers, not government bureaucrats or insurance company bureaucrats. We need to offer reforms that make health care more affordable, more portable and more transparent, while strengthening the social safety net.

We cannot simply put up roadblocks to the emboldened Democratic majority. We need to offer an alternative future. Absent reform, our federal government will double in size within a generation. We must change course from this path of stagnation, and we must have leaders willing to provide a path that keeps alive the American ideal and keeps our government limited.

That sounds intriguing and positive. Still there are obvious limits to what Ryan can accomplish, at least now. For starters, the House GOP is on the verge of choosing the same House Minority Leader who presided over the losing election. John Boehner, not Paul Ryan, is the one that most voters will see as the face of the GOP.  And, of course, the nation’s entire focus will be on the new President and his policies. There won’t be much time or attention for Ryan’s laudable ideas.

Still, this is the direction the GOP must take. Work on ideas that address real issues, provide alternatives to shopworn liberalism, and build the next generation of leaders. That is how a party seizes the opportunity, should one present itself by virtue of the opposition’s overreach.

Paul Ryan gives a peek at what the future of the GOP could look like, and shows why many find him an engaging leader for the next generation. He calls for more than just fiscal sobriety:

We must also offer bold alternatives to the destructive tax policies that the Democratic majority will work to enact. We must go beyond simply calling for lower taxes. We need a complete overhaul of our tax code. At a time of fierce global competition, the individual and business tax reforms I put forth earlier this year would encourage companies to invest in America, promote jobs here at home, and strengthen the paychecks of American workers.

We must take control of the health-care debate, and champion patient-centered alternatives to the socialized health-care proposals advocated by the Democrats. Health-care decisions should be made by individuals and their providers, not government bureaucrats or insurance company bureaucrats. We need to offer reforms that make health care more affordable, more portable and more transparent, while strengthening the social safety net.

We cannot simply put up roadblocks to the emboldened Democratic majority. We need to offer an alternative future. Absent reform, our federal government will double in size within a generation. We must change course from this path of stagnation, and we must have leaders willing to provide a path that keeps alive the American ideal and keeps our government limited.

That sounds intriguing and positive. Still there are obvious limits to what Ryan can accomplish, at least now. For starters, the House GOP is on the verge of choosing the same House Minority Leader who presided over the losing election. John Boehner, not Paul Ryan, is the one that most voters will see as the face of the GOP.  And, of course, the nation’s entire focus will be on the new President and his policies. There won’t be much time or attention for Ryan’s laudable ideas.

Still, this is the direction the GOP must take. Work on ideas that address real issues, provide alternatives to shopworn liberalism, and build the next generation of leaders. That is how a party seizes the opportunity, should one present itself by virtue of the opposition’s overreach.

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One More “Race” Before Year’s End

There is some buzz about the race for the head of the Republican National Committee. It is not clear what the greatest need for the party is. If the RNC needs a thousand ideas, half of them fabulous and half really not, there is no better person than Newt Gingrich. If the need is to symbolize a turning of the page and a willingness to pursue new constituencies then someone like Michael Steele seems ideally suited. And if the issue is the nuts and bolts of re-organizing and re-building a party one of the more successful state chairs –Katon Dawson (SC) or Jim Greer (FL) would seem to be the best choice. In any case, this isn’t much of a race, since the new chairman will be chosen by a grand total of 168 Republican committeemen and women, all of whom will be courted with promises of specific goodies.

A smart GOP advisor from one of the 2008 contenders suggested this as the job description: “Someone who can integrate big picture thinking on message and strategy with the bricklaying that needs to be done at the grassroots level. The current state reminds me of the movie Braveheart. Warring clans worried about titles and their own plots of lands. We need a William Wallace who can unite everyone.” Is there such a person? Perhaps not.

But it wasn’t Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who won back the White House or two Houses of Congress. The former was done by Barack Obama and the latter by Rep. Rahm Emanuel– who recruited Democratic House candidates in 2006 and 2008 — and Sen. Chuck Schumer — who did the same for the Senate. So it may be the only “race” going on, but it is not necessarily the most important for the future of the GOP.

There is some buzz about the race for the head of the Republican National Committee. It is not clear what the greatest need for the party is. If the RNC needs a thousand ideas, half of them fabulous and half really not, there is no better person than Newt Gingrich. If the need is to symbolize a turning of the page and a willingness to pursue new constituencies then someone like Michael Steele seems ideally suited. And if the issue is the nuts and bolts of re-organizing and re-building a party one of the more successful state chairs –Katon Dawson (SC) or Jim Greer (FL) would seem to be the best choice. In any case, this isn’t much of a race, since the new chairman will be chosen by a grand total of 168 Republican committeemen and women, all of whom will be courted with promises of specific goodies.

A smart GOP advisor from one of the 2008 contenders suggested this as the job description: “Someone who can integrate big picture thinking on message and strategy with the bricklaying that needs to be done at the grassroots level. The current state reminds me of the movie Braveheart. Warring clans worried about titles and their own plots of lands. We need a William Wallace who can unite everyone.” Is there such a person? Perhaps not.

But it wasn’t Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who won back the White House or two Houses of Congress. The former was done by Barack Obama and the latter by Rep. Rahm Emanuel– who recruited Democratic House candidates in 2006 and 2008 — and Sen. Chuck Schumer — who did the same for the Senate. So it may be the only “race” going on, but it is not necessarily the most important for the future of the GOP.

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Traditionalists vs. Reformers?

David Brooks lines up the “Traditionalists” against the “Reformists” in the GOP and surmises the former will prevail in the short term. There are a few problems with his handiwork.

First, virtually all the players in Brooks world are pundits and talk-show hosts. These really are not the most decisive players in the future of the Republican Party. The sliver of the sliver of Republicans who know who all the names are may be amused by Brooks’s classification and even intrigued by the debates of the identified chatterers. This one has a great plan for the future. No, no it won’t work, says another, who presents his own. It all has an air of unreality. These people don’t hold office, many are unknown to the vast majority of voters, and they won’t have much influence at all (they didn’t in 2008) in selecting the 2012 nominee.

Second, Brooks has signed on to the Sarah Palin obsession, convinced that the “Traditionalists” have already decided to  ”rally” around Sarah Palin as the next nominee. (He may have picked this up from George Will, another Palin critic bemoaning the same nonexistent conspiracy.)  If he can find one who really has, he should identify him. This assumption also suffers from the conviction that Palin opposes the “reform” camp. Last time I checked, her entire record in Alaska was devoted to reform.

Finally, the view espoused by Brooks is entirely Washington-centric. He declares: “Republicans from the coasts and the upper Midwest are largely gone.” Hardly. There are bunches of Republican Governors and state legislators sprinkled throughout the Midwest ( e.g. Pawlenty of Minnesota, Daniels of Indiana) and even on the coasts(e.g. Vermont, Connnecticut, Rhode Island). But in the world in which all “important” activity takes place in the DC-NY corridor such people don’t count. Pity, since they are among the most interesting and successful Republicans.

The reality is that politics is messy stuff. The Republicans who count the most –office holders, candidates and voters — aren’t checking i.d.’s (Reformer or foe? Are you one of those Traditionalists? ). They are busy, as Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is, at the difficult work of a being a legislator in a minority party, or as Palin is, returning to work on the business of her state.

The “future of the Republican Party” is not some lofty abstraction; it is what gets decided day by day by real politicians and real voters in the context of real issues.

David Brooks lines up the “Traditionalists” against the “Reformists” in the GOP and surmises the former will prevail in the short term. There are a few problems with his handiwork.

First, virtually all the players in Brooks world are pundits and talk-show hosts. These really are not the most decisive players in the future of the Republican Party. The sliver of the sliver of Republicans who know who all the names are may be amused by Brooks’s classification and even intrigued by the debates of the identified chatterers. This one has a great plan for the future. No, no it won’t work, says another, who presents his own. It all has an air of unreality. These people don’t hold office, many are unknown to the vast majority of voters, and they won’t have much influence at all (they didn’t in 2008) in selecting the 2012 nominee.

Second, Brooks has signed on to the Sarah Palin obsession, convinced that the “Traditionalists” have already decided to  ”rally” around Sarah Palin as the next nominee. (He may have picked this up from George Will, another Palin critic bemoaning the same nonexistent conspiracy.)  If he can find one who really has, he should identify him. This assumption also suffers from the conviction that Palin opposes the “reform” camp. Last time I checked, her entire record in Alaska was devoted to reform.

Finally, the view espoused by Brooks is entirely Washington-centric. He declares: “Republicans from the coasts and the upper Midwest are largely gone.” Hardly. There are bunches of Republican Governors and state legislators sprinkled throughout the Midwest ( e.g. Pawlenty of Minnesota, Daniels of Indiana) and even on the coasts(e.g. Vermont, Connnecticut, Rhode Island). But in the world in which all “important” activity takes place in the DC-NY corridor such people don’t count. Pity, since they are among the most interesting and successful Republicans.

The reality is that politics is messy stuff. The Republicans who count the most –office holders, candidates and voters — aren’t checking i.d.’s (Reformer or foe? Are you one of those Traditionalists? ). They are busy, as Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is, at the difficult work of a being a legislator in a minority party, or as Palin is, returning to work on the business of her state.

The “future of the Republican Party” is not some lofty abstraction; it is what gets decided day by day by real politicians and real voters in the context of real issues.

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A Very Nice Day

I admit I have a soft-spot for symbolic, feel good-events. The meeting of the outgoing and ingoing Presidents is one of my favorites. We saw it again yesterday.

Yes, part of it is reenforcing the message that we are capable of an easy transfer of power from one party to the next in the aftermath of the election. Part of it is the delight — regardless of party — in savoring the moment in which the President Elect has yet to err, yet to make bad call or incur great criticism. His slate is clean, while the outgoing President’s is anything but.

But it is something more, and especially so this year. Campaigns have a way of making all participants caricatures and buffoons. Barack Obama did his best to make George Bush the personification of malicious, pig-headed leadership, someone responsible for all our ills and credited with no achievements. We know deep down that’s not true. Whatever you think of the current President, it is a gross oversimplification. Meeting face-to-face breaks the spell. The illusion that the current President is simply a foil, a target is broken. Actually, he is an exceptionally gracious man who deserves credit at least for for a few things (e.g. winning a war).

So the pomp and the tradition enhances perspective. The incumbent isn’t just a campaign slogan. You hope the event bestows some humility on the successor and some relief for his predecessor. And for everyone else, it is the surest sign we are all moving on.

I admit I have a soft-spot for symbolic, feel good-events. The meeting of the outgoing and ingoing Presidents is one of my favorites. We saw it again yesterday.

Yes, part of it is reenforcing the message that we are capable of an easy transfer of power from one party to the next in the aftermath of the election. Part of it is the delight — regardless of party — in savoring the moment in which the President Elect has yet to err, yet to make bad call or incur great criticism. His slate is clean, while the outgoing President’s is anything but.

But it is something more, and especially so this year. Campaigns have a way of making all participants caricatures and buffoons. Barack Obama did his best to make George Bush the personification of malicious, pig-headed leadership, someone responsible for all our ills and credited with no achievements. We know deep down that’s not true. Whatever you think of the current President, it is a gross oversimplification. Meeting face-to-face breaks the spell. The illusion that the current President is simply a foil, a target is broken. Actually, he is an exceptionally gracious man who deserves credit at least for for a few things (e.g. winning a war).

So the pomp and the tradition enhances perspective. The incumbent isn’t just a campaign slogan. You hope the event bestows some humility on the successor and some relief for his predecessor. And for everyone else, it is the surest sign we are all moving on.

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