Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 7, 2009

The Coming Rift

Pundits are fond of talking about the disconnect between the GOP and the American electorate. Conservatives are out of step, so the wisdom goes. They need to drop the frightening Pentecostalism of Sarah Palin and the bellicosity of John McCain. Republicans must consider dismantling the whole trickle-down apparatus and turning their direct attention to the neglected segment of the population for whom “the promise of America,” as Barack Obama likes to call it, remains unfulfilled.

True, voters may not be in sync with Republican leaders. But if the current political climate is any indication, they could end up feeling mightily betrayed by Democratic ones.

Since November’s supposed referendum on Republican ideology, a string of Democratic figures has been sullied by impropriety and entitlement while other members of the party are making an airtight case for the timeliness and resiliency of conservatism. On matters of foreign policy, social policy, and economics, Democratic leadership is largely indistinguishable from the Republican variety.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

Pundits are fond of talking about the disconnect between the GOP and the American electorate. Conservatives are out of step, so the wisdom goes. They need to drop the frightening Pentecostalism of Sarah Palin and the bellicosity of John McCain. Republicans must consider dismantling the whole trickle-down apparatus and turning their direct attention to the neglected segment of the population for whom “the promise of America,” as Barack Obama likes to call it, remains unfulfilled.

True, voters may not be in sync with Republican leaders. But if the current political climate is any indication, they could end up feeling mightily betrayed by Democratic ones.

Since November’s supposed referendum on Republican ideology, a string of Democratic figures has been sullied by impropriety and entitlement while other members of the party are making an airtight case for the timeliness and resiliency of conservatism. On matters of foreign policy, social policy, and economics, Democratic leadership is largely indistinguishable from the Republican variety.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

Read Less

Enough with the Fixers

In all the excitement over Blago, Roland Burris, Bill Richardson and Leon Panetta, Eric Holder hasn’t gotten much ink lately. But this helpful account by Debra Saunders reminds us that Holder doesn’t have only one problematic pardon (Marc Rich) to explain:

Holder also will have to account for his role in the 1999 Clinton pardons of 16 Puerto Rico independence terrorists, most of them members of FALN, the Spanish acronym for Armed Forces of National Liberation, which staged some 130 bombings in the United States from 1974 to 1983.

Why did Clinton remit fines or commute the prison sentences of convicted terrorists? Cynics believe that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s novice run to represent New York in the U.S. Senate was a motivator. Clintonia denies it, although Hillary Clinton did meet with advocates for these self-styled political prisoners.

The Courant story notes that four of the 16 pardonees were convicted for their role in a $7.2 million robbery of a West Hartford bank in 1983.Yet: “None of the four was pressed by the Justice Department to provide information on the whereabouts of the never-recovered money or three participants in the robbery, including Hartford native and inside man Victor M. Gerena. Such pressure is a common precondition for amnesty.”

What’s more, none of the 16 had applied for a pardon, because they refused to acknowledge U.S. authority.

Holder, who oversaw the Office of the Pardon Attorney, met with advocates for the prisoners at least nine times. The first Clinton pardon attorney recommended against a pardon. The second pardon attorney recommended neither for nor against clemency.

A month later, Clinton commuted their sentences as the prisoners re-leased a statement, suggested by Holder, that supported “a just and dignified solution to our colonial problem.” It also noted that in liberation processes, there are “innocent victims” on all sides.

Saunders wonders whether Holder isn’t the “consumate political fixer.” That used to be a term of derision — in the era when a Republican White House from time to time selected an underwhelming (Harriet Miers), under-qualified (Michael Browne) or  transparency-challenged (Alberto Gonzales) advisor or cabinet official. Those were the days when Democrats fretted about intelligence being “politicized” and the Attorney General’s insufficient devotion to the administration of justice. But with Leon Panetta going to the CIA and Holder offered up for Justice there is a new standard. Now the Democrats aren’t so obsessed with impartiality and independence. Now the name of the game is fidelity to the President and “fixer” skills.

Perhaps the Obama team should take a breather and consider whether “will it fly?” is really the right standard for key policy positions. So far the Obama team’s stumbles have come when they have been too focused on the politics — and too dismissive of the ethical and legal potholes. Bill Richardson was a Hispanic supporter, and that was appealing. Oh yes, he had this grand jury proceeding going on, but whatever. Sure Governor Blagojevich was in legal hot water, but Rahm could deal with him, getting just the right pol in the Senate. No problem. The libs (who need stroking after the Rick Warren flap) don’t like anyone for CIA with national security experience in the last eight years? Keep  them quiet and get an old pro like Panetta. Really, what could go wrong? (Plenty, come to think of it.)

With the attorney general pick it might have been a good idea to ignore the political angles and forget about finding the savviest operator. Better to have found someone utterly devoted to following the law and committed to candor with Congress. But instead the Obama team selected Holder. Now they have a painful and grueling hearing ahead of them. (Arlen Specter isn’t fooling around on the “character” issue, invoking memories of Alberto Gonzales on the Senate floor Tuesday.)

Especially in the most sensitive roles there is no substitute for excellence, integrity and experience. The Obama crew — which took such delight at lambasting the appointees in the Bush administration who didn’t measure up on those indices — should have taken that lesson to heart.

In all the excitement over Blago, Roland Burris, Bill Richardson and Leon Panetta, Eric Holder hasn’t gotten much ink lately. But this helpful account by Debra Saunders reminds us that Holder doesn’t have only one problematic pardon (Marc Rich) to explain:

Holder also will have to account for his role in the 1999 Clinton pardons of 16 Puerto Rico independence terrorists, most of them members of FALN, the Spanish acronym for Armed Forces of National Liberation, which staged some 130 bombings in the United States from 1974 to 1983.

Why did Clinton remit fines or commute the prison sentences of convicted terrorists? Cynics believe that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s novice run to represent New York in the U.S. Senate was a motivator. Clintonia denies it, although Hillary Clinton did meet with advocates for these self-styled political prisoners.

The Courant story notes that four of the 16 pardonees were convicted for their role in a $7.2 million robbery of a West Hartford bank in 1983.Yet: “None of the four was pressed by the Justice Department to provide information on the whereabouts of the never-recovered money or three participants in the robbery, including Hartford native and inside man Victor M. Gerena. Such pressure is a common precondition for amnesty.”

What’s more, none of the 16 had applied for a pardon, because they refused to acknowledge U.S. authority.

Holder, who oversaw the Office of the Pardon Attorney, met with advocates for the prisoners at least nine times. The first Clinton pardon attorney recommended against a pardon. The second pardon attorney recommended neither for nor against clemency.

A month later, Clinton commuted their sentences as the prisoners re-leased a statement, suggested by Holder, that supported “a just and dignified solution to our colonial problem.” It also noted that in liberation processes, there are “innocent victims” on all sides.

Saunders wonders whether Holder isn’t the “consumate political fixer.” That used to be a term of derision — in the era when a Republican White House from time to time selected an underwhelming (Harriet Miers), under-qualified (Michael Browne) or  transparency-challenged (Alberto Gonzales) advisor or cabinet official. Those were the days when Democrats fretted about intelligence being “politicized” and the Attorney General’s insufficient devotion to the administration of justice. But with Leon Panetta going to the CIA and Holder offered up for Justice there is a new standard. Now the Democrats aren’t so obsessed with impartiality and independence. Now the name of the game is fidelity to the President and “fixer” skills.

Perhaps the Obama team should take a breather and consider whether “will it fly?” is really the right standard for key policy positions. So far the Obama team’s stumbles have come when they have been too focused on the politics — and too dismissive of the ethical and legal potholes. Bill Richardson was a Hispanic supporter, and that was appealing. Oh yes, he had this grand jury proceeding going on, but whatever. Sure Governor Blagojevich was in legal hot water, but Rahm could deal with him, getting just the right pol in the Senate. No problem. The libs (who need stroking after the Rick Warren flap) don’t like anyone for CIA with national security experience in the last eight years? Keep  them quiet and get an old pro like Panetta. Really, what could go wrong? (Plenty, come to think of it.)

With the attorney general pick it might have been a good idea to ignore the political angles and forget about finding the savviest operator. Better to have found someone utterly devoted to following the law and committed to candor with Congress. But instead the Obama team selected Holder. Now they have a painful and grueling hearing ahead of them. (Arlen Specter isn’t fooling around on the “character” issue, invoking memories of Alberto Gonzales on the Senate floor Tuesday.)

Especially in the most sensitive roles there is no substitute for excellence, integrity and experience. The Obama crew — which took such delight at lambasting the appointees in the Bush administration who didn’t measure up on those indices — should have taken that lesson to heart.

Read Less

The Anti-Israel lobby

Foreign Policy’s website editors have decided to have Prof. Stephen Walt – of the notoriously-miserable book The Israel Lobby – come on as a regular blogger. For those expecting Walt to dive immediately into the one topic that makes him tick – his distaste for Israel – the professor didn’t disappoint. In a ridiculous “thought experiment” Walt opened his blog by trying to prove, yet again, that U.S.’s Israel-policy is hypocritical and harmful:

Imagine that Egypt, Jordan, and Syria had won the Six Day War, leading to a massive exodus of Jews from the territory of Israel. Imagine that the victorious Arab states had eventually decided to permit the Palestinians to establish a state of their own on the territory of the former Jewish state. (That’s unlikely, of course, but this is a thought experiment). Imagine that a million or so Jews had ended up as stateless refugees confined to that narrow enclave known as the Gaza Strip. Then imagine that a group of hardline Orthodox Jews took over control of that territory and organized a resistance movement.

We already know from his book, co-authored with John Mearsheimer, that Walt has an active imagination. Luckily, Foreign Policy also has other writers capable of refuting Walt’s obsessive hostility and mocking his resourceful fixation on Israel as the country where most of the world’s problems originate. David Rothkopf does just that, responding to Walt’s “thought experiment” with one of his own:

You want a thought experiment? What if Palestinian “freedom fighters” indiscriminately launched missiles into Israel, failing to kill hundreds or thousands of innocent people only through ineptitude, and then they rushed back into densely populated civilian areas and hid behind women and children for cover? Of course, my thought experiment is even more worth thinking about for reasons that should starkly apparent to everyone, regardless of which lobby they may support.

But even more significantly, Rothkopf attempts to categorize Walt’s rants and put them in the right context. While I do not necessarily agree with everything he says, his portrayal of the “anti-Israel Lobby” is a timely contribution to the public debate over Israel’s influence in the U.S.:

[Walt] has become as biased a pleader of special interests as he accuses the Israel Lobby of being. And as such he has become a member of the anti-Israel Lobby, a group that is every bit as vocal and at the moment seems to be even more empowered than the its counterpart. Members include Jimmy Carter and his former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, celebrity activists like Richard Gere, and many members of the media. Like the members of the Israel Lobby, they found their case on some very reasonable assertions. The Palestinians should have a state of their own and their plight is dismal. It is also a terrible tragedy that so many are the innocent victims of the conflict between Israel and, at the moment, Hamas.

But just as proponents of a strong U.S. relationship with Israel would do well to realize the damage that has been done to Israel’s case by over-aggressive actions (most egregiously those associated with the brutal and mismanaged invasion of Lebanon in the early 1980s), proponents of the Palestinian cause would do well to recognize that is grotesquely counter-productive to explicitly or implicitly support the leadership or the interests of Hamas, Iranian-backed terrorists who have violated their public trust with the Palestinian people by both failing to serve their basic needs and actively choosing to put them at mortal risk.

Here’s one “thought experiment” I was trying this morning – I guess it’s easier for a writer under the influence of cold-medicine: Imagine Professor Walt reading Rothkofp’s post and realizing that he was wrong all along, that he became a biased advocate for the wrong cause, that the way he crafts his arguments gives justification to those thinking he is anti-Semitic. Imagine him taking the hundreds of thousands of dollars he made from writing his despicable book and giving it away to, say, the Jewish Agency, imagine Walt going back to being the somewhat boring “realist” scholar he once was, back to relative obscurity. Can you?

This is as likely a scenario as the one he was asking his readers to visualize.

Foreign Policy’s website editors have decided to have Prof. Stephen Walt – of the notoriously-miserable book The Israel Lobby – come on as a regular blogger. For those expecting Walt to dive immediately into the one topic that makes him tick – his distaste for Israel – the professor didn’t disappoint. In a ridiculous “thought experiment” Walt opened his blog by trying to prove, yet again, that U.S.’s Israel-policy is hypocritical and harmful:

Imagine that Egypt, Jordan, and Syria had won the Six Day War, leading to a massive exodus of Jews from the territory of Israel. Imagine that the victorious Arab states had eventually decided to permit the Palestinians to establish a state of their own on the territory of the former Jewish state. (That’s unlikely, of course, but this is a thought experiment). Imagine that a million or so Jews had ended up as stateless refugees confined to that narrow enclave known as the Gaza Strip. Then imagine that a group of hardline Orthodox Jews took over control of that territory and organized a resistance movement.

We already know from his book, co-authored with John Mearsheimer, that Walt has an active imagination. Luckily, Foreign Policy also has other writers capable of refuting Walt’s obsessive hostility and mocking his resourceful fixation on Israel as the country where most of the world’s problems originate. David Rothkopf does just that, responding to Walt’s “thought experiment” with one of his own:

You want a thought experiment? What if Palestinian “freedom fighters” indiscriminately launched missiles into Israel, failing to kill hundreds or thousands of innocent people only through ineptitude, and then they rushed back into densely populated civilian areas and hid behind women and children for cover? Of course, my thought experiment is even more worth thinking about for reasons that should starkly apparent to everyone, regardless of which lobby they may support.

But even more significantly, Rothkopf attempts to categorize Walt’s rants and put them in the right context. While I do not necessarily agree with everything he says, his portrayal of the “anti-Israel Lobby” is a timely contribution to the public debate over Israel’s influence in the U.S.:

[Walt] has become as biased a pleader of special interests as he accuses the Israel Lobby of being. And as such he has become a member of the anti-Israel Lobby, a group that is every bit as vocal and at the moment seems to be even more empowered than the its counterpart. Members include Jimmy Carter and his former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, celebrity activists like Richard Gere, and many members of the media. Like the members of the Israel Lobby, they found their case on some very reasonable assertions. The Palestinians should have a state of their own and their plight is dismal. It is also a terrible tragedy that so many are the innocent victims of the conflict between Israel and, at the moment, Hamas.

But just as proponents of a strong U.S. relationship with Israel would do well to realize the damage that has been done to Israel’s case by over-aggressive actions (most egregiously those associated with the brutal and mismanaged invasion of Lebanon in the early 1980s), proponents of the Palestinian cause would do well to recognize that is grotesquely counter-productive to explicitly or implicitly support the leadership or the interests of Hamas, Iranian-backed terrorists who have violated their public trust with the Palestinian people by both failing to serve their basic needs and actively choosing to put them at mortal risk.

Here’s one “thought experiment” I was trying this morning – I guess it’s easier for a writer under the influence of cold-medicine: Imagine Professor Walt reading Rothkofp’s post and realizing that he was wrong all along, that he became a biased advocate for the wrong cause, that the way he crafts his arguments gives justification to those thinking he is anti-Semitic. Imagine him taking the hundreds of thousands of dollars he made from writing his despicable book and giving it away to, say, the Jewish Agency, imagine Walt going back to being the somewhat boring “realist” scholar he once was, back to relative obscurity. Can you?

This is as likely a scenario as the one he was asking his readers to visualize.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Howard Kurtz thinks all the Senate seat goings-on are a bit “weird,” and, when combined with the Bill Richardson flap, give off an”unflattering aroma.” I’d say: we’ve had the President-elect interviewed by the FBI, a cabinet nominee dumped and a senator-designee thrown out of the Capitol. And it’s still January! So much for no-drama-Obama.

What happened to the golden touch? The Obama team “forgot” to inform key Senate Democrats about selecting Leon Panetta for CIA Director, and they “missed” the pay-for-play Richardson scandal. Maybe governing is harder than campaigning.

Marty Peretz has a variation on “Option B: Win.” He says: win and then have the Europeans police the settlement. Why am I sensing the latter is going to be a tough sell?

What is the meaning of “earmark“? Not since Bill Clinton’s “is” have we had such a useless semantic argument. The pork is already going to be stuffed into the stimulus plan so they’ll be no need to “slip it in during the middle of the night.”

Sen. Diane Feinstein declines the role of rabid partisan. Roland Burris has a right to be seated, she declares. Maybe Caroline Kennedy could give her one of those Profile in Courage Awards.

Speaking of Caroline: she, you know, might, you know, not be able to hold the seat in 2010, you know. But it would be fun to see the Princess face off against the King (Peter, that is).

Whose idea was it to let Joe Biden out in public? “Joe Biden hasn’t said much in public since the election, but one of Washington’s most prolific talkers is back – and making news whenever he speaks. In fewer than five minutes on Tuesday, Biden criticized his own incoming Obama administration and disclosed information his aides have kept secret for security reasons. And on Monday, Biden declared, ‘We’re at war!’ and compared the economic turmoil to 9/11.Team Obama kept Biden under wraps immediately after the election, but with his Senate swearing-in and upcoming Iraq trip, he’s back in front of the microphones.” Forget Eric Holder and Bill Richardson — Biden was by far the worst personnel pick to date. (Could Hillary get the number two slot in 2012 if this keeps up?)

Does Norm Coleman put his image at risk by contesting his race? At some point yes, although  a much more contentious fight didn’t much harm Al Gore with the public at large. (Conservatives then did seem to protest the sore loser-ism, but this is totally different, right?) We’ll know soon enough if Coleman’s legal theories will fly.

A pro-Israel resolution is in the works in the House. It is always interesting to see who, both in and out of Congress, opposes these. Sometimes clarity is useful.

But alas the President-elect is anything but clear. Well, if he’s going to be squishy, better to let Israel do its thing for a couple more weeks. All of this confirms that Israel’s offensive was well timed — for its own sake and Obama’s.

Israel learned some key lesson in the 2006 Hezbollah war. “This time, Israeli military commanders are leading from the front, not trying to direct the infantry from television screens. This time, the military has clear plans, in stages, drawn up with a year’s preparation. This time, there is no illusion about winning a war only from the air. This time, the military chief of staff has kept his silence in public, all cellphones have been confiscated from Israeli soldiers, and the international press has been kept out of the battlefield.”

Is Big Labor looking for face-saving substitutes for card check legislation or are they only getting warmed up? So long as Arlen Specter is iffy I think it’s the former.

And if there weren’t enough reasons to push card check to the back burner, it looks like Andy Stern, head of the SEIU, did meet with Blago about that Senate seat. Oh, and before his arrest Blago was getting close to signing a bill to help SEIU organize health care workers. Hmm. Who is going to want to be carrying water for Big Labor while that story is in the news?

Face off of the high tech gurus for Governor of California! Why aren’t there more of these people in Washington? It seems like we could use some super-smart successful entrepreneurs in D.C. and fewer sub-par heirs of political dynasties.

Howard Kurtz thinks all the Senate seat goings-on are a bit “weird,” and, when combined with the Bill Richardson flap, give off an”unflattering aroma.” I’d say: we’ve had the President-elect interviewed by the FBI, a cabinet nominee dumped and a senator-designee thrown out of the Capitol. And it’s still January! So much for no-drama-Obama.

What happened to the golden touch? The Obama team “forgot” to inform key Senate Democrats about selecting Leon Panetta for CIA Director, and they “missed” the pay-for-play Richardson scandal. Maybe governing is harder than campaigning.

Marty Peretz has a variation on “Option B: Win.” He says: win and then have the Europeans police the settlement. Why am I sensing the latter is going to be a tough sell?

What is the meaning of “earmark“? Not since Bill Clinton’s “is” have we had such a useless semantic argument. The pork is already going to be stuffed into the stimulus plan so they’ll be no need to “slip it in during the middle of the night.”

Sen. Diane Feinstein declines the role of rabid partisan. Roland Burris has a right to be seated, she declares. Maybe Caroline Kennedy could give her one of those Profile in Courage Awards.

Speaking of Caroline: she, you know, might, you know, not be able to hold the seat in 2010, you know. But it would be fun to see the Princess face off against the King (Peter, that is).

Whose idea was it to let Joe Biden out in public? “Joe Biden hasn’t said much in public since the election, but one of Washington’s most prolific talkers is back – and making news whenever he speaks. In fewer than five minutes on Tuesday, Biden criticized his own incoming Obama administration and disclosed information his aides have kept secret for security reasons. And on Monday, Biden declared, ‘We’re at war!’ and compared the economic turmoil to 9/11.Team Obama kept Biden under wraps immediately after the election, but with his Senate swearing-in and upcoming Iraq trip, he’s back in front of the microphones.” Forget Eric Holder and Bill Richardson — Biden was by far the worst personnel pick to date. (Could Hillary get the number two slot in 2012 if this keeps up?)

Does Norm Coleman put his image at risk by contesting his race? At some point yes, although  a much more contentious fight didn’t much harm Al Gore with the public at large. (Conservatives then did seem to protest the sore loser-ism, but this is totally different, right?) We’ll know soon enough if Coleman’s legal theories will fly.

A pro-Israel resolution is in the works in the House. It is always interesting to see who, both in and out of Congress, opposes these. Sometimes clarity is useful.

But alas the President-elect is anything but clear. Well, if he’s going to be squishy, better to let Israel do its thing for a couple more weeks. All of this confirms that Israel’s offensive was well timed — for its own sake and Obama’s.

Israel learned some key lesson in the 2006 Hezbollah war. “This time, Israeli military commanders are leading from the front, not trying to direct the infantry from television screens. This time, the military has clear plans, in stages, drawn up with a year’s preparation. This time, there is no illusion about winning a war only from the air. This time, the military chief of staff has kept his silence in public, all cellphones have been confiscated from Israeli soldiers, and the international press has been kept out of the battlefield.”

Is Big Labor looking for face-saving substitutes for card check legislation or are they only getting warmed up? So long as Arlen Specter is iffy I think it’s the former.

And if there weren’t enough reasons to push card check to the back burner, it looks like Andy Stern, head of the SEIU, did meet with Blago about that Senate seat. Oh, and before his arrest Blago was getting close to signing a bill to help SEIU organize health care workers. Hmm. Who is going to want to be carrying water for Big Labor while that story is in the news?

Face off of the high tech gurus for Governor of California! Why aren’t there more of these people in Washington? It seems like we could use some super-smart successful entrepreneurs in D.C. and fewer sub-par heirs of political dynasties.

Read Less




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