Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 9, 2009

The Times’s Iran Talking Points

Today, the Times led its editorial page with a meditation on what President Obama must do about Iran and its nuclear ambitions. The Times‘s editorialists acknowledge that Tehran is moving closer to nuclear capability and are even fair-minded enough to admit that last week’s satellite launch showed that their ability to deliver a nuclear weapon is also “moving ahead.”

Their recipe for diplomatic success? “It is time to test their intentions on all fronts.” In other words: Make nice. Cooperate with Europe. Try to tempt them by involving them in the discussions about Iraq and Afghanistan.

In defense of a push for appeasement of Iran, which it claims is the only way forward, the newspaper says, “we have seen the results of the Bush administrations’ refusal to engage” with Iran.

But there is a fundamental problem with the Times‘s analysis: the Bush administration already tried all of this. To his discredit, President Bush spent most of his time in office outsourcing the Iranian problem to our European allies. Far from the confrontational “cowboy” that is the caricature of American foreign policy in those years, Bush was a consistent multilateralist on Iran. What did this accomplish? Nothing.

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Today, the Times led its editorial page with a meditation on what President Obama must do about Iran and its nuclear ambitions. The Times‘s editorialists acknowledge that Tehran is moving closer to nuclear capability and are even fair-minded enough to admit that last week’s satellite launch showed that their ability to deliver a nuclear weapon is also “moving ahead.”

Their recipe for diplomatic success? “It is time to test their intentions on all fronts.” In other words: Make nice. Cooperate with Europe. Try to tempt them by involving them in the discussions about Iraq and Afghanistan.

In defense of a push for appeasement of Iran, which it claims is the only way forward, the newspaper says, “we have seen the results of the Bush administrations’ refusal to engage” with Iran.

But there is a fundamental problem with the Times‘s analysis: the Bush administration already tried all of this. To his discredit, President Bush spent most of his time in office outsourcing the Iranian problem to our European allies. Far from the confrontational “cowboy” that is the caricature of American foreign policy in those years, Bush was a consistent multilateralist on Iran. What did this accomplish? Nothing.

Iran laughed at Europe’s half-hearted diplomacy on the nuclear issue because they knew that even though their nuclear plans posed an existential threat to Israel as well as to the West, their off-and-on business partners in France and Germany were never serious about sanctions. The record of the Bush years is testimony to the bankruptcy of multilateralist diplomacy on this issue.

If that weren’t enough appeasement to Iran for the Times‘s readers, they could also turn to the oped page opposite the editorial for even worse stuff. Roger Cohen’s column on how to make Iran more moderate is a model of incoherence.

He leads with a great truth: “What Iran fears most is a Gorbachev figure, somebody from within the regime who in the name of compromise with the West ends up selling out the revolution and destroying its edifice.”

Tyrannical regimes fall only when the tyrants loosen their grip on the reins of power, as Gorbachev illustrated. But the column goes on to point out that no such figure, including former president Mohammed Khatami who may oppose Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in this year’s presidential election, actually exists.

For Cohen, even Vice President Joe Biden’s mild scolding of Iran in which he warns them, “[c]ontinue down your current course and there will be pressure and isolation” was “dead wrong.” If we can’t tell them that, then what can we say to them?

To this way of thinking, everything short of Obama throwing a party at the White House to celebrate the not-so-glorious 30th anniversary of the Islamists’ overthrow of the Shah is dangerous brinkmanship.

If Obama listens to such nonsense, and judging by his initial “outreach” to the Muslim world, he might, then we may as well assume that before long we’ll be reading Times editorials about why Tehran’s nukes — which Obama will do nothing to stop from being developed — are really nothing to worry about.

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Will Israel “Vote for War”?

Jackson Diehl, usually an astute commentator on Israeli affairs, makes a grave mistake in his article about the next Israeli government. For the first time in many years, he says, Israel might vote “for war.” His proof? A quote from Likud’s leader Binyamin Netanyahu:

We must smash the Hamas power in Gaza,” Likud party leader Binyamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu said at one rally last week. “There will be no escape from toppling the Hamas regime,” he said at a security conference the next day. “I’m sorry to say we haven’t gotten the job done,” he said of Israel’s recent Gaza offensive in a radio interview. “The next government will have no choice but to finish the job and uproot . . . the Iranian terror base.

But Diehl fails to differentiate between wars. He compares Netanyahu to Kadima’s Tzipi Livni, “who is promising to continue peace talks.” The comparison doesn’t stand up to scrutiny: Netanyahu talks about war with Hamas — Livni talks about peace with Palestinian moderates from the Palestinian Authority — namely Fatah. He also treats Netanyahu as the only Israeli leader wanting to topple Hamas. Wrong again: Livni was as vehement in demanding the removal of Hamas as Netanyahu. This is no secret; Livni has said so publicly:

The state of Israel, and a government under me, will make it a strategic objective to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza,” Livni told members of her centrist Kadima party. “The means for doing this should be military, economic and diplomatic.

Diehl’s rhetoric is aimed at portraying Netanyahu, who may win tomorrow, as a warmonger. Many pundits tend to represent Netanyahu’s views as more right-wing and extreme than those of his rivals. But while there are certain political differences between Netanyahu and Livni, and while one can persuasively argue — as Diehl does — that Netanyahu never believed in “the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state,” these two (or three, including Ehud Barak) share many common Israeli beliefs regarding the Palestinian problem.

To illustrate the point, note that the largest group of “undecided voters” from last week was torn between Livni and Netanyahu. That’s not because these voters are not sure what they want, but rather because as far as policy goes, they can hardly see the difference between the two candidates. The choice is not between contrasting ideologies and beliefs on war and peace — it’s rather between personalities. Another point to consider is that Barak wants to be Netanyahu’s Defense Minister. Apparently, the leader of the “left-wing” Labor Party believes he can live with Netanyahu’s views. That’s because on many of the issues they share the same views.

Jackson Diehl, usually an astute commentator on Israeli affairs, makes a grave mistake in his article about the next Israeli government. For the first time in many years, he says, Israel might vote “for war.” His proof? A quote from Likud’s leader Binyamin Netanyahu:

We must smash the Hamas power in Gaza,” Likud party leader Binyamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu said at one rally last week. “There will be no escape from toppling the Hamas regime,” he said at a security conference the next day. “I’m sorry to say we haven’t gotten the job done,” he said of Israel’s recent Gaza offensive in a radio interview. “The next government will have no choice but to finish the job and uproot . . . the Iranian terror base.

But Diehl fails to differentiate between wars. He compares Netanyahu to Kadima’s Tzipi Livni, “who is promising to continue peace talks.” The comparison doesn’t stand up to scrutiny: Netanyahu talks about war with Hamas — Livni talks about peace with Palestinian moderates from the Palestinian Authority — namely Fatah. He also treats Netanyahu as the only Israeli leader wanting to topple Hamas. Wrong again: Livni was as vehement in demanding the removal of Hamas as Netanyahu. This is no secret; Livni has said so publicly:

The state of Israel, and a government under me, will make it a strategic objective to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza,” Livni told members of her centrist Kadima party. “The means for doing this should be military, economic and diplomatic.

Diehl’s rhetoric is aimed at portraying Netanyahu, who may win tomorrow, as a warmonger. Many pundits tend to represent Netanyahu’s views as more right-wing and extreme than those of his rivals. But while there are certain political differences between Netanyahu and Livni, and while one can persuasively argue — as Diehl does — that Netanyahu never believed in “the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state,” these two (or three, including Ehud Barak) share many common Israeli beliefs regarding the Palestinian problem.

To illustrate the point, note that the largest group of “undecided voters” from last week was torn between Livni and Netanyahu. That’s not because these voters are not sure what they want, but rather because as far as policy goes, they can hardly see the difference between the two candidates. The choice is not between contrasting ideologies and beliefs on war and peace — it’s rather between personalities. Another point to consider is that Barak wants to be Netanyahu’s Defense Minister. Apparently, the leader of the “left-wing” Labor Party believes he can live with Netanyahu’s views. That’s because on many of the issues they share the same views.

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Commentary of the Day

Sarah Jaynes, on J.G. Thayer:

People who want to raise taxes are either using off shore hiding places, are trust fund babies, do not pay taxes or plan to not pay taxes. The Democrats always want to raise taxes. Now we know why. They have ways of avoiding paying. My family has never had over 50K a year. And yet we pay through the nose. Never have we not paid. Fear is one reason..honesty is the other. I absolutely despise the hypocrites like Rangel and the Obamacrats who cheat workers like me. Anyone who says the exchange of favors between Emanuel and Goldberg is nothing can’t pay taxes like I do. The attitude that not paying is ok can only come from a person who does the same thing and hides income. No one like me who pays through the nose would be able to justify all the cheating we are reading about. Just not possible.

Sarah Jaynes, on J.G. Thayer:

People who want to raise taxes are either using off shore hiding places, are trust fund babies, do not pay taxes or plan to not pay taxes. The Democrats always want to raise taxes. Now we know why. They have ways of avoiding paying. My family has never had over 50K a year. And yet we pay through the nose. Never have we not paid. Fear is one reason..honesty is the other. I absolutely despise the hypocrites like Rangel and the Obamacrats who cheat workers like me. Anyone who says the exchange of favors between Emanuel and Goldberg is nothing can’t pay taxes like I do. The attitude that not paying is ok can only come from a person who does the same thing and hides income. No one like me who pays through the nose would be able to justify all the cheating we are reading about. Just not possible.

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Re: The Price of Specter’s Stimulus Support

Jonathan, I wonder whether Sen. Specter hears the footsteps. Pat Toomey, who heads Club of Growth, has put out a statement taking the Senate moderates to task for favoring a stimulus bill that is more expensive than the House version. And he picks out Specter for particular criticism:

Senator Specter even introduced an amendment to add an additional $6 billion in spending for the National Institute of Health.  In what universe is this a compromise?

These Senators should explain to American taxpayers how they can vote for a bill that will put future generations on the hook for nearly $1 trillion dollars in new spending, including a heap of special-interest pork projects that will do absolutely nothing to stimulate the U.S. economy.  Taking money out of the private sector is not what the economy needs right now.  In fact, even the Democrat-controlled Congressional Budget Office says President Obama’s stimulus will harm the economy in the long-run.  Recovery will depend on pro-growth tax cuts that encourage workers and businesses to invest, produce, and work.

“The Democratic stimulus bill is a slap in the face to American taxpayers who will be forced to foot the bill for years to come,” said Club for Growth President Pat Toomey.  “The three Republican senators should be embarrassed by their role in passing what is essentially a deferred tax increase on the American people that will destroy more jobs than it creates.  If the uproar from taxpayers around the country is any indication, at least there are plenty of Republicans who are embarrassed on their behalf.”

Perhaps Toomey couldn’t find anything as egregious as Specter’s $6B add-on by Senators Snowe and Collins, but I suspect there is a reason he highlighted Specter’s personal share of pork. (Others are already sending up the flare for Toomey to run.)  We’ll see if this is the start of a more focused campaign by Toomey to test the voters’ appetite for a primary challenge against Specter.

Jonathan, I wonder whether Sen. Specter hears the footsteps. Pat Toomey, who heads Club of Growth, has put out a statement taking the Senate moderates to task for favoring a stimulus bill that is more expensive than the House version. And he picks out Specter for particular criticism:

Senator Specter even introduced an amendment to add an additional $6 billion in spending for the National Institute of Health.  In what universe is this a compromise?

These Senators should explain to American taxpayers how they can vote for a bill that will put future generations on the hook for nearly $1 trillion dollars in new spending, including a heap of special-interest pork projects that will do absolutely nothing to stimulate the U.S. economy.  Taking money out of the private sector is not what the economy needs right now.  In fact, even the Democrat-controlled Congressional Budget Office says President Obama’s stimulus will harm the economy in the long-run.  Recovery will depend on pro-growth tax cuts that encourage workers and businesses to invest, produce, and work.

“The Democratic stimulus bill is a slap in the face to American taxpayers who will be forced to foot the bill for years to come,” said Club for Growth President Pat Toomey.  “The three Republican senators should be embarrassed by their role in passing what is essentially a deferred tax increase on the American people that will destroy more jobs than it creates.  If the uproar from taxpayers around the country is any indication, at least there are plenty of Republicans who are embarrassed on their behalf.”

Perhaps Toomey couldn’t find anything as egregious as Specter’s $6B add-on by Senators Snowe and Collins, but I suspect there is a reason he highlighted Specter’s personal share of pork. (Others are already sending up the flare for Toomey to run.)  We’ll see if this is the start of a more focused campaign by Toomey to test the voters’ appetite for a primary challenge against Specter.

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Israel’s Strategic Elections

It can be hard for political junkies to live without polls until Election Day, but that’s exactly what Israel has had to put up with since Friday. The publishing of new election poll-results during the last days of the campaign is forbidden by law. Therefore the country is left in the dark until exit polls are published tomorrow evening: for now rumor and spin dominate public opinion.

Rumor: The race is tighter than ever, and Kadima might even pull out a very tight win. Even in this case there would be a long way to go before Tzipi Livni can form a coalition, but plausible scenarios can already be anticipated in the Israeli street.

Israel lacks polls as well as the clarigying advantages of a two-party system. At least four parties — Kadima, Likud, Labor, and Israel Beiteinu — might end up winning more or less 20 mandates (out of 120). Through the last days of the campaign, confusion reigns supreme and Israelis are desperately trying to outsmart the system. They are known to vote “strategically” – that is, to favor electoral influence over ideological affinity.

This explains Ehud Barak’s warning today that if Labor doesn’t get “close to 20 mandates” he might not be able to remain defense minister. He is after those strategists wanting him as DM. They might not like Labor, but will vote to help Barak retain his position.

Such strategic decisions can lead to bizarre outcomes. One strategic voter is Yuval Rabin, the son of the late Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin was meeting Likud’s Netanyahu today — and on this occasion announced he will vote for Labor but urged both parties to form a unity government. Rabin, like many other voters, doesn’t see the election as zero-sum-game. In Israel’s parliamentary system, Election Day is the beginning of a process rather than the end of it. You can win the day and lose the election, or vice-versa. Thus — while they formally belong to opposite camps — Netanyahu and Barak (and, apparently, Rabin) have the same goal in mind: blocking Kadima’s victory. If this happens, they can join forces and live happily ever after – well, for a year or two.

The intricacies of “strategic voting” will lead Meretz voters, who aren’t fond of Livni, to vote for her anyway in order to block Netanyahu. This motivation will give people an excuse to vote for Likud — even if they like Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu better – suspecting that Lieberman might end up joining a Kadima coalition.

Strategic voting has it’s weaknesses. It makes people vote for someone they don’t agree with on policy issues — thus rendering politics in general “dirtier” and less ideological. No wonder Israelis are so quickly disillusioned with their politicians: First they vote for someone they don’t care for — then they feign disappointment.

Another important weakness of strategic voting is its tendency to simply not work: Imagine five million voters trying to outsmart one another by voting “strategically” and you’ll easily understand why. Of course, this approach to electoral decisions confuses pollsters, drives political consultants crazy, and debases any serious ideological debates along party lines. It makes Election Night more exciting and most unpredictable.

That’s tomorrow night. Stay tuned.

It can be hard for political junkies to live without polls until Election Day, but that’s exactly what Israel has had to put up with since Friday. The publishing of new election poll-results during the last days of the campaign is forbidden by law. Therefore the country is left in the dark until exit polls are published tomorrow evening: for now rumor and spin dominate public opinion.

Rumor: The race is tighter than ever, and Kadima might even pull out a very tight win. Even in this case there would be a long way to go before Tzipi Livni can form a coalition, but plausible scenarios can already be anticipated in the Israeli street.

Israel lacks polls as well as the clarigying advantages of a two-party system. At least four parties — Kadima, Likud, Labor, and Israel Beiteinu — might end up winning more or less 20 mandates (out of 120). Through the last days of the campaign, confusion reigns supreme and Israelis are desperately trying to outsmart the system. They are known to vote “strategically” – that is, to favor electoral influence over ideological affinity.

This explains Ehud Barak’s warning today that if Labor doesn’t get “close to 20 mandates” he might not be able to remain defense minister. He is after those strategists wanting him as DM. They might not like Labor, but will vote to help Barak retain his position.

Such strategic decisions can lead to bizarre outcomes. One strategic voter is Yuval Rabin, the son of the late Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin was meeting Likud’s Netanyahu today — and on this occasion announced he will vote for Labor but urged both parties to form a unity government. Rabin, like many other voters, doesn’t see the election as zero-sum-game. In Israel’s parliamentary system, Election Day is the beginning of a process rather than the end of it. You can win the day and lose the election, or vice-versa. Thus — while they formally belong to opposite camps — Netanyahu and Barak (and, apparently, Rabin) have the same goal in mind: blocking Kadima’s victory. If this happens, they can join forces and live happily ever after – well, for a year or two.

The intricacies of “strategic voting” will lead Meretz voters, who aren’t fond of Livni, to vote for her anyway in order to block Netanyahu. This motivation will give people an excuse to vote for Likud — even if they like Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu better – suspecting that Lieberman might end up joining a Kadima coalition.

Strategic voting has it’s weaknesses. It makes people vote for someone they don’t agree with on policy issues — thus rendering politics in general “dirtier” and less ideological. No wonder Israelis are so quickly disillusioned with their politicians: First they vote for someone they don’t care for — then they feign disappointment.

Another important weakness of strategic voting is its tendency to simply not work: Imagine five million voters trying to outsmart one another by voting “strategically” and you’ll easily understand why. Of course, this approach to electoral decisions confuses pollsters, drives political consultants crazy, and debases any serious ideological debates along party lines. It makes Election Night more exciting and most unpredictable.

That’s tomorrow night. Stay tuned.

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Bedfellows Make for Strange Politics

A surge in two-career families has created — in politics and out– an increased  potential for conflicts of interest.

The most immediate example that comes to mind is the case of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. As noted earlier, Mr. Emanuel had served in the House of Representatives for several years before being tapped by President Obama. For five of those years, he lived, rent-free, in the home of his colleague, Representative Rosa DeLauro and her husband, Stan Greenberg. Mr. Greenberg is a pollster who has done considerable work for both Mr. Emanuel’s campaigns and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — which Emanuel chaired.

Then there’s Senator  Debbie Stabenow. The Michigan Democrat is leading the push to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine on broadcasters. This move would cripple conservative talk radio, as stations would be compelled to “balance” their conservative programs with contrasting ones. Stabenow’s husband, Tom Athans is executive vice president of the always-struggling liberal network Air America.

(In Air America’s defense, this is a slightly more honest attempt to raise money than, say, snagging interest-free loans from boys and girls clubs.)

Then there’s our secretary of state. You might have heard that our chief diplomat is married to a former president of the United States who has set up a foundation that has raised millions upon millions of dollars from foreign states.

It isn’t just married couples that cause conflicts. Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank once shared his home with a gentleman who ran an escort service out of the congressman’s townhouse. More recently, he was involved in a long-term relationship with a top executive at Fannie Mae at a time when Frank was a high-ranking member of the House committee that oversaw the organization. Frank now serves as Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

The key is full disclosure. Emanuel should have reported that he was living rent-free as the guest of a pollster he had hired. Bill Clinton should have fully disclosed his donors’ list before his wife was confirmed. And Frank should have let everyone know that he was involved with one of the top executives of the organization he was overseeing.

All it takes is a commitment to honesty.

A surge in two-career families has created — in politics and out– an increased  potential for conflicts of interest.

The most immediate example that comes to mind is the case of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. As noted earlier, Mr. Emanuel had served in the House of Representatives for several years before being tapped by President Obama. For five of those years, he lived, rent-free, in the home of his colleague, Representative Rosa DeLauro and her husband, Stan Greenberg. Mr. Greenberg is a pollster who has done considerable work for both Mr. Emanuel’s campaigns and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — which Emanuel chaired.

Then there’s Senator  Debbie Stabenow. The Michigan Democrat is leading the push to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine on broadcasters. This move would cripple conservative talk radio, as stations would be compelled to “balance” their conservative programs with contrasting ones. Stabenow’s husband, Tom Athans is executive vice president of the always-struggling liberal network Air America.

(In Air America’s defense, this is a slightly more honest attempt to raise money than, say, snagging interest-free loans from boys and girls clubs.)

Then there’s our secretary of state. You might have heard that our chief diplomat is married to a former president of the United States who has set up a foundation that has raised millions upon millions of dollars from foreign states.

It isn’t just married couples that cause conflicts. Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank once shared his home with a gentleman who ran an escort service out of the congressman’s townhouse. More recently, he was involved in a long-term relationship with a top executive at Fannie Mae at a time when Frank was a high-ranking member of the House committee that oversaw the organization. Frank now serves as Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

The key is full disclosure. Emanuel should have reported that he was living rent-free as the guest of a pollster he had hired. Bill Clinton should have fully disclosed his donors’ list before his wife was confirmed. And Frank should have let everyone know that he was involved with one of the top executives of the organization he was overseeing.

All it takes is a commitment to honesty.

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Dueling Palestinian Polls

With Israelis set to go to the polls tomorrow to elect a new prime minister and Knesset, it is interesting to note that Haaretz had two stories on its homepage today with polling numbers about Palestinian opinion — with the data in each story contradicting the other.

In one, Avi Isaacharof reports that Hamas is winning the battle for public opinion against Fatah. Indeed, according to this story, if Hamas is able to persuade Israel to give in to their demands for a mass release of terrorist prisoners and an opening of Gaza’s borders in exchange for the freedom of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, then Fatah is finished. He writes:

For the first time, Hamas is leading Fatah in the polls: 28.6 percent for Hamas compared to 27.9 percent for Fatah. Despite the euphoria in Israel over the Gaza operation, on the Palestinian side at least, some 46.7 percent view the Gaza fighting as a Hamas victory and only 9.8 percent deemed Israel the victor. Some 37.4 percent thought there was no winner.

Interesting. But scroll down further on the Haaretz homepage and you discover another point of view. In a piece credited to the Haaretz service, the newspaper reports that:

Only a quarter of the Palestinians in Gaza support Hamas, Army Radio reported Monday. According to the findings of a new poll conducted in Gaza, support in the ruling Hamas government has drastically gone down following the Israel Defense Forces offensive in the coastal strip. Only 28% of the Palestinians now say they support Hamas, compared to 51% who voiced their support for Hamas in November 2008.

Can both stories be right? Maybe they can. The point of the earlier piece is that if Israel gives in to Hamas demands, it will be seen as a winner and will reap more support from Palestinians. The point of the second is that Palestinians in Gaza saw with their own eyes the conduct of Hamas during the fighting with Israel. Hamas’s armed cadres provoked a war and then spent its duration hiding behind civilians and inflicting little damage on the Israeli Defense Forces. No wonder Gazans view it as a defeat.

While it is hard to imagine what Israel could do to promote Fatah (and given its own terrorist and irredentist inclinations one wonders why they would bother), it is just as important for Israeli leaders to ponder how best to avoid any actions that will give new life to a Hamas that was defeated by the IDF. Ransoming Shalit will be popular and it is hard to imagine any democratic leader resisting the pressure to do so no matter what the price (think about Ronald Reagan and the American hostages in Lebanon). But doing so will have severe consequences.

With Israelis set to go to the polls tomorrow to elect a new prime minister and Knesset, it is interesting to note that Haaretz had two stories on its homepage today with polling numbers about Palestinian opinion — with the data in each story contradicting the other.

In one, Avi Isaacharof reports that Hamas is winning the battle for public opinion against Fatah. Indeed, according to this story, if Hamas is able to persuade Israel to give in to their demands for a mass release of terrorist prisoners and an opening of Gaza’s borders in exchange for the freedom of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, then Fatah is finished. He writes:

For the first time, Hamas is leading Fatah in the polls: 28.6 percent for Hamas compared to 27.9 percent for Fatah. Despite the euphoria in Israel over the Gaza operation, on the Palestinian side at least, some 46.7 percent view the Gaza fighting as a Hamas victory and only 9.8 percent deemed Israel the victor. Some 37.4 percent thought there was no winner.

Interesting. But scroll down further on the Haaretz homepage and you discover another point of view. In a piece credited to the Haaretz service, the newspaper reports that:

Only a quarter of the Palestinians in Gaza support Hamas, Army Radio reported Monday. According to the findings of a new poll conducted in Gaza, support in the ruling Hamas government has drastically gone down following the Israel Defense Forces offensive in the coastal strip. Only 28% of the Palestinians now say they support Hamas, compared to 51% who voiced their support for Hamas in November 2008.

Can both stories be right? Maybe they can. The point of the earlier piece is that if Israel gives in to Hamas demands, it will be seen as a winner and will reap more support from Palestinians. The point of the second is that Palestinians in Gaza saw with their own eyes the conduct of Hamas during the fighting with Israel. Hamas’s armed cadres provoked a war and then spent its duration hiding behind civilians and inflicting little damage on the Israeli Defense Forces. No wonder Gazans view it as a defeat.

While it is hard to imagine what Israel could do to promote Fatah (and given its own terrorist and irredentist inclinations one wonders why they would bother), it is just as important for Israeli leaders to ponder how best to avoid any actions that will give new life to a Hamas that was defeated by the IDF. Ransoming Shalit will be popular and it is hard to imagine any democratic leader resisting the pressure to do so no matter what the price (think about Ronald Reagan and the American hostages in Lebanon). But doing so will have severe consequences.

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Petraeus’s Address

It’s gotten almost no attention but General David Petraeus delivered a terrific address at the Munich Security Conference laying out the approach to Afghanistan that he will recommend to the new administration. You can listen to the audio here. And you can read the transcript here. A few highlights:

Our fundamental objective in Afghanistan is to ensure that transnational terrorists are not able to reestablish the sanctuaries they enjoyed prior to 9/11. It was to eliminate such sanctuaries that we took action in Afghanistan in 2001 and preventing their reestablishment remains an imperative today, noting to be sure that achievement of that objective inevitably requires accomplishment of other interrelated tasks as well.

Military action while not sufficient by itself is absolutely necessary, for security provides the essential foundation for the achievement of progress in all the other so called lines of operation.

First and foremost our forces and those of our Afghan partners have to strive to secure and serve the population. We have to recognize that the Afghan people are the decisive terrain….  While it may be less culturally acceptable to live among the people in certain parts of Afghanistan than it was in Iraq, it is necessary to locate Afghan and ISAF forces where they can establish a persistent security presence. You can’t commute to work in the conduct of counterinsurgency operations.

It is also essential that we achieve unity of effort.  That we coordinate and synchronize the actions of all ISAF and Afghan forces and those of our Pakistani partners across the border, and that we do the same with the actions of our embassy and international partners, our Afghan counterparts, local governmental leaders, and international and nongovernmental organizations.

We need to identify and separate the irreconcilables from the reconcilables, striving to create the conditions that can make the reconcilables part of the solution, instead of a continuing part of the problem, even as we kill, capture or run off the irreconcilables.

To help increase the legitimacy of the Afghan government, we need to help our Afghan partners give the people a reason to support the government and their local authorities….Such efforts likely should feature support for what might be called an Afghan accountability offensive.

Achieving security improvements will require more ISAF and Afghan security forces of all types.  Combat, combat support, logistics trainers, and advisers, special operations and so on.

Read, as they say, the whole thing.

It’s gotten almost no attention but General David Petraeus delivered a terrific address at the Munich Security Conference laying out the approach to Afghanistan that he will recommend to the new administration. You can listen to the audio here. And you can read the transcript here. A few highlights:

Our fundamental objective in Afghanistan is to ensure that transnational terrorists are not able to reestablish the sanctuaries they enjoyed prior to 9/11. It was to eliminate such sanctuaries that we took action in Afghanistan in 2001 and preventing their reestablishment remains an imperative today, noting to be sure that achievement of that objective inevitably requires accomplishment of other interrelated tasks as well.

Military action while not sufficient by itself is absolutely necessary, for security provides the essential foundation for the achievement of progress in all the other so called lines of operation.

First and foremost our forces and those of our Afghan partners have to strive to secure and serve the population. We have to recognize that the Afghan people are the decisive terrain….  While it may be less culturally acceptable to live among the people in certain parts of Afghanistan than it was in Iraq, it is necessary to locate Afghan and ISAF forces where they can establish a persistent security presence. You can’t commute to work in the conduct of counterinsurgency operations.

It is also essential that we achieve unity of effort.  That we coordinate and synchronize the actions of all ISAF and Afghan forces and those of our Pakistani partners across the border, and that we do the same with the actions of our embassy and international partners, our Afghan counterparts, local governmental leaders, and international and nongovernmental organizations.

We need to identify and separate the irreconcilables from the reconcilables, striving to create the conditions that can make the reconcilables part of the solution, instead of a continuing part of the problem, even as we kill, capture or run off the irreconcilables.

To help increase the legitimacy of the Afghan government, we need to help our Afghan partners give the people a reason to support the government and their local authorities….Such efforts likely should feature support for what might be called an Afghan accountability offensive.

Achieving security improvements will require more ISAF and Afghan security forces of all types.  Combat, combat support, logistics trainers, and advisers, special operations and so on.

Read, as they say, the whole thing.

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The Williamson Review

I cannot tell you how relieved I am to hear that Richard Williamson is going to review the evidence.

Apparently, back in the 1980s, this excommunicated bishop did some research and concluded that only 300,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust. And that there “were no gas chambers.” Now that his reinstatement in the Catholic Church is on the line, he tells us that he is going to conduct a comprehensive review of the “evidence.”

How good of him!

This whole thing stinks to high heaven. I do not know what new “evidence” has emerged in the last twenty years. To suggest that a generation ago it was in any way more reasonable to believe the Holocaust was a hoax than it is today is absurd. If anything, a lot more Holocaust survivors were alive in the 1980s to tell the tale. And beyond the fact that the Germans kept gruesomely meticulous records, the simple disappearance of a whole Jewish civilization numbering in the millions should have kept him at least a little skeptical.

The Church doesn’t come out looking much better from the whole affair. If Pope Benedict really did not know Williamson’s views, then we have here a vetting problem that makes Barack Obama’s look just fine, thank you. Everyone else seemed to know Williamson’s views when the announcement was made. If the Pope did know, then he is putting reconciliation with Williamson’s group ahead not just of Jewish sentiments, but of simple honesty and decency.

I cannot tell you how relieved I am to hear that Richard Williamson is going to review the evidence.

Apparently, back in the 1980s, this excommunicated bishop did some research and concluded that only 300,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust. And that there “were no gas chambers.” Now that his reinstatement in the Catholic Church is on the line, he tells us that he is going to conduct a comprehensive review of the “evidence.”

How good of him!

This whole thing stinks to high heaven. I do not know what new “evidence” has emerged in the last twenty years. To suggest that a generation ago it was in any way more reasonable to believe the Holocaust was a hoax than it is today is absurd. If anything, a lot more Holocaust survivors were alive in the 1980s to tell the tale. And beyond the fact that the Germans kept gruesomely meticulous records, the simple disappearance of a whole Jewish civilization numbering in the millions should have kept him at least a little skeptical.

The Church doesn’t come out looking much better from the whole affair. If Pope Benedict really did not know Williamson’s views, then we have here a vetting problem that makes Barack Obama’s look just fine, thank you. Everyone else seemed to know Williamson’s views when the announcement was made. If the Pope did know, then he is putting reconciliation with Williamson’s group ahead not just of Jewish sentiments, but of simple honesty and decency.

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Pessimism Is Self-Fulfilling

When confronted with a tough challenge, any administration faces a difficult balancing act between not raising public expectations of success too high and, at the same time, conveying confidence that they have a plan for success. President Bush may have erred too much on the side of conveying confidence but there is a danger that his successor may be sounding overly pessimistic.

On the economy, President Obama and his aides are exaggerating by comparing the current situation to the Great Depression. Economist Alan Reynolds rightly cautions:

The president needs to be a calming voice right now, a source of strength. It’s not helpful for him to be warning of a ‘catastrophe’ and making vague, untenable allusions to the Great Depression.

The same is also true of Afghanistan. Admittedly the situation there is serious but is it really “much tougher than Iraq” as suggested by the new presidential envoy Richard Holbrooke at the Munich Security Conference? According to the Brookings Afghanistan Index, 2,118 Afghan civilians died last year. (In this Los Angeles Times article, I mistakenly gave a slightly lower figure that was only for January-August 2008, not the whole year.) That’s bad but still nowhere as bad as Iraq at the height of the violence in 2006-2007 when more than 2,000 civilians were dying each month.

I can understand why administration officials would want to avoid being pollyanish but they should also keep in mind the danger of being overly pessimistic. “Talking down” the economy can worsen economic performance. Likewise, exaggerating the woes of Afghanistan and talking about the need to reduce expectations can send a message of doubt that makes it less likely that people in Afghanistan or Pakistan will support our counterinsurgency efforts.

When confronted with a tough challenge, any administration faces a difficult balancing act between not raising public expectations of success too high and, at the same time, conveying confidence that they have a plan for success. President Bush may have erred too much on the side of conveying confidence but there is a danger that his successor may be sounding overly pessimistic.

On the economy, President Obama and his aides are exaggerating by comparing the current situation to the Great Depression. Economist Alan Reynolds rightly cautions:

The president needs to be a calming voice right now, a source of strength. It’s not helpful for him to be warning of a ‘catastrophe’ and making vague, untenable allusions to the Great Depression.

The same is also true of Afghanistan. Admittedly the situation there is serious but is it really “much tougher than Iraq” as suggested by the new presidential envoy Richard Holbrooke at the Munich Security Conference? According to the Brookings Afghanistan Index, 2,118 Afghan civilians died last year. (In this Los Angeles Times article, I mistakenly gave a slightly lower figure that was only for January-August 2008, not the whole year.) That’s bad but still nowhere as bad as Iraq at the height of the violence in 2006-2007 when more than 2,000 civilians were dying each month.

I can understand why administration officials would want to avoid being pollyanish but they should also keep in mind the danger of being overly pessimistic. “Talking down” the economy can worsen economic performance. Likewise, exaggerating the woes of Afghanistan and talking about the need to reduce expectations can send a message of doubt that makes it less likely that people in Afghanistan or Pakistan will support our counterinsurgency efforts.

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A Turncoat Leaves the Door Open

The New York Times reports that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s “maturation” (that’s what they call it when a politician abandons conservative policy stances) since her elevation to the Senate isn’t sitting well back in her old Congressional district:

Now that Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand represents all of New York rather than one conservative swath outside Albany, she has described her shift on hot-button issues like illegal immigration and gay marriage as a broadening of her position.

But in the 20th Congressional District, which first sent Ms. Gillibrand to Washington in 2006, many are taking it as an abandonment of the principles that persuaded them to support a Democrat in this predominantly Republican area.

It seems her district didn’t “become Democratic.” Rather the voters there took Gillibrand at her word that she wouldn’t vote like a down-the-line liberal Democrat. They accepted a Democrat who voted like a conservative, at least some of the time. And they resent that she’s now “hanging around with the wrong people.” (Harry Reid, I think they mean you.)

The voters interviewed by the Times don’t sound like they are ready to embrace the next sweet-talking Democrat who comes their way. That may spell trouble for Democrat Scott Murphy who is looking to keep the seat in a special election. He already has tax problems. Coupled with some voter anger over Gillibrand’s “betrayal,” as the Times so bluntly put it, the GOP could be in a position for a much desired pick-up — giving hope to other Republicans that the age of Obama may not be nearly as trying as the age of Bush.

The New York Times reports that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s “maturation” (that’s what they call it when a politician abandons conservative policy stances) since her elevation to the Senate isn’t sitting well back in her old Congressional district:

Now that Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand represents all of New York rather than one conservative swath outside Albany, she has described her shift on hot-button issues like illegal immigration and gay marriage as a broadening of her position.

But in the 20th Congressional District, which first sent Ms. Gillibrand to Washington in 2006, many are taking it as an abandonment of the principles that persuaded them to support a Democrat in this predominantly Republican area.

It seems her district didn’t “become Democratic.” Rather the voters there took Gillibrand at her word that she wouldn’t vote like a down-the-line liberal Democrat. They accepted a Democrat who voted like a conservative, at least some of the time. And they resent that she’s now “hanging around with the wrong people.” (Harry Reid, I think they mean you.)

The voters interviewed by the Times don’t sound like they are ready to embrace the next sweet-talking Democrat who comes their way. That may spell trouble for Democrat Scott Murphy who is looking to keep the seat in a special election. He already has tax problems. Coupled with some voter anger over Gillibrand’s “betrayal,” as the Times so bluntly put it, the GOP could be in a position for a much desired pick-up — giving hope to other Republicans that the age of Obama may not be nearly as trying as the age of Bush.

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Peeled of Dreams

A headline in the Financial Times reads, “Obama’s bipartisan dream turning sour.”

Embracing an old-style, big-spending monstrosity written by House Democrats, and then trying to ram it down the throats of Republicans, will do that to a dream. It’s just three weeks into the Age of Obama, and I guess we can take bipartisanship and “it’s-time-to-turn-the-page-on-the-old-politics” off the Dream List.

Remind me again what’s left?

A headline in the Financial Times reads, “Obama’s bipartisan dream turning sour.”

Embracing an old-style, big-spending monstrosity written by House Democrats, and then trying to ram it down the throats of Republicans, will do that to a dream. It’s just three weeks into the Age of Obama, and I guess we can take bipartisanship and “it’s-time-to-turn-the-page-on-the-old-politics” off the Dream List.

Remind me again what’s left?

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A New Politics Alright

The Republicans seem to be genuinely surprised by the attitude of the Obama administration. Sen. Lamar Alexander remarked:

There is a disconnect between the tone of what I’ve been hearing, from the White House and the Democratic leadership, and the substance of what I’ve been hearing. . .We thought what [bipartisanship] meant is that the president would define an agenda and then we’d sit down together and put forth our best ideas.

Silly them. Didn’t they hear? The Democrats “won.”

But it’s not just rhetoric that’s heating up. We see unmistakable signs that this administration is politicizing areas of government that its predecessors never dreamed of touching.

We have this example from the Washington Times:

Shauna Daly, a 29-year-old Democratic operative, was named last month to the new job of White House counsel research director. Though she is inside one of the most powerful legal offices in the land, Miss Daly holds no law degree and doesn’t list any legal training on her resume. Her sole experience has been as an opposition researcher for Democratic political campaigns: She helped dig up dirt on rivals, or on her own nominee to prepare for attacks.

And then we have the White House’s effort to grab control of the federal census, having the census director report to Rahm Emanuel and not the Secretary of Commerce. (Really.) At stake is the 2010 Congressional reapportionment.This is more than just naked partisanship — it’s illegal. A former Justice Department lawyer explained to me this morning:

Congress has “directed” in Title 13 that the Census be carried out by the Bureau of the Census “as an agency within, and under the jurisdiction of, the Department of Commerce.” 13 U.S.C. 2.  The Secretary of Commerce is directed to carry out the duties of this title and while he can delegate “the performance of such functions and duties,” he can only do so to “officers and employees of the Department of Commerce.”  13 U.S.C. 4.  So what Obama is doing by having the Census Bureaus report directly to the White House is not authorized by federal law.  Also, only “sworn officers and employees of the Department or bureau” are allowed to examine individual census reports.  This is part of the confidentiality requirements of Section 9 of the law.   Depending on what kinds of reports and information would be given to the White House, there could also be a violation of this confidentiality requirement.

What they are proposing to do is illegal.

You think Eric Holder can be counted on to issue a legal opinion restraining the political operatives in the White House?

All of this adds up to an ironic result: the gang who got into power by attacking the Bush administration’s alleged partisan excesses and contempt for the impartial administration of justice seems to have some serious issues of its own. I wonder whether the same crowd that skewered the hapless Alberto Gonzales will show any concern.

The Republicans seem to be genuinely surprised by the attitude of the Obama administration. Sen. Lamar Alexander remarked:

There is a disconnect between the tone of what I’ve been hearing, from the White House and the Democratic leadership, and the substance of what I’ve been hearing. . .We thought what [bipartisanship] meant is that the president would define an agenda and then we’d sit down together and put forth our best ideas.

Silly them. Didn’t they hear? The Democrats “won.”

But it’s not just rhetoric that’s heating up. We see unmistakable signs that this administration is politicizing areas of government that its predecessors never dreamed of touching.

We have this example from the Washington Times:

Shauna Daly, a 29-year-old Democratic operative, was named last month to the new job of White House counsel research director. Though she is inside one of the most powerful legal offices in the land, Miss Daly holds no law degree and doesn’t list any legal training on her resume. Her sole experience has been as an opposition researcher for Democratic political campaigns: She helped dig up dirt on rivals, or on her own nominee to prepare for attacks.

And then we have the White House’s effort to grab control of the federal census, having the census director report to Rahm Emanuel and not the Secretary of Commerce. (Really.) At stake is the 2010 Congressional reapportionment.This is more than just naked partisanship — it’s illegal. A former Justice Department lawyer explained to me this morning:

Congress has “directed” in Title 13 that the Census be carried out by the Bureau of the Census “as an agency within, and under the jurisdiction of, the Department of Commerce.” 13 U.S.C. 2.  The Secretary of Commerce is directed to carry out the duties of this title and while he can delegate “the performance of such functions and duties,” he can only do so to “officers and employees of the Department of Commerce.”  13 U.S.C. 4.  So what Obama is doing by having the Census Bureaus report directly to the White House is not authorized by federal law.  Also, only “sworn officers and employees of the Department or bureau” are allowed to examine individual census reports.  This is part of the confidentiality requirements of Section 9 of the law.   Depending on what kinds of reports and information would be given to the White House, there could also be a violation of this confidentiality requirement.

What they are proposing to do is illegal.

You think Eric Holder can be counted on to issue a legal opinion restraining the political operatives in the White House?

All of this adds up to an ironic result: the gang who got into power by attacking the Bush administration’s alleged partisan excesses and contempt for the impartial administration of justice seems to have some serious issues of its own. I wonder whether the same crowd that skewered the hapless Alberto Gonzales will show any concern.

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A Powerful Argument for Netanyahu

In the steaming swill that is Israeli politics, I try to avoid publicly taking sides (except against Ehud Olmert, but he’s not running). But Evelyn Gordon’s piece is one of the most coherent arguments I’ve heard made comparing Benjamin Netanyahu’s record with that of Tzipi Livni.

“Like all Israelis,” Gordon concludes, “I would prefer a perfect premier. But in reality, the choices are Livni or Netanyahu. The former has an unbroken record of failure in every position she ever held. The latter, despite his flaws, has recorded substantial achievements in every position he ever held. To me, that is a no-brainer.”

Read it and judge for yourself.

In the steaming swill that is Israeli politics, I try to avoid publicly taking sides (except against Ehud Olmert, but he’s not running). But Evelyn Gordon’s piece is one of the most coherent arguments I’ve heard made comparing Benjamin Netanyahu’s record with that of Tzipi Livni.

“Like all Israelis,” Gordon concludes, “I would prefer a perfect premier. But in reality, the choices are Livni or Netanyahu. The former has an unbroken record of failure in every position she ever held. The latter, despite his flaws, has recorded substantial achievements in every position he ever held. To me, that is a no-brainer.”

Read it and judge for yourself.

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Gym Rat

Some calm and intelligence courtesy of the wonderful world of diplomacy:

Witnesses told the British newspaper they heard [U.K.] diplomat Rowan Laxton shouting “f**king Israelis, f**king Jews” while watching a TV report of Israel Defense Forces operations in Gaza from the seat of an exercise bike.

He also reportedly shouted that IDF soldiers should be “wiped off the face of the Earth.”

Unable to restrain his diplomatic fervor, Laxton continued cursing Israel and Jews even after he was approached by other gym-goers. He was subsequently arrested and charged with “inciting religious hatred.” Laxton, who is married to a Muslim woman, is head of the South Asia Group at the Foreign office.

One of the drawbacks of true diplomatic multilateralism is that you’re only as good as your weakest ally. England is our strongest ally. From the hateful lunacy emanating out of Tehran to the blunt indifference of the Kremlin to the recreational anti-Semitism of withering Britain, we’re getting a good look at the ugly face behind the placid mask of diplomacy.  I, for one, think they should let Laxton free. If this is the class of “ally” we’re going to be dealing with for the next four years, I’d rather such people not be afraid to declare their true convictions. The sooner the game is up, the sooner we can return to being serious about peace, diplomacy, America, and the Middle East.

Some calm and intelligence courtesy of the wonderful world of diplomacy:

Witnesses told the British newspaper they heard [U.K.] diplomat Rowan Laxton shouting “f**king Israelis, f**king Jews” while watching a TV report of Israel Defense Forces operations in Gaza from the seat of an exercise bike.

He also reportedly shouted that IDF soldiers should be “wiped off the face of the Earth.”

Unable to restrain his diplomatic fervor, Laxton continued cursing Israel and Jews even after he was approached by other gym-goers. He was subsequently arrested and charged with “inciting religious hatred.” Laxton, who is married to a Muslim woman, is head of the South Asia Group at the Foreign office.

One of the drawbacks of true diplomatic multilateralism is that you’re only as good as your weakest ally. England is our strongest ally. From the hateful lunacy emanating out of Tehran to the blunt indifference of the Kremlin to the recreational anti-Semitism of withering Britain, we’re getting a good look at the ugly face behind the placid mask of diplomacy.  I, for one, think they should let Laxton free. If this is the class of “ally” we’re going to be dealing with for the next four years, I’d rather such people not be afraid to declare their true convictions. The sooner the game is up, the sooner we can return to being serious about peace, diplomacy, America, and the Middle East.

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The Price of Specter’s Stimulus Support

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has done it again. In today‘s Washington Post, the moderate Republican explains why he bucked the majority of his caucus and backed the president’s stimulus plan.

I won’t waste much space debating the merits of his arguments. The nearly trillion dollars that will be expended on this bill won’t do much to help the economy. It’s just a huge spending bill that will do two things:

On the one hand, the stimulus will enable the president and Congress to pretend they are doing something to help the failed economy. On the other, it gives members of Congress the ability to siphon some of the budget to pet constituencies, a trick at which Specter has himself always excelled.

By jumping on the Obama/stimulus bandwagon Specter has once again been able to position himself as a responsible leader capable of bringing home the bacon for Pennsylvanians — the same formula that has won five terms in an increasingly Democratic state.

Re-election is always on the minds of most residents of the Hill, but on none more so than Specter’s. Though he will turn 80 next year and has struggled with bad health, no one who knows him doubts he will run for re-election. And if he does, Specter would still have to be favored in a general election against most any possible Democratic challenger. Though Dems may feel the rising Democratic tide in the state increases their chances, their best bet was MSNBC host Christ Matthews. But Matthews has already dropped out of the race. Among those still mentioned, none are formidable. A lightweight like Rep. Allyson Schwartz, the hyper-liberal from Montgomery County would be an easy mark for the wily Specter.

But in order to get to that general election in November, Specter will have to retain the Republican nomination and that is far from certain. In 2004, Rep. Pat Toomey, an able and articulate conservative from Allentown, nearly knocked the senator off in a tough primary fight. The only thing that saved Specter, a man most conservative Republicans have always loathed, was the active support of President Bush and then Sen. Rick Santorum, even though Toomey’s stands on the issues were much more in line with their own views. Bush and Santorum both felt that a Toomey victory would mean the loss of the seat for the GOP and possibly the loss of the Republicans’ hold on the Senate.

Five years later, the Republicans have already lost the Senate and have no hope of recovering it anytime soon. Bush is gone and Santorum was himself defeated in a near landslide in 2006. They won’t be able to save Specter from the wrath of conservatives in 2010.

But Toomey might. Last month, the former congressman announced he wouldn’t run for the senate and will focus instead on running for governor of Pennsylvania. He might want Specter to be on the ballot with him in November, even if he can’t stand him. That announcement gave Specter the assurance that he could flout the sensibilities of conservatives once again with impunity.

The question is how Toomey, the current president of the Club for Growth, will react to Specter’s stand on the stimulus. In 2004, no amount of presidential pressure could persuade Toomey to give up his challenge of Specter because he thought it a matter of principle. Is it possible that he will regard Specter’s betrayal of his fellow Republicans on the stimulus to be so egregious that the senator’s defeat will be a greater priority than his own gubernatorial ambitions? That’s not the way politics usually works. But the betting here is that if Toomey did take him on again then the senior senator from the Keystone state would be finished. If so, the price Specter pays for his support for the stimulus would be his chances for a sixth term.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has done it again. In today‘s Washington Post, the moderate Republican explains why he bucked the majority of his caucus and backed the president’s stimulus plan.

I won’t waste much space debating the merits of his arguments. The nearly trillion dollars that will be expended on this bill won’t do much to help the economy. It’s just a huge spending bill that will do two things:

On the one hand, the stimulus will enable the president and Congress to pretend they are doing something to help the failed economy. On the other, it gives members of Congress the ability to siphon some of the budget to pet constituencies, a trick at which Specter has himself always excelled.

By jumping on the Obama/stimulus bandwagon Specter has once again been able to position himself as a responsible leader capable of bringing home the bacon for Pennsylvanians — the same formula that has won five terms in an increasingly Democratic state.

Re-election is always on the minds of most residents of the Hill, but on none more so than Specter’s. Though he will turn 80 next year and has struggled with bad health, no one who knows him doubts he will run for re-election. And if he does, Specter would still have to be favored in a general election against most any possible Democratic challenger. Though Dems may feel the rising Democratic tide in the state increases their chances, their best bet was MSNBC host Christ Matthews. But Matthews has already dropped out of the race. Among those still mentioned, none are formidable. A lightweight like Rep. Allyson Schwartz, the hyper-liberal from Montgomery County would be an easy mark for the wily Specter.

But in order to get to that general election in November, Specter will have to retain the Republican nomination and that is far from certain. In 2004, Rep. Pat Toomey, an able and articulate conservative from Allentown, nearly knocked the senator off in a tough primary fight. The only thing that saved Specter, a man most conservative Republicans have always loathed, was the active support of President Bush and then Sen. Rick Santorum, even though Toomey’s stands on the issues were much more in line with their own views. Bush and Santorum both felt that a Toomey victory would mean the loss of the seat for the GOP and possibly the loss of the Republicans’ hold on the Senate.

Five years later, the Republicans have already lost the Senate and have no hope of recovering it anytime soon. Bush is gone and Santorum was himself defeated in a near landslide in 2006. They won’t be able to save Specter from the wrath of conservatives in 2010.

But Toomey might. Last month, the former congressman announced he wouldn’t run for the senate and will focus instead on running for governor of Pennsylvania. He might want Specter to be on the ballot with him in November, even if he can’t stand him. That announcement gave Specter the assurance that he could flout the sensibilities of conservatives once again with impunity.

The question is how Toomey, the current president of the Club for Growth, will react to Specter’s stand on the stimulus. In 2004, no amount of presidential pressure could persuade Toomey to give up his challenge of Specter because he thought it a matter of principle. Is it possible that he will regard Specter’s betrayal of his fellow Republicans on the stimulus to be so egregious that the senator’s defeat will be a greater priority than his own gubernatorial ambitions? That’s not the way politics usually works. But the betting here is that if Toomey did take him on again then the senior senator from the Keystone state would be finished. If so, the price Specter pays for his support for the stimulus would be his chances for a sixth term.

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When Is a Win Not a Win?

The stimulus bill will likely pass this week unless the moderate Republicans wake from their slumber to recognize the benefits (both on the merits and on political grounds) of forcing a major re-write of the bill. But it’s not the sort of “win” the Obama team likely had in mind.

It is not just Republicans or conservative pundits who recognize a major strategic error:

Some Democrats suggested that Obama erred by giving lawmakers too much leeway, resulting in extraneous provisions in the bill that gave the GOP fresh ammunition to argue that the bill lacks focus and that what was at one point a $900-billion-plus price tag was unwarranted.

“My advice would be next time the administration should write the bill, and not leave it to all the disparate odds and ends of the Congress,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). “It’s kind of an institutional problem because everybody has worked for years and has certain things that they really want to get in a bill.”

The Democrats mistook their election victories for a green light to pull out the liberal wish list of programs and policy ideas (even a potential roll back of welfare reform). Obama had run on the promise to go “line by line” through the budget, not to let Pelosi add billions to each line.

Republicans were smart enough to seize the opportunity, as Stuart Rothenberg points out (subscription required):

Instead, Republicans — aided by a handful of Democrats who are worried about some of the spending items — have succeeded in redefining the bill from one that will jump-start the economy by creating jobs and helping people deal with the housing crisis to one that is an ideological Christmas tree that doesn’t put people to work, help them pay their mortgages or resuscitate the economy. . . The Democrats’ fundamental problem is that while Americans like the country’s new president and, so far, think that he is doing a good job, they continue to have significant doubts about Congress and are disinclined to believe that Washington always has their best interest at heart.

When the president champions the ” ideological Christmas tree” stimulus bill, the government is awash in red ink, and the economy doesn’t snap back so quickly, the public may not think the president is doing such a good job.

The stimulus bill will likely pass this week unless the moderate Republicans wake from their slumber to recognize the benefits (both on the merits and on political grounds) of forcing a major re-write of the bill. But it’s not the sort of “win” the Obama team likely had in mind.

It is not just Republicans or conservative pundits who recognize a major strategic error:

Some Democrats suggested that Obama erred by giving lawmakers too much leeway, resulting in extraneous provisions in the bill that gave the GOP fresh ammunition to argue that the bill lacks focus and that what was at one point a $900-billion-plus price tag was unwarranted.

“My advice would be next time the administration should write the bill, and not leave it to all the disparate odds and ends of the Congress,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). “It’s kind of an institutional problem because everybody has worked for years and has certain things that they really want to get in a bill.”

The Democrats mistook their election victories for a green light to pull out the liberal wish list of programs and policy ideas (even a potential roll back of welfare reform). Obama had run on the promise to go “line by line” through the budget, not to let Pelosi add billions to each line.

Republicans were smart enough to seize the opportunity, as Stuart Rothenberg points out (subscription required):

Instead, Republicans — aided by a handful of Democrats who are worried about some of the spending items — have succeeded in redefining the bill from one that will jump-start the economy by creating jobs and helping people deal with the housing crisis to one that is an ideological Christmas tree that doesn’t put people to work, help them pay their mortgages or resuscitate the economy. . . The Democrats’ fundamental problem is that while Americans like the country’s new president and, so far, think that he is doing a good job, they continue to have significant doubts about Congress and are disinclined to believe that Washington always has their best interest at heart.

When the president champions the ” ideological Christmas tree” stimulus bill, the government is awash in red ink, and the economy doesn’t snap back so quickly, the public may not think the president is doing such a good job.

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Hugo Chavez’s Jewish Problem

Last week, a synagogue was desecrated in Caracas, Venezuela. In the July/August 2008 issue of COMMENTARY, Travis Pantin examined the ways in which Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez uses anti-Semitism as a political tool.

Click here to read “Hugo Chávez’s Jewish Problem.”

Last week, a synagogue was desecrated in Caracas, Venezuela. In the July/August 2008 issue of COMMENTARY, Travis Pantin examined the ways in which Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez uses anti-Semitism as a political tool.

Click here to read “Hugo Chávez’s Jewish Problem.”

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More than They Expected

The Washington Post declares:

Three months after their Election Day drubbing, Republican leaders see glimmers of rebirth in the party’s liberation from an unpopular president, its selection of its first African American chairman and, most of all, its stand against a stimulus package that they are increasingly confident will provide little economic jolt but will pay off politically for those who oppose it.

All of that is true, of course. But there are other factors at work here to lift the Republicans’ spirits. First, while the Bush administration had its achievements, the last two election cycles were a dreary reminder that the Bush years took the party from dreams of a Republican realignment to fear of its permanent minority status. Congressional Republicans have been liberated from the obligation to defend the Bush administration.

Moreover, it turns out the Obama team, in concert with the Congressional Democrats, isn’t that good at this governing business. They could have gone for the middle ground on the stimulus plan and pulled in far more Republican support. As Fred Barnes noted, they “wrote the wrong bill, exactly”:

“All you needed to give them, really, was some — some tax cut with stimulus. John McCain’s the perfect example. You just showed McCain. Why is he against it? All of us know that there’s nothing that John McCain is more attracted to than a bipartisan compromise, more than anybody in the entire Congress. And he’s against this, because Republicans got really nothing they wanted on the tax side that would stimulate the economy.”

(And because it’s filled with non-stimulative, junky spending.)

Moreover, Republicans were worried there for a bit that the New Politics and gooey spirit of bipartisanship might have been been for real, making it tricky to battle the popular new administration and appeal to apolitical swing voters. But since the Obama team has dropped any pretense of that, the field is wide open.

In short, the Republicans have the good fortune to be counter-punching against a White House experiencing a rocky start (between the tax cheats and the stimulus debate). The White House’s travails won’t last forever, but it has stripped the mystique of political “shock and awe” from the Obama team. It has given Republicans a much-needed reminder that their opposition is vulnerable to the same errors and miscues that bedeviled them when they were in charge.

It is easy to forget that the party out of power always has material to work with. Now, a lot more than they expected.

The Washington Post declares:

Three months after their Election Day drubbing, Republican leaders see glimmers of rebirth in the party’s liberation from an unpopular president, its selection of its first African American chairman and, most of all, its stand against a stimulus package that they are increasingly confident will provide little economic jolt but will pay off politically for those who oppose it.

All of that is true, of course. But there are other factors at work here to lift the Republicans’ spirits. First, while the Bush administration had its achievements, the last two election cycles were a dreary reminder that the Bush years took the party from dreams of a Republican realignment to fear of its permanent minority status. Congressional Republicans have been liberated from the obligation to defend the Bush administration.

Moreover, it turns out the Obama team, in concert with the Congressional Democrats, isn’t that good at this governing business. They could have gone for the middle ground on the stimulus plan and pulled in far more Republican support. As Fred Barnes noted, they “wrote the wrong bill, exactly”:

“All you needed to give them, really, was some — some tax cut with stimulus. John McCain’s the perfect example. You just showed McCain. Why is he against it? All of us know that there’s nothing that John McCain is more attracted to than a bipartisan compromise, more than anybody in the entire Congress. And he’s against this, because Republicans got really nothing they wanted on the tax side that would stimulate the economy.”

(And because it’s filled with non-stimulative, junky spending.)

Moreover, Republicans were worried there for a bit that the New Politics and gooey spirit of bipartisanship might have been been for real, making it tricky to battle the popular new administration and appeal to apolitical swing voters. But since the Obama team has dropped any pretense of that, the field is wide open.

In short, the Republicans have the good fortune to be counter-punching against a White House experiencing a rocky start (between the tax cheats and the stimulus debate). The White House’s travails won’t last forever, but it has stripped the mystique of political “shock and awe” from the Obama team. It has given Republicans a much-needed reminder that their opposition is vulnerable to the same errors and miscues that bedeviled them when they were in charge.

It is easy to forget that the party out of power always has material to work with. Now, a lot more than they expected.

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Here We Go Again

Amazing. Yet another Obama appointee apparently has tax problems. Pardon me, usher, but I think I’ve seen this movie before.

This time it’s White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. It appears that the former congressman found a handy way to save money. Most members of Congress find themselves having to support two households — one in their home district, and one in or around DC. Some members, in the past, have ended up sharing apartments or town houses. Emanuel took that one step further: he moved into the home of his colleague,  Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), staying there for five years. Rent-free.

To most people, this is “imputed income” — non-financial gifts or compensation that should be reported to the IRS. Emanuel and DeLauro defend their conduct by saying that House ethics rules  permit “hospitality between colleagues.”

Apparently they are not familiar with the old aphorism that “guests, like fish, start to smell after three days.”

And no, there was no impropriety or hanky-panky going on. Representative DeLauro is happily married to one Stan Greenberg. Mr. Greenberg, by the way, is not a lobbyist. No, he’s the next best thing in DC — he’s a pollster. And, by wild coincidence,  Greenberg’s polling company (Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research) lists both Emanuel and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (which Emanuel headed) as clients.

Let’s see… a Democratic representative gets free housing from a pollster who enjoys some very lucrative contracts from both that representative and a very influential group said representative heads up? Why, I’d never even suggest some kind of a quid pro quo arrangement.

All through his campaign, Obama and his surrogates touted his great judgment and his commitment to change and transparency. Yet more and more of his nominees keep getting exposed for their ethical lapses, especially in the area of doing their “patriotic duty” (as Vice President Biden puts it) and paying “their fair share” of taxes.

There are numerous explanations for this  pattern of behavior, but here’s a theory that’s becoming less laughable: There simply aren’t enough Democrats who are both competent and honest to fill all the vacancies in Obama’s administration.

(Hat tip: the inimitable Rob Port of Say Anything)

Amazing. Yet another Obama appointee apparently has tax problems. Pardon me, usher, but I think I’ve seen this movie before.

This time it’s White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. It appears that the former congressman found a handy way to save money. Most members of Congress find themselves having to support two households — one in their home district, and one in or around DC. Some members, in the past, have ended up sharing apartments or town houses. Emanuel took that one step further: he moved into the home of his colleague,  Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), staying there for five years. Rent-free.

To most people, this is “imputed income” — non-financial gifts or compensation that should be reported to the IRS. Emanuel and DeLauro defend their conduct by saying that House ethics rules  permit “hospitality between colleagues.”

Apparently they are not familiar with the old aphorism that “guests, like fish, start to smell after three days.”

And no, there was no impropriety or hanky-panky going on. Representative DeLauro is happily married to one Stan Greenberg. Mr. Greenberg, by the way, is not a lobbyist. No, he’s the next best thing in DC — he’s a pollster. And, by wild coincidence,  Greenberg’s polling company (Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research) lists both Emanuel and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (which Emanuel headed) as clients.

Let’s see… a Democratic representative gets free housing from a pollster who enjoys some very lucrative contracts from both that representative and a very influential group said representative heads up? Why, I’d never even suggest some kind of a quid pro quo arrangement.

All through his campaign, Obama and his surrogates touted his great judgment and his commitment to change and transparency. Yet more and more of his nominees keep getting exposed for their ethical lapses, especially in the area of doing their “patriotic duty” (as Vice President Biden puts it) and paying “their fair share” of taxes.

There are numerous explanations for this  pattern of behavior, but here’s a theory that’s becoming less laughable: There simply aren’t enough Democrats who are both competent and honest to fill all the vacancies in Obama’s administration.

(Hat tip: the inimitable Rob Port of Say Anything)

Read Less




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