Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 2009

Obama’s Argument About Nothing

Yesterday Benjamin Netanyahu’s camp leaked a request for the Obama administration to back off on calling for a complete halt to construction over the green line. It didn’t take long for the Americans to respond.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was quoted as saying of the president’s stand, “He wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions.” Talking to reporters after a meeting with the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, she said: “That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly.”

While she is not the first U.S. Secretary of State to make demands of Israel about settlements — Condoleezza Rice did the same thing in the last years of the Bush administration — the comments by the formerly down-the-line pro-Israel Clinton escalated the dispute brewing between the two countries. The question remains, at what point will the same words publicly pass the lips of the president himself, something that never happened during the Bush administration. If it happens during Obama’s speech to the Arab world from Cairo next week, it will undoubtedly be interpreted as a signal of a major rift in the U.S.-Israel alliance.

If so, then Obama must be convinced he will pay no significant political price for slamming Israel, something leftist Jews have been saying all year. It might also mean that he is trying to break the Netanyahu government and hopes for it to be replaced by one more to his liking.

A lot of the commentary about this possibility, both here and in Israel, seems to take it for granted that Netanyahu will have no choice but to buckle and if he doesn’t, he’s doomed. One should never try to predict what is going to happen in Israeli coalition politics but if that is Obama’s goal, I think he’s being a trifle optimistic. In the Knesset that was just elected the math doesn’t really add up for a left-wing coalition. And as much as Netanyahu knows that maintaining close ties with the United States is a paramount concern for any Israeli government, it simply isn’t true that he must swallow everything Washington sends his way. There will be a price to pay for saying no, but he can do it, especially when it is about something so unreasonable as a demand that no houses be built in places Israel has no intention of giving up.

Moreover, it must be reiterated that all of this sturm und drang over settlement growth is still an argument about nothing. Obama may say he wants peace talks re-started — a point Netanyahu has been willing to concede — but there is still absolutely no reason to hope for success in such talks. So long as Israel’s proposed peace partner is a toothless and feckless Palestinian Authority, unable to sign any sort of peace with Israel even if it wanted to, or the Islamists of Hamas, there will be no peace deal. For Obama to attempt to scuttle the U.S.-Israel alliance for such meager prospects is a curious strategic decision. But it would not be as curious as a failure on the part of the pro-Israel community — a group including Democrats as well as Republicans, liberals as well as conservatives — to let such a thing happen without major protest.

Yesterday Benjamin Netanyahu’s camp leaked a request for the Obama administration to back off on calling for a complete halt to construction over the green line. It didn’t take long for the Americans to respond.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was quoted as saying of the president’s stand, “He wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions.” Talking to reporters after a meeting with the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, she said: “That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly.”

While she is not the first U.S. Secretary of State to make demands of Israel about settlements — Condoleezza Rice did the same thing in the last years of the Bush administration — the comments by the formerly down-the-line pro-Israel Clinton escalated the dispute brewing between the two countries. The question remains, at what point will the same words publicly pass the lips of the president himself, something that never happened during the Bush administration. If it happens during Obama’s speech to the Arab world from Cairo next week, it will undoubtedly be interpreted as a signal of a major rift in the U.S.-Israel alliance.

If so, then Obama must be convinced he will pay no significant political price for slamming Israel, something leftist Jews have been saying all year. It might also mean that he is trying to break the Netanyahu government and hopes for it to be replaced by one more to his liking.

A lot of the commentary about this possibility, both here and in Israel, seems to take it for granted that Netanyahu will have no choice but to buckle and if he doesn’t, he’s doomed. One should never try to predict what is going to happen in Israeli coalition politics but if that is Obama’s goal, I think he’s being a trifle optimistic. In the Knesset that was just elected the math doesn’t really add up for a left-wing coalition. And as much as Netanyahu knows that maintaining close ties with the United States is a paramount concern for any Israeli government, it simply isn’t true that he must swallow everything Washington sends his way. There will be a price to pay for saying no, but he can do it, especially when it is about something so unreasonable as a demand that no houses be built in places Israel has no intention of giving up.

Moreover, it must be reiterated that all of this sturm und drang over settlement growth is still an argument about nothing. Obama may say he wants peace talks re-started — a point Netanyahu has been willing to concede — but there is still absolutely no reason to hope for success in such talks. So long as Israel’s proposed peace partner is a toothless and feckless Palestinian Authority, unable to sign any sort of peace with Israel even if it wanted to, or the Islamists of Hamas, there will be no peace deal. For Obama to attempt to scuttle the U.S.-Israel alliance for such meager prospects is a curious strategic decision. But it would not be as curious as a failure on the part of the pro-Israel community — a group including Democrats as well as Republicans, liberals as well as conservatives — to let such a thing happen without major protest.

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32

Dana Milbank went to the trouble of counting them. There are thirty-two — words, that is, in what is already becoming a key concern in the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. They come from that Berkeley speech:

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

As Milbank is famous for doing, he paints a portrait of the hapless Robert Gibbs, confronting an increasingly peeved press corp. All they want to know is what she meant by those thirty-two words. He observes, “Missing from Gibbs’s answer was any attempt to explain or defend the 32 words.” You’d think the White House would have an answer ready, wouldn’t you? You’d think they were at the ready, with a reasonable and benign explanation. “Of course she didn’t mean that judges views are dictated by ethnicity. . .” Or something.

Needless to say, it didn’t go well:

“Are you saying that there is no racial dimension and there should be no racial dimension interpreted or drawn from Judge Sotomayor’s comments?” Fox’s Major Garrett asked Gibbs.

Gibbs ducked the question, directing Garrett to “read the full article” and advising reporters: “I think we can all move past YouTube snippets and half-sentences and actually look at the honest-to-God record.”

April Ryan of American Urban Radio shouted back at the press secretary: “These are words that she said out of her mouth!”

Gibbs would have done well to mention Sotomayor’s line in that same speech in which she said that “we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group.” But Gibbs evidently wasn’t prepared, for all he said when pressed to explain the 32 words was “I think — I — I have confidence in Americans reading not just part of, but the whole statement.”

It was left to Jake Tapper (who had bothered to read the speech) to ask Gibbs what he thinks she meant. Gibbs punted.

Milbank is right that the White House will need “to do better to make the 32 words go away.” But the mystery remains as to why they weren’t prepared. Did they miss it? Did they miss how off-putting it sounds? Perhaps in their infatuation with biography they paid too little attention to Sotomayor’s own words. That’s a mistake because words — thirty two and many, many more — are what the Supreme Court and the confirmation hearings are all about.

Dana Milbank went to the trouble of counting them. There are thirty-two — words, that is, in what is already becoming a key concern in the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. They come from that Berkeley speech:

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

As Milbank is famous for doing, he paints a portrait of the hapless Robert Gibbs, confronting an increasingly peeved press corp. All they want to know is what she meant by those thirty-two words. He observes, “Missing from Gibbs’s answer was any attempt to explain or defend the 32 words.” You’d think the White House would have an answer ready, wouldn’t you? You’d think they were at the ready, with a reasonable and benign explanation. “Of course she didn’t mean that judges views are dictated by ethnicity. . .” Or something.

Needless to say, it didn’t go well:

“Are you saying that there is no racial dimension and there should be no racial dimension interpreted or drawn from Judge Sotomayor’s comments?” Fox’s Major Garrett asked Gibbs.

Gibbs ducked the question, directing Garrett to “read the full article” and advising reporters: “I think we can all move past YouTube snippets and half-sentences and actually look at the honest-to-God record.”

April Ryan of American Urban Radio shouted back at the press secretary: “These are words that she said out of her mouth!”

Gibbs would have done well to mention Sotomayor’s line in that same speech in which she said that “we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group.” But Gibbs evidently wasn’t prepared, for all he said when pressed to explain the 32 words was “I think — I — I have confidence in Americans reading not just part of, but the whole statement.”

It was left to Jake Tapper (who had bothered to read the speech) to ask Gibbs what he thinks she meant. Gibbs punted.

Milbank is right that the White House will need “to do better to make the 32 words go away.” But the mystery remains as to why they weren’t prepared. Did they miss it? Did they miss how off-putting it sounds? Perhaps in their infatuation with biography they paid too little attention to Sotomayor’s own words. That’s a mistake because words — thirty two and many, many more — are what the Supreme Court and the confirmation hearings are all about.

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Challenge, With Civility

Tuesday night on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier, Charles Krauthammer said this:

Unless there is something in [Judge Sotomayor’s] past explosive that nobody knows about, she is going to end up on the court. I think what Republicans ought to do is talk about judicial philosophy. It should be high-toned, not ad hominem, and not personal.

Contrast Krauthammer’s counsel with this report from ABC News:

Just a day after President Obama announced he was nominating appellate court judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, the battle over her confirmation has begun with former House speaker Newt Gingrich branding her a racist and saying she should withdraw. The accusations are aimed at comments Sotomayor made during a 2001 lecture at the University of California-Berkeley. Referring to former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s saying that “a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases,” Sotomayor said, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” On Wednesday afternoon, Gingrich wrote on Twitter: “Imagine a judicial nominee said ‘my experience as a white man makes me better than a Latina woman’ new racism is no better than old racism.” “White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw,” Gingrich wrote.

I’m very much in Krauthammer’s camp on this. I recognize, of course, that there is a double standard at play — one for conservatives and one for liberals. And I have real problems with Sotomayor’s views, including her statement about Latina women v. white males. It is entirely appropriate to criticize those comments and Judge Sotomayor’s decisions. But that is quite different, I think, from calling her a racist and insisting that she should withdraw. As a general matter, I think the term “racist” is thrown around far too promiscuously and carelessly.

This rhetorical approach is nothing new to Gingrich. Less than two weeks ago, in response to Speaker Pelosi’s assertion that the CIA lied to her about enhanced interrogation techniques, Gingrich said this:

I think this is the most despicable, dishonest and vicious political effort I’ve seen in my lifetime. She is a trivial politician, viciously using partisanship for the narrowist [sic] of purposes, and she dishonors the Congress by her behavior.

In my judgment, Pelosi deserved to be criticized, in very strong terms, for what she said. But I think the tone of Gingrich’s criticism is harmful, both to political discourse in general and to his party in particular. Strong, spirited, even passionate debate can be useful, and even important, in the life of a nation. But civility and decency are vital as well. And as Noemie Emery pointed out in her excellent Weekly Standard article, “Reagan in Opposition: The Lessons of 1977,” “his tone was unfailingly gracious and civil, and focused on issues, not men. He did not oppose for the sake of opposing. He criticized Carter’s ideas, but seldom the man, and he almost never uttered the president’s name.”

Reagan sought to persuade people, not annihilate them. His arguments were forceful; his restraint, admirable. And of course the model for Republicans is Lincoln, the country’s greatest President, of whom it was said at the time, “The sledge hammer effect of his speech results from the … force of the argument of the logician, not the fierce gestures and loud rantings of the demagogue.”

It is unfair to hold up Reagan, and certainly Lincoln, as standard-bearers who are within easy reach of the rest of us. None of us measure up to either man. And in the modern age, with blogs, twitter, and all the rest, it is easy to write in an unfiltered way, to send things out that one would like to have back. Still, we need to stay on the right side of the line when it comes to public discourse. Reagan and Lincoln are models we should continue to look up to, and emulate.

Tuesday night on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier, Charles Krauthammer said this:

Unless there is something in [Judge Sotomayor’s] past explosive that nobody knows about, she is going to end up on the court. I think what Republicans ought to do is talk about judicial philosophy. It should be high-toned, not ad hominem, and not personal.

Contrast Krauthammer’s counsel with this report from ABC News:

Just a day after President Obama announced he was nominating appellate court judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, the battle over her confirmation has begun with former House speaker Newt Gingrich branding her a racist and saying she should withdraw. The accusations are aimed at comments Sotomayor made during a 2001 lecture at the University of California-Berkeley. Referring to former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s saying that “a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases,” Sotomayor said, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” On Wednesday afternoon, Gingrich wrote on Twitter: “Imagine a judicial nominee said ‘my experience as a white man makes me better than a Latina woman’ new racism is no better than old racism.” “White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw,” Gingrich wrote.

I’m very much in Krauthammer’s camp on this. I recognize, of course, that there is a double standard at play — one for conservatives and one for liberals. And I have real problems with Sotomayor’s views, including her statement about Latina women v. white males. It is entirely appropriate to criticize those comments and Judge Sotomayor’s decisions. But that is quite different, I think, from calling her a racist and insisting that she should withdraw. As a general matter, I think the term “racist” is thrown around far too promiscuously and carelessly.

This rhetorical approach is nothing new to Gingrich. Less than two weeks ago, in response to Speaker Pelosi’s assertion that the CIA lied to her about enhanced interrogation techniques, Gingrich said this:

I think this is the most despicable, dishonest and vicious political effort I’ve seen in my lifetime. She is a trivial politician, viciously using partisanship for the narrowist [sic] of purposes, and she dishonors the Congress by her behavior.

In my judgment, Pelosi deserved to be criticized, in very strong terms, for what she said. But I think the tone of Gingrich’s criticism is harmful, both to political discourse in general and to his party in particular. Strong, spirited, even passionate debate can be useful, and even important, in the life of a nation. But civility and decency are vital as well. And as Noemie Emery pointed out in her excellent Weekly Standard article, “Reagan in Opposition: The Lessons of 1977,” “his tone was unfailingly gracious and civil, and focused on issues, not men. He did not oppose for the sake of opposing. He criticized Carter’s ideas, but seldom the man, and he almost never uttered the president’s name.”

Reagan sought to persuade people, not annihilate them. His arguments were forceful; his restraint, admirable. And of course the model for Republicans is Lincoln, the country’s greatest President, of whom it was said at the time, “The sledge hammer effect of his speech results from the … force of the argument of the logician, not the fierce gestures and loud rantings of the demagogue.”

It is unfair to hold up Reagan, and certainly Lincoln, as standard-bearers who are within easy reach of the rest of us. None of us measure up to either man. And in the modern age, with blogs, twitter, and all the rest, it is easy to write in an unfiltered way, to send things out that one would like to have back. Still, we need to stay on the right side of the line when it comes to public discourse. Reagan and Lincoln are models we should continue to look up to, and emulate.

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Win What?

Karl Rove reviews the political landscape in the Sotomayor nomination, noting the president has gone for a reliable liberal and scored points with a key constituent group. He concludes:

While the next two to four months of maneuverings and hearings may provide more insights into the views of Mr. Obama’s pick, barring an unforeseen development — not unheard of in Supreme Court nominations — Judge Sotomayor will become the second Hispanic (Benjamin Cardozo was Sephardic) and third woman confirmed to the Supreme Court. Democrats will win the vote, but Republicans can win the argument by making a clear case against the judicial activism she represents.

I’ve seen enough of these to steer clear of predicting the outcome. But Rove is right in his central point. Americans don’t like the liberal judicial philosophy of judges making it up as they go along. Ordinary voters tend to recoil against the results this style of judging bring about. That is why liberals tend to evade and minimize their own views, adopting the tone and some of the language of legal conservatives during these battles. It doesn’t sound “right” to come out and say that judges make the law. That’s a political loser for them. (Sotomayor will need to explain away her candor on this one.)

So in a sense the fight is about judicial activism dressed up as “empathy.” It is about whether we have judges striving to put aside their personal biases or committed to elevating them in order to obliterate the impartial administration of justice. But can conservatives “win” that fight? Aren’t we continually told Obama’s so popular, Republicans are so hated, etc. Well, if the Dick Cheney/Obama face-off showed us anything, it is that personality only gets you so far.  Just as the country got a tutorial on Guantanamo they are going to get one on judicial activism. And there I think the legal conservatives’ chances are quite strong.

After all, that’s why Sotomayor is preparing to minimize and shed her controversial statements rather than tout them. (Just kidding about that policy stuff! Didn’t really mean Latinas have greater judging ability than white males! No sirree.) That’s why the White House is out spinning her decision in the New Haven firefighter case. (If they thought her decision was right and the politics would work, they’d be sending out news releases pointing out one of her finest moments in legal craftsmanship, right?)

Liberals and conservatives alike agree on one thing: if she embraced her candor and bragged about her disdain for impartiality she’d never get through.

Karl Rove reviews the political landscape in the Sotomayor nomination, noting the president has gone for a reliable liberal and scored points with a key constituent group. He concludes:

While the next two to four months of maneuverings and hearings may provide more insights into the views of Mr. Obama’s pick, barring an unforeseen development — not unheard of in Supreme Court nominations — Judge Sotomayor will become the second Hispanic (Benjamin Cardozo was Sephardic) and third woman confirmed to the Supreme Court. Democrats will win the vote, but Republicans can win the argument by making a clear case against the judicial activism she represents.

I’ve seen enough of these to steer clear of predicting the outcome. But Rove is right in his central point. Americans don’t like the liberal judicial philosophy of judges making it up as they go along. Ordinary voters tend to recoil against the results this style of judging bring about. That is why liberals tend to evade and minimize their own views, adopting the tone and some of the language of legal conservatives during these battles. It doesn’t sound “right” to come out and say that judges make the law. That’s a political loser for them. (Sotomayor will need to explain away her candor on this one.)

So in a sense the fight is about judicial activism dressed up as “empathy.” It is about whether we have judges striving to put aside their personal biases or committed to elevating them in order to obliterate the impartial administration of justice. But can conservatives “win” that fight? Aren’t we continually told Obama’s so popular, Republicans are so hated, etc. Well, if the Dick Cheney/Obama face-off showed us anything, it is that personality only gets you so far.  Just as the country got a tutorial on Guantanamo they are going to get one on judicial activism. And there I think the legal conservatives’ chances are quite strong.

After all, that’s why Sotomayor is preparing to minimize and shed her controversial statements rather than tout them. (Just kidding about that policy stuff! Didn’t really mean Latinas have greater judging ability than white males! No sirree.) That’s why the White House is out spinning her decision in the New Haven firefighter case. (If they thought her decision was right and the politics would work, they’d be sending out news releases pointing out one of her finest moments in legal craftsmanship, right?)

Liberals and conservatives alike agree on one thing: if she embraced her candor and bragged about her disdain for impartiality she’d never get through.

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Obama to Speak at Cairo University

Although the administration hasn’t announced it officially, the rumor in Egypt is that President Barack Obama will deliver his forthcoming address to the Muslim world from Cairo University. While many critics of the Mubarak regime had hoped that Obama would speak from the New Bibliotheca in Alexandria – thereby distancing himself from the regime and paying tribute to the region’s intellectual heritage – I actually think that C.U. is a good choice for a few reasons.

First, as Egypt’s largest institution of higher learning, C.U. is a location with which many Egyptian citizens are intimately familiar.  Check out the enrollment figures: the University boasts over 200,000 students and over 12,000 faculty members.  If the point is to connect with the Muslim world, then speaking from a spot that so many Egyptians have called their intellectual home makes sense.

Second, C.U. is a distinctly middle class public institution of higher learning.  Indeed, it is very different from the upper-class American University in Cairo, which was the scene of then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s infamous 2005 call for free elections in Egypt.  This bolsters the notion that Obama is coming to speak to the Muslim world, as opposed to a select group of Egyptian elites.

Third, the neighborhood in which C.U. is situated – Giza – is similarly working class, and is unaccustomed to visits from world leaders.  Indeed, most presidential visits to Egypt are closed-door affairs within government compounds, or conferences held in resort towns, such as Sharm el-Sheikh or Luxor.  In turn, the administration is ensuring that ordinary Egyptians will be uniquely engaged with Obama’s visit – a key precondition for the success of any attempt to win them over.

In short, the administration has done an admirable job in booking a suitable venue for getting its message across.  Now we await that message

Although the administration hasn’t announced it officially, the rumor in Egypt is that President Barack Obama will deliver his forthcoming address to the Muslim world from Cairo University. While many critics of the Mubarak regime had hoped that Obama would speak from the New Bibliotheca in Alexandria – thereby distancing himself from the regime and paying tribute to the region’s intellectual heritage – I actually think that C.U. is a good choice for a few reasons.

First, as Egypt’s largest institution of higher learning, C.U. is a location with which many Egyptian citizens are intimately familiar.  Check out the enrollment figures: the University boasts over 200,000 students and over 12,000 faculty members.  If the point is to connect with the Muslim world, then speaking from a spot that so many Egyptians have called their intellectual home makes sense.

Second, C.U. is a distinctly middle class public institution of higher learning.  Indeed, it is very different from the upper-class American University in Cairo, which was the scene of then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s infamous 2005 call for free elections in Egypt.  This bolsters the notion that Obama is coming to speak to the Muslim world, as opposed to a select group of Egyptian elites.

Third, the neighborhood in which C.U. is situated – Giza – is similarly working class, and is unaccustomed to visits from world leaders.  Indeed, most presidential visits to Egypt are closed-door affairs within government compounds, or conferences held in resort towns, such as Sharm el-Sheikh or Luxor.  In turn, the administration is ensuring that ordinary Egyptians will be uniquely engaged with Obama’s visit – a key precondition for the success of any attempt to win them over.

In short, the administration has done an admirable job in booking a suitable venue for getting its message across.  Now we await that message

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Card check becomes an issue in the Virginia gubernatorial race. The Democrats bob and weave.

Lost in the Supreme Court shuffle: “A Pentagon report released today confirms that 14 percent of the 540 detainees — or one in seven — who were released from the detainee center Guantanamo Bay have been known or suspected of returning to terrorist activities.”

Stephen Hayes isn’t satisfied: “Now he can affirm his commitment to transparency by releasing two additional batches of information that his administration has fought to keep from public view: 1) CIA reports requested by former Vice President Dick Cheney that detail the results of the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, and, 2) documents surrounding the briefings the CIA provided to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on those techniques.”

Newt Gingrich thinks Latina racism is no better than white racism. Go figure.

Ilya Shapiro is blunt: “In picking Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama has confirmed that identity politics matter to him more than merit. While Judge Sotomayor exemplifies the American Dream, she would not have even been on the short list if she were not Hispanic. She is not one of the leading lights of the federal judiciary, and far less qualified for a seat on the Supreme Court than Judges Diane Wood and Merrick Garland or Solicitor General Elena Kagan.”

Brit Hume explains that Dick Cheney’s offensive against the Obama anti-terror policies shows you can attack a popular president successfully if his policies are not so popular. The same may be true, he says, of Sotomayor.

Without citing a single opinion or relating a single word of Sotomayor’s speeches E.J. Dionne pronounces her a “moderate.” Even for Dionne this is one lazy column. Well, if he doesn’t want to delve into her cases or speeches he could at least read a very interesting comparison of lawyers’ evaluations of Sotomayor and Alito. Those who’ve practiced before her seem to have a very clear view of her predilections.

Mike Allen thinks there’s not going to be a battle on Sotomayor. (Does he really think so or is this part of Politico’s attention-grabbing, devil-may-care journalism?) Meanwhile, the two sides gear up for battle. (Tip for Allen: not a single Republican rushed for the microphone to praise the nomination. This is unique, if not unprecedented, with regard to a Democratic president’s nominee and suggests a greater degree of discipline than we’ve seen before.)

Commenting on Sotomayor’s yearbook quote from Norman Thomas, Ben Smith cracks: “A quick note to rising college seniors: Stick with the Kennedy quotes.”

Joe Biden makes a teleprompter crack. TOTUS responds.

The Washington Post editors in advance of Obama’s trip to Egypt say that if his administration “chooses to uncritically embrace autocrats such as Mr. Mubarak — as it has so far — the administration will merely repeat the failures of earlier U.S. administrations, which for decades propped up Arab dictators and ignored their human rights abuses, only to reap the harvest represented by al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. It will accomplish the opposite of what Mr. Obama intends, by alienating a young generation of Arabs and Muslims that despises the old order and demands the freedoms that have spread everywhere else in the world.” More George W. Bush and less Chas Freeman, eh?

Card check becomes an issue in the Virginia gubernatorial race. The Democrats bob and weave.

Lost in the Supreme Court shuffle: “A Pentagon report released today confirms that 14 percent of the 540 detainees — or one in seven — who were released from the detainee center Guantanamo Bay have been known or suspected of returning to terrorist activities.”

Stephen Hayes isn’t satisfied: “Now he can affirm his commitment to transparency by releasing two additional batches of information that his administration has fought to keep from public view: 1) CIA reports requested by former Vice President Dick Cheney that detail the results of the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, and, 2) documents surrounding the briefings the CIA provided to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on those techniques.”

Newt Gingrich thinks Latina racism is no better than white racism. Go figure.

Ilya Shapiro is blunt: “In picking Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama has confirmed that identity politics matter to him more than merit. While Judge Sotomayor exemplifies the American Dream, she would not have even been on the short list if she were not Hispanic. She is not one of the leading lights of the federal judiciary, and far less qualified for a seat on the Supreme Court than Judges Diane Wood and Merrick Garland or Solicitor General Elena Kagan.”

Brit Hume explains that Dick Cheney’s offensive against the Obama anti-terror policies shows you can attack a popular president successfully if his policies are not so popular. The same may be true, he says, of Sotomayor.

Without citing a single opinion or relating a single word of Sotomayor’s speeches E.J. Dionne pronounces her a “moderate.” Even for Dionne this is one lazy column. Well, if he doesn’t want to delve into her cases or speeches he could at least read a very interesting comparison of lawyers’ evaluations of Sotomayor and Alito. Those who’ve practiced before her seem to have a very clear view of her predilections.

Mike Allen thinks there’s not going to be a battle on Sotomayor. (Does he really think so or is this part of Politico’s attention-grabbing, devil-may-care journalism?) Meanwhile, the two sides gear up for battle. (Tip for Allen: not a single Republican rushed for the microphone to praise the nomination. This is unique, if not unprecedented, with regard to a Democratic president’s nominee and suggests a greater degree of discipline than we’ve seen before.)

Commenting on Sotomayor’s yearbook quote from Norman Thomas, Ben Smith cracks: “A quick note to rising college seniors: Stick with the Kennedy quotes.”

Joe Biden makes a teleprompter crack. TOTUS responds.

The Washington Post editors in advance of Obama’s trip to Egypt say that if his administration “chooses to uncritically embrace autocrats such as Mr. Mubarak — as it has so far — the administration will merely repeat the failures of earlier U.S. administrations, which for decades propped up Arab dictators and ignored their human rights abuses, only to reap the harvest represented by al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. It will accomplish the opposite of what Mr. Obama intends, by alienating a young generation of Arabs and Muslims that despises the old order and demands the freedoms that have spread everywhere else in the world.” More George W. Bush and less Chas Freeman, eh?

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Re: Banking on Biography

The Hill reports:

White House officials have assembled a squad of distinguished legal experts to rebut charges that Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s Supreme Court pick, is an intellectual lightweight who puts her political views ahead of the law.

White House advisers and allies have scrambled to repair the damage to Sotomayor’s reputation inflicted by an article published early this month in The New Republic, a left-leaning magazine, which painted Sotomayor as “not that smart.”

I don’t recall the need for such an effort in the John Roberts or Sam Alito nominations.

This is what comes from a roll-out that puts biography and personal anecdotes above all else. Well, actually this is what comes from choosing a judge who isn’t known for scholarship, has a reversal rate of 60% and has said some pretty wacky things. (Ed Whelan is doing the hard work of plowing through another Sotomayor speech and finds no evidence of deep thinking.)

It is a mistake for critics to accuse Sotomayor of being “dumb.” She completed law school and has been a sitting judge for eleven years so she’s not dim. But that’s not the test here. We’re talking about the Supreme Court. As Jonathan Turley said, a first class intellect should be the primary consideration for the Court. If that was the case here, I suspect that the Obama administration wouldn’t need a damage control team.

The Hill reports:

White House officials have assembled a squad of distinguished legal experts to rebut charges that Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s Supreme Court pick, is an intellectual lightweight who puts her political views ahead of the law.

White House advisers and allies have scrambled to repair the damage to Sotomayor’s reputation inflicted by an article published early this month in The New Republic, a left-leaning magazine, which painted Sotomayor as “not that smart.”

I don’t recall the need for such an effort in the John Roberts or Sam Alito nominations.

This is what comes from a roll-out that puts biography and personal anecdotes above all else. Well, actually this is what comes from choosing a judge who isn’t known for scholarship, has a reversal rate of 60% and has said some pretty wacky things. (Ed Whelan is doing the hard work of plowing through another Sotomayor speech and finds no evidence of deep thinking.)

It is a mistake for critics to accuse Sotomayor of being “dumb.” She completed law school and has been a sitting judge for eleven years so she’s not dim. But that’s not the test here. We’re talking about the Supreme Court. As Jonathan Turley said, a first class intellect should be the primary consideration for the Court. If that was the case here, I suspect that the Obama administration wouldn’t need a damage control team.

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New Newsweek, Week 2

When last we discussed the new Newsweek, there was general incredulity at the patent disingenuousness of its editor, Jon Meacham, describing the magazine as “not partisan.” Today, the magazine’s website features two pieces about the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. The magazine’s partners, the Washington Post and Slate, direct you to the site’s articles in a box that reads:

Newsweek

*The GOP’s Misguided Attack on Sotomayor

*The Cynical Attack on Sonia Sotomayor

Because, you know, not partisan at all…

When last we discussed the new Newsweek, there was general incredulity at the patent disingenuousness of its editor, Jon Meacham, describing the magazine as “not partisan.” Today, the magazine’s website features two pieces about the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. The magazine’s partners, the Washington Post and Slate, direct you to the site’s articles in a box that reads:

Newsweek

*The GOP’s Misguided Attack on Sotomayor

*The Cynical Attack on Sonia Sotomayor

Because, you know, not partisan at all…

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Commentary of the Day

J.E. Dyer, on Peter Wehner:

Stuart Rose — proliferation is the immediate problem, and to address it a blockade isn’t actually necessary. Continuation of what we’ve been doing for years now — using intelligence to identify suspicious shipments, and intercepting them (with Israel occasionally attacking plutonium reactors under construction) — is actually a fairly adequate method. That isn’t to say it’s a perfectly effective method, of course. But North Korea can only transport prohibited materials to bad customers by sea, with a lesser role for air, and her commercial activities are not so varied or robust that suspect shipments are all that hard to identify.

If there is a tripwire in this regard, it may be hit if Pyongyang starts dealing directly with non-governmental entities; e.g., Al Qaeda.

I saw Charles Krauthammer’s suggestion that Japan be encouraged to go nuclear, and this is one on which I have to disagree with him. Bad idea. What we should be doing instead is staying on track with our missile defense program, instead of cutting its funding, cutting the Multiple Kill Vehicle element entirely from the program, and (an Obama/Gates move that looks insane in light of Pyongyang’s activities in April and May 2009) leaving the intercept sites planned for Alaska incomplete: basically, without their interceptor missiles installed.

Missile defense would be an excellent principle on which to build a ramped-up exercise series with Japan (and Australia, if they’ll join in). We also need to just be bustling about the Far East as noisily as possible, reevaluating the security situation of the Korean peninsula, taking another look at Taiwan’s defense procurement requests, charming the socks off Indonesia, and giving big wet smooches to India, and inviting her armed forces into as many regional exercises as we can come up with. Seems like we haven’t had a good heart-to-heart with Vietnam for way too long. And Thailand? An ally we’ve been neglecting. Really need some joint naval and air exercises with Bangkok. We’d all benefit from practicing some antipiracy and counterterrorism in the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca, with Singapore and the Philippines joining in. A great place for India to participate too.

There’s more than one way of influencing China’s sense of what’s going on. A project best undertaken with a smile.

J.E. Dyer, on Peter Wehner:

Stuart Rose — proliferation is the immediate problem, and to address it a blockade isn’t actually necessary. Continuation of what we’ve been doing for years now — using intelligence to identify suspicious shipments, and intercepting them (with Israel occasionally attacking plutonium reactors under construction) — is actually a fairly adequate method. That isn’t to say it’s a perfectly effective method, of course. But North Korea can only transport prohibited materials to bad customers by sea, with a lesser role for air, and her commercial activities are not so varied or robust that suspect shipments are all that hard to identify.

If there is a tripwire in this regard, it may be hit if Pyongyang starts dealing directly with non-governmental entities; e.g., Al Qaeda.

I saw Charles Krauthammer’s suggestion that Japan be encouraged to go nuclear, and this is one on which I have to disagree with him. Bad idea. What we should be doing instead is staying on track with our missile defense program, instead of cutting its funding, cutting the Multiple Kill Vehicle element entirely from the program, and (an Obama/Gates move that looks insane in light of Pyongyang’s activities in April and May 2009) leaving the intercept sites planned for Alaska incomplete: basically, without their interceptor missiles installed.

Missile defense would be an excellent principle on which to build a ramped-up exercise series with Japan (and Australia, if they’ll join in). We also need to just be bustling about the Far East as noisily as possible, reevaluating the security situation of the Korean peninsula, taking another look at Taiwan’s defense procurement requests, charming the socks off Indonesia, and giving big wet smooches to India, and inviting her armed forces into as many regional exercises as we can come up with. Seems like we haven’t had a good heart-to-heart with Vietnam for way too long. And Thailand? An ally we’ve been neglecting. Really need some joint naval and air exercises with Bangkok. We’d all benefit from practicing some antipiracy and counterterrorism in the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca, with Singapore and the Philippines joining in. A great place for India to participate too.

There’s more than one way of influencing China’s sense of what’s going on. A project best undertaken with a smile.

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You Saw This Coming

Talking Points Memo reports that Joe Sestak is in fact jumping into the Pennsylvania primary race against Arlen Specter. This comes as no surprise to those following Specter’s bumbling, stumbling defection to the Democratic Party. Sestak, a retired Vice Admiral, will run no doubt as the “real” Democrat and will be happy to pick up all those former GOP ads the Republican Senate Campaign Committee has been using to taunt Specter (George W. Bush loved him!).

The president and Ed Rendell have promised to campaign for Specter but the president is not known to expend his personal political capital on questionable efforts (e.g. the Georgia Senate run-off election). Big Labor is tugging and pulling at Specter but now has a solidly dependable liberal to consider in the race should it choose to throw its weight and finances into the primary.

In the end, the Democratic primary voters will decide Specter’s fate. Has Specter’s craven opportunism finally reached its end? Or will the party regulars welcome Specter, as unreliable and infuriating as he may be, into the fold? It will be one heck of a race. And one other factor: Specter is 79 years-old, hardly out of the age-range of the U.S. Senate but plainly not the future of the party. I would expect that to be an issue.

Talking Points Memo reports that Joe Sestak is in fact jumping into the Pennsylvania primary race against Arlen Specter. This comes as no surprise to those following Specter’s bumbling, stumbling defection to the Democratic Party. Sestak, a retired Vice Admiral, will run no doubt as the “real” Democrat and will be happy to pick up all those former GOP ads the Republican Senate Campaign Committee has been using to taunt Specter (George W. Bush loved him!).

The president and Ed Rendell have promised to campaign for Specter but the president is not known to expend his personal political capital on questionable efforts (e.g. the Georgia Senate run-off election). Big Labor is tugging and pulling at Specter but now has a solidly dependable liberal to consider in the race should it choose to throw its weight and finances into the primary.

In the end, the Democratic primary voters will decide Specter’s fate. Has Specter’s craven opportunism finally reached its end? Or will the party regulars welcome Specter, as unreliable and infuriating as he may be, into the fold? It will be one heck of a race. And one other factor: Specter is 79 years-old, hardly out of the age-range of the U.S. Senate but plainly not the future of the party. I would expect that to be an issue.

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Giving Up Gitmo — and Our Sovereignty

Here’s an update on Europe and the Guantanamo detainees:

The EU and the US are negotiating rules for sending ex-Guantanamo detainees to Europe, including on the thorny issues of compensation and whether the United States itself takes some in, diplomats said Wednesday.

[. . .]

The goal is “to obtain guarantees from the US” that it is abandoning the former Bush administration’s excesses in the war against terror and moving closer to a “more European” approach which better respects human rights, one European source said.

One thing is for sure: signing on to these EU rules will finally put the truth to Obama’s fiction about not having to choose between our ideals and our security. With a European approach to fighting terrorism, we’ll toss out both. Europeans’ answer to Islamism was to create a sharia-constitutional law hybrid and keep their fingers crossed. Europe now protects misogyny, punishes critical thought, and extends full welfare benefits to domestic saboteurs. Shockingly, that hasn’t done the trick, so the actual fighting part goes to the U.S. NATO troops are barely permitted to do more than put on combat uniforms and Europe’s military budget can just about pay for the dry cleaning. We can move closer to a European approach as long as someone else moves closer to an American one. As they say, someone’s got to be the parent.

That’s enough good news. Here’s where things get interesting:

“We reaffirm that the primary responsibility for closing Guantanamo and finding residence for the former detainees rests with the United States.

“We take note that the United States recognizes its responsibility to accept certain former detainees who indicate a desire to be admitted,” says the draft text, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

That’s pretty much the definition of ceding sovereignty. While the House passes a bill forbidding Guantanamo detainees from being released into the U.S., European diplomats are drafting a document that demands the opposite. No wonder Europeans love Obama; they think he’s giving them back their colonies.

Here’s an update on Europe and the Guantanamo detainees:

The EU and the US are negotiating rules for sending ex-Guantanamo detainees to Europe, including on the thorny issues of compensation and whether the United States itself takes some in, diplomats said Wednesday.

[. . .]

The goal is “to obtain guarantees from the US” that it is abandoning the former Bush administration’s excesses in the war against terror and moving closer to a “more European” approach which better respects human rights, one European source said.

One thing is for sure: signing on to these EU rules will finally put the truth to Obama’s fiction about not having to choose between our ideals and our security. With a European approach to fighting terrorism, we’ll toss out both. Europeans’ answer to Islamism was to create a sharia-constitutional law hybrid and keep their fingers crossed. Europe now protects misogyny, punishes critical thought, and extends full welfare benefits to domestic saboteurs. Shockingly, that hasn’t done the trick, so the actual fighting part goes to the U.S. NATO troops are barely permitted to do more than put on combat uniforms and Europe’s military budget can just about pay for the dry cleaning. We can move closer to a European approach as long as someone else moves closer to an American one. As they say, someone’s got to be the parent.

That’s enough good news. Here’s where things get interesting:

“We reaffirm that the primary responsibility for closing Guantanamo and finding residence for the former detainees rests with the United States.

“We take note that the United States recognizes its responsibility to accept certain former detainees who indicate a desire to be admitted,” says the draft text, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

That’s pretty much the definition of ceding sovereignty. While the House passes a bill forbidding Guantanamo detainees from being released into the U.S., European diplomats are drafting a document that demands the opposite. No wonder Europeans love Obama; they think he’s giving them back their colonies.

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Netanyahu’s Plea for Obama to Lay Off

What are we to make of a New York Times report in which an unnamed “Israeli official” has told the paper, “The Israeli government wants to reach understandings with the Obama administration that would allow some new construction in West Bank settlements … despite vocal American and Palestinian opposition.”

Does this leak of a plea by the Netanyahu government show that Jerusalem believes the Obama administration will actually unveil a new peace plan that will explicitly prohibit the construction of a house or add-on anywhere over the green line?

The question of settlement growth has been something of a red herring for years. Israel isn’t building new settlements and hasn’t since the 1990s. But unless the United States is going to adopt a position that every single one of these Jewish communities must be held in a choke hold — the better to ease them out of existence — natural growth must be allowed.

George W. Bush’s June 2004 statement in which he explicitly supported the creation of an independent Palestinian state (albeit one that would not be ruled by supporters of terror and corrupt actors, something that pretty much renders such a state impossible under the existing circumstances) also said that any peace agreement must take into account the changes that have occurred on the ground since 1967. In other words, the large Jewish suburbs on the outskirts of Jerusalem and elsewhere close to the old border were not going to be handed over to the Palestinians under any circumstances. Then, as now, most Israelis would be willing to give up outlying settlements but now the clusters close to the old green line are where most of the “settlers” live. Ariel Sharon paid in hard diplomatic currency for this American statement but his successors soon discovered that the purchase was worthless.

Despite the fresh hype that Obama’s people have pumped into the peace process, the plain fact remains that no Israeli government — not even one that would adopt the policies of the coalition that was voted out of office this past winter and which spent its entire time in office trying to make peace — would ever hand over an inch of the West Bank if it means a repeat of the 2005 Gaza withdrawal fiasco that Bush’s gift to Sharon set in motion. Nor would any government be willing to transfer the Jews living in these suburbs merely to allow a Palestinian state, run by an irredentist Hamas/Fatah coalition, to come into existence.

Indeed, even if fruitful negotiations were a remote possibility — which they are not — why should the United States expect Israel to concede in advance that it will not keep any of the settlements in a peace deal? Shouldn’t that be a matter for the two parties to negotiate? If the Palestinians are not expected to concede their recognition of Israel as a Jewish state or give up in advance on the right of return before talks begin, why should America insist that Israel act in such a way as to irrevocably doom the settlements. That is not a peace feeler but a dictate.

Can it be that Netanyahu is hoping American supporters of Israel will take this cue to rise up and petition Obama to back off? In the aftermath of last week’s Netanyahu-Obama meeting, supporters of Israel have largely kept quiet, hoping that any disagreements between the two can be finessed or at least worked out behind closed doors. If Jerusalem is starting to go public with its hopes for a change in tone by Obama prior to his much-anticipated Cairo speech, then they may be thinking that those disagreements are about to be aired out in a way that will not to be to Israel’s advantage.

What are we to make of a New York Times report in which an unnamed “Israeli official” has told the paper, “The Israeli government wants to reach understandings with the Obama administration that would allow some new construction in West Bank settlements … despite vocal American and Palestinian opposition.”

Does this leak of a plea by the Netanyahu government show that Jerusalem believes the Obama administration will actually unveil a new peace plan that will explicitly prohibit the construction of a house or add-on anywhere over the green line?

The question of settlement growth has been something of a red herring for years. Israel isn’t building new settlements and hasn’t since the 1990s. But unless the United States is going to adopt a position that every single one of these Jewish communities must be held in a choke hold — the better to ease them out of existence — natural growth must be allowed.

George W. Bush’s June 2004 statement in which he explicitly supported the creation of an independent Palestinian state (albeit one that would not be ruled by supporters of terror and corrupt actors, something that pretty much renders such a state impossible under the existing circumstances) also said that any peace agreement must take into account the changes that have occurred on the ground since 1967. In other words, the large Jewish suburbs on the outskirts of Jerusalem and elsewhere close to the old border were not going to be handed over to the Palestinians under any circumstances. Then, as now, most Israelis would be willing to give up outlying settlements but now the clusters close to the old green line are where most of the “settlers” live. Ariel Sharon paid in hard diplomatic currency for this American statement but his successors soon discovered that the purchase was worthless.

Despite the fresh hype that Obama’s people have pumped into the peace process, the plain fact remains that no Israeli government — not even one that would adopt the policies of the coalition that was voted out of office this past winter and which spent its entire time in office trying to make peace — would ever hand over an inch of the West Bank if it means a repeat of the 2005 Gaza withdrawal fiasco that Bush’s gift to Sharon set in motion. Nor would any government be willing to transfer the Jews living in these suburbs merely to allow a Palestinian state, run by an irredentist Hamas/Fatah coalition, to come into existence.

Indeed, even if fruitful negotiations were a remote possibility — which they are not — why should the United States expect Israel to concede in advance that it will not keep any of the settlements in a peace deal? Shouldn’t that be a matter for the two parties to negotiate? If the Palestinians are not expected to concede their recognition of Israel as a Jewish state or give up in advance on the right of return before talks begin, why should America insist that Israel act in such a way as to irrevocably doom the settlements. That is not a peace feeler but a dictate.

Can it be that Netanyahu is hoping American supporters of Israel will take this cue to rise up and petition Obama to back off? In the aftermath of last week’s Netanyahu-Obama meeting, supporters of Israel have largely kept quiet, hoping that any disagreements between the two can be finessed or at least worked out behind closed doors. If Jerusalem is starting to go public with its hopes for a change in tone by Obama prior to his much-anticipated Cairo speech, then they may be thinking that those disagreements are about to be aired out in a way that will not to be to Israel’s advantage.

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How Does It Work?

Steven Calabresi, the co-founder of the Federalist Society, asks some interesting questions:

Should federal court of appeals and district judges decide to apply or not to apply the Supreme Court precedent of Roe v. Wade based on whether they empathize with fetuses or with women seeking abortions?

Should federal prosecutors decide to bring or not to bring indictments in close cases based on whether they empathize with or dislike an accused defendant?

Should General David Petraeus and the Joint Chiefs of Staff follow President Obama’s directives and orders based on whether or not they empathize with or dislike the President?

Should citizens filling out their tax returns decide what to do in close cases based on whether they empathize with or dislike the federal government?

His point is well taken. The president mouths pablum about “empathy” as a great asset (if not a qualification) for the Court, but how does this work in practice? Judges don’t write opinions declaring “We find the petitioner utterly compelling and an American success story and therefore. . .” So are we to believe that Sotomayor and other “empathetic” judges are supposed to make up fake reasons for their decisions while making sure the “right” party wins? That doesn’t seem right.

But if Sotomayor is billing herself (or accepting the billing) as the empathy judge, maybe we should hear for whom she has empathy. Let’s hear what parties, what hard luck cases she has a soft spot for. Otherwise, how can we be sure she meets the empathy standard?

Oh, you say, this is all silliness and not what the courts are all about. Then what exactly is all the blather about empathy mean? If it’s simple bias for liberal interest groups, the president and his supporters should be honest. If it’s nothing more than “awareness of the impact of the law on real people” then anyone who reads the news, not to mention has been a judge, gets that — and it hardly qualifies one to serve on the Supreme Court.

Let’s be clear what is going on here. The president wants a “safe” liberal vote on the court. He wants to satisfy a key constituent group. He doesn’t have an activist Scalia whose brainpower is going to wow the country. So he’s selling empathy — and in the process, revealing contempt for the rule of law. I suspect he’s overplaying his hand and only riling up the opposition. But we’ll see what the nominee has to say for herself and what we learn along the way.

Steven Calabresi, the co-founder of the Federalist Society, asks some interesting questions:

Should federal court of appeals and district judges decide to apply or not to apply the Supreme Court precedent of Roe v. Wade based on whether they empathize with fetuses or with women seeking abortions?

Should federal prosecutors decide to bring or not to bring indictments in close cases based on whether they empathize with or dislike an accused defendant?

Should General David Petraeus and the Joint Chiefs of Staff follow President Obama’s directives and orders based on whether or not they empathize with or dislike the President?

Should citizens filling out their tax returns decide what to do in close cases based on whether they empathize with or dislike the federal government?

His point is well taken. The president mouths pablum about “empathy” as a great asset (if not a qualification) for the Court, but how does this work in practice? Judges don’t write opinions declaring “We find the petitioner utterly compelling and an American success story and therefore. . .” So are we to believe that Sotomayor and other “empathetic” judges are supposed to make up fake reasons for their decisions while making sure the “right” party wins? That doesn’t seem right.

But if Sotomayor is billing herself (or accepting the billing) as the empathy judge, maybe we should hear for whom she has empathy. Let’s hear what parties, what hard luck cases she has a soft spot for. Otherwise, how can we be sure she meets the empathy standard?

Oh, you say, this is all silliness and not what the courts are all about. Then what exactly is all the blather about empathy mean? If it’s simple bias for liberal interest groups, the president and his supporters should be honest. If it’s nothing more than “awareness of the impact of the law on real people” then anyone who reads the news, not to mention has been a judge, gets that — and it hardly qualifies one to serve on the Supreme Court.

Let’s be clear what is going on here. The president wants a “safe” liberal vote on the court. He wants to satisfy a key constituent group. He doesn’t have an activist Scalia whose brainpower is going to wow the country. So he’s selling empathy — and in the process, revealing contempt for the rule of law. I suspect he’s overplaying his hand and only riling up the opposition. But we’ll see what the nominee has to say for herself and what we learn along the way.

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Banking on Biography

Jan Greenburg Crawford writes about the White House’s decision-making process:

As the first Hispanic nominee, with a compelling life story and rich judicial experience, Sotomayor would be hardest for Republicans to oppose, they argued, and therefore easiest for Obama to get confirmed.

Indeed, some Republican senators, while publicly vowing a fight, privately conceded the difficulties they will face in opposing the first Hispanic nominee.

Those calculations could have given her the edge over Wood, who would be more of a fight, political advisers warned, in light of her paper trail of speeches and appeals court opinions.

Obama’s advisers also were aware of a political reality on the Left, sources said. Sotomayor has the added bonus of placating his base, which has grown increasingly angry over some of Obama’s recent positions on terrorism.

[. . .]

With Sotomayor’s experience and personal story, one top adviser said, “there was no question where the arrow pointed.”

Jonathan Turley comes right out and says it: she’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

These observations from non-conservatives are noteworthy for a few reasons. First, Sotomayor — who has made identity politics her life’s work — has now reached the top of her profession, as an identity politics champion and a bone tossed to leftist interest groups. How nice! Well, except if you agree with Turley that legal smarts should be the primary consideration for the Court.

Second, for a constitutional “scholar,” the president seems notably unmoved by legal scholarship. Biography and politics triumph over all. We have hit a new low in Supreme Court selection when a pick’s Nancy Drew reading is worthy of mention in the presidential announcement. (Really, who cares?) The announcement statement is remarkable and, in some sense, shocking in its reliance on long passages entitled “An American Story” and “Commitment to Community.” (Compare this to the announcement of John Roberts’s nomination, which discretely and briefly mentions some personal data points.) These details shouldn’t matter, but to the president they are virtually all that matters.

Dana Milbank put it bluntly:

In selecting Sotomayor, Obama opted for biography over brain. As a legal mind, Sotomayor is described in portraits as competent, but no Louis Brandeis. Nor is Sotomayor, often described as an abrasive jurist, likely to be the next Earl Warren. But her bio is quite a hit. In Spanish, her surname can be translated as “big thicket” — and that’s just where Republicans could find themselves if they oppose this up-from-poverty Latina.

He’s right, of course. And it is — or should be — breathtaking.

Third, because the president prizes politics and biography above all else he assumes conservatives do as well and therefore his nominee will have an easy time. But is this right? Are conservatives less inclined to vigorously contest someone who is offered up as an exemplar of identity politics and who doubts her own impartiality? Are they not  excited about opposing a judge whose commitment to affirmative action goes so far as to engage in legal gamesmanship that results in denying firefighter Frank Ricci an appeal on the merits of his claim? Well, as they say, perhaps the president was misinformed.

Whatever this is, it sure isn’t post-racial politics. And I suspect it won’t be an easy confirmation.

Jan Greenburg Crawford writes about the White House’s decision-making process:

As the first Hispanic nominee, with a compelling life story and rich judicial experience, Sotomayor would be hardest for Republicans to oppose, they argued, and therefore easiest for Obama to get confirmed.

Indeed, some Republican senators, while publicly vowing a fight, privately conceded the difficulties they will face in opposing the first Hispanic nominee.

Those calculations could have given her the edge over Wood, who would be more of a fight, political advisers warned, in light of her paper trail of speeches and appeals court opinions.

Obama’s advisers also were aware of a political reality on the Left, sources said. Sotomayor has the added bonus of placating his base, which has grown increasingly angry over some of Obama’s recent positions on terrorism.

[. . .]

With Sotomayor’s experience and personal story, one top adviser said, “there was no question where the arrow pointed.”

Jonathan Turley comes right out and says it: she’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

These observations from non-conservatives are noteworthy for a few reasons. First, Sotomayor — who has made identity politics her life’s work — has now reached the top of her profession, as an identity politics champion and a bone tossed to leftist interest groups. How nice! Well, except if you agree with Turley that legal smarts should be the primary consideration for the Court.

Second, for a constitutional “scholar,” the president seems notably unmoved by legal scholarship. Biography and politics triumph over all. We have hit a new low in Supreme Court selection when a pick’s Nancy Drew reading is worthy of mention in the presidential announcement. (Really, who cares?) The announcement statement is remarkable and, in some sense, shocking in its reliance on long passages entitled “An American Story” and “Commitment to Community.” (Compare this to the announcement of John Roberts’s nomination, which discretely and briefly mentions some personal data points.) These details shouldn’t matter, but to the president they are virtually all that matters.

Dana Milbank put it bluntly:

In selecting Sotomayor, Obama opted for biography over brain. As a legal mind, Sotomayor is described in portraits as competent, but no Louis Brandeis. Nor is Sotomayor, often described as an abrasive jurist, likely to be the next Earl Warren. But her bio is quite a hit. In Spanish, her surname can be translated as “big thicket” — and that’s just where Republicans could find themselves if they oppose this up-from-poverty Latina.

He’s right, of course. And it is — or should be — breathtaking.

Third, because the president prizes politics and biography above all else he assumes conservatives do as well and therefore his nominee will have an easy time. But is this right? Are conservatives less inclined to vigorously contest someone who is offered up as an exemplar of identity politics and who doubts her own impartiality? Are they not  excited about opposing a judge whose commitment to affirmative action goes so far as to engage in legal gamesmanship that results in denying firefighter Frank Ricci an appeal on the merits of his claim? Well, as they say, perhaps the president was misinformed.

Whatever this is, it sure isn’t post-racial politics. And I suspect it won’t be an easy confirmation.

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EU Membership?

From the country that Barack Obama wants immediately shoved into the European Union:

A Turkish author on trial over accusations that his latest book insulted Islam denied the charges Tuesday and insisted he was respectful of religion.

Nedim Gursel faces up to a year in prison if found guilty on charges of humiliating religious values and inciting religious hatred in his novel “The Daughters of Allah.”

Gursel, who was born in Turkey but has French citizenship and is based in France, is the latest intellectual to be prosecuted in Turkey under laws that restrict free speech.

Gursel is accused of mocking religious figures in his novel.

Hey, Rush Limbaugh was accused of mocking a political figure and he was targeted by the Executive Branch of the United States. At least Obama is consistent.

From the country that Barack Obama wants immediately shoved into the European Union:

A Turkish author on trial over accusations that his latest book insulted Islam denied the charges Tuesday and insisted he was respectful of religion.

Nedim Gursel faces up to a year in prison if found guilty on charges of humiliating religious values and inciting religious hatred in his novel “The Daughters of Allah.”

Gursel, who was born in Turkey but has French citizenship and is based in France, is the latest intellectual to be prosecuted in Turkey under laws that restrict free speech.

Gursel is accused of mocking religious figures in his novel.

Hey, Rush Limbaugh was accused of mocking a political figure and he was targeted by the Executive Branch of the United States. At least Obama is consistent.

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In Praise of Democracy

Give this Washington Post writer credit for candor:

The ruling Tuesday by California’s Supreme Court upholding a ban on same-sex marriages shows that, despite a year of successes for gay activists, the road toward full marriage rights remains difficult — particularly when voters are given a direct say.

Yeah, if it weren’t for darn voters the march of progress would go more smoothly.

The decision is remarkable in its clarity: the Court held that the people of California through its system of referenda have the ability to decide for themselves to reject creation of a new right. It is, at its core, a reaffirmation of the right of self-government and a rejection of the invitation to go hunting about for a theory by which to invalidate a controversial measure. The vote was 6-1.

None of this goes to the merits of gay marriage. That’s an issue to be decided by the people of California and the other forty-nine states, several of which have or are recognizing same-sex marriages. We have seen in a number of other states that when utilizing the democratic process, advocates of gay marriage can convince their fellow citizens of the merits of their cause. And the opponents of gay marriage are free to make their case and persuade their fellow citizens of its merits. The potential for debate, compromise, and resolution can proceed.

This, it seems, is the preferred course for those favoring gay marriage — or any other social policy. The mistake abortion rights advocates made (confessed to in moments of candor even by Ruth Bader Ginsburg) was to constitutionalize a hot-button issue and remove it from the public square. The result was resentment, a natural byproduct of courts usurping the normal democratic process.

There is some irony in the California decision being issued on the same day as the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor. The degree to which she supports letting the people rather than the courts decide controversial issues is a topic worth exploring. And for advocates of judicial restraint, the opinion is one worth studying and explaining as an example of the division between judging and legislating. The timing could not have been more poignant.

Give this Washington Post writer credit for candor:

The ruling Tuesday by California’s Supreme Court upholding a ban on same-sex marriages shows that, despite a year of successes for gay activists, the road toward full marriage rights remains difficult — particularly when voters are given a direct say.

Yeah, if it weren’t for darn voters the march of progress would go more smoothly.

The decision is remarkable in its clarity: the Court held that the people of California through its system of referenda have the ability to decide for themselves to reject creation of a new right. It is, at its core, a reaffirmation of the right of self-government and a rejection of the invitation to go hunting about for a theory by which to invalidate a controversial measure. The vote was 6-1.

None of this goes to the merits of gay marriage. That’s an issue to be decided by the people of California and the other forty-nine states, several of which have or are recognizing same-sex marriages. We have seen in a number of other states that when utilizing the democratic process, advocates of gay marriage can convince their fellow citizens of the merits of their cause. And the opponents of gay marriage are free to make their case and persuade their fellow citizens of its merits. The potential for debate, compromise, and resolution can proceed.

This, it seems, is the preferred course for those favoring gay marriage — or any other social policy. The mistake abortion rights advocates made (confessed to in moments of candor even by Ruth Bader Ginsburg) was to constitutionalize a hot-button issue and remove it from the public square. The result was resentment, a natural byproduct of courts usurping the normal democratic process.

There is some irony in the California decision being issued on the same day as the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor. The degree to which she supports letting the people rather than the courts decide controversial issues is a topic worth exploring. And for advocates of judicial restraint, the opinion is one worth studying and explaining as an example of the division between judging and legislating. The timing could not have been more poignant.

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Have they Got a Deal for You

It sounds like a joke: GM is in such bad shape that not even the UAW wants it. But you, the taxpayer, are stepping up to the plate. The Wall Street Journal reports the U.S. government is taking a 70% stake. The president claims he doesn’t want to run a car company? He is. This is nationalization, plain and simple.

The UAW was going to take a 39% stake but decided on a small share plus some preferred shares instead. The Journal quotes someone in the talks: “The fear at the UAW was that ownership in GM could eventually be worth very little.” The government has no such fear.

Bailouts and creeping statism make Americans uncomfortable. In fact, they represent the least popular aspect of the president’s agenda. After the hoopla over Sotomayor is over, people may find out they own a failing car company. And they might not like it.

It sounds like a joke: GM is in such bad shape that not even the UAW wants it. But you, the taxpayer, are stepping up to the plate. The Wall Street Journal reports the U.S. government is taking a 70% stake. The president claims he doesn’t want to run a car company? He is. This is nationalization, plain and simple.

The UAW was going to take a 39% stake but decided on a small share plus some preferred shares instead. The Journal quotes someone in the talks: “The fear at the UAW was that ownership in GM could eventually be worth very little.” The government has no such fear.

Bailouts and creeping statism make Americans uncomfortable. In fact, they represent the least popular aspect of the president’s agenda. After the hoopla over Sotomayor is over, people may find out they own a failing car company. And they might not like it.

Read Less

Calling World Police!

I know Iraq was supposed to have compromised America’s standing as a formidable global power, but it sure doesn’t look that way:

“If North Korea stages a provocation, we will respond resolutely,” the South Korean military said in a statement, reacting to the North’s threats. Citing a “strong” military alliance with the United States, it said, “We advise our people to trust our military’s solid readiness and feel safe.”

Does citing a strong military alliance with the Unites States still put one’s enemies on notice or is it a nostalgic reference (Mikheil Saakashvili is ready with an answer right about now)? That’s up to Barack Obama. South Korea just grabbed a number and got in line behind all of Eastern Europe, India, Israel, and Japan.

It’s been a fun four months, but it sure is starting to look like the planet needs the U.S. to “police the world.” Of course the same Left that believes in the existence of a “world community” doesn’t believe there should be a “world police” to watch over things. But with atomic tests, warship fleets, and missile launches erupting along the edges of Asia, they’ve been outvoted. In fact, what’s the first tool South Koreans reached for when Pyongyang tested an atomic bomb? A Bush-era program developed by John Bolton known as the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). South Korea immediately joined the international effort to interdict the transfer of proscribed weapons, materials, and technology. Funny that Bolton, such a detested “unilateralist,” introduced this vital international agreement, isn’t it?

The good news is that our president may be catching on. According to Reuters, “U.S. President Barack Obama assured South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Monday of Washington’s ‘unequivocal commitment’ to the defense of South Korea following a nuclear test by North Korea.” Not a bad start, but there needs to be more. If we do not extend regional and strategic missile defense to South Korea any future conflicts between the Koreas will be unnecessarily devastating. Moreover, any future North Korean test missiles must be shot out of the sky. If American protection becomes the stuff of nostalgia, so too will global security.

I know Iraq was supposed to have compromised America’s standing as a formidable global power, but it sure doesn’t look that way:

“If North Korea stages a provocation, we will respond resolutely,” the South Korean military said in a statement, reacting to the North’s threats. Citing a “strong” military alliance with the United States, it said, “We advise our people to trust our military’s solid readiness and feel safe.”

Does citing a strong military alliance with the Unites States still put one’s enemies on notice or is it a nostalgic reference (Mikheil Saakashvili is ready with an answer right about now)? That’s up to Barack Obama. South Korea just grabbed a number and got in line behind all of Eastern Europe, India, Israel, and Japan.

It’s been a fun four months, but it sure is starting to look like the planet needs the U.S. to “police the world.” Of course the same Left that believes in the existence of a “world community” doesn’t believe there should be a “world police” to watch over things. But with atomic tests, warship fleets, and missile launches erupting along the edges of Asia, they’ve been outvoted. In fact, what’s the first tool South Koreans reached for when Pyongyang tested an atomic bomb? A Bush-era program developed by John Bolton known as the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). South Korea immediately joined the international effort to interdict the transfer of proscribed weapons, materials, and technology. Funny that Bolton, such a detested “unilateralist,” introduced this vital international agreement, isn’t it?

The good news is that our president may be catching on. According to Reuters, “U.S. President Barack Obama assured South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Monday of Washington’s ‘unequivocal commitment’ to the defense of South Korea following a nuclear test by North Korea.” Not a bad start, but there needs to be more. If we do not extend regional and strategic missile defense to South Korea any future conflicts between the Koreas will be unnecessarily devastating. Moreover, any future North Korean test missiles must be shot out of the sky. If American protection becomes the stuff of nostalgia, so too will global security.

Read Less

Double Standard-itis

Stuart Taylor notes the concern among some critics of the Sotomayor pick:

The choice of Sotomayor also puts Republicans and moderate Democrats who may be deeply unhappy with her jurisprudence in a lose-lose position, and Obama in a win-win position. If Republicans attack Judge Sotomayor’s more controversial actions, they risk provoking a backlash among Hispanic voters, who have already been moving into the Democratic column in droves.

Let me just observe the irony in those who criticize Sotomayor for declaring that “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn’t lived that life” themselves being subject to a tidal wave of complaints because no one can just go around questioning the intellectual bona fides of Latinas. Or something like that. The double standards leave you dizzy.

Howard Kurtz reports:

Some critics say Sotomayor’s Hispanic heritage and modest background should play no role in judging her fitness for the high court. But after Sotomayor spoke of being raised by a single mother in the South Bronx, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said: “I would hate to be a senator on the Judiciary Committee who tried to give that person a hard time.”

Wow, isn’t it grand to live in a country where a Latina can be nominated for the highest court and then treated with kid gloves because everyone is scared to treat her like any other nominee? Not so much, actually.

But let’s be honest: there is a political reality to what Taylor says. Senators, like all politicians, are remarkably sensitive to being labeled “racist” — or the less inflammatory version, “insensitive.” (No, it didn’t insulate Clarence Thomas from a political onslaught but the rules are different, we all know, for a conservative nominee.)

So what do conservatives do? Stick to the point. The point is impartiality. The point is whether, as Richard Cohen notes, it’s time to jettison the mindset of racial favoritism. (“Blatant affirmative action always entailed a disturbing and ex post facto changing of the rules — oops, you’re white. Sorry, not what we wanted.”) The point is what Sotomayor thinks her job as a judge is, as distinct from what the job of a legislator or president is.

After all, it is Sotomayor who must avoid playing the racial victim and convince the Senate and the country she’s not a proponent of a racial spoils system at odds with Americans’ sense of fairness. If she and her proponents balk at the same sort of questions John Roberts, Sam Alito, and others before them endured, the jig will be up.

So it’s simple, really: Ask the questions, let the judge speak. Let the country decide.

Stuart Taylor notes the concern among some critics of the Sotomayor pick:

The choice of Sotomayor also puts Republicans and moderate Democrats who may be deeply unhappy with her jurisprudence in a lose-lose position, and Obama in a win-win position. If Republicans attack Judge Sotomayor’s more controversial actions, they risk provoking a backlash among Hispanic voters, who have already been moving into the Democratic column in droves.

Let me just observe the irony in those who criticize Sotomayor for declaring that “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn’t lived that life” themselves being subject to a tidal wave of complaints because no one can just go around questioning the intellectual bona fides of Latinas. Or something like that. The double standards leave you dizzy.

Howard Kurtz reports:

Some critics say Sotomayor’s Hispanic heritage and modest background should play no role in judging her fitness for the high court. But after Sotomayor spoke of being raised by a single mother in the South Bronx, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said: “I would hate to be a senator on the Judiciary Committee who tried to give that person a hard time.”

Wow, isn’t it grand to live in a country where a Latina can be nominated for the highest court and then treated with kid gloves because everyone is scared to treat her like any other nominee? Not so much, actually.

But let’s be honest: there is a political reality to what Taylor says. Senators, like all politicians, are remarkably sensitive to being labeled “racist” — or the less inflammatory version, “insensitive.” (No, it didn’t insulate Clarence Thomas from a political onslaught but the rules are different, we all know, for a conservative nominee.)

So what do conservatives do? Stick to the point. The point is impartiality. The point is whether, as Richard Cohen notes, it’s time to jettison the mindset of racial favoritism. (“Blatant affirmative action always entailed a disturbing and ex post facto changing of the rules — oops, you’re white. Sorry, not what we wanted.”) The point is what Sotomayor thinks her job as a judge is, as distinct from what the job of a legislator or president is.

After all, it is Sotomayor who must avoid playing the racial victim and convince the Senate and the country she’s not a proponent of a racial spoils system at odds with Americans’ sense of fairness. If she and her proponents balk at the same sort of questions John Roberts, Sam Alito, and others before them endured, the jig will be up.

So it’s simple, really: Ask the questions, let the judge speak. Let the country decide.

Read Less

Hosni’s Apology

What a relief. Farouk Hosni, the Egyptian Culture Minister and candidate to head up UNESCO, has apologized for saying he would “burn Israeli books” if he found them in an Egyptian library.

It’s a relief because Israel had just dropped its objection to Hosni’s candidacy, as an apparent goodwill gesture to Egypt. That would have been very embarrassing, no? For Israel to agree to having an outright Judeobibliophobe heading up the UN’s leading educational and cultural body. Just think of all those books in Hebrew the UN might have to consider burning — beginning with the Bible. Olaf Zimmermann, the head of Germany’s Culture Council, told Der Spiegel that “Choosing Farouk Hosni as the new director of UNESCO would be a mistake… UNESCO is on the verge of putting into practice the Convention on Cultural Diversity. A responsibility like that shouldn’t be trusted to someone who hasn’t fully internalized the ideals of UNESCO.”

But now that he’s apologized, we can wipe the slate clean and start over. Hosni has now fully internalized UNESCO’s values, and now the reverse can happily happen as well. Isn’t the UN great?

What a relief. Farouk Hosni, the Egyptian Culture Minister and candidate to head up UNESCO, has apologized for saying he would “burn Israeli books” if he found them in an Egyptian library.

It’s a relief because Israel had just dropped its objection to Hosni’s candidacy, as an apparent goodwill gesture to Egypt. That would have been very embarrassing, no? For Israel to agree to having an outright Judeobibliophobe heading up the UN’s leading educational and cultural body. Just think of all those books in Hebrew the UN might have to consider burning — beginning with the Bible. Olaf Zimmermann, the head of Germany’s Culture Council, told Der Spiegel that “Choosing Farouk Hosni as the new director of UNESCO would be a mistake… UNESCO is on the verge of putting into practice the Convention on Cultural Diversity. A responsibility like that shouldn’t be trusted to someone who hasn’t fully internalized the ideals of UNESCO.”

But now that he’s apologized, we can wipe the slate clean and start over. Hosni has now fully internalized UNESCO’s values, and now the reverse can happily happen as well. Isn’t the UN great?

Read Less




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