Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 10, 2009

Re: Outreach Isn’t Magic

Max, I have expressed my own doubts about the causal connection between the president’s speech and the voting in Lebanon. Aside from the proof problem (I don’t suppose there are any “exit polls” on this), it strikes me as a dangerous game the president’s supporters are playing.

Are the local UK and European elections also a reflection on Obama? Is he placing his political standing on the outcome of the Iranian election? (Better question: with Obama in the White House do Israelis feel more secure with Bibi?) If we play that game, George W. Bush should have taken credit for the election of pro-American and more conservative governments in France and Germany during his tenure. But he wouldn’t have had the nerve.

That sort of hubris — taking credit for the decisions of independent democracies and viewing all events through one’s own egocentric prism — is something only a “sort of God” would attempt.

Max, I have expressed my own doubts about the causal connection between the president’s speech and the voting in Lebanon. Aside from the proof problem (I don’t suppose there are any “exit polls” on this), it strikes me as a dangerous game the president’s supporters are playing.

Are the local UK and European elections also a reflection on Obama? Is he placing his political standing on the outcome of the Iranian election? (Better question: with Obama in the White House do Israelis feel more secure with Bibi?) If we play that game, George W. Bush should have taken credit for the election of pro-American and more conservative governments in France and Germany during his tenure. But he wouldn’t have had the nerve.

That sort of hubris — taking credit for the decisions of independent democracies and viewing all events through one’s own egocentric prism — is something only a “sort of God” would attempt.

Read Less

Commentary of the Day

Rob, on Michael Totten:

What a wonderful thing that Lebanon was not intimidated by Hezbola assassins and bombs.
That kind of courage is what it will take to turn back the tide of terrorism.
This election shows that free Lebanon deserves our continuing support.

Lebanon is another place, somewhat like Afghanistan, where problems generated in their neighboring countries are pushed inside and form a toxic brew.

Obama appears to have done the right thing here, although his soft soft talk to Iran can embolden them to create another war with Israel and fight it in Lebanon.

Thanks to Michael Totten for the clear report. Other news from this area reads more like an echo of Hezbollah propaganda than real news.

Rob, on Michael Totten:

What a wonderful thing that Lebanon was not intimidated by Hezbola assassins and bombs.
That kind of courage is what it will take to turn back the tide of terrorism.
This election shows that free Lebanon deserves our continuing support.

Lebanon is another place, somewhat like Afghanistan, where problems generated in their neighboring countries are pushed inside and form a toxic brew.

Obama appears to have done the right thing here, although his soft soft talk to Iran can embolden them to create another war with Israel and fight it in Lebanon.

Thanks to Michael Totten for the clear report. Other news from this area reads more like an echo of Hezbollah propaganda than real news.

Read Less

Kind of Like What the Rubes Were Shouting About

Nearly two months after the April 15 Tea Party protests it hits the Beltway chattering class: this deficit thing could be big! Well, yes. Politico explains:

Republicans on Capitol Hill think they’ve finally found Barack Obama’s Achilles’ heel: rising public concern about government spending and the federal deficit.

While Obama’s overall job-approval ratings are up over the past month, a Gallup Poll out this week has a 51 percent majority of Americans disapproving of the president’s efforts to control federal spending and a slim 48 percent to 46 percent disapproving of his handling of the federal deficit.

While it is not surprising that Republicans are quoted in this and other articles, pointing out the gap between the president’s popularity and public concern about the out-of-control spending, what is noteworthy is that Democrats are already nervous:

Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, one of the Senate’s most conservative Democrats, senses a risk for his party on the deficit issue.

“I do believe that we need to make every effort to get our hands around it and not let it just be on auto-pilot; then the American people will understand that, and that will eliminate part of the political risk,” Nelson said. “But if it appears that there is not a strong focus on it and there is no sufficient effort to try to control it, then I think it’s a major political risk.”

And the Senate Budget Committee chairman, Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), was critical of the White House’s pay-go plan for proposing that the budgeting process need not apply to Medicare payments to physicians, patching the alternative minimum tax and for Bush-era tax cuts.

“While I very much favor putting statutory pay-go back on the books, I don’t support waiving pay-go for trillions of dollars of items that I think have to be paid for,” Conrad said Tuesday.

What could they do? Well for starters, they could stop it. Stop the enormous spending and borrowing. That would put a crimp in healthcare, but if more voters worried about the spend-a-thon than healthcare reform (which has dropped to its lowest ranking as a voter concern in two years) that would be a wise political move. Other polling shows the public evenly split on whether to tackle healthcare now or later. And 8 in 10 Americans are happy with the quality of healthcare they receive, although most would like to control costs.

Unless, of course, those on the ballot think the president’s personal popularity will insulate them from the wrath of the voters. In that case, they should keep on spending like drunken sailors.

One thing is for certain: the White House and the mainstream media couldn’t figure out why all those people were out protesting in April. It took them two months to catch up to the grassroots concern that recession or not, we’re spending and borrowing too much. Wait until they hear about the taxes needed to pay for it.

Nearly two months after the April 15 Tea Party protests it hits the Beltway chattering class: this deficit thing could be big! Well, yes. Politico explains:

Republicans on Capitol Hill think they’ve finally found Barack Obama’s Achilles’ heel: rising public concern about government spending and the federal deficit.

While Obama’s overall job-approval ratings are up over the past month, a Gallup Poll out this week has a 51 percent majority of Americans disapproving of the president’s efforts to control federal spending and a slim 48 percent to 46 percent disapproving of his handling of the federal deficit.

While it is not surprising that Republicans are quoted in this and other articles, pointing out the gap between the president’s popularity and public concern about the out-of-control spending, what is noteworthy is that Democrats are already nervous:

Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, one of the Senate’s most conservative Democrats, senses a risk for his party on the deficit issue.

“I do believe that we need to make every effort to get our hands around it and not let it just be on auto-pilot; then the American people will understand that, and that will eliminate part of the political risk,” Nelson said. “But if it appears that there is not a strong focus on it and there is no sufficient effort to try to control it, then I think it’s a major political risk.”

And the Senate Budget Committee chairman, Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), was critical of the White House’s pay-go plan for proposing that the budgeting process need not apply to Medicare payments to physicians, patching the alternative minimum tax and for Bush-era tax cuts.

“While I very much favor putting statutory pay-go back on the books, I don’t support waiving pay-go for trillions of dollars of items that I think have to be paid for,” Conrad said Tuesday.

What could they do? Well for starters, they could stop it. Stop the enormous spending and borrowing. That would put a crimp in healthcare, but if more voters worried about the spend-a-thon than healthcare reform (which has dropped to its lowest ranking as a voter concern in two years) that would be a wise political move. Other polling shows the public evenly split on whether to tackle healthcare now or later. And 8 in 10 Americans are happy with the quality of healthcare they receive, although most would like to control costs.

Unless, of course, those on the ballot think the president’s personal popularity will insulate them from the wrath of the voters. In that case, they should keep on spending like drunken sailors.

One thing is for certain: the White House and the mainstream media couldn’t figure out why all those people were out protesting in April. It took them two months to catch up to the grassroots concern that recession or not, we’re spending and borrowing too much. Wait until they hear about the taxes needed to pay for it.

Read Less

“Free and Robust” and Thoroughly Fraudulent

Leslie Gelb is feeling nearly amorous about Iran, having observed the run up to Friday’s elections:

Whatever happens this time, Americans will finally be able to see clearly that Iran is not a monolith totally dominated by crazy clerics dedicated to Western destruction. They’ll see an Iran split between the familiar Islamic revolutionaries uniting clerics and the poor, on the one hand, and the commercial classes now allied with the educated, women and youth, on the other. They’ll see that the crazies, even if they hold on to power this time, are losing their grip. They’ll see other Iranian leaders who want to rejoin the world and will adjust their nation’s policies accordingly.

Mr. Gelb’s evidence?

[T]hese elections have been so free and robust. There is nothing these candidates can’t do, except attack the supreme leader and Islam itself. The contenders have seized the opportunity to call one another liars and purveyors of corruption and worse.

According to news reports, the public feels that this election is different. The campaign this time around is palpably tenser and the atmosphere is hotter. Protesters are more numerous and vocal, perhaps because they sense the stakes are higher than ever.

Sorry if I’m less than moved by this alleged milestone in Iranian consensual governance, but it is rather hard to ignore a certain salient detail about the candidates. Here’s Con Coughlin, in the Wall Street Journal:

Thus, for the past two elections to the Majlis (the Iranian parliament) the Revolutionary Guards — who are controlled directly by Mr. Khamanei — have carefully vetted all the candidates to ensure only those with the right revolutionary credentials are allowed to stand.

Now the regime, in the form of the Guardian Council, which is charged with upholding the tenets of Khomeini’s revolution, has employed the same tactic ahead of the presidential election: Of the original 475 applicants only four candidates have survived the cull. All of them have revolutionary credentials beyond reproach.

So if Leslie Gelb is even half right and “the public feels that this election is different,” this merely means that the mullahs have successfully hoodwinked Iranians into thinking they’re part of a new and fair process that is identical to the same sham elections of previous years. The perpetration of such a ruse is a step forward for the forces of autocracy — not democracy. Or were the discarded 471 actually too fanatical for the Guardian Council’s newfound insouciance?

Leslie Gelb is feeling nearly amorous about Iran, having observed the run up to Friday’s elections:

Whatever happens this time, Americans will finally be able to see clearly that Iran is not a monolith totally dominated by crazy clerics dedicated to Western destruction. They’ll see an Iran split between the familiar Islamic revolutionaries uniting clerics and the poor, on the one hand, and the commercial classes now allied with the educated, women and youth, on the other. They’ll see that the crazies, even if they hold on to power this time, are losing their grip. They’ll see other Iranian leaders who want to rejoin the world and will adjust their nation’s policies accordingly.

Mr. Gelb’s evidence?

[T]hese elections have been so free and robust. There is nothing these candidates can’t do, except attack the supreme leader and Islam itself. The contenders have seized the opportunity to call one another liars and purveyors of corruption and worse.

According to news reports, the public feels that this election is different. The campaign this time around is palpably tenser and the atmosphere is hotter. Protesters are more numerous and vocal, perhaps because they sense the stakes are higher than ever.

Sorry if I’m less than moved by this alleged milestone in Iranian consensual governance, but it is rather hard to ignore a certain salient detail about the candidates. Here’s Con Coughlin, in the Wall Street Journal:

Thus, for the past two elections to the Majlis (the Iranian parliament) the Revolutionary Guards — who are controlled directly by Mr. Khamanei — have carefully vetted all the candidates to ensure only those with the right revolutionary credentials are allowed to stand.

Now the regime, in the form of the Guardian Council, which is charged with upholding the tenets of Khomeini’s revolution, has employed the same tactic ahead of the presidential election: Of the original 475 applicants only four candidates have survived the cull. All of them have revolutionary credentials beyond reproach.

So if Leslie Gelb is even half right and “the public feels that this election is different,” this merely means that the mullahs have successfully hoodwinked Iranians into thinking they’re part of a new and fair process that is identical to the same sham elections of previous years. The perpetration of such a ruse is a step forward for the forces of autocracy — not democracy. Or were the discarded 471 actually too fanatical for the Guardian Council’s newfound insouciance?

Read Less

The Holocaust Museum Shooting

The scary, horrible shooting at the D.C. Holocaust museum raises more questions than there are answers. Not the least of which is why the accused gunman didn’t get a much longer term for trying to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve in the early 1980′s. The logistics — how did he get in, how did he get his gun, etc. — will be picked over in the days ahead. But the real issue: how such evil and hatred perseveres. One final note: while I commend the accurate and fair reporting, by repeating the horrid anti-Semitic and racist rants of the accused the media is providing him and like-minded people with more publicity than they could ever dream of. Discretion is warranted.

The scary, horrible shooting at the D.C. Holocaust museum raises more questions than there are answers. Not the least of which is why the accused gunman didn’t get a much longer term for trying to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve in the early 1980′s. The logistics — how did he get in, how did he get his gun, etc. — will be picked over in the days ahead. But the real issue: how such evil and hatred perseveres. One final note: while I commend the accurate and fair reporting, by repeating the horrid anti-Semitic and racist rants of the accused the media is providing him and like-minded people with more publicity than they could ever dream of. Discretion is warranted.

Read Less

Biden Runs off the Rails

Well, there goes Joe Biden again. Yesterday, he appeared in New Jersey to announce federal backing for a new tunnel. He said that it would be a great boost for automobile commuters — a statement that left the people actually working on the tunnel wondering how the cars would maneuver along those big, parallel steel rails running down the middle of the structure.

This is but the latest (if one of the milder) episodes of our vice president “just being Joe.” The man’s ability to shove both feet in his mouth and still keep spouting nonsense is beyond legend. Fortunately, most of Joe’s blunders are harmless — inviting a handicapped man to stand up and wave to the audience, describing then-Senator Obama as “clean and articulate,” etc. They’re good for a laugh or two at his expense, but they’re readily dismissible.

Others fall into the category of the classic definition of a gaffe — when a politician inadvertently says the truth. These are the remarks that make those around him wince and cringe, and even occasionally rebuke him. Examples include his zinging Chief Justice Roberts over the fumbling of Obama’s oath of office, his stating that Hillary Clinton would probably be a better choice for veep than him, and his recent mocking of Obama’s use of teleprompters.

Every now and then, though, Joe outdoes himself and says something that could cause genuine harm. During the initial stages of the Swine Flu (I’m sorry — “H1N1 Flu”) outbreak, he stated that he was urging his family to avoid public transportation, especially air travel, to stay safe — advice that the perpetually struggling airlines did not need to hear. And he casually revealed the existence of a previously top-secret bunker under the Vice President’s residence on the grounds of the Naval Observatory.

Perhaps his latest slip of the tongue was no slip and the government-owned General Motors will come out with new car models that can run on tracks.

Well, there goes Joe Biden again. Yesterday, he appeared in New Jersey to announce federal backing for a new tunnel. He said that it would be a great boost for automobile commuters — a statement that left the people actually working on the tunnel wondering how the cars would maneuver along those big, parallel steel rails running down the middle of the structure.

This is but the latest (if one of the milder) episodes of our vice president “just being Joe.” The man’s ability to shove both feet in his mouth and still keep spouting nonsense is beyond legend. Fortunately, most of Joe’s blunders are harmless — inviting a handicapped man to stand up and wave to the audience, describing then-Senator Obama as “clean and articulate,” etc. They’re good for a laugh or two at his expense, but they’re readily dismissible.

Others fall into the category of the classic definition of a gaffe — when a politician inadvertently says the truth. These are the remarks that make those around him wince and cringe, and even occasionally rebuke him. Examples include his zinging Chief Justice Roberts over the fumbling of Obama’s oath of office, his stating that Hillary Clinton would probably be a better choice for veep than him, and his recent mocking of Obama’s use of teleprompters.

Every now and then, though, Joe outdoes himself and says something that could cause genuine harm. During the initial stages of the Swine Flu (I’m sorry — “H1N1 Flu”) outbreak, he stated that he was urging his family to avoid public transportation, especially air travel, to stay safe — advice that the perpetually struggling airlines did not need to hear. And he casually revealed the existence of a previously top-secret bunker under the Vice President’s residence on the grounds of the Naval Observatory.

Perhaps his latest slip of the tongue was no slip and the government-owned General Motors will come out with new car models that can run on tracks.

Read Less

It’s Official: They Hate It

Voters don’t think the stimulus is working and a plurality want to dump the whole thing, according to a Rasmussen poll:

Forty-five percent (45%) of Americans say the rest of the new government spending authorized in the $787-billion economic stimulus plan should now be canceled. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that just 36% disagree and 20% are not sure.

. . .

President Obama on Monday vowed to speed up the pace of stimulus spending and said the money will help “create or save” 600,000 more jobs this summer.

However, only 31% of Americans believe the new government spending in the stimulus package creates new jobs. Forty-eight percent (48%) say the stimulus spending does not create jobs, and 21% are not sure.

Americans have mixed feelings about whether speeding up the new government spending in the stimulus package will help the economy. Thirty-nine percent (39%) say the increased spending will be good for the economy, but 44% say it will be bad. Eight percent (8%) think it will have no impact.

All will be forgiven, no doubt, if the economy bounces back. But if not, that 2009 stimulus vote is going to be a potential problem for those on the ballot in 2010. Moreover, it seems once again that the president’s personal popularity is irrelevant. No matter how much they like the “cool” president, they aren’t buying his stimulus spin. Might the same be true on other issues like cap-and-trade and healthcare nationalization? Stay tuned.

Voters don’t think the stimulus is working and a plurality want to dump the whole thing, according to a Rasmussen poll:

Forty-five percent (45%) of Americans say the rest of the new government spending authorized in the $787-billion economic stimulus plan should now be canceled. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that just 36% disagree and 20% are not sure.

. . .

President Obama on Monday vowed to speed up the pace of stimulus spending and said the money will help “create or save” 600,000 more jobs this summer.

However, only 31% of Americans believe the new government spending in the stimulus package creates new jobs. Forty-eight percent (48%) say the stimulus spending does not create jobs, and 21% are not sure.

Americans have mixed feelings about whether speeding up the new government spending in the stimulus package will help the economy. Thirty-nine percent (39%) say the increased spending will be good for the economy, but 44% say it will be bad. Eight percent (8%) think it will have no impact.

All will be forgiven, no doubt, if the economy bounces back. But if not, that 2009 stimulus vote is going to be a potential problem for those on the ballot in 2010. Moreover, it seems once again that the president’s personal popularity is irrelevant. No matter how much they like the “cool” president, they aren’t buying his stimulus spin. Might the same be true on other issues like cap-and-trade and healthcare nationalization? Stay tuned.

Read Less

WANTED: ONLINE EDITOR

Commentary seeks an online editor with a strong copy-editing background, some web experience, and grounding in the history and archives of Commentary. Please send resume and cover letter to commenart@gmail.com.

Commentary seeks an online editor with a strong copy-editing background, some web experience, and grounding in the history and archives of Commentary. Please send resume and cover letter to commenart@gmail.com.

Read Less

Stunned that Voters Have a Mind of Their Own

Here’s the Miami Herald’s take on Charlie Crist:

Gov. Charlie Crist — more popular than President Barack Obama — would trounce former Florida House speaker Marco Rubio 54-23 percent if the 2010 Republican primary for the U.S. Senate were held today, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.

Obama’s job approval rating stands at 58 percent, while 62 percent approve of the job Crist is doing.

“Rubio is going to have to convince an awful lot of Republicans who have a favorable impression of Crist that they need to re-evaluate their views,” said Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown. “The only practical way to accomplish that would be a well-funded, negative campaign.”

Maybe. But we should keep in mind two words: Creigh Deeds. The Washington Post, which endorsed Deeds, declares his victory in yesterday’s primary to be “stunning.” That’s because all the “experts” got it wrong. They often do because they repeat three basic errors.

First, they take horserace poll numbers months or years before an election too seriously. (That’s how Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani were crowned “front runners” a year before the Iowa primary.) These polls — the Crist/Rubio one included — have limited predictive value. They are largely a factor of name recognition. Especially in non-presidential elections, voters tune in late and make their minds up in the home stretch. If you want a better indicator, look at favorable/unfavorable ratings. (For example New Jersey Governor’s Jon Corzine’s 36-56% approval number [which is worse than the previous month] is likely more meaningful than a 10% gap in the polls because it suggests he really has a way to go in turning around voters’ perceptions.)

Second, the political “experts” disregard the centrality of personality and raw political talent in campaigns. It’s strange that political gurus miss this since they spend their professional lives following races; yet they usually do. Virginia voters found Terry McAuliffe obnoxious, plain and simple. His double-digit lead in the polls faded as soon as voters realized who he was. Likewise, Deeds is simply a nice guy. And voters got that. In short, money and issue positions matter, but not as much as professional political observers think.

And finally, if you don’t know what the campaign narrative is about you aren’t well positioned to figure out who’s going to win. ( Recall Hillary Clinton running on “experience” in a  classic “change” election.) If the race in Florida and around the country in 2010 is going to be about what a bust the Obama stimulus plan has been, then all those photos of Crist cheerleading for the president will be the kiss of death. On the other hand, if by 2010 things are looking up and Crist claims part of the credit for Florida’s improved situation he looks like a “dealmaker” who’s going to get the best deal for the state in the era of Obama.

So if you want to know if Crist or Rubio, Arlen Specter or Joe Sestak, or McDonnnell or Deeds will come out on top, you won’t be able to find that out in June 2009. And if professional pundits don’t want to be “stunned” they won’t tell you that you can.

Here’s the Miami Herald’s take on Charlie Crist:

Gov. Charlie Crist — more popular than President Barack Obama — would trounce former Florida House speaker Marco Rubio 54-23 percent if the 2010 Republican primary for the U.S. Senate were held today, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.

Obama’s job approval rating stands at 58 percent, while 62 percent approve of the job Crist is doing.

“Rubio is going to have to convince an awful lot of Republicans who have a favorable impression of Crist that they need to re-evaluate their views,” said Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown. “The only practical way to accomplish that would be a well-funded, negative campaign.”

Maybe. But we should keep in mind two words: Creigh Deeds. The Washington Post, which endorsed Deeds, declares his victory in yesterday’s primary to be “stunning.” That’s because all the “experts” got it wrong. They often do because they repeat three basic errors.

First, they take horserace poll numbers months or years before an election too seriously. (That’s how Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani were crowned “front runners” a year before the Iowa primary.) These polls — the Crist/Rubio one included — have limited predictive value. They are largely a factor of name recognition. Especially in non-presidential elections, voters tune in late and make their minds up in the home stretch. If you want a better indicator, look at favorable/unfavorable ratings. (For example New Jersey Governor’s Jon Corzine’s 36-56% approval number [which is worse than the previous month] is likely more meaningful than a 10% gap in the polls because it suggests he really has a way to go in turning around voters’ perceptions.)

Second, the political “experts” disregard the centrality of personality and raw political talent in campaigns. It’s strange that political gurus miss this since they spend their professional lives following races; yet they usually do. Virginia voters found Terry McAuliffe obnoxious, plain and simple. His double-digit lead in the polls faded as soon as voters realized who he was. Likewise, Deeds is simply a nice guy. And voters got that. In short, money and issue positions matter, but not as much as professional political observers think.

And finally, if you don’t know what the campaign narrative is about you aren’t well positioned to figure out who’s going to win. ( Recall Hillary Clinton running on “experience” in a  classic “change” election.) If the race in Florida and around the country in 2010 is going to be about what a bust the Obama stimulus plan has been, then all those photos of Crist cheerleading for the president will be the kiss of death. On the other hand, if by 2010 things are looking up and Crist claims part of the credit for Florida’s improved situation he looks like a “dealmaker” who’s going to get the best deal for the state in the era of Obama.

So if you want to know if Crist or Rubio, Arlen Specter or Joe Sestak, or McDonnnell or Deeds will come out on top, you won’t be able to find that out in June 2009. And if professional pundits don’t want to be “stunned” they won’t tell you that you can.

Read Less

Wealth Creation Under Attack

That some should be rich shows that others may become rich,” said Abraham Lincoln, “and hence, is just encouragement to industry and enterprise.” Barack Obama has made it quite clear he wants to be seen as Lincoln’s heir. But in this instance, he is an heir in open rebellion. He is promising a range of policy initiatives that will have the effect of closing off new pathways to wealth, to the detriment not only of our economy but of our national life as well.

It’s a matter of some debate among economists whether the private generation of wealth is a necessary precondition for providing the means for a decent prosperity that can be shared by all. Clearly, there are and always have been societies throughout the world in which a small class of wealthy families controls the wealth of their nation or region and does little or nothing to spread it around. In those cases, usually in economies that maintain aspects of feudalism or that run along mercantilist lines, the rules of the marketplace are rigged in their favor.

But what of economies organized along market principles, like ours? These are a very different matter. Milton Friedman and his intellectual forebears in the Austrian School famously argued that free-market capitalism, in which people engage in largely ungoverned commercial activity that places them in active competition with each other, produces maximal prosperity for all levels of society in the aggregate.

This argument has always struck many people as a counterintuitive leap of faith, and yet over the past 30 years it has become the dominant economic view across the globe. After years in which the term “capitalism” was treated almost as a pejorative and the “free market” conjured up images of plutocrats and sweatshops, it became an axiom that “markets work.” China changed its financial course and set loose the fastest-growing economy in the history of the world when its post-Mao leader, Deng Xiaoping, declared, “To be rich is glorious”—a startling declaration for a Communist regime. In the United States in the 1990s, the party that had historically stood against the idea that the market should be left to work on its own was led by a President who not only embraced the idea of the free market but evangelized for it.

Click here to read the rest of this article from the June issue of COMMENTARY.

That some should be rich shows that others may become rich,” said Abraham Lincoln, “and hence, is just encouragement to industry and enterprise.” Barack Obama has made it quite clear he wants to be seen as Lincoln’s heir. But in this instance, he is an heir in open rebellion. He is promising a range of policy initiatives that will have the effect of closing off new pathways to wealth, to the detriment not only of our economy but of our national life as well.

It’s a matter of some debate among economists whether the private generation of wealth is a necessary precondition for providing the means for a decent prosperity that can be shared by all. Clearly, there are and always have been societies throughout the world in which a small class of wealthy families controls the wealth of their nation or region and does little or nothing to spread it around. In those cases, usually in economies that maintain aspects of feudalism or that run along mercantilist lines, the rules of the marketplace are rigged in their favor.

But what of economies organized along market principles, like ours? These are a very different matter. Milton Friedman and his intellectual forebears in the Austrian School famously argued that free-market capitalism, in which people engage in largely ungoverned commercial activity that places them in active competition with each other, produces maximal prosperity for all levels of society in the aggregate.

This argument has always struck many people as a counterintuitive leap of faith, and yet over the past 30 years it has become the dominant economic view across the globe. After years in which the term “capitalism” was treated almost as a pejorative and the “free market” conjured up images of plutocrats and sweatshops, it became an axiom that “markets work.” China changed its financial course and set loose the fastest-growing economy in the history of the world when its post-Mao leader, Deng Xiaoping, declared, “To be rich is glorious”—a startling declaration for a Communist regime. In the United States in the 1990s, the party that had historically stood against the idea that the market should be left to work on its own was led by a President who not only embraced the idea of the free market but evangelized for it.

Click here to read the rest of this article from the June issue of COMMENTARY.

Read Less

Outreach Isn’t Magic

Barack Obama, we know, is a big believer in the power of his words. And there is no doubt he is a persuasive speaker; he wouldn’t have become president otherwise. But is he so influential that by delivering a speech in Cairo he can change the outcome of the elections in Lebanon? That’s what a lot of commentators are claiming.

See, for example, this Cynthia Tucker column: “Obama changed Lebanese minds.” Or this New York Timesnews analysis“: “There were many domestic reasons voters handed an American-backed coalition a victory in Lebanese parliamentary elections on Sunday — but political analysts also attribute it in part to President Obama’s campaign of outreach to the Arab and Muslim world.”

Really? Just by reaching out to the Muslim voters, Obama can make Lebanese voters reject Hezbollah and its allies and vote instead for the pro-Western March 14 coalition? That interpretation seems a bit implausible to me, but just to be sure I queried a couple of Lebanese friends who are both involved in the March 14th movement. One of them wrote back: “Obama’s speech had no effect on the results of the elections, other factors were at play but certainly not Obama’s speech.” Another emailed me:

In fact few of the candidates had the time to follow up on Obama’s speech. Notwithstanding that it was highly covered in the press here in Beirut. Take for example my friend Samy Gemayel who was running for elections and is now an MP, I asked him in one of our talking-points sessions (on Friday 5th ) if he heard Obama’s talk of ‘…religious diversity from the Copts of Egypt to the Maronites of Lebanon…’ and his response was negative. I guess you can multiply this among other candidates who were just too busy being on the ground doing last-minute campaigning.

That is not to say that the posture of the Obama administration was irrelevant to the outcome. Kudos to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden for visiting Beirut and reaffirming their support for Lebanese independence. The Obama administration, as Michael Totten noted, has made clear that it will not sell out Lebanon to reach a deal with Syria or Hezbollah. The Obama administration deserves credit for that stance, which is a continuation of the previous Bush policy which made possible the 2005 Cedar Revolution that forced Syrian troops out of the country.

American support perhaps emboldened some Christian voters to vote for anti-Syrian, anti-Hezbollah candidates. Certainly they rejected the blandishments of Michel Aoun, the Christian candidate who aligned himself with Hezbollah. But it seems like a stretch to claim that Obama’s soothing words in Cairo produced an immediate reaction in Lebanon. Not that that will stop the president’s supporters from claiming magical powers for his rhetoric.

Barack Obama, we know, is a big believer in the power of his words. And there is no doubt he is a persuasive speaker; he wouldn’t have become president otherwise. But is he so influential that by delivering a speech in Cairo he can change the outcome of the elections in Lebanon? That’s what a lot of commentators are claiming.

See, for example, this Cynthia Tucker column: “Obama changed Lebanese minds.” Or this New York Timesnews analysis“: “There were many domestic reasons voters handed an American-backed coalition a victory in Lebanese parliamentary elections on Sunday — but political analysts also attribute it in part to President Obama’s campaign of outreach to the Arab and Muslim world.”

Really? Just by reaching out to the Muslim voters, Obama can make Lebanese voters reject Hezbollah and its allies and vote instead for the pro-Western March 14 coalition? That interpretation seems a bit implausible to me, but just to be sure I queried a couple of Lebanese friends who are both involved in the March 14th movement. One of them wrote back: “Obama’s speech had no effect on the results of the elections, other factors were at play but certainly not Obama’s speech.” Another emailed me:

In fact few of the candidates had the time to follow up on Obama’s speech. Notwithstanding that it was highly covered in the press here in Beirut. Take for example my friend Samy Gemayel who was running for elections and is now an MP, I asked him in one of our talking-points sessions (on Friday 5th ) if he heard Obama’s talk of ‘…religious diversity from the Copts of Egypt to the Maronites of Lebanon…’ and his response was negative. I guess you can multiply this among other candidates who were just too busy being on the ground doing last-minute campaigning.

That is not to say that the posture of the Obama administration was irrelevant to the outcome. Kudos to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden for visiting Beirut and reaffirming their support for Lebanese independence. The Obama administration, as Michael Totten noted, has made clear that it will not sell out Lebanon to reach a deal with Syria or Hezbollah. The Obama administration deserves credit for that stance, which is a continuation of the previous Bush policy which made possible the 2005 Cedar Revolution that forced Syrian troops out of the country.

American support perhaps emboldened some Christian voters to vote for anti-Syrian, anti-Hezbollah candidates. Certainly they rejected the blandishments of Michel Aoun, the Christian candidate who aligned himself with Hezbollah. But it seems like a stretch to claim that Obama’s soothing words in Cairo produced an immediate reaction in Lebanon. Not that that will stop the president’s supporters from claiming magical powers for his rhetoric.

Read Less

Another Try to Rescue Sotomayor

The excuse machine for Sotomayor’s conduct in the Ricci case never rests because it is, of course, one of her greatest liabilities and least justifiable actions on the bench. The latest defense comes from Ruth Marcus, who claims the poor court had no choice, or had a tough choice, because the city either had to discriminate against Frank Ricci or face a “disparate impact” case by aggrieved African American firefighters who would claim the test had a discriminatory impact on them. Nice try, but no.

First, Sotomayor and her colleagues avoided opining on the merits so we don’t know if this was her rationale. If it was, she owed the parties a full explanation. But alas she was bent on denying Ricci a full decision on the merits so she skipped the full explanation, leaving us to wonder what her motives were. (Marcus concedes: “Frank Ricci deserved to have that claim examined more carefully before having his hard-earned promotion summarily set aside.”)

Second, the city never claimed and was never asked to prove that the test was defective and therefore the basis for a claim of disparate impact by the failing African American test-takers crumbles. You simply can’t be permitted to discriminate against one group of people because another group might raise a fuss, albeit a meritless one. (I discuss the analogy to “customer preference” cases here.)

As Stuart Taylor pointed out, the threat of political pressure, not legal liability, seemed to be at the root of the city’s decision:

The panel set aside the anti-discrimination principle on the grounds that New Haven feared (among other things) that promoting the whites “would subject the city to public criticism” and would probably result in a disparate-impact lawsuit by blacks “that, for political reasons, the city did not want to defend.” [Emphasis added.]

Sorry, but “taking heat in the local media” doesn’t  amount to the Hobson’s choice of discriminating against Ricci or facing a disparate impact lawsuit.

In a real sense, the case before Sotomayor was not a disparate impact issue at all. Although there was a theoretical one which might have been brought by the failing firefighters, the actual Ricci case was simply about disparate treatment. “You, whites don’t get your promotion because there are too many of you whites.” That is disparate treatment plain and simple. We generally don’t allow that — and certainly not on some theoretical argument that some of people might raise a fuss. After all, plenty of people raised a fuss when southern restaurants had to open their lunch counters to African Americans.

The bottom line: it’s hard to fathom what Sotomayor was thinking because she didn’t do what judges are supposed to — explain their legal reasoning. But the half-baked efforts to help her aren’t going to do the trick. She’ll need to convince the Senate that she wasn’t engaging in the sort of race preference/identity politics to which groups she affiliated with for years (e.g. La Raza, PRLDEF) have devoted themselves.

The excuse machine for Sotomayor’s conduct in the Ricci case never rests because it is, of course, one of her greatest liabilities and least justifiable actions on the bench. The latest defense comes from Ruth Marcus, who claims the poor court had no choice, or had a tough choice, because the city either had to discriminate against Frank Ricci or face a “disparate impact” case by aggrieved African American firefighters who would claim the test had a discriminatory impact on them. Nice try, but no.

First, Sotomayor and her colleagues avoided opining on the merits so we don’t know if this was her rationale. If it was, she owed the parties a full explanation. But alas she was bent on denying Ricci a full decision on the merits so she skipped the full explanation, leaving us to wonder what her motives were. (Marcus concedes: “Frank Ricci deserved to have that claim examined more carefully before having his hard-earned promotion summarily set aside.”)

Second, the city never claimed and was never asked to prove that the test was defective and therefore the basis for a claim of disparate impact by the failing African American test-takers crumbles. You simply can’t be permitted to discriminate against one group of people because another group might raise a fuss, albeit a meritless one. (I discuss the analogy to “customer preference” cases here.)

As Stuart Taylor pointed out, the threat of political pressure, not legal liability, seemed to be at the root of the city’s decision:

The panel set aside the anti-discrimination principle on the grounds that New Haven feared (among other things) that promoting the whites “would subject the city to public criticism” and would probably result in a disparate-impact lawsuit by blacks “that, for political reasons, the city did not want to defend.” [Emphasis added.]

Sorry, but “taking heat in the local media” doesn’t  amount to the Hobson’s choice of discriminating against Ricci or facing a disparate impact lawsuit.

In a real sense, the case before Sotomayor was not a disparate impact issue at all. Although there was a theoretical one which might have been brought by the failing firefighters, the actual Ricci case was simply about disparate treatment. “You, whites don’t get your promotion because there are too many of you whites.” That is disparate treatment plain and simple. We generally don’t allow that — and certainly not on some theoretical argument that some of people might raise a fuss. After all, plenty of people raised a fuss when southern restaurants had to open their lunch counters to African Americans.

The bottom line: it’s hard to fathom what Sotomayor was thinking because she didn’t do what judges are supposed to — explain their legal reasoning. But the half-baked efforts to help her aren’t going to do the trick. She’ll need to convince the Senate that she wasn’t engaging in the sort of race preference/identity politics to which groups she affiliated with for years (e.g. La Raza, PRLDEF) have devoted themselves.

Read Less

No Divine Victory for Hezbollah

Lebanese voters went to the polls on Sunday and gave Hezbollah an unexpected shellacking. The anti-Syrian “March 14” coalition led by Saad Hariri’s Future Movement won 71 seats in the parliament. The Hezbollah-led “March 8” bloc won 57. Hezbollah itself only has ten seats in Beirut out of 128.

Most observers and analysts were surprised by the March 14 victory, but I could never figure out where Hezbollah’s additional support was supposedly coming from. Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah strapped a suicide bomb vest around his own country when he picked a fight with Israel in 2006. Mounting an armed assault against the capital, as he did last May, was no way to win the hearts and minds of new voters. Until recently, I was certain Hezbollah and its allies had no chance of winning, but they grew so sure of their own propaganda that they managed to persuade even their enemies that they might come out on top. The March 14 side was rattled, and some of their analysts convinced even me that Hezbollah might pull it off. But Hezbollah lost, and Nasrallah conceded.

Syrian dictator Bashar Assad also lost big when his most powerful proxy in Lebanon was rejected by the majority. “So much for Bashar’s ‘imaginary majority,’” wrote Lebanese political analyst Tony Badran, “in spite of all his terrorism, bombing, murder, violence, intimidation, coup attempts and information warfare over the last four years.”

“Sanity prevailed,” an unnamed Obama Administration official said after the results were made official. Indeed, it did. The press may be getting slightly carried away with crediting President Barack Obama’s Cairo speech for the March 14 victory, but Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Beirut recently and said everything that needed to be said before voters went to the polls. Biden rightly warned the Lebanese that American aid to their government and military would be reevaluated if the Hezbollah-led coalition emerged victorious.

The president himself said the United States will “continue to support a sovereign and independent Lebanon, committed to peace, including the full implementation of all United Nations Security Council Resolutions.” Everyone in Lebanon knows exactly what this means. A “sovereign and independent” Lebanon cannot be a vassal of Syria and Iran. “Committed to peace” is a slap against Hezbollah’s interminable armed “resistance” against Israel. The relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions demand the disarmament of every militia in Lebanon – including Hezbollah and those in the Palestinian refugee camps.

Some leftists are kvetching about Obama’s explicitly anti-Hezbollah position. I was slightly worried myself about other potential aspects of the president’s Lebanon policy before it developed, but he deserves support here from conservatives as well as from Democrats who understand that the United States can’t support a terrorist army that says, “Death to America is a policy, a strategy, and a vision.”

Hezbollah, though, has not been banished to the political wilderness, just as the March 14 movement wouldn’t have rolled over and died had it lost. The unstable status quo that produced three wars in the last three years is still in place. Michael Young, opinion page editor of Beirut’s Daily Star, put it this way in a pre-election analysis: “If the opposition wins, Lebanon will indeed enter into a period of long instability. If there is a substantial victory by the March 14 forces, in alliance with so-called independent candidates, you’ll also have a period of instability.”

An election can’t change what Lebanon is. It remains a country with a hybrid identity pulled in two directions at once. A few months ago I spoke to Salim al-Sayegh, Vice President of the Kataeb Party, and asked him what he and his pro-Western comrades would do if Hezbollah won. “We will never accept an identity change,” he told me. “We are all inheritors not only of the Persian Empire and the Arab world. We are also children of the Roman Empire, of the Western tradition.”

Nasrallah says the disarmament of his army is out of the question, and for now he’s right. Hezbollah is more than just a political party, a militia, and a terrorist organization. It is, in effect if not name, the Mediterranean branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. As Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt told me the first time I met him, “the solution is not in Lebanon. The solution is in Tehran.”

I spoke with Jumblatt again recently in his fortress atop Lebanon’s mountains. “Is there any realistic way,” I said, “of either disarming Hezbollah or integrating it within the state and the army? Or will this problem go on and on and on?”

“It will,” he said, “go on and on.”

Lebanese voters went to the polls on Sunday and gave Hezbollah an unexpected shellacking. The anti-Syrian “March 14” coalition led by Saad Hariri’s Future Movement won 71 seats in the parliament. The Hezbollah-led “March 8” bloc won 57. Hezbollah itself only has ten seats in Beirut out of 128.

Most observers and analysts were surprised by the March 14 victory, but I could never figure out where Hezbollah’s additional support was supposedly coming from. Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah strapped a suicide bomb vest around his own country when he picked a fight with Israel in 2006. Mounting an armed assault against the capital, as he did last May, was no way to win the hearts and minds of new voters. Until recently, I was certain Hezbollah and its allies had no chance of winning, but they grew so sure of their own propaganda that they managed to persuade even their enemies that they might come out on top. The March 14 side was rattled, and some of their analysts convinced even me that Hezbollah might pull it off. But Hezbollah lost, and Nasrallah conceded.

Syrian dictator Bashar Assad also lost big when his most powerful proxy in Lebanon was rejected by the majority. “So much for Bashar’s ‘imaginary majority,’” wrote Lebanese political analyst Tony Badran, “in spite of all his terrorism, bombing, murder, violence, intimidation, coup attempts and information warfare over the last four years.”

“Sanity prevailed,” an unnamed Obama Administration official said after the results were made official. Indeed, it did. The press may be getting slightly carried away with crediting President Barack Obama’s Cairo speech for the March 14 victory, but Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Beirut recently and said everything that needed to be said before voters went to the polls. Biden rightly warned the Lebanese that American aid to their government and military would be reevaluated if the Hezbollah-led coalition emerged victorious.

The president himself said the United States will “continue to support a sovereign and independent Lebanon, committed to peace, including the full implementation of all United Nations Security Council Resolutions.” Everyone in Lebanon knows exactly what this means. A “sovereign and independent” Lebanon cannot be a vassal of Syria and Iran. “Committed to peace” is a slap against Hezbollah’s interminable armed “resistance” against Israel. The relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions demand the disarmament of every militia in Lebanon – including Hezbollah and those in the Palestinian refugee camps.

Some leftists are kvetching about Obama’s explicitly anti-Hezbollah position. I was slightly worried myself about other potential aspects of the president’s Lebanon policy before it developed, but he deserves support here from conservatives as well as from Democrats who understand that the United States can’t support a terrorist army that says, “Death to America is a policy, a strategy, and a vision.”

Hezbollah, though, has not been banished to the political wilderness, just as the March 14 movement wouldn’t have rolled over and died had it lost. The unstable status quo that produced three wars in the last three years is still in place. Michael Young, opinion page editor of Beirut’s Daily Star, put it this way in a pre-election analysis: “If the opposition wins, Lebanon will indeed enter into a period of long instability. If there is a substantial victory by the March 14 forces, in alliance with so-called independent candidates, you’ll also have a period of instability.”

An election can’t change what Lebanon is. It remains a country with a hybrid identity pulled in two directions at once. A few months ago I spoke to Salim al-Sayegh, Vice President of the Kataeb Party, and asked him what he and his pro-Western comrades would do if Hezbollah won. “We will never accept an identity change,” he told me. “We are all inheritors not only of the Persian Empire and the Arab world. We are also children of the Roman Empire, of the Western tradition.”

Nasrallah says the disarmament of his army is out of the question, and for now he’s right. Hezbollah is more than just a political party, a militia, and a terrorist organization. It is, in effect if not name, the Mediterranean branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. As Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt told me the first time I met him, “the solution is not in Lebanon. The solution is in Tehran.”

I spoke with Jumblatt again recently in his fortress atop Lebanon’s mountains. “Is there any realistic way,” I said, “of either disarming Hezbollah or integrating it within the state and the army? Or will this problem go on and on and on?”

“It will,” he said, “go on and on.”

Read Less

Crazy Uncle Sam

Mickey Kaus isn’t buying the happy “green” talk that GM will be saved by building mini, enviro-friendly cars:

Environmentalism has become the latest distraction and delusion for Detroit. Chrysler admits that small, fuel efficient FIAT models aren’t going to sell in large numbers–but hey, they’re going to have a “halo effect” that will “burnish” the entire Chrysler line! Chevrolet will only sell a few thousand Volts–but the bicoastal elite appeal of green will suck media-addled buyers into the “reinvented” GM.
No. Detroit cars will sell when they’re bulletproof, not when they’re green (or, in [GM exec Bob] Lutz’s new spin, when they’re made by a company that also sells something “green”). But only one of the Big Three U.S. car manufacturers has made dramatic progress catching up to Japan on the bulletproof front–and it’s not Chrysler or GM.

Now it’s possible Detroit might have gotten obsessed with green cars all on its own and adopted a marketing plan showing no awareness of the public’s buying habits. (Hey, they’ve done it before!) But of course they have to adopt it because this is what their new government overlords want them to do.

GM has been bought by the equivalent of a crazy billionaire who knows nothing about car companies but has billions and so he thinks he knows a lot  about everything. And besides, the crazy billionaire bought the company so every dumb idea popping in his head becomes an official corporate decision. (And unlike the real billionaires out there who get things right more often than not (as evidenced by their success), this crazy billionaire has never made money, runs a hugely inefficient operation, and knows nothing about any kind of business venture.)

The solution? Free GM! Mitt Romney first came up with the idea and now Sen. Lamar Alexander is running with it: make the billionaire give GM stock away, get government out of the decision-making loop, and hope GM management, once freed from the whims of crazy Uncle Sam, can figure out how to make “bulletproof ” cars. As Alexander said: “I think Americans are sick of the idea of the government taking over everything and trying to run it. We don’t know how to run a bank, a car company. .  . And we ought to get rid of it as soon as possible.” GM still might not get it right, but at least it would have a fighting chance.

Mickey Kaus isn’t buying the happy “green” talk that GM will be saved by building mini, enviro-friendly cars:

Environmentalism has become the latest distraction and delusion for Detroit. Chrysler admits that small, fuel efficient FIAT models aren’t going to sell in large numbers–but hey, they’re going to have a “halo effect” that will “burnish” the entire Chrysler line! Chevrolet will only sell a few thousand Volts–but the bicoastal elite appeal of green will suck media-addled buyers into the “reinvented” GM.
No. Detroit cars will sell when they’re bulletproof, not when they’re green (or, in [GM exec Bob] Lutz’s new spin, when they’re made by a company that also sells something “green”). But only one of the Big Three U.S. car manufacturers has made dramatic progress catching up to Japan on the bulletproof front–and it’s not Chrysler or GM.

Now it’s possible Detroit might have gotten obsessed with green cars all on its own and adopted a marketing plan showing no awareness of the public’s buying habits. (Hey, they’ve done it before!) But of course they have to adopt it because this is what their new government overlords want them to do.

GM has been bought by the equivalent of a crazy billionaire who knows nothing about car companies but has billions and so he thinks he knows a lot  about everything. And besides, the crazy billionaire bought the company so every dumb idea popping in his head becomes an official corporate decision. (And unlike the real billionaires out there who get things right more often than not (as evidenced by their success), this crazy billionaire has never made money, runs a hugely inefficient operation, and knows nothing about any kind of business venture.)

The solution? Free GM! Mitt Romney first came up with the idea and now Sen. Lamar Alexander is running with it: make the billionaire give GM stock away, get government out of the decision-making loop, and hope GM management, once freed from the whims of crazy Uncle Sam, can figure out how to make “bulletproof ” cars. As Alexander said: “I think Americans are sick of the idea of the government taking over everything and trying to run it. We don’t know how to run a bank, a car company. .  . And we ought to get rid of it as soon as possible.” GM still might not get it right, but at least it would have a fighting chance.

Read Less

Bibi’s Empire

Shmuel’s post about Netanyahu has it almost right. It is true that in the past, Likud-led governments were willing to risk their own coalitions in order to reach agreements or take other actions that could be perceived as “veering left” — the most notable example being Ariel Sharon’s decision to pull out of Gaza, in defiance not only of his coalition partners but of his own party, and arguably even of the very mandate on which he was elected. And it is true that in all these cases, relations with the U.S. were part of the calculus. But there is something missing in the analysis, which might put the present government in a different situation altogether.

The biggest question that faces any Israeli leader when risking his governing coalition is not how the Americans will like his actions. And it is certainly (alas) not whether they are right or wrong. The biggest question is how the actions will be perceived by the broader electorate — or put another way, whether his party will do better in the next elections if he is perceived as sticking to his right-wing “principles” or alternatively making “bold moves” for peace. Bringing early elections is often seen as a way to take the initiative and try to increase power, not necessarily as a failure or loss of control.

For more than a decade, and really since 1977, the Israeli electorate was deeply divided between “right” and “left” camps. For most of that time, the Likud was seen as the most dovish, or mainstream, party of the right-wing camp. As such, there was frequently a major incentive to appeal to the centrist voters who might be impressed with Likud’s pragmatism and reasonableness compared to the ideologues on the further Right. There was also an incentive to appeal to the left-dominated media, which would continue to portray the leader as a legitimate national figure.

Something shifted with the last election, however. Although we still hear talk of left and right, these terms have become far less meaningful than at any point in the last generation. Ehud Barak has no problem sitting in Bibi’s government, alongside Avigdor Lieberman and the folks on the far-Right. Tzipi Livni, now outflanked on the Left by Barak’s Labor party, is having tremendous difficulty distinguishing herself from the government on either ideological or policy lines. And the entire election ran on a theme not of peace vs. land, but of who will best protect Israelis against violence and international pressure. Indeed, according to a report in today’s Jerusalem Post, on the contentious issue of “natural growth” of settlements, Livni might face a massive mutiny within her own party if she tries to endorse the American position. “The denial of natural growth is not legitimate, not moral, and is anti-Jewish,” said the influential Kadima MK Otniel Schneller, himself a resident of the settlement of Maaleh Michmas. “Nobody can tell my daughters not to have children just because they happen to live in settlements.” And according to IDF radio yesterday (Hebrew link), lifelong dove President Shimon Peres seemed to endorse Netanyahu’s stance against the Americans, saying that the settlements issue “requires serious negotiation, but should not be allowed to dominate the peace process.”

Does this mean that the Obama administration cannot have an impact? Of course it can: by ratcheting up the pressure, a greater number of Israelis will be displeased, and that can affect how they vote next time around. But will they blame Bibi — or Obama? Will American pressure mean that Netanyahu will try to placate disgruntled Israelis on the Left — or that, to the contrary, more Israelis will reflexively turn to a leader perceived as pushing back against the bully? That depends mostly on internal Israeli factors, including whether Bibi can continue to render Livni irrelevant through his partnership with Ehud Barak. So long as that alliance holds, there is no viable alternative to Netanyahu in Israel. And too much American pressure is likely to backfire.

Shmuel’s post about Netanyahu has it almost right. It is true that in the past, Likud-led governments were willing to risk their own coalitions in order to reach agreements or take other actions that could be perceived as “veering left” — the most notable example being Ariel Sharon’s decision to pull out of Gaza, in defiance not only of his coalition partners but of his own party, and arguably even of the very mandate on which he was elected. And it is true that in all these cases, relations with the U.S. were part of the calculus. But there is something missing in the analysis, which might put the present government in a different situation altogether.

The biggest question that faces any Israeli leader when risking his governing coalition is not how the Americans will like his actions. And it is certainly (alas) not whether they are right or wrong. The biggest question is how the actions will be perceived by the broader electorate — or put another way, whether his party will do better in the next elections if he is perceived as sticking to his right-wing “principles” or alternatively making “bold moves” for peace. Bringing early elections is often seen as a way to take the initiative and try to increase power, not necessarily as a failure or loss of control.

For more than a decade, and really since 1977, the Israeli electorate was deeply divided between “right” and “left” camps. For most of that time, the Likud was seen as the most dovish, or mainstream, party of the right-wing camp. As such, there was frequently a major incentive to appeal to the centrist voters who might be impressed with Likud’s pragmatism and reasonableness compared to the ideologues on the further Right. There was also an incentive to appeal to the left-dominated media, which would continue to portray the leader as a legitimate national figure.

Something shifted with the last election, however. Although we still hear talk of left and right, these terms have become far less meaningful than at any point in the last generation. Ehud Barak has no problem sitting in Bibi’s government, alongside Avigdor Lieberman and the folks on the far-Right. Tzipi Livni, now outflanked on the Left by Barak’s Labor party, is having tremendous difficulty distinguishing herself from the government on either ideological or policy lines. And the entire election ran on a theme not of peace vs. land, but of who will best protect Israelis against violence and international pressure. Indeed, according to a report in today’s Jerusalem Post, on the contentious issue of “natural growth” of settlements, Livni might face a massive mutiny within her own party if she tries to endorse the American position. “The denial of natural growth is not legitimate, not moral, and is anti-Jewish,” said the influential Kadima MK Otniel Schneller, himself a resident of the settlement of Maaleh Michmas. “Nobody can tell my daughters not to have children just because they happen to live in settlements.” And according to IDF radio yesterday (Hebrew link), lifelong dove President Shimon Peres seemed to endorse Netanyahu’s stance against the Americans, saying that the settlements issue “requires serious negotiation, but should not be allowed to dominate the peace process.”

Does this mean that the Obama administration cannot have an impact? Of course it can: by ratcheting up the pressure, a greater number of Israelis will be displeased, and that can affect how they vote next time around. But will they blame Bibi — or Obama? Will American pressure mean that Netanyahu will try to placate disgruntled Israelis on the Left — or that, to the contrary, more Israelis will reflexively turn to a leader perceived as pushing back against the bully? That depends mostly on internal Israeli factors, including whether Bibi can continue to render Livni irrelevant through his partnership with Ehud Barak. So long as that alliance holds, there is no viable alternative to Netanyahu in Israel. And too much American pressure is likely to backfire.

Read Less

Bait and Switch

We’ve seen this before: Obama doesn’t want big government but proposes the largest expansion of government since the New Deal. He doesn’t want to run a car company but takes over two of them. Now it is “pay-as-you-go” budgeting (PAYGO) which doesn’t exactly work as it has been billed.

This sounds good:

President Obama called on Congress yesterday to enact pay-as-you-go budget rules to help tame a deficit forecast to top $1.8 trillion this year. But even as some Democrats applauded the plan, others complained that it would give a free pass to expensive policies that would sink the nation trillions of dollars deeper into the red over the next 10 years.

The proposal would bar lawmakers from expanding entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security, creating programs such as universal health coverage or cutting taxes unless they cover the cost by raising taxes or cutting spending elsewhere. If, by year’s end, the White House budget office determined that new initiatives had not been paid for, the president would be required to make across-the-board cuts in entitlement spending.

But then we hear it doesn’t apply to healthcare: “It would carve out about $2.5 trillion worth of exemptions for Obama’s priorities over the next decade. His health care reform plan also would get a green light to run big deficits in its early years. But over a decade, Congress would have to come up with money to cover those early year deficits.”

Okay, this is how it works:

One big difference between Obama’s proposal and the Clinton-era rules, however, is that Obama would exempt an array of expensive policies currently in effect. For example, lawmakers could extend the tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration past their 2010 expiration date, restrain the growth of the alternative-minimum tax and continue to forestall scheduled payment cuts for Medicare physicians without consequence. All told, those policies would increase annual budget deficits by more than $3.5 trillion over the next decade.

Some independent analysts who support PAYGO rules objected to the loophole. “This is like quitting drinking, but making an exception for beer and hard liquor,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

[...]

“The president continues to display a frightening ability to say one thing, yet do the exact opposite,” said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.). “It’s frankly insulting that a president who is on a path to bankrupting our government would try to play the role of fiscal hawk.”

At some point the public gets the idea, as Joe Biden inelegantly put it, someone is getting scammed. Turns out it is the taxpayers and all those who voted for fiscal sobriety.

We’ve seen this before: Obama doesn’t want big government but proposes the largest expansion of government since the New Deal. He doesn’t want to run a car company but takes over two of them. Now it is “pay-as-you-go” budgeting (PAYGO) which doesn’t exactly work as it has been billed.

This sounds good:

President Obama called on Congress yesterday to enact pay-as-you-go budget rules to help tame a deficit forecast to top $1.8 trillion this year. But even as some Democrats applauded the plan, others complained that it would give a free pass to expensive policies that would sink the nation trillions of dollars deeper into the red over the next 10 years.

The proposal would bar lawmakers from expanding entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security, creating programs such as universal health coverage or cutting taxes unless they cover the cost by raising taxes or cutting spending elsewhere. If, by year’s end, the White House budget office determined that new initiatives had not been paid for, the president would be required to make across-the-board cuts in entitlement spending.

But then we hear it doesn’t apply to healthcare: “It would carve out about $2.5 trillion worth of exemptions for Obama’s priorities over the next decade. His health care reform plan also would get a green light to run big deficits in its early years. But over a decade, Congress would have to come up with money to cover those early year deficits.”

Okay, this is how it works:

One big difference between Obama’s proposal and the Clinton-era rules, however, is that Obama would exempt an array of expensive policies currently in effect. For example, lawmakers could extend the tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration past their 2010 expiration date, restrain the growth of the alternative-minimum tax and continue to forestall scheduled payment cuts for Medicare physicians without consequence. All told, those policies would increase annual budget deficits by more than $3.5 trillion over the next decade.

Some independent analysts who support PAYGO rules objected to the loophole. “This is like quitting drinking, but making an exception for beer and hard liquor,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

[...]

“The president continues to display a frightening ability to say one thing, yet do the exact opposite,” said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.). “It’s frankly insulting that a president who is on a path to bankrupting our government would try to play the role of fiscal hawk.”

At some point the public gets the idea, as Joe Biden inelegantly put it, someone is getting scammed. Turns out it is the taxpayers and all those who voted for fiscal sobriety.

Read Less

The Obama Administration’s Treaty Priorities

The administration recently released its Treaty Priority List, designating the treaties for which it supports – and those for which it does not support – Senate action.  As is to be expected, the news is mixed.

Encouragingly, the U.S.-U.K. Defense Trade Cooperation Treaty, and its U.S.-Australia counterpart, is on the list. Dr. Liam Fox, the British Shadow Secretary of State for Defense, will be holding an event in support of the U.S.-U.K. treaty in Washington later this month.  I have written at some length on this Treaty, which enjoys
bipartisan British backing.  Also, interestingly, the administration is not backing the Protocol II additions to the Geneva Convention, which would scupper their plans for the GITMO detainees.

Of course, the news is hardly all good.  The administration supports the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and other Related Materials, and the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, among others.

And the “others” list is extensive, running from a tax treaty with Malta to the “Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade,” to the “Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels.”  Take a moment to cast your eye across the List and see if there’s anything worrying, or encouraging, coming along in your areas of interest.

To my mind, there’s one real surprise: the absence of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child from the List. As I pointed out in March, this looked to be an administration priority.  It was certainly a priority of Sen. Boxer (D-CA).  But it’s gone by the boards, not only unsupported by the administration but not even mentioned by it. Along with the defense trade treaties and the refusal to back the Protocol II additions, this is encouraging stuff from the State Department.  Sure, it’s worse than it should be, but it’s better than I expected.

The administration recently released its Treaty Priority List, designating the treaties for which it supports – and those for which it does not support – Senate action.  As is to be expected, the news is mixed.

Encouragingly, the U.S.-U.K. Defense Trade Cooperation Treaty, and its U.S.-Australia counterpart, is on the list. Dr. Liam Fox, the British Shadow Secretary of State for Defense, will be holding an event in support of the U.S.-U.K. treaty in Washington later this month.  I have written at some length on this Treaty, which enjoys
bipartisan British backing.  Also, interestingly, the administration is not backing the Protocol II additions to the Geneva Convention, which would scupper their plans for the GITMO detainees.

Of course, the news is hardly all good.  The administration supports the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and other Related Materials, and the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, among others.

And the “others” list is extensive, running from a tax treaty with Malta to the “Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade,” to the “Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels.”  Take a moment to cast your eye across the List and see if there’s anything worrying, or encouraging, coming along in your areas of interest.

To my mind, there’s one real surprise: the absence of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child from the List. As I pointed out in March, this looked to be an administration priority.  It was certainly a priority of Sen. Boxer (D-CA).  But it’s gone by the boards, not only unsupported by the administration but not even mentioned by it. Along with the defense trade treaties and the refusal to back the Protocol II additions, this is encouraging stuff from the State Department.  Sure, it’s worse than it should be, but it’s better than I expected.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Mary Landrieu is the first Red State Senate Democrat to announce a firm “no” on the public option for healthcare. What, she doesn’t think voters in 2010 would reward her for taking over 17% of the economy? The public option could become as toxic as card check — the more people know, the less they like it.

Michael O’Hanlon on defense spending: “After three months of very impressive decisions regarding national security, President Obama made perhaps his first significant mistake. It concerns the defense budget, where his plans are insufficient to support the national security establishment over the next five years. Thankfully, this mistake can be fixed before it causes big harm — either by Congress this year or the administration itself next year.”

Kevin Hassett: “I’ve finally figured out the Obama economic strategy. President Barack Obama and his team have been having so much fun wielding dictatorial power while rescuing ‘failed’ firms, that they have developed a scheme to gain the same power over every business. The plan is to enact policies that are so anticompetitive that every firm needs a bailout.” He focuses on the end of the deferral of multinational taxation. But it’s equally true of cap-and-trade, nationalized healthcare, and the Employee Free Choice Act. Almost like they don’t believe in free market capitalism, huh?

Megan McArdle on a potential plan to regulate non-TARP banks’ compensation: “Maybe Uncle Sam will discover the perfect scheme that has so far eluded everyone else.  But we’d probably get a better return on their mental effort if we had them figure out how to turn lead into gold. . . But this feels more like a trial balloon than a fleshed out plan, so for now, I’ll hold off on the capitalist panic.”

The Supreme Court declines to stop Chrysler’s secured creditors from being run over by the Obama and UAW juggernaut.

The New York Times is out to get Michael Bloomberg with some blatant poll massaging.

Marty Peretz finds further proof the Obama administration has thrown in the towel on stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Listening to Hillary Clinton’s threats of retaliation should Iran strike Israel with nuclear weapons, Peretz concludes: “So instead of her forcing Iran to look at the consequences of building nuclear weapons she has them thinking about whether, when they have an atomic arsenal– they will really attack the Jewish state.  Which the president of Iran has said he would.”

Ron Kampeas (who often seems much more concerned with attacking Republicans’ motives than with covering Israel) is annoyed again: this time it’s about the Republican Jewish Coalition raising the question as to whether the Obama administration is adhering to past understandings regarding Israeli settlements. Let me make it easy: have the Obama administration stop dancing and spell out what its position is with regard to prior commitments made by the Bush administration. As soon as the Obama administration — what is the phrase? — starts saying the same thing in public that it does in private we’ll know if it is reneging on prior agreements, denying they exist or simply seeing how far it can push Israel around as part of its Muslim charm offensive.

Money doesn’t buy you everything: Terry McAuliffe gets whipped, Creigh Deeds is the Democratic nominee in the Virginia gubernatorial race and it will be an interesting battle between Deeds and Republican Bob McDonnell, suggesting that Virginia isn’t very Blue after all: “The Virginia battle also should quiet pundits who thought the commonwealth was turning into a deep blue Democratic state. Both men have conservative credentials — Deeds has in the past been endorsed by the National Rifle Association — and both will have to work to build connections to Northern Virginia, home to most of the state’s voters.”

Camille Paglia: “Within the U.S., the Obama presidency will be mainly measured by the success or failure of his economic policies. And here, I fear, the monstrous stimulus package with which this administration stumbled out of the gate will prove to be Obama’s Waterloo. All the backtracking and spin doctoring in the world will not erase that major blunder, which made the new president seem reckless, naive and out of control of his own party, which was in effect dictating to him from Capitol Hill.”

Mary Landrieu is the first Red State Senate Democrat to announce a firm “no” on the public option for healthcare. What, she doesn’t think voters in 2010 would reward her for taking over 17% of the economy? The public option could become as toxic as card check — the more people know, the less they like it.

Michael O’Hanlon on defense spending: “After three months of very impressive decisions regarding national security, President Obama made perhaps his first significant mistake. It concerns the defense budget, where his plans are insufficient to support the national security establishment over the next five years. Thankfully, this mistake can be fixed before it causes big harm — either by Congress this year or the administration itself next year.”

Kevin Hassett: “I’ve finally figured out the Obama economic strategy. President Barack Obama and his team have been having so much fun wielding dictatorial power while rescuing ‘failed’ firms, that they have developed a scheme to gain the same power over every business. The plan is to enact policies that are so anticompetitive that every firm needs a bailout.” He focuses on the end of the deferral of multinational taxation. But it’s equally true of cap-and-trade, nationalized healthcare, and the Employee Free Choice Act. Almost like they don’t believe in free market capitalism, huh?

Megan McArdle on a potential plan to regulate non-TARP banks’ compensation: “Maybe Uncle Sam will discover the perfect scheme that has so far eluded everyone else.  But we’d probably get a better return on their mental effort if we had them figure out how to turn lead into gold. . . But this feels more like a trial balloon than a fleshed out plan, so for now, I’ll hold off on the capitalist panic.”

The Supreme Court declines to stop Chrysler’s secured creditors from being run over by the Obama and UAW juggernaut.

The New York Times is out to get Michael Bloomberg with some blatant poll massaging.

Marty Peretz finds further proof the Obama administration has thrown in the towel on stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Listening to Hillary Clinton’s threats of retaliation should Iran strike Israel with nuclear weapons, Peretz concludes: “So instead of her forcing Iran to look at the consequences of building nuclear weapons she has them thinking about whether, when they have an atomic arsenal– they will really attack the Jewish state.  Which the president of Iran has said he would.”

Ron Kampeas (who often seems much more concerned with attacking Republicans’ motives than with covering Israel) is annoyed again: this time it’s about the Republican Jewish Coalition raising the question as to whether the Obama administration is adhering to past understandings regarding Israeli settlements. Let me make it easy: have the Obama administration stop dancing and spell out what its position is with regard to prior commitments made by the Bush administration. As soon as the Obama administration — what is the phrase? — starts saying the same thing in public that it does in private we’ll know if it is reneging on prior agreements, denying they exist or simply seeing how far it can push Israel around as part of its Muslim charm offensive.

Money doesn’t buy you everything: Terry McAuliffe gets whipped, Creigh Deeds is the Democratic nominee in the Virginia gubernatorial race and it will be an interesting battle between Deeds and Republican Bob McDonnell, suggesting that Virginia isn’t very Blue after all: “The Virginia battle also should quiet pundits who thought the commonwealth was turning into a deep blue Democratic state. Both men have conservative credentials — Deeds has in the past been endorsed by the National Rifle Association — and both will have to work to build connections to Northern Virginia, home to most of the state’s voters.”

Camille Paglia: “Within the U.S., the Obama presidency will be mainly measured by the success or failure of his economic policies. And here, I fear, the monstrous stimulus package with which this administration stumbled out of the gate will prove to be Obama’s Waterloo. All the backtracking and spin doctoring in the world will not erase that major blunder, which made the new president seem reckless, naive and out of control of his own party, which was in effect dictating to him from Capitol Hill.”

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.