Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 22, 2009

Out There in America

From a vantage point thousands of miles outside the Beltway and with a less exacting focus on political events (as most Americans observe the news) over the last week, I cannot help but agree with pollster/analyst Charlie Cook (no partisan conservative), who noted that “the situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and Congressional Democrats.” It is not simply the continued slide in the president’s poll numbers. It is not only that his standing among independents has collapsed. And it is not just the obvious disarray among Democrats or the fury building on the Left over his handling of health care.

What has coalesced, it seems, over the past week is the perception that Obama is angry, panicky, and without a game plan, and that his critics no longer cower. In short, out there something has changed: opposition and criticism of the president is everywhere—in mainstream media, in casual conversation, and in local press. The assumption that Obama knows best has been shattered, and the perception sinking in among the pundit class and ordinary voters (some of whom were quite favorably disposed to him before the health-care debate) is that the president is out of touch and just plain wrong when it comes to his desire to reinvent health care for 300 million Americans. In sum, it’s become “in” to criticize, quite openly and vehemently, Obama on his signature initiative.

It remains to be seen whether this is a Katrina-like event—a tipping point after which the public simply tunes out their president. Recent history is filled with examples of course corrections and presidents who regained their effectiveness and political domination after a serious legislative setback. Bill Clinton comes to mind. But given this president’s extraordinarily high self-regard, it remains an open question whether Obama is capable of—what’s the phrase?—self-reflection. Is he able to see that he’s lost the respect and the trust of the public and that it may be time to rethink not just the public option but the entire conception of health care as well?

Martha’s Vineyard isn’t exactly a prime spot to recover perspective, but maybe the time off will be put to good use. And if that doesn’t do the trick, he might try vacationing around the country, listening to tourists and reading local newspapers. That’d be a wake-up call, I can attest.

From a vantage point thousands of miles outside the Beltway and with a less exacting focus on political events (as most Americans observe the news) over the last week, I cannot help but agree with pollster/analyst Charlie Cook (no partisan conservative), who noted that “the situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and Congressional Democrats.” It is not simply the continued slide in the president’s poll numbers. It is not only that his standing among independents has collapsed. And it is not just the obvious disarray among Democrats or the fury building on the Left over his handling of health care.

What has coalesced, it seems, over the past week is the perception that Obama is angry, panicky, and without a game plan, and that his critics no longer cower. In short, out there something has changed: opposition and criticism of the president is everywhere—in mainstream media, in casual conversation, and in local press. The assumption that Obama knows best has been shattered, and the perception sinking in among the pundit class and ordinary voters (some of whom were quite favorably disposed to him before the health-care debate) is that the president is out of touch and just plain wrong when it comes to his desire to reinvent health care for 300 million Americans. In sum, it’s become “in” to criticize, quite openly and vehemently, Obama on his signature initiative.

It remains to be seen whether this is a Katrina-like event—a tipping point after which the public simply tunes out their president. Recent history is filled with examples of course corrections and presidents who regained their effectiveness and political domination after a serious legislative setback. Bill Clinton comes to mind. But given this president’s extraordinarily high self-regard, it remains an open question whether Obama is capable of—what’s the phrase?—self-reflection. Is he able to see that he’s lost the respect and the trust of the public and that it may be time to rethink not just the public option but the entire conception of health care as well?

Martha’s Vineyard isn’t exactly a prime spot to recover perspective, but maybe the time off will be put to good use. And if that doesn’t do the trick, he might try vacationing around the country, listening to tourists and reading local newspapers. That’d be a wake-up call, I can attest.

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Joe Stork Responds

You have to give Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch little bit of credit for showing his face again, given what was revealed about him last week in Ma’ariv. But his response to the revelations of his shocking support for the terrorist assaults on the Israeli athletes in Munich is deceptive and frivolous. He admits nothing and dismisses his own damning writings as having exceeded an imaginary statute of limitations: “The quotes [Ma'ariv] attributes to me are more than 30 years old. Most of them I do not recognize.” Note he does not deny having said them.

Stork’s main charge is that his detractors are “shooting the messenger.” His full letter is here. (H/t Martin Solomon.) Joe Stork, alas, is not merely a messenger for Human Rights Watch. He is the group’s second-highest-ranking Middle East official. He oversaw every aspect of its report claiming Israeli abuses during the Gaza incursion, especially the hawking of its incendiary conclusions on every television and radio broadcast that would have him. Stork relishes saying that he is a martyr to the cause of truth-telling about Israel. But questioning his credibility and professionalism has nothing to do with messenger-shooting and everything to do with the substance of Stork’s work.

The past few weeks have been bad ones for Human Rights Watch, and deservedly so. The group is undergoing a Wizard of Oz moment as the curtain is pulled back to reveal the tawdry reality behind all the glossy reports, press conferences, and professions of great concern for the world’s downtrodden. Behind this facade is little more than a small and distinctly smelly group of political fanatics whose careers have shared one big thing in common: an intense animosity toward Israel.

You have to give Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch little bit of credit for showing his face again, given what was revealed about him last week in Ma’ariv. But his response to the revelations of his shocking support for the terrorist assaults on the Israeli athletes in Munich is deceptive and frivolous. He admits nothing and dismisses his own damning writings as having exceeded an imaginary statute of limitations: “The quotes [Ma'ariv] attributes to me are more than 30 years old. Most of them I do not recognize.” Note he does not deny having said them.

Stork’s main charge is that his detractors are “shooting the messenger.” His full letter is here. (H/t Martin Solomon.) Joe Stork, alas, is not merely a messenger for Human Rights Watch. He is the group’s second-highest-ranking Middle East official. He oversaw every aspect of its report claiming Israeli abuses during the Gaza incursion, especially the hawking of its incendiary conclusions on every television and radio broadcast that would have him. Stork relishes saying that he is a martyr to the cause of truth-telling about Israel. But questioning his credibility and professionalism has nothing to do with messenger-shooting and everything to do with the substance of Stork’s work.

The past few weeks have been bad ones for Human Rights Watch, and deservedly so. The group is undergoing a Wizard of Oz moment as the curtain is pulled back to reveal the tawdry reality behind all the glossy reports, press conferences, and professions of great concern for the world’s downtrodden. Behind this facade is little more than a small and distinctly smelly group of political fanatics whose careers have shared one big thing in common: an intense animosity toward Israel.

Read Less




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