Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 28, 2009

It Never Works Out

Florida Governor Charlie Crist named his former chief of staff George LeMieux, dubbed his “political shadow,” to fill the Senate vacancy left by the resignation of Mel Martinez. Marco Rubio, Crist’s primary opponent in his Senate bid, doesn’t like it, arguing that there was a “wealth of consistent and principled conservative candidates” that could have filled the slot.

This continues the problematic string of Senate vacancies that have bedeviled the governors charged with filling them. New York’s David Paterson got himself ensnared in the Caroline Kennedy disastrous non-run for the Senate. Blago is facing a criminal trial over his scheme to “get something” for Obama’s open seat. Joe Biden’s seat went to his political ally in an effort to keep the seat warm for Biden’s son. And on it goes. Inevitably, it seems, things don’t turn out as planned, and at least some faction is disappointed as governors try to balance multiple concerns—in Crist’s case, not upstaging his own Senate race and emphasizing his weakness in the primary: insufficient conservative bona fides to satisfy the Republican base.

Perhaps states would do better to have elections (and not, as in Massachusetts, change the rules depending on the party in power). That would save the nation’s governors a lot of headaches.

Florida Governor Charlie Crist named his former chief of staff George LeMieux, dubbed his “political shadow,” to fill the Senate vacancy left by the resignation of Mel Martinez. Marco Rubio, Crist’s primary opponent in his Senate bid, doesn’t like it, arguing that there was a “wealth of consistent and principled conservative candidates” that could have filled the slot.

This continues the problematic string of Senate vacancies that have bedeviled the governors charged with filling them. New York’s David Paterson got himself ensnared in the Caroline Kennedy disastrous non-run for the Senate. Blago is facing a criminal trial over his scheme to “get something” for Obama’s open seat. Joe Biden’s seat went to his political ally in an effort to keep the seat warm for Biden’s son. And on it goes. Inevitably, it seems, things don’t turn out as planned, and at least some faction is disappointed as governors try to balance multiple concerns—in Crist’s case, not upstaging his own Senate race and emphasizing his weakness in the primary: insufficient conservative bona fides to satisfy the Republican base.

Perhaps states would do better to have elections (and not, as in Massachusetts, change the rules depending on the party in power). That would save the nation’s governors a lot of headaches.

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Try That in Georgia

It seems that the Democrats in Massachusetts are about to amend the Senate succession law—revised at Democrats’ behest just five years ago—to allow the governor to appoint a seat warmer for Ted Kennedy until the special election can be held in January 2010. A voting-rights guru sends me this interesting observation:

Of course, Massachusetts governors used to appoint replacements until the Democratic majority in the state assembly changed the law in 2004 to require an election for purely political reasons—they wanted to avoid having Republican Governor Mitt Romney fill John Kerry’s seat if Kerry managed to get elected president. The irony is that while Ted Kennedy is being heralded today as a champion of the civil-rights movement and the Voting Rights Act, he was proposing something that would be impossible for state legislatures to do in Southern states covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. If Alabama or Georgia tried to change from an elected to an appointed process, the Justice Department would be up in arms and strenuously objecting under the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act that require those states to get all of their voting changes preapproved by Justice. The Justice Department would consider such a change discriminatory and intended to negatively impact the rights of voters, particularly minority voters. But then Massachusetts is not covered by those special provisions that Kennedy championed, so acting in such an undemocratic and discriminatory manner in his home state to preserve the feudal holdings of his party’s leadership was perfectly acceptable.

One of the many instances of Kennedy-inspired rules—for the other guys.

It seems that the Democrats in Massachusetts are about to amend the Senate succession law—revised at Democrats’ behest just five years ago—to allow the governor to appoint a seat warmer for Ted Kennedy until the special election can be held in January 2010. A voting-rights guru sends me this interesting observation:

Of course, Massachusetts governors used to appoint replacements until the Democratic majority in the state assembly changed the law in 2004 to require an election for purely political reasons—they wanted to avoid having Republican Governor Mitt Romney fill John Kerry’s seat if Kerry managed to get elected president. The irony is that while Ted Kennedy is being heralded today as a champion of the civil-rights movement and the Voting Rights Act, he was proposing something that would be impossible for state legislatures to do in Southern states covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. If Alabama or Georgia tried to change from an elected to an appointed process, the Justice Department would be up in arms and strenuously objecting under the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act that require those states to get all of their voting changes preapproved by Justice. The Justice Department would consider such a change discriminatory and intended to negatively impact the rights of voters, particularly minority voters. But then Massachusetts is not covered by those special provisions that Kennedy championed, so acting in such an undemocratic and discriminatory manner in his home state to preserve the feudal holdings of his party’s leadership was perfectly acceptable.

One of the many instances of Kennedy-inspired rules—for the other guys.

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NYT Calls on Terror Regime to Stop Accidentally Terrorizing People

The Times editorializes today on abuses in the Iranian prison system, and it is one of those pieces in which you can’t tell whether the writer is dense or stupid:

Iran’s Constitution and law prohibit torture; however, the 2008 State Department human rights report cites numerous credible reports over the years in which security forces and prison personnel tortured prisoners.

The government should be ferreting out and putting an end to these abuses.

One could attempt to take this seriously and ask, Why would the government “ferret out” and “put an end” to the very brutality by which it keeps itself in power? This is like saying to a mafia boss, “You should ferret out the people in your organization who are involved in stealing, bribery, and extortion, and put an end to these abuses.” Seriously?

But this is a long tradition on the Left. It works like this: if you want to call attention to the atrocious behavior of a group of thugs or terrorists, you have to be respectful and pretend that the thuggery and terrorism were accidents of bureaucratic oversight or inattention.

When Hezbollah was shooting up Beirut last summer, Barack Obama put out a memorable statement on the crisis that fit this model perfectly:

This effort to undermine Lebanon’s elected government needs to stop, and all those who have influence with Hezbollah must press them to stand down immediately.

Just as the Times seems to think that the systematic rape and torture of prisoners in Iran is being conducted in the absence of regime approval, Obama portrayed Hezbollah as somehow engaged in major hostilities in Lebanon without the approval of Iran and Syria. Another fine example is Human Rights Watch, which in 2008 sent a letter to the Hamas leadership saying:

We ask that you publicly and unequivocally call on the military wing of your organization, the Qassam Brigades, and any other groups or individuals acting on behalf of Hamas . . . to desist from any attacks or acts of reprisal that deliberately target civilians, or cause them disproportionate harm.

Foreign policy is so much easier when everyone involved has good intentions.

The Times editorializes today on abuses in the Iranian prison system, and it is one of those pieces in which you can’t tell whether the writer is dense or stupid:

Iran’s Constitution and law prohibit torture; however, the 2008 State Department human rights report cites numerous credible reports over the years in which security forces and prison personnel tortured prisoners.

The government should be ferreting out and putting an end to these abuses.

One could attempt to take this seriously and ask, Why would the government “ferret out” and “put an end” to the very brutality by which it keeps itself in power? This is like saying to a mafia boss, “You should ferret out the people in your organization who are involved in stealing, bribery, and extortion, and put an end to these abuses.” Seriously?

But this is a long tradition on the Left. It works like this: if you want to call attention to the atrocious behavior of a group of thugs or terrorists, you have to be respectful and pretend that the thuggery and terrorism were accidents of bureaucratic oversight or inattention.

When Hezbollah was shooting up Beirut last summer, Barack Obama put out a memorable statement on the crisis that fit this model perfectly:

This effort to undermine Lebanon’s elected government needs to stop, and all those who have influence with Hezbollah must press them to stand down immediately.

Just as the Times seems to think that the systematic rape and torture of prisoners in Iran is being conducted in the absence of regime approval, Obama portrayed Hezbollah as somehow engaged in major hostilities in Lebanon without the approval of Iran and Syria. Another fine example is Human Rights Watch, which in 2008 sent a letter to the Hamas leadership saying:

We ask that you publicly and unequivocally call on the military wing of your organization, the Qassam Brigades, and any other groups or individuals acting on behalf of Hamas . . . to desist from any attacks or acts of reprisal that deliberately target civilians, or cause them disproportionate harm.

Foreign policy is so much easier when everyone involved has good intentions.

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A White Cadillac, Manuel Zelaya, the State Department, and Iran

Garry Marshall tells a funny anecdote in his autobiography, “Wake Me When It’s Funny,” about the time, after he had become a television success, that he asked his parents what their dreams were, so he could make one come true. He went first to his father, who said he had always dreamed of having a white Cadillac. Marshall told him, “Okay, you’ve got it.”

Then I went to my mother and said, “Mom, I’m doing well, and I want to give you one of your dreams. Pop said his dream is to own a white Cadillac. What’s yours?”

Without a moment’s hesitation, she said, “My dream is that your father doesn’t get the white Cadillac.”

I thought of this anecdote when reading the transcript of the State Department background conference call earlier this week by “Senior State Department Official One” about the efforts, backed by the Obama administration, to have the successor Honduran government accept the “San Jose Accord” to bring Hugo Chavez pal Manuel Zelaya back as president:

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Our understanding is — the main point that is facing all the resistance from the de facto government is a sentence that says: The return of President Zelaya to finish out his term.

QUESTION: Okay. And do — and did they propose anything? I mean, did the de facto government say, okay —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: They proposed that he not return.

I am predicting that Zelaya will not get the white Cadillac.

A reporter asked Senior State Department Official One (SSDOO) if the U.S. might consider not recognizing the winner of the Honduran presidential election in November as a mechanism to pressure the Honduran government to accept the San Jose Accord. SSDOO said that, indeed, the State Department was reviewing that option, among others, although no determination had been made.

For the Obama administration to consider not recognizing the results of the Honduran election, simply to force Honduras to allow Zelaya to return to office for a few months, gainsaying the Honduran Supreme Court’s decision last week, must mean that the administration takes the situation quite seriously. It did not consider this option even in connection with the somewhat more suspect presidential election in Iran.

Garry Marshall tells a funny anecdote in his autobiography, “Wake Me When It’s Funny,” about the time, after he had become a television success, that he asked his parents what their dreams were, so he could make one come true. He went first to his father, who said he had always dreamed of having a white Cadillac. Marshall told him, “Okay, you’ve got it.”

Then I went to my mother and said, “Mom, I’m doing well, and I want to give you one of your dreams. Pop said his dream is to own a white Cadillac. What’s yours?”

Without a moment’s hesitation, she said, “My dream is that your father doesn’t get the white Cadillac.”

I thought of this anecdote when reading the transcript of the State Department background conference call earlier this week by “Senior State Department Official One” about the efforts, backed by the Obama administration, to have the successor Honduran government accept the “San Jose Accord” to bring Hugo Chavez pal Manuel Zelaya back as president:

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Our understanding is — the main point that is facing all the resistance from the de facto government is a sentence that says: The return of President Zelaya to finish out his term.

QUESTION: Okay. And do — and did they propose anything? I mean, did the de facto government say, okay —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: They proposed that he not return.

I am predicting that Zelaya will not get the white Cadillac.

A reporter asked Senior State Department Official One (SSDOO) if the U.S. might consider not recognizing the winner of the Honduran presidential election in November as a mechanism to pressure the Honduran government to accept the San Jose Accord. SSDOO said that, indeed, the State Department was reviewing that option, among others, although no determination had been made.

For the Obama administration to consider not recognizing the results of the Honduran election, simply to force Honduras to allow Zelaya to return to office for a few months, gainsaying the Honduran Supreme Court’s decision last week, must mean that the administration takes the situation quite seriously. It did not consider this option even in connection with the somewhat more suspect presidential election in Iran.

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Who’s Able to Change?

Michael Kinsley is full of invective for the citizens, pundits, and politicians who oppose ObamaCare. We are, he tells us, like “spoiled children.” We are filled with misinformation. We don’t know what’s good for us or what we want. (It’s getting to the point where being on the enemies list for ObamaCare is becoming cool—the Right’s badge of honor, as Nixon’s enemies list was for the Left.) But he does get one thing right: Americans aren’t up for a huge change in the way they get health care. The vast majority of voters, remember, have health care they like. It was Obama and the congressional Democrats who came up with the idea that we had to destroy the existing system and start all over.

A few points are in order. First, Americans are opposed to ObamaCare not because of irrational fears cooked up by talk-show hosts but because they have figured out what’s in it. Seniors figured out that hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare cuts might impact their care. The notion of “comparative effectiveness” research and government interference with treatment decisions have rightly alarmed voters. (Remember when liberals used to be concerned about personal autonomy and medical privacy?) And the looming costs and gargantuan deficit figures have freaked out Republicans, independents, and a good number of Democrats.

Second, the Obama administration, by Kinsley’s reckoning, is guilty of political malpractice if they can’t, with all their communication and political advantages, get us to understand what a great deal this is. It’s almost as if the bigger the project, the more incompetently politicians handle it. Yes, if they can’t handle the sales job on nationalized health care, maybe they aren’t up for the health-care part either.

And finally, Kinsley’s right: Obama ran as a moderate in a center-right country and has embarked on a radical agenda to reinvent everything about everything. The recession was going to lower our resistance to change. It didn’t. Americans are not politically radical; the president’s agenda is. Hence, the problem.

One would think that the solution would be some modest health-care reforms focusing on portability and insurance pools for small business, for example. Wouldn’t modest change be less scary and more acceptable to those easily frightened voters? But then Obama would have to change. He’d have to rethink his government-centric vision of health care and just about every other aspect of his domestic agenda. That may be a problem. He wanted Americans to change. Now that they won’t—at least not in the sweeping fashion he had hoped—we’ll see how flexible he is.

Michael Kinsley is full of invective for the citizens, pundits, and politicians who oppose ObamaCare. We are, he tells us, like “spoiled children.” We are filled with misinformation. We don’t know what’s good for us or what we want. (It’s getting to the point where being on the enemies list for ObamaCare is becoming cool—the Right’s badge of honor, as Nixon’s enemies list was for the Left.) But he does get one thing right: Americans aren’t up for a huge change in the way they get health care. The vast majority of voters, remember, have health care they like. It was Obama and the congressional Democrats who came up with the idea that we had to destroy the existing system and start all over.

A few points are in order. First, Americans are opposed to ObamaCare not because of irrational fears cooked up by talk-show hosts but because they have figured out what’s in it. Seniors figured out that hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare cuts might impact their care. The notion of “comparative effectiveness” research and government interference with treatment decisions have rightly alarmed voters. (Remember when liberals used to be concerned about personal autonomy and medical privacy?) And the looming costs and gargantuan deficit figures have freaked out Republicans, independents, and a good number of Democrats.

Second, the Obama administration, by Kinsley’s reckoning, is guilty of political malpractice if they can’t, with all their communication and political advantages, get us to understand what a great deal this is. It’s almost as if the bigger the project, the more incompetently politicians handle it. Yes, if they can’t handle the sales job on nationalized health care, maybe they aren’t up for the health-care part either.

And finally, Kinsley’s right: Obama ran as a moderate in a center-right country and has embarked on a radical agenda to reinvent everything about everything. The recession was going to lower our resistance to change. It didn’t. Americans are not politically radical; the president’s agenda is. Hence, the problem.

One would think that the solution would be some modest health-care reforms focusing on portability and insurance pools for small business, for example. Wouldn’t modest change be less scary and more acceptable to those easily frightened voters? But then Obama would have to change. He’d have to rethink his government-centric vision of health care and just about every other aspect of his domestic agenda. That may be a problem. He wanted Americans to change. Now that they won’t—at least not in the sweeping fashion he had hoped—we’ll see how flexible he is.

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Déjà Vu Diplomacy

The day before George Mitchell met with Benjamin Netanyahu in London this week, in the continuing effort to meet Palestinian preconditions for new final-status negotiations, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced a plan to create a Palestinian state within two years—“regardless of progress in the stalled peace negotiations with Israel.”

For those familiar with the history of the peace process, the Palestinian announcement and its timing provided a sense of déjà vu.

In the spring of 1998, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was stalled. Prime Minister Netanyahu was seeking “reciprocity” from the Palestinians before further Israeli withdrawals from West Bank territory. Arafat was offering the umpteenth Palestinian promise to “crack down” on terrorism and agreed—“in principle”—to produce a detailed security plan in exchange for a further Israeli withdrawal that met his demands and a move to final-status negotiations.

That was good enough for the State Department, which turned to Netanyahu and told him it needed a “second yes.” Netanyahu raised concerns about the scope of the withdrawal—and Arafat threatened a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. On April 28, 1998, Hanan Ashrawi, then the Palestinian minister of higher education, spoke at the National Press Club in Washington and said Palestinians would declare statehood in one year regardless of where the peace process then stood.

At the time, no American administration had ever endorsed a Palestinian state. A week later, as Dennis Ross was traveling to Israel to meet with Netanyahu, Hillary Clinton spoke (via satellite hookup arranged by the State Department) to Arab and Israeli teenagers attending a “peace summit” in Switzerland. In response to a student who asked about her use of the word Palestine, Hillary used the word state nine times, saying it would be “very important” for “Palestine to be a state.” In case Israel missed the significance of her words, the American embassy in Tel Aviv immediately released a report entitled “Hillary Clinton: Eventual Palestinian State Important for Mideast Peace.”

The White House said she was “not reflecting any administration policy”—only a “personal view.” But William Safire wrote in the New York Times that the explanation was “laughably implausible” and was “a calculated move by both Clintons to ratchet up the pressure on Israel” by warning that American policy might change if Netanyahu did not promptly move the process forward.

Now flash forward 11 years. A U.S. peace negotiator travels to meet with the Israeli prime minister to seek his concurrence in the latest Palestinian demands regarding final-status negotiations. The Palestinian “peace partner” announces a plan for a Palestinian state within two years without a peace agreement. The American consul general in Jerusalem, alerted ahead of time, tells the New York Times it is the first time he has seen such a “concrete plan” and that the Palestinians are working in a practical way toward their goal.

Undoubtedly, his apparent comfort with a unilateral Palestinian plan is simply his personal view.

The day before George Mitchell met with Benjamin Netanyahu in London this week, in the continuing effort to meet Palestinian preconditions for new final-status negotiations, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced a plan to create a Palestinian state within two years—“regardless of progress in the stalled peace negotiations with Israel.”

For those familiar with the history of the peace process, the Palestinian announcement and its timing provided a sense of déjà vu.

In the spring of 1998, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was stalled. Prime Minister Netanyahu was seeking “reciprocity” from the Palestinians before further Israeli withdrawals from West Bank territory. Arafat was offering the umpteenth Palestinian promise to “crack down” on terrorism and agreed—“in principle”—to produce a detailed security plan in exchange for a further Israeli withdrawal that met his demands and a move to final-status negotiations.

That was good enough for the State Department, which turned to Netanyahu and told him it needed a “second yes.” Netanyahu raised concerns about the scope of the withdrawal—and Arafat threatened a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. On April 28, 1998, Hanan Ashrawi, then the Palestinian minister of higher education, spoke at the National Press Club in Washington and said Palestinians would declare statehood in one year regardless of where the peace process then stood.

At the time, no American administration had ever endorsed a Palestinian state. A week later, as Dennis Ross was traveling to Israel to meet with Netanyahu, Hillary Clinton spoke (via satellite hookup arranged by the State Department) to Arab and Israeli teenagers attending a “peace summit” in Switzerland. In response to a student who asked about her use of the word Palestine, Hillary used the word state nine times, saying it would be “very important” for “Palestine to be a state.” In case Israel missed the significance of her words, the American embassy in Tel Aviv immediately released a report entitled “Hillary Clinton: Eventual Palestinian State Important for Mideast Peace.”

The White House said she was “not reflecting any administration policy”—only a “personal view.” But William Safire wrote in the New York Times that the explanation was “laughably implausible” and was “a calculated move by both Clintons to ratchet up the pressure on Israel” by warning that American policy might change if Netanyahu did not promptly move the process forward.

Now flash forward 11 years. A U.S. peace negotiator travels to meet with the Israeli prime minister to seek his concurrence in the latest Palestinian demands regarding final-status negotiations. The Palestinian “peace partner” announces a plan for a Palestinian state within two years without a peace agreement. The American consul general in Jerusalem, alerted ahead of time, tells the New York Times it is the first time he has seen such a “concrete plan” and that the Palestinians are working in a practical way toward their goal.

Undoubtedly, his apparent comfort with a unilateral Palestinian plan is simply his personal view.

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Not Exactly the Lion of the White House

After waxing lyrical about Ted Kennedy’s incrementalist approach to building the liberal welfare state, David Brooks takes an apparent detour to tell us:

We in this country have a distinct sort of society. We Americans work longer hours than any other people on earth. We switch jobs much more frequently than Western Europeans or the Japanese. We have high marriage rates and high divorce rates. We move more, volunteer more and murder each other more.

Out of this dynamic but sometimes merciless culture, a distinct style of American capitalism has emerged. The American economy is flexible and productive. America’s G.D.P. per capita is nearly 50 percent higher than France’s. But the American system is also unforgiving. It produces its share of insecurity and misery.

This culture, this spirit, this system is not perfect, but it is our own. American voters welcome politicians who propose reforms that smooth the rough edges of the system. They do not welcome politicians and proposals that seek to contradict it. They do not welcome proposals that centralize power and substantially reduce individual choice. They resist proposals that put security above mobility and individual responsibility.

He can’t quite bring himself to spell it out, but he’s saying that Obama is no Ted Kennedy and that he’s out of touch with the essential character of America. (Brooks no doubt gets visited by a horde of White House spinners if he’s that explicit, but that’s the gist.)

Well, to be clear, much of what Kennedy advocated—including nationalized health care—hasn’t come about because Americans are resistant to much of modern liberalism’s agenda items, whether enacted bit by bit or in huge gulps. Nevertheless, Brooks’s take, however oblique, on Obama’s radicalism is on the mark. Centralizing power and reducing individual choice in a truth-serum-required campaign would sum up Obama’s goals. Cap-and-trade, ObamaCare, consumer regulation, financial bailouts, executive-compensation regimens, and car-company nationalization all demand the centralization of power and reduction of individual (or private sector) choice. Conversely, there isn’t a single initiative that pops to mind that features “mobility” or “individual responsibility.”

If this is really what Obama is all about, Brooks hawked the wrong candidate, and we’re in for a battle royale for the remainder of his presidency. It turns out Obama doesn’t appear to understand what America is all about.

After waxing lyrical about Ted Kennedy’s incrementalist approach to building the liberal welfare state, David Brooks takes an apparent detour to tell us:

We in this country have a distinct sort of society. We Americans work longer hours than any other people on earth. We switch jobs much more frequently than Western Europeans or the Japanese. We have high marriage rates and high divorce rates. We move more, volunteer more and murder each other more.

Out of this dynamic but sometimes merciless culture, a distinct style of American capitalism has emerged. The American economy is flexible and productive. America’s G.D.P. per capita is nearly 50 percent higher than France’s. But the American system is also unforgiving. It produces its share of insecurity and misery.

This culture, this spirit, this system is not perfect, but it is our own. American voters welcome politicians who propose reforms that smooth the rough edges of the system. They do not welcome politicians and proposals that seek to contradict it. They do not welcome proposals that centralize power and substantially reduce individual choice. They resist proposals that put security above mobility and individual responsibility.

He can’t quite bring himself to spell it out, but he’s saying that Obama is no Ted Kennedy and that he’s out of touch with the essential character of America. (Brooks no doubt gets visited by a horde of White House spinners if he’s that explicit, but that’s the gist.)

Well, to be clear, much of what Kennedy advocated—including nationalized health care—hasn’t come about because Americans are resistant to much of modern liberalism’s agenda items, whether enacted bit by bit or in huge gulps. Nevertheless, Brooks’s take, however oblique, on Obama’s radicalism is on the mark. Centralizing power and reducing individual choice in a truth-serum-required campaign would sum up Obama’s goals. Cap-and-trade, ObamaCare, consumer regulation, financial bailouts, executive-compensation regimens, and car-company nationalization all demand the centralization of power and reduction of individual (or private sector) choice. Conversely, there isn’t a single initiative that pops to mind that features “mobility” or “individual responsibility.”

If this is really what Obama is all about, Brooks hawked the wrong candidate, and we’re in for a battle royale for the remainder of his presidency. It turns out Obama doesn’t appear to understand what America is all about.

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Mary Robinson Is Back

Mary Robinson, with her Medal of Freedom no doubt tucked in her suitcase, traveled with her fellow “Elders,” including Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter, to the Middle East to pronounce on peace. She, of course, called for a settlement freeze because a two-state solution hangs in the balance, she declares. (She must not have gotten the memo that the Arab states aren’t interested in intermediary steps.) The two-state solution apparently isn’t endangered by Palestinians’ refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist. (They must have heard that Zionism = Racism. There was a UN conference that said so.)

And while she says she understands Israel’s “security concerns,” she’s very troubled by the blockade of Gaza. After all, she says: “But the real security is the lasting peace, and that we know from Ireland. I can go to Belfast now. It’s a thriving cultural city, and now when I travel from Dublin to Belfast, I don’t even feel anything when I cross the border.”

Any recognition that Hamas hasn’t yet gone out of the terrorism business like the IRA? No. You see, Israel blew it by not consolidating gains from peace moves in Gaza. Or something. But she’s concerned about the treatment of women in Gaza. No word about how she feels about the executions.

These are the sorts of insights that won her America’s highest civilian prize. A role model and agent of change, Obama told us. Well, it’s good to know to whom the president looks for inspiration.

Mary Robinson, with her Medal of Freedom no doubt tucked in her suitcase, traveled with her fellow “Elders,” including Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter, to the Middle East to pronounce on peace. She, of course, called for a settlement freeze because a two-state solution hangs in the balance, she declares. (She must not have gotten the memo that the Arab states aren’t interested in intermediary steps.) The two-state solution apparently isn’t endangered by Palestinians’ refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist. (They must have heard that Zionism = Racism. There was a UN conference that said so.)

And while she says she understands Israel’s “security concerns,” she’s very troubled by the blockade of Gaza. After all, she says: “But the real security is the lasting peace, and that we know from Ireland. I can go to Belfast now. It’s a thriving cultural city, and now when I travel from Dublin to Belfast, I don’t even feel anything when I cross the border.”

Any recognition that Hamas hasn’t yet gone out of the terrorism business like the IRA? No. You see, Israel blew it by not consolidating gains from peace moves in Gaza. Or something. But she’s concerned about the treatment of women in Gaza. No word about how she feels about the executions.

These are the sorts of insights that won her America’s highest civilian prize. A role model and agent of change, Obama told us. Well, it’s good to know to whom the president looks for inspiration.

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An Open Letter to President Obama

In the new issue of the Claremont Review of Books, Harry V. Jaffa has “An Open Letter” addressed to President Obama:

In your Cairo speech [June 4, 2009] you referred to the West Bank as “occupied” by Israel. You implied that the Palestinian Arabs were being denied the sovereign rights to their homeland. But the West Bank was never a sovereign state to Palestinian Arabs. In the ancient world, Judea and Samaria belonged to what was then a sovereign Jewish state, a state from which the Jews were repeatedly driven by foreign conquerors: among them Babylonians, Romans, and Christian crusaders. However often they were driven from their ancient homeland, Jews always returned.

The millennial claims of the Jews contrast with the fact that the Palestinian people of today have no such historic claims. In fact, the Palestinians whose national identity you recognize did not exist before 1967. The West Bank was conquered in 1948 by Jordan, which subsequently annexed it and then later de-annexed it. It was de-annexed when the King of Jordan discovered he had added to his kingdom Palestinians who wanted to overthrow his monarchy. For the same reason, Israel does not want to add enemies to its body politic. . . .

Because even Palestinian “peace partners” refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and because that refusal is at the heart of the repeated failures of prior “peace processes,” some basic historical facts need to be reiterated. The Jaffa letter does a good job and is worth reading in its entirety.

The Review has just made the issue’s Correspondence section available to nonsubscribers, so the remainder of the Jaffa letter can be read here.

In the new issue of the Claremont Review of Books, Harry V. Jaffa has “An Open Letter” addressed to President Obama:

In your Cairo speech [June 4, 2009] you referred to the West Bank as “occupied” by Israel. You implied that the Palestinian Arabs were being denied the sovereign rights to their homeland. But the West Bank was never a sovereign state to Palestinian Arabs. In the ancient world, Judea and Samaria belonged to what was then a sovereign Jewish state, a state from which the Jews were repeatedly driven by foreign conquerors: among them Babylonians, Romans, and Christian crusaders. However often they were driven from their ancient homeland, Jews always returned.

The millennial claims of the Jews contrast with the fact that the Palestinian people of today have no such historic claims. In fact, the Palestinians whose national identity you recognize did not exist before 1967. The West Bank was conquered in 1948 by Jordan, which subsequently annexed it and then later de-annexed it. It was de-annexed when the King of Jordan discovered he had added to his kingdom Palestinians who wanted to overthrow his monarchy. For the same reason, Israel does not want to add enemies to its body politic. . . .

Because even Palestinian “peace partners” refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and because that refusal is at the heart of the repeated failures of prior “peace processes,” some basic historical facts need to be reiterated. The Jaffa letter does a good job and is worth reading in its entirety.

The Review has just made the issue’s Correspondence section available to nonsubscribers, so the remainder of the Jaffa letter can be read here.

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It Might Be His Finest Moment

Kimberley Strassel observes that Leon Panetta has become the administration’s “fall guy” for the CIA. She recounts the damage done to his agency, which started with the release of the enhanced interrogation memos:

Arguing against the full release of these memos was Mr. Panetta and four prior CIA directors. Disclosure, they said, would damage national security. Arguing for their release was Mr. Holder, and White House General Counsel Greg Craig, who articulated the views of Moveon.org. The president threw the left some red meat, refusing even Mr. Panetta’s pleas to redact certain sensitive details.

True, the president showed up at the CIA a few days later to reassure Mr. Panetta’s demoralized troops. Don’t “be discouraged” that you’ve “made mistakes,” the president said, smiling, as Mr. Panetta stood grimly by. “That’s how we learn.” Mr. Obama vowed to be “vigorous in protecting” the organization. Later, at the White House, he announced plans to release photos showing detainee abuse—at the demand of the ACLU.

Then came House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s full-frontal assault, claiming the agency had lied to her about waterboarding.

And then this week’s outrage:

Reversing prior promises not to prosecute CIA officials who “acted in good faith,” Mr. Holder appointed a special counsel with the ability to prosecute officials who acted in good faith. This was paired with release of a 2004 CIA report that the administration spun as more proof of agency incompetence. As a finishing touch, the White House yanked the interrogation program out of Mr. Panetta’s hands, relocating it with the FBI.

Well it’s not quite right to say Panetta is the “fall guy”—he’s the guy being run over by the Holder/Obama/netroot truck. He’s not being held responsible for the assault on the CIA; he’s being ignored.

Those in key Washington jobs hate to walk away. The proximity to power, even if they don’t wield it, can be intoxicating. And there are always supporters whispering in your ear: “Stay! It’d be worse if you weren’t there.” In Panetta’s case, it’s hard to see how. And it’s even harder to see why Panetta, if he truly believes all Obama administration decisions imperil his agency and national security, would remain. He’s had a long run in Washington and gained a fair measure of bipartisan support. Sometimes the most memorable and impressive thing a Washington insider can do is quit. At least it would force the Obama team, for a fleeting moment, to listen to what he has to say.

Kimberley Strassel observes that Leon Panetta has become the administration’s “fall guy” for the CIA. She recounts the damage done to his agency, which started with the release of the enhanced interrogation memos:

Arguing against the full release of these memos was Mr. Panetta and four prior CIA directors. Disclosure, they said, would damage national security. Arguing for their release was Mr. Holder, and White House General Counsel Greg Craig, who articulated the views of Moveon.org. The president threw the left some red meat, refusing even Mr. Panetta’s pleas to redact certain sensitive details.

True, the president showed up at the CIA a few days later to reassure Mr. Panetta’s demoralized troops. Don’t “be discouraged” that you’ve “made mistakes,” the president said, smiling, as Mr. Panetta stood grimly by. “That’s how we learn.” Mr. Obama vowed to be “vigorous in protecting” the organization. Later, at the White House, he announced plans to release photos showing detainee abuse—at the demand of the ACLU.

Then came House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s full-frontal assault, claiming the agency had lied to her about waterboarding.

And then this week’s outrage:

Reversing prior promises not to prosecute CIA officials who “acted in good faith,” Mr. Holder appointed a special counsel with the ability to prosecute officials who acted in good faith. This was paired with release of a 2004 CIA report that the administration spun as more proof of agency incompetence. As a finishing touch, the White House yanked the interrogation program out of Mr. Panetta’s hands, relocating it with the FBI.

Well it’s not quite right to say Panetta is the “fall guy”—he’s the guy being run over by the Holder/Obama/netroot truck. He’s not being held responsible for the assault on the CIA; he’s being ignored.

Those in key Washington jobs hate to walk away. The proximity to power, even if they don’t wield it, can be intoxicating. And there are always supporters whispering in your ear: “Stay! It’d be worse if you weren’t there.” In Panetta’s case, it’s hard to see how. And it’s even harder to see why Panetta, if he truly believes all Obama administration decisions imperil his agency and national security, would remain. He’s had a long run in Washington and gained a fair measure of bipartisan support. Sometimes the most memorable and impressive thing a Washington insider can do is quit. At least it would force the Obama team, for a fleeting moment, to listen to what he has to say.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

From Pollster.com on independent voters’ view of Obama’s performance: disapproval 46.6 percent, approval 45.5 percent.

The Economist poll is the latest showing Obama below 50 percent—48 percent to be exact. And this might have something to do with the decision to investigate CIA operatives: “In this week’s poll, only 39% approve of the president’s handling of terrorism—down from 43% last week, and a new low.”

You think his American poll numbers are bad: “The number of Israelis who see US President Barack Obama’s policies as pro-Israel has fallen to 4 percent, according to a Smith Research poll taken this week on behalf of The Jerusalem Post. Fifty-one percent of Jewish Israelis consider Obama’s administration more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel, according to the survey, while 35% consider it neutral and 10% declined to express an opinion.”

New Hampshire Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes interacts with a voter at a health-care town hall: “When Hodes explained that the House version of the bill was deficit-neutral but included a ‘surcharge’ on the wealthiest Americans, [local headmaster Jim] Clements quickly interjected. ‘That’s another name for higher taxes?’ he asked, and Hodes clarified that was indeed what he meant.”

John McCain says there’s been no real negotiation on health care. He must not have heard: Obama won.

Another lukewarm Democrat on ObamaCare: “U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said that a so-called ‘public option’ in the health care bill is optional for him—and said he is not yet committed to backing the plan being put together by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus. Tester said Wednesday he could envision voting for a health care reform bill with or without the option that would let the uninsured buy into a Medicare type government program. ‘I don’t need it either way,’ Tester told The Associated Press between meetings with constituents. ‘I could either support it or not support it. It’s all in the design.’ ”

Stephen Hayes eviscerates Greg Sargent on whether the enhanced interrogation techniques worked. Given their effectiveness, Hayes observes regarding the CIA’ s Inspector General report: “It is no wonder the left is compelled to distort its contents.” One almost senses that the Left can’t even bring themselves to read the contents. Or have they lost the ability to engage real opposition on the facts?

News flash for New Republic readers: there is a “highly convincing argument that radical Islam today is in fact a totalitarian movement with totalitarian ideology and totalitarian methods.” No! Next thing you know, we’ll find out they want to kill Jews and Americans.

An apt summary of Ted Kennedy by Bill Kristol: “He continued to advocate policies that had long-ago been proven — in my view — not to work, and the one thing, again, beside his personal life, the one thing I really would not forgive him for was the speech denouncing Robert Bork totally unfairly. He was entitled to oppose Robert Bork when he was nominated to the Supreme Court, but this famous speech in which he made it seem as if Bob Bork was in favor of segregating blacks and discriminating against people was really not — a low-point in popular American politics.” Another low point was his personal attacks on now Justice Sam Alito. Kennedy was in a class by himself when it came to judicial nominees.

No, Mitt Romney is not silly enough to run for Senate in Massachusetts. I think he’s had quite enough trouble with the divergence between Bay State and national Republican politics. And what does he want to do in the Senate anyway?

Marc Ambinder on the Virginia gubernatorial race: “In Virginia, Republican Attorney General Bob McDonnell has run a pitch-perfect gubernatorial campaign, focusing almost entirely on the economy, eschewing cultural issue propaganda, touting his ties to Northern Virginia, not being scary, portraying his opponent, Creigh Deeds, as a tax-and-spend Democrat. . . . Deeds is more conservative on cultural issues than his reputation would suggest, and that could help him in some areas. He will need Barack Obama to be more popular than he currently is, and Deeds will need to replicate his 2005 success among black voters. (It did not help matters when Doug Wilder, the former Democratic governor, refused to endorse him.)” Deeds’s social-conservative record does, however, make his effort to scare voters on abortion a bit more problematic.

From Pollster.com on independent voters’ view of Obama’s performance: disapproval 46.6 percent, approval 45.5 percent.

The Economist poll is the latest showing Obama below 50 percent—48 percent to be exact. And this might have something to do with the decision to investigate CIA operatives: “In this week’s poll, only 39% approve of the president’s handling of terrorism—down from 43% last week, and a new low.”

You think his American poll numbers are bad: “The number of Israelis who see US President Barack Obama’s policies as pro-Israel has fallen to 4 percent, according to a Smith Research poll taken this week on behalf of The Jerusalem Post. Fifty-one percent of Jewish Israelis consider Obama’s administration more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel, according to the survey, while 35% consider it neutral and 10% declined to express an opinion.”

New Hampshire Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes interacts with a voter at a health-care town hall: “When Hodes explained that the House version of the bill was deficit-neutral but included a ‘surcharge’ on the wealthiest Americans, [local headmaster Jim] Clements quickly interjected. ‘That’s another name for higher taxes?’ he asked, and Hodes clarified that was indeed what he meant.”

John McCain says there’s been no real negotiation on health care. He must not have heard: Obama won.

Another lukewarm Democrat on ObamaCare: “U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said that a so-called ‘public option’ in the health care bill is optional for him—and said he is not yet committed to backing the plan being put together by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus. Tester said Wednesday he could envision voting for a health care reform bill with or without the option that would let the uninsured buy into a Medicare type government program. ‘I don’t need it either way,’ Tester told The Associated Press between meetings with constituents. ‘I could either support it or not support it. It’s all in the design.’ ”

Stephen Hayes eviscerates Greg Sargent on whether the enhanced interrogation techniques worked. Given their effectiveness, Hayes observes regarding the CIA’ s Inspector General report: “It is no wonder the left is compelled to distort its contents.” One almost senses that the Left can’t even bring themselves to read the contents. Or have they lost the ability to engage real opposition on the facts?

News flash for New Republic readers: there is a “highly convincing argument that radical Islam today is in fact a totalitarian movement with totalitarian ideology and totalitarian methods.” No! Next thing you know, we’ll find out they want to kill Jews and Americans.

An apt summary of Ted Kennedy by Bill Kristol: “He continued to advocate policies that had long-ago been proven — in my view — not to work, and the one thing, again, beside his personal life, the one thing I really would not forgive him for was the speech denouncing Robert Bork totally unfairly. He was entitled to oppose Robert Bork when he was nominated to the Supreme Court, but this famous speech in which he made it seem as if Bob Bork was in favor of segregating blacks and discriminating against people was really not — a low-point in popular American politics.” Another low point was his personal attacks on now Justice Sam Alito. Kennedy was in a class by himself when it came to judicial nominees.

No, Mitt Romney is not silly enough to run for Senate in Massachusetts. I think he’s had quite enough trouble with the divergence between Bay State and national Republican politics. And what does he want to do in the Senate anyway?

Marc Ambinder on the Virginia gubernatorial race: “In Virginia, Republican Attorney General Bob McDonnell has run a pitch-perfect gubernatorial campaign, focusing almost entirely on the economy, eschewing cultural issue propaganda, touting his ties to Northern Virginia, not being scary, portraying his opponent, Creigh Deeds, as a tax-and-spend Democrat. . . . Deeds is more conservative on cultural issues than his reputation would suggest, and that could help him in some areas. He will need Barack Obama to be more popular than he currently is, and Deeds will need to replicate his 2005 success among black voters. (It did not help matters when Doug Wilder, the former Democratic governor, refused to endorse him.)” Deeds’s social-conservative record does, however, make his effort to scare voters on abortion a bit more problematic.

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