Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 11, 2010

Forming a Government in Iraq

Good to see that the de-Baathification campaign has been dropped in Iraq, at least for now. The effort to disqualify parliamentary candidates for supposed Baathist backgrounds was a truly poisonous effort engineered by Iran and executed by the opportunistic Ahmed Chalabi to rig the outcome of the Iraqi election. If it had succeeded in taking away votes from Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyya slate, the result could have been a major backlash among Sunnis.

Since I have recently been critical of the Obama administration and U.S. diplomatic representatives in Baghdad for not doing more to resolve the post-election crisis, it is only fair to give credit where it is due and note that a behind-the-scenes American effort contributed to this important step forward. But there is much more that needs to be done.

The election results still aren’t certified. Only when that happens will the true jockeying to form a government begin. One of the key questions will be whether Nouri al-Maliki or his chief rival, Ayad Allawi, will get first chance to form a government. Going strictly by the election results, Allawi should get first shot. But Maliki has formed a post-election alliance between his State of Law slate and the Iraqi National Alliance, a group of sectarian Shiites close to Iran that finished a distant third in the balloting. An Iraqi judicial ruling would thus seem to suggest that the newly formed all-Shiite coalition should get first shot at government-formation, even though this would seem to run counter to the intentions of Iraqi voters who gave Allawi’s secular, nationalist slate the most seats.

Odds are that Allawi, a secular Shiite whose primary base of support is among Sunnis, can’t form a government in any case because of Shiite opposition, but it would be good to at least let him try so as to lessen charge of post-election manipulation. There is also serious cause to doubt whether Maliki can engineer a coalition that will keep him in the prime minister’s office. He has made many enemies and few friends among fellow Iraqi politicos, and his new coalition partners, the Sadrists, are adamantly oppose to his continued rule. Odds are that a lesser-known, compromise candidate will ultimately emerge as prime minister — just as Maliki himself came from nowhere to be chosen as prime minister in 2006.

While all this is going on, U.S. troop reductions are slated to continue at a rapid pace, down to just 50,000 soldiers by the end of August, thus lessening American ability to influence the outcome. That, in turn, will place a premium on smart, skillful diplomacy during what promises to be a very trying summer. Iraq has cleared one important hurdle, but many more remain.

Good to see that the de-Baathification campaign has been dropped in Iraq, at least for now. The effort to disqualify parliamentary candidates for supposed Baathist backgrounds was a truly poisonous effort engineered by Iran and executed by the opportunistic Ahmed Chalabi to rig the outcome of the Iraqi election. If it had succeeded in taking away votes from Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyya slate, the result could have been a major backlash among Sunnis.

Since I have recently been critical of the Obama administration and U.S. diplomatic representatives in Baghdad for not doing more to resolve the post-election crisis, it is only fair to give credit where it is due and note that a behind-the-scenes American effort contributed to this important step forward. But there is much more that needs to be done.

The election results still aren’t certified. Only when that happens will the true jockeying to form a government begin. One of the key questions will be whether Nouri al-Maliki or his chief rival, Ayad Allawi, will get first chance to form a government. Going strictly by the election results, Allawi should get first shot. But Maliki has formed a post-election alliance between his State of Law slate and the Iraqi National Alliance, a group of sectarian Shiites close to Iran that finished a distant third in the balloting. An Iraqi judicial ruling would thus seem to suggest that the newly formed all-Shiite coalition should get first shot at government-formation, even though this would seem to run counter to the intentions of Iraqi voters who gave Allawi’s secular, nationalist slate the most seats.

Odds are that Allawi, a secular Shiite whose primary base of support is among Sunnis, can’t form a government in any case because of Shiite opposition, but it would be good to at least let him try so as to lessen charge of post-election manipulation. There is also serious cause to doubt whether Maliki can engineer a coalition that will keep him in the prime minister’s office. He has made many enemies and few friends among fellow Iraqi politicos, and his new coalition partners, the Sadrists, are adamantly oppose to his continued rule. Odds are that a lesser-known, compromise candidate will ultimately emerge as prime minister — just as Maliki himself came from nowhere to be chosen as prime minister in 2006.

While all this is going on, U.S. troop reductions are slated to continue at a rapid pace, down to just 50,000 soldiers by the end of August, thus lessening American ability to influence the outcome. That, in turn, will place a premium on smart, skillful diplomacy during what promises to be a very trying summer. Iraq has cleared one important hurdle, but many more remain.

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Building an East Asian NATO

A common complaint heard among American officials and policy analysts is that in East Asia — one of the most important and conflict-prone areas of the planet — there is no security architecture comparable to NATO. The U.S. has ties to many key countries, notably Japan, South Korea, Singapore, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand, and Taiwan. But they do not have strong ties to one another, and there is no joint military planning of the kind that NATO undertakes. That does not seem likely to change in the future, because, although all those nations are suspicious of growing Chinese power, they also do not want to antagonize the 500-pound panda by forming an explicit alliance for its containment. The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, formed in 1954, was a colossal failure and is unlikely to be resurrected.

But there are still steps that U.S. officials can take to encourage greater cooperation among our regional partners. In this regard, I was struck a few days ago while visiting Pacific Command headquarters, looked at Camp Smith overlooking Pearl Harbor, by the near-total absence of coalition allies. At Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Base in Tampa, there are substantial liaison offices from more than 50 countries — allies that are working with the U.S. to deal with Iraq, Afghanistan, Somali piracy and other issues. Since 9/11, an entire “coalition village” has sprung up around Centcom headquarters. There is nothing comparable at Camp Smith. In fact, when I asked about coalition representation, I was told about a handful of low-ranking liaison officers from Australia and a few other nations.

This would seem to be an obvious opportunity we are not taking advantage of — to encourage discussion and cooperation among disparate Asian nations hosted by our own regional military command. That would not be as good as a formal alliance structure, but it could represent a small, but useful step, in the right direction.

A common complaint heard among American officials and policy analysts is that in East Asia — one of the most important and conflict-prone areas of the planet — there is no security architecture comparable to NATO. The U.S. has ties to many key countries, notably Japan, South Korea, Singapore, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand, and Taiwan. But they do not have strong ties to one another, and there is no joint military planning of the kind that NATO undertakes. That does not seem likely to change in the future, because, although all those nations are suspicious of growing Chinese power, they also do not want to antagonize the 500-pound panda by forming an explicit alliance for its containment. The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, formed in 1954, was a colossal failure and is unlikely to be resurrected.

But there are still steps that U.S. officials can take to encourage greater cooperation among our regional partners. In this regard, I was struck a few days ago while visiting Pacific Command headquarters, looked at Camp Smith overlooking Pearl Harbor, by the near-total absence of coalition allies. At Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Base in Tampa, there are substantial liaison offices from more than 50 countries — allies that are working with the U.S. to deal with Iraq, Afghanistan, Somali piracy and other issues. Since 9/11, an entire “coalition village” has sprung up around Centcom headquarters. There is nothing comparable at Camp Smith. In fact, when I asked about coalition representation, I was told about a handful of low-ranking liaison officers from Australia and a few other nations.

This would seem to be an obvious opportunity we are not taking advantage of — to encourage discussion and cooperation among disparate Asian nations hosted by our own regional military command. That would not be as good as a formal alliance structure, but it could represent a small, but useful step, in the right direction.

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RE: The Real Lindsay

Jason, your post brings to mind one of the most blistering paragraphs of William F. Buckley’s The Unmaking of a Mayor, his account of his failed 1965 mayoral bid against Lindsay (and Abe Beame).

A modern Justine could, in New York City, wake up in the morning in a room she shares with her unemployed husband and two children, crowd into a subway in which she is hardly able to breathe, disembark at Grand Central and take a crosstown bus which takes twenty minutes to go the ten blocks to her textile loft, work a full day and receive her paycheck from which a sizable deduction is withdrawn in taxes and union fees, return via the same ordeal, prepare supper for her family and tune up the radio to full blast to shield the children from the gamy denunciations her nextdoor neighbor is hurling at her husband, walk a few blocks past hideous buildings to the neighborhood park to breathe a little fresh air, and fall into a coughing fit as the sulphur dioxides excite her latent asthma, go home, and on the way, lose her handbag to a purse-snatcher, sit down to oversee her son’s homework only to trip over the fact that he doesn’t really know the alphabet even though he had his fourteenth birthday yesterday, which he spent in the company of a well-known pusher. She hauls off and smacks him, but he dodges and she bangs her head against the table. The ambulance is slow in coming and at the hospital there is no doctor in attendance. An intern finally materializes and sticks her with a shot of morphine, and she dozes off to sleep. And dreams of John Lindsay.

Jason, your post brings to mind one of the most blistering paragraphs of William F. Buckley’s The Unmaking of a Mayor, his account of his failed 1965 mayoral bid against Lindsay (and Abe Beame).

A modern Justine could, in New York City, wake up in the morning in a room she shares with her unemployed husband and two children, crowd into a subway in which she is hardly able to breathe, disembark at Grand Central and take a crosstown bus which takes twenty minutes to go the ten blocks to her textile loft, work a full day and receive her paycheck from which a sizable deduction is withdrawn in taxes and union fees, return via the same ordeal, prepare supper for her family and tune up the radio to full blast to shield the children from the gamy denunciations her nextdoor neighbor is hurling at her husband, walk a few blocks past hideous buildings to the neighborhood park to breathe a little fresh air, and fall into a coughing fit as the sulphur dioxides excite her latent asthma, go home, and on the way, lose her handbag to a purse-snatcher, sit down to oversee her son’s homework only to trip over the fact that he doesn’t really know the alphabet even though he had his fourteenth birthday yesterday, which he spent in the company of a well-known pusher. She hauls off and smacks him, but he dodges and she bangs her head against the table. The ambulance is slow in coming and at the hospital there is no doctor in attendance. An intern finally materializes and sticks her with a shot of morphine, and she dozes off to sleep. And dreams of John Lindsay.

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The Real Lindsay

A new exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, a new book, and a new documentary (to air again on PBS May 12) comprise a joint project with the apparent aim of refurbishing the tarnished reputation of John Lindsay, who presided over the rapid decline of New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

This attempted revisionism is reminiscent of the obituaries and press tributes that came Lindsay’s way on the occasion of his passing in December 2000, as the very media that created and nurtured Lindsay would, at the time of his death, seek to put the best possible face on a political career that ranged from the mediocre to the disastrous. How deep in the tank for Lindsay were the city’s leading media outlets? Ken Auletta, in The Streets Were Paved with Gold, his study of how New York nearly went bankrupt in the 1970s, wrote:

The paper that thinks of itself as the city’s conscience — The New York Times — abdicated. … The editorial page editors of both [the Times and the then-liberal New York Post] were too close to Lindsay, serving as advisers. They were not only politically but ideologically coopted. They supported the city’s tax and spending policies. Instead of viewing what the city was doing as harshly as they would Defense Department cost overruns, they permitted their liberal ideology to sway their judgment.

In a telling anecdote in Fit to Print, a biography of former Times executive editor A.M. Rosenthal, author Joseph Goulden quotes a reporter named Douglas Robinson who witnessed something extraordinary on election night 1965: Rosenthal and deputy metropolitan editor, Arthur Gelb, “were dancing up and down as the returns came in showing a victory for Lindsay. ‘We won! We won!’ they were shouting.”

Of course, there are limits to what even the most accomplished revisionist can do with a record like Lindsay’s, and the Times, straining to find praise in an editorial the week of Lindsay’s death, was forced to acknowledge the realities of life under Lindsay:

There was continuing labor unrest, fiscal problems, rising taxes and crime, a tripling of the welfare rolls. During his tenure … the white middle and working classes felt increasingly alienated, especially when the mayor tried to build housing for poor blacks in the mostly Jewish, middle-class section of Forest Hills. … He even gets much of the legitimate blame for the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s. Quite the indictment, all around.

Lindsay was an especially unloved figure in the city’s Jewish community, reviled by outer-borough Jews who blamed him for the city’s skyrocketing crime rate and his administration’s pandering to militants in minority communities.

As noted by sociologist Jonathan Rieder in Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn against Liberalism, when Lindsay ran for re-election in 1969, his share of the Jewish vote totaled between 30 and 36 percent in Canarsie’s most liberal areas and considerably less in other parts of what at the time was a quintessentially lower-middle-class neighborhood.

One of Rieder’s interviewees summed up the feelings of his friends and neighbors: “It was under John Lindsay,” he said, “that the Jewish community in New York suffered its greatest decline.”

A new exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, a new book, and a new documentary (to air again on PBS May 12) comprise a joint project with the apparent aim of refurbishing the tarnished reputation of John Lindsay, who presided over the rapid decline of New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

This attempted revisionism is reminiscent of the obituaries and press tributes that came Lindsay’s way on the occasion of his passing in December 2000, as the very media that created and nurtured Lindsay would, at the time of his death, seek to put the best possible face on a political career that ranged from the mediocre to the disastrous. How deep in the tank for Lindsay were the city’s leading media outlets? Ken Auletta, in The Streets Were Paved with Gold, his study of how New York nearly went bankrupt in the 1970s, wrote:

The paper that thinks of itself as the city’s conscience — The New York Times — abdicated. … The editorial page editors of both [the Times and the then-liberal New York Post] were too close to Lindsay, serving as advisers. They were not only politically but ideologically coopted. They supported the city’s tax and spending policies. Instead of viewing what the city was doing as harshly as they would Defense Department cost overruns, they permitted their liberal ideology to sway their judgment.

In a telling anecdote in Fit to Print, a biography of former Times executive editor A.M. Rosenthal, author Joseph Goulden quotes a reporter named Douglas Robinson who witnessed something extraordinary on election night 1965: Rosenthal and deputy metropolitan editor, Arthur Gelb, “were dancing up and down as the returns came in showing a victory for Lindsay. ‘We won! We won!’ they were shouting.”

Of course, there are limits to what even the most accomplished revisionist can do with a record like Lindsay’s, and the Times, straining to find praise in an editorial the week of Lindsay’s death, was forced to acknowledge the realities of life under Lindsay:

There was continuing labor unrest, fiscal problems, rising taxes and crime, a tripling of the welfare rolls. During his tenure … the white middle and working classes felt increasingly alienated, especially when the mayor tried to build housing for poor blacks in the mostly Jewish, middle-class section of Forest Hills. … He even gets much of the legitimate blame for the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s. Quite the indictment, all around.

Lindsay was an especially unloved figure in the city’s Jewish community, reviled by outer-borough Jews who blamed him for the city’s skyrocketing crime rate and his administration’s pandering to militants in minority communities.

As noted by sociologist Jonathan Rieder in Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn against Liberalism, when Lindsay ran for re-election in 1969, his share of the Jewish vote totaled between 30 and 36 percent in Canarsie’s most liberal areas and considerably less in other parts of what at the time was a quintessentially lower-middle-class neighborhood.

One of Rieder’s interviewees summed up the feelings of his friends and neighbors: “It was under John Lindsay,” he said, “that the Jewish community in New York suffered its greatest decline.”

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Kagan and the Military Recruiters

Ramesh Ponnuru makes an excellent point:

Elena Kagan helped to keep military recruiters from having equal access to the Harvard campus — based on what she called “the military’s policy” on don’t ask, don’t tell. When Congress voted to deny Defense Department funds to universities that discriminate against the military, she joined an effort to fight the law (called the Solomon amendment) in court. In effect, she was arguing that the school had a constitutional right to get government funding while discriminating against military recruiters. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the universities.

So on this issue it is hard to argue that Kagan was within the judicial mainstream. Her position is, additionally, hard to defend.

But that may not be the worst of it. The exclusion of openly gay men and lesbians — which I agree should be repealed — is not the military’s policy. It is a law that was enacted by Congress and signed by President Clinton. That didn’t stop Kagan from serving in Clinton’s White House. Nor did her opposition to what she considered the deep injustice of the policy move her to support continuing to discriminate against the recruiters when that would have required turning down some federal money.

So the military alone was supposed to pay a price for her principles — not politicians, and not the university.

Kurt Andersen also makes an interesting point on Facebook: It will, or should, be problematic for any Republican Senator who was in the Senate in 1999 to attack Elena Kagan’s appointment on the grounds that she has limited experience, since her experience is limited due in some measure to the Republican Senate in 1999. That year,  her nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals was tabled by the Republican-dominated Senate, as were all upper-court appointments by the Clinton administration, since there was an election looming and Clinton was a lame duck. This was a  nakedly partisan ideological decision undertaken in part because the same had been done to Republican administrations by Democratic-dominated Senates in 1987-8 and 1991-2.

Ramesh Ponnuru makes an excellent point:

Elena Kagan helped to keep military recruiters from having equal access to the Harvard campus — based on what she called “the military’s policy” on don’t ask, don’t tell. When Congress voted to deny Defense Department funds to universities that discriminate against the military, she joined an effort to fight the law (called the Solomon amendment) in court. In effect, she was arguing that the school had a constitutional right to get government funding while discriminating against military recruiters. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the universities.

So on this issue it is hard to argue that Kagan was within the judicial mainstream. Her position is, additionally, hard to defend.

But that may not be the worst of it. The exclusion of openly gay men and lesbians — which I agree should be repealed — is not the military’s policy. It is a law that was enacted by Congress and signed by President Clinton. That didn’t stop Kagan from serving in Clinton’s White House. Nor did her opposition to what she considered the deep injustice of the policy move her to support continuing to discriminate against the recruiters when that would have required turning down some federal money.

So the military alone was supposed to pay a price for her principles — not politicians, and not the university.

Kurt Andersen also makes an interesting point on Facebook: It will, or should, be problematic for any Republican Senator who was in the Senate in 1999 to attack Elena Kagan’s appointment on the grounds that she has limited experience, since her experience is limited due in some measure to the Republican Senate in 1999. That year,  her nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals was tabled by the Republican-dominated Senate, as were all upper-court appointments by the Clinton administration, since there was an election looming and Clinton was a lame duck. This was a  nakedly partisan ideological decision undertaken in part because the same had been done to Republican administrations by Democratic-dominated Senates in 1987-8 and 1991-2.

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Can We Move Past Engagement?

By now the pattern is clear. The Obama team declares that the policy of George W. Bush toward [fill in the blank with the name of a despotic regime] was “shortsighted” and failed to appreciate that only by engagement and discussion can we discern what [name of despotic regime] really wants. Now we send a special envoy, offer talks, decline to discuss human rights with any vigor, and ease up on sanctions. And lo and behold, the regime gets worse. Curious, isn’t it, that unilateral gestures and reticence to assert American values doesn’t pay off?

This report details the latest example:

The United States is deeply disappointed by Myanmar’s preparations for rare elections and wants “immediate steps” to address fears they will lack legitimacy, a top US diplomat said Monday.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell issued his strongly-worded statement after meeting government officials and opposition leaders including detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

“What we have seen to date leads us to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy,” Campbell said of the junta‘s plans to stage a vote later this year that would be the first in two decades.

“We urge the regime to take immediate steps to open the process in the time remaining before the elections,” he said.

US President Barack Obama‘s administration launched dialogue with Myanmar‘s military rulers last year after concluding that Western attempts to isolate the regime had produced little success.

Campbell says the U.S. is “profoundly disappointed” — which might be more than “deeply concerned” but certainly less than the condemnation issued to Israel on building in its own capital. What do the human-rights advocates have to say?

Suu Kyi did not speak to reporters but Win Tin, a former political prisoner and senior NLD member, said other top opposition figures had called on Washington to put more pressure on the junta in separate talks with Campbell.

“We think the approach of the US is very soft in relation to this military government,” Win Tin said.

“We asked for tougher political or economic action. There is no position to begin credible elections as the world asks,” he told reporters. “We reiterated (our request) not to acknowledge the coming result of the election.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling for tough sanctions. That seems to be a wise course, and not only for Burma. Obama has had his “experiment” in engagement. It has proved a failure everywhere it has been tried. Can we move on?

By now the pattern is clear. The Obama team declares that the policy of George W. Bush toward [fill in the blank with the name of a despotic regime] was “shortsighted” and failed to appreciate that only by engagement and discussion can we discern what [name of despotic regime] really wants. Now we send a special envoy, offer talks, decline to discuss human rights with any vigor, and ease up on sanctions. And lo and behold, the regime gets worse. Curious, isn’t it, that unilateral gestures and reticence to assert American values doesn’t pay off?

This report details the latest example:

The United States is deeply disappointed by Myanmar’s preparations for rare elections and wants “immediate steps” to address fears they will lack legitimacy, a top US diplomat said Monday.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell issued his strongly-worded statement after meeting government officials and opposition leaders including detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

“What we have seen to date leads us to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy,” Campbell said of the junta‘s plans to stage a vote later this year that would be the first in two decades.

“We urge the regime to take immediate steps to open the process in the time remaining before the elections,” he said.

US President Barack Obama‘s administration launched dialogue with Myanmar‘s military rulers last year after concluding that Western attempts to isolate the regime had produced little success.

Campbell says the U.S. is “profoundly disappointed” — which might be more than “deeply concerned” but certainly less than the condemnation issued to Israel on building in its own capital. What do the human-rights advocates have to say?

Suu Kyi did not speak to reporters but Win Tin, a former political prisoner and senior NLD member, said other top opposition figures had called on Washington to put more pressure on the junta in separate talks with Campbell.

“We think the approach of the US is very soft in relation to this military government,” Win Tin said.

“We asked for tougher political or economic action. There is no position to begin credible elections as the world asks,” he told reporters. “We reiterated (our request) not to acknowledge the coming result of the election.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling for tough sanctions. That seems to be a wise course, and not only for Burma. Obama has had his “experiment” in engagement. It has proved a failure everywhere it has been tried. Can we move on?

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Iran’s Hezbollah Allies Getting Ready for War

Haaretz is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that Iran is trying to provoke a war between Israel and Syria. The Obama administration has at times pushed hard for Israel to reach out to Syria in the mistaken belief that the Assad regime is interested in breaking free from its alliance with Iran and would actually make peace with Israel if given the chance. But rumblings along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon are making Israelis nervous as they view Hezbollah’s continuing military buildup.

That impression is confirmed in a Time magazine feature, published yesterday, about the terrorist group backed by both Syria and Iran. The piece describes in detail not only the vast expansion of the group’s arms cache but also its readiness to unleash destruction on Israel. In the past few years, its apologists in the Western media have claimed that Hezbollah has morphed into a group whose aims are primarily political, as it has gained a foothold in the Lebanese government. But as Time reports, its members seem a lot less interested in governance than in jihad and in fighting the next round of their long battle against the Jewish state.

Meanwhile Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick reminds us that Hezbollah’s ability to threaten Israel can be traced back to Ehud Barak’s decision 10 years ago this month to precipitously retreat from southern Lebanon. While, as with the withdrawal from Gaza, few Israelis regret the fact that their army no longer is forced to control a dangerous buffer zone in Lebanon, Barak’s disgraceful skedaddle was not only a betrayal of Israel’s allies in that country but also an event that set the stage for a series of further setbacks. By handing Hezbollah an unprecedented and unearned victory over the IDF, Barak not only raised its prestige but also activated the forces that would shower destruction on northern Israel in the summer of 2006. Even worse, the example of a terrorist group forcing an Israeli retreat encouraged Yasir Arafat to believe that he could achieve the same in the West Bank. Instead of accepting Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state in 2000, Arafat answered with a terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada, which cost the lives of more than a thousand Israelis and many more Palestinians.

This left Israel with a determined enemy on its border who appears willing to do the bidding for the Iranians as they continue to seek to destabilize the region. Hezbollah’s missiles — newly reinforced from its Iranian supplier — are Tehran’s trump card to be played against possible Western pressure aimed at stopping their nuclear program. Moreover, those who continue to advocate cut-and-run policies for the United States — whether they be in the West Bank or Israel or Iraq or Afghanistan — need to heed the lessons of Barak’s Lebanese disaster.

Haaretz is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that Iran is trying to provoke a war between Israel and Syria. The Obama administration has at times pushed hard for Israel to reach out to Syria in the mistaken belief that the Assad regime is interested in breaking free from its alliance with Iran and would actually make peace with Israel if given the chance. But rumblings along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon are making Israelis nervous as they view Hezbollah’s continuing military buildup.

That impression is confirmed in a Time magazine feature, published yesterday, about the terrorist group backed by both Syria and Iran. The piece describes in detail not only the vast expansion of the group’s arms cache but also its readiness to unleash destruction on Israel. In the past few years, its apologists in the Western media have claimed that Hezbollah has morphed into a group whose aims are primarily political, as it has gained a foothold in the Lebanese government. But as Time reports, its members seem a lot less interested in governance than in jihad and in fighting the next round of their long battle against the Jewish state.

Meanwhile Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick reminds us that Hezbollah’s ability to threaten Israel can be traced back to Ehud Barak’s decision 10 years ago this month to precipitously retreat from southern Lebanon. While, as with the withdrawal from Gaza, few Israelis regret the fact that their army no longer is forced to control a dangerous buffer zone in Lebanon, Barak’s disgraceful skedaddle was not only a betrayal of Israel’s allies in that country but also an event that set the stage for a series of further setbacks. By handing Hezbollah an unprecedented and unearned victory over the IDF, Barak not only raised its prestige but also activated the forces that would shower destruction on northern Israel in the summer of 2006. Even worse, the example of a terrorist group forcing an Israeli retreat encouraged Yasir Arafat to believe that he could achieve the same in the West Bank. Instead of accepting Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state in 2000, Arafat answered with a terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada, which cost the lives of more than a thousand Israelis and many more Palestinians.

This left Israel with a determined enemy on its border who appears willing to do the bidding for the Iranians as they continue to seek to destabilize the region. Hezbollah’s missiles — newly reinforced from its Iranian supplier — are Tehran’s trump card to be played against possible Western pressure aimed at stopping their nuclear program. Moreover, those who continue to advocate cut-and-run policies for the United States — whether they be in the West Bank or Israel or Iraq or Afghanistan — need to heed the lessons of Barak’s Lebanese disaster.

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The Problem with Law Schools

Ed Whelan dismantles bit by bit the argument by former Harvard Law School dean Robert Clark in support of current Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan’s barring of military recruiters and signing on to an amicus brief contesting the Solomon Amendment. This raises a larger issue — yes, even larger than a single Supreme Court nomination — what’s the matter with law schools? After all, lots and lots of their deans and professors hadn’t a clue what the law was in the case challenging the Solomon Amendment. George Mason University Law School was the proud exception and at the time reminded us:

The amicus brief filed by the dean and two professors at George Mason’s law school was the only one submitted by a law school that took the side of the armed services. Many amicus briefs were filed on the losing side (including briefs in behalf of Yale University, Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, the University of Chicago, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania), arguing that the Solomon Amendment’s requirement of equal access for military recruiters was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. In addition, professors at Columbia and Harvard law schools submitted briefs arguing that as a matter of statutory construction the law schools had in fact complied with the Solomon Amendment. The constitutional and statutory arguments were all rejected by the Court.

There is a reason why the Chief Justice, among other justices over the years, has said that he doesn’t pay too much attention to law-review articles. Why? Law professors don’t really have a great grasp of what the law is or a decent track record in predicting where it will evolve. They operate in a largely isolated academic setting in which, in their minds, there are nine Justice Stevenses on the bench. And in this case, they didn’t even get Stevens’s position right.

As Ronald Reagan said of liberals, it’s not that they are ignorant. It’s that they know so much that isn’t true. So I can see the argument for looking outside the appellate bench for justices. But I think law professors are the last place you’d want to look for unbiased, accomplished legal analysts. Let’s hope Kagan picked up some actual law, not law-school law, in her last year at the solicitor general’s office.

Ed Whelan dismantles bit by bit the argument by former Harvard Law School dean Robert Clark in support of current Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan’s barring of military recruiters and signing on to an amicus brief contesting the Solomon Amendment. This raises a larger issue — yes, even larger than a single Supreme Court nomination — what’s the matter with law schools? After all, lots and lots of their deans and professors hadn’t a clue what the law was in the case challenging the Solomon Amendment. George Mason University Law School was the proud exception and at the time reminded us:

The amicus brief filed by the dean and two professors at George Mason’s law school was the only one submitted by a law school that took the side of the armed services. Many amicus briefs were filed on the losing side (including briefs in behalf of Yale University, Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, the University of Chicago, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania), arguing that the Solomon Amendment’s requirement of equal access for military recruiters was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. In addition, professors at Columbia and Harvard law schools submitted briefs arguing that as a matter of statutory construction the law schools had in fact complied with the Solomon Amendment. The constitutional and statutory arguments were all rejected by the Court.

There is a reason why the Chief Justice, among other justices over the years, has said that he doesn’t pay too much attention to law-review articles. Why? Law professors don’t really have a great grasp of what the law is or a decent track record in predicting where it will evolve. They operate in a largely isolated academic setting in which, in their minds, there are nine Justice Stevenses on the bench. And in this case, they didn’t even get Stevens’s position right.

As Ronald Reagan said of liberals, it’s not that they are ignorant. It’s that they know so much that isn’t true. So I can see the argument for looking outside the appellate bench for justices. But I think law professors are the last place you’d want to look for unbiased, accomplished legal analysts. Let’s hope Kagan picked up some actual law, not law-school law, in her last year at the solicitor general’s office.

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Pity the Constitution

To the century-old debate about whether the Constitution is “living” or static, we may now add yet another argument, an even more woeful assault on the founding document of our country. David Strauss — who claims to be an eminent constitutional-law scholar — views the Constitution as a mere Rorschach test for the collective psyche of the polis.

Writing in an unlikely forum, Florida International University law professor Stanley Fish subjects Strauss’s new book to a much-needed vivisection. He first boils down Strauss’s thesis:

The question is not, as Strauss would have it, is this proffered meaning in the Constitution? The question is, can a chain of inference be formed that links this meaning to something the framers can be said to have intended? …

[Strauss states that the] “written Constitution is valuable because it provides a common ground among the American people.” But as it turns out, common ground is provided not by the Constitution itself but by a survey of “widely acceptable” meanings, which are then attributed to the Constitution as if it were their source. The text, Strauss advises, “should be interpreted in the way best calculated to provide a point on which people can agree.” The way to do this, he adds, is to give the words of the Constitution “their ordinary current meaning — even in preference to the meaning the framers understood.” After all, “the original meaning might be obscure and controversial.”

Believe it or not, even the New York Times can’t stomach Strauss’s assertion:

This is an amazing statement. The Constitution becomes common ground when it becomes a vessel for meanings it does not contain. It acts as a binding agent as long as you don’t take it seriously but take care to pretend that you do. As long as an interpretation of the Constitution “can plausibly say that it honors the text, the text can continue to serve the common ground function.” … The incoherence of what Strauss is urging is spectacularly displayed in a single sentence. Given the importance of common ground, “it makes sense,” he says, “to adhere to the text even while disregarding the framers’ intentions.”

Fish concludes that “if this is what the ‘living Constitution’ is — a Constitution produced and reproduced by serial acts of infidelity — I hereby cast a vote for the real one.”

Theoretically, Strauss is one step further from what a “living Constitution” is. The concept’s original adherents, if they may be taken at their word, saw the “living Constitution” as a way to pull the text into the modern age, amplifying its meaning, not undermining it. Among angels, this may have worked. But Strauss shows what implementing a “living Constitution” looks like in the real world.

His conclusion is fiddlesticks but not for lack of logic. There’s a perfectly reasonable devolution from an established Constitution to a living Constitution to a populist legal system. The question becomes, if the Constitution is “living,” who’s breathing life into it? And with what intentions?

Strauss’s book reminds us that the debate about the Constitution is far from theoretical, and the stakes are high. In fact, Strauss has already held positions high enough to promote his thesis. He was special counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was the assistant solicitor general. He has argued many times before the Supreme Court, and he edits the Supreme Court Review.

Furthermore, one might find it disconcerting to know that Strauss has been singing former colleague Elena Kagan’s praises across the media. He has said: “Elena is a resolutely non-ideological person. She is great at asking hard questions. She does not approach issues with preconceived views; she tries to figure things out. She is practical and tough-minded.”

Much has yet to be determined about what Elena Kagan thinks. But if she, like her colleague, believes in a living Constitution, are we prepared to accept the interpretation with which she animates it on our behalf?

To the century-old debate about whether the Constitution is “living” or static, we may now add yet another argument, an even more woeful assault on the founding document of our country. David Strauss — who claims to be an eminent constitutional-law scholar — views the Constitution as a mere Rorschach test for the collective psyche of the polis.

Writing in an unlikely forum, Florida International University law professor Stanley Fish subjects Strauss’s new book to a much-needed vivisection. He first boils down Strauss’s thesis:

The question is not, as Strauss would have it, is this proffered meaning in the Constitution? The question is, can a chain of inference be formed that links this meaning to something the framers can be said to have intended? …

[Strauss states that the] “written Constitution is valuable because it provides a common ground among the American people.” But as it turns out, common ground is provided not by the Constitution itself but by a survey of “widely acceptable” meanings, which are then attributed to the Constitution as if it were their source. The text, Strauss advises, “should be interpreted in the way best calculated to provide a point on which people can agree.” The way to do this, he adds, is to give the words of the Constitution “their ordinary current meaning — even in preference to the meaning the framers understood.” After all, “the original meaning might be obscure and controversial.”

Believe it or not, even the New York Times can’t stomach Strauss’s assertion:

This is an amazing statement. The Constitution becomes common ground when it becomes a vessel for meanings it does not contain. It acts as a binding agent as long as you don’t take it seriously but take care to pretend that you do. As long as an interpretation of the Constitution “can plausibly say that it honors the text, the text can continue to serve the common ground function.” … The incoherence of what Strauss is urging is spectacularly displayed in a single sentence. Given the importance of common ground, “it makes sense,” he says, “to adhere to the text even while disregarding the framers’ intentions.”

Fish concludes that “if this is what the ‘living Constitution’ is — a Constitution produced and reproduced by serial acts of infidelity — I hereby cast a vote for the real one.”

Theoretically, Strauss is one step further from what a “living Constitution” is. The concept’s original adherents, if they may be taken at their word, saw the “living Constitution” as a way to pull the text into the modern age, amplifying its meaning, not undermining it. Among angels, this may have worked. But Strauss shows what implementing a “living Constitution” looks like in the real world.

His conclusion is fiddlesticks but not for lack of logic. There’s a perfectly reasonable devolution from an established Constitution to a living Constitution to a populist legal system. The question becomes, if the Constitution is “living,” who’s breathing life into it? And with what intentions?

Strauss’s book reminds us that the debate about the Constitution is far from theoretical, and the stakes are high. In fact, Strauss has already held positions high enough to promote his thesis. He was special counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was the assistant solicitor general. He has argued many times before the Supreme Court, and he edits the Supreme Court Review.

Furthermore, one might find it disconcerting to know that Strauss has been singing former colleague Elena Kagan’s praises across the media. He has said: “Elena is a resolutely non-ideological person. She is great at asking hard questions. She does not approach issues with preconceived views; she tries to figure things out. She is practical and tough-minded.”

Much has yet to be determined about what Elena Kagan thinks. But if she, like her colleague, believes in a living Constitution, are we prepared to accept the interpretation with which she animates it on our behalf?

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Bellwether Battle: Sestak vs. Toomey

With the need to explain his vote against Obama Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan when she was confirmed as solicitor general, and yet another tracking poll showing him losing even more ground to challenger Rep. Joe Sestak, Sen. Arlen Specter has officially been declared “toast” by leftist Philadelphia Daily News blogger Will Bunch.

Bunch is right about Specter being ready for a shmear of cream cheese or butter, but he failed to note the news that supporters of the incumbent must regard with special dread: a new Rasmussen poll indicates that Sestak will be a stronger opponent for Republican Pat Toomey in the fall. In the first tracking poll matching the two Democrats against their all-but-certain Republican opponent in a month, Sestak gained strength as Specter continued to lose ground. A month ago, Toomey led Specter 50 to 40 percent. The latest numbers show the margin now to be 50 to 38. While the same survey showed Sestak trailing Toomey 47-36 a month ago, a new poll shows the race to be a virtual standoff, with Toomey holding only a 42-40 lead.

Wavering Democrats who never liked the idea of the former Republican being their nominee were told by party bigwigs that Specter was their only hope to hold the seat in November, since Sestak was too weak to beat Toomey. But if Specter’s incumbency is a weakness rather than a strength in a general election, then liberals won’t hesitate to abandon him next week in droves.

These numbers just confirm what Bunch and just about everybody else who isn’t a Specter staffer have concluded: the incumbent is finished and Pennsylvania will have one of the most competitive and clearly ideological battles for the Senate in November.

Most Pennsylvania Republicans have been thoroughly enjoying Arlen Specter’s difficulties in convincing his new party’s voters to embrace him. After decades of being represented by a man who always put himself on both sides of every big issue, conservatives, who came close to knocking off Specter in a 2004 GOP primary, are getting a great deal of vicarious pleasure from Sestak’s successful challenge to a Democratic establishment that embraced the slippery incumbent with the same ardor that George W. Bush and Rick Santorum backed him six years ago. But with Sestak pulling even with Toomey in a head-to-head matchup, conservatives need to start thinking clearly about the liberal former admiral.

In the past decade, Pennsylvania’s Senate races have generally been won by whoever could claim the center. But this fall, there will be no race in the nation that presents a starker choice between the parties. In all likelihood, the matchup will feature two candidates, Toomey and Sestak, who represent the conservative and liberal wings of their parties respectively. As a man who won a seat in Congress in 2006 as an anti-war candidate, Sestak may well be able to mobilize the suburban liberal base of the Democratic Party even if he leaves urban minorities cold. And we can expect the liberal-media attack machine to go all-out to tar Toomey as a right-wing fanatic. In response, the stalwartly pro-Israel Toomey will have the chance to hold Sestak accountable for his very shaky stand on the Middle East since the congressman backed a J Street letter on Israel rather than one endorsed by the mainstream pro-Israel AIPAC. And Sestak has never backed away from his appearance in 2007 at a fundraiser for the pro-Hamas CAIR’s Philadelphia chapter.

The point is, once Specter is done, conservatives will have to stop cheering for Sestak and start taking him seriously as a formidable and dangerous opponent.

With the need to explain his vote against Obama Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan when she was confirmed as solicitor general, and yet another tracking poll showing him losing even more ground to challenger Rep. Joe Sestak, Sen. Arlen Specter has officially been declared “toast” by leftist Philadelphia Daily News blogger Will Bunch.

Bunch is right about Specter being ready for a shmear of cream cheese or butter, but he failed to note the news that supporters of the incumbent must regard with special dread: a new Rasmussen poll indicates that Sestak will be a stronger opponent for Republican Pat Toomey in the fall. In the first tracking poll matching the two Democrats against their all-but-certain Republican opponent in a month, Sestak gained strength as Specter continued to lose ground. A month ago, Toomey led Specter 50 to 40 percent. The latest numbers show the margin now to be 50 to 38. While the same survey showed Sestak trailing Toomey 47-36 a month ago, a new poll shows the race to be a virtual standoff, with Toomey holding only a 42-40 lead.

Wavering Democrats who never liked the idea of the former Republican being their nominee were told by party bigwigs that Specter was their only hope to hold the seat in November, since Sestak was too weak to beat Toomey. But if Specter’s incumbency is a weakness rather than a strength in a general election, then liberals won’t hesitate to abandon him next week in droves.

These numbers just confirm what Bunch and just about everybody else who isn’t a Specter staffer have concluded: the incumbent is finished and Pennsylvania will have one of the most competitive and clearly ideological battles for the Senate in November.

Most Pennsylvania Republicans have been thoroughly enjoying Arlen Specter’s difficulties in convincing his new party’s voters to embrace him. After decades of being represented by a man who always put himself on both sides of every big issue, conservatives, who came close to knocking off Specter in a 2004 GOP primary, are getting a great deal of vicarious pleasure from Sestak’s successful challenge to a Democratic establishment that embraced the slippery incumbent with the same ardor that George W. Bush and Rick Santorum backed him six years ago. But with Sestak pulling even with Toomey in a head-to-head matchup, conservatives need to start thinking clearly about the liberal former admiral.

In the past decade, Pennsylvania’s Senate races have generally been won by whoever could claim the center. But this fall, there will be no race in the nation that presents a starker choice between the parties. In all likelihood, the matchup will feature two candidates, Toomey and Sestak, who represent the conservative and liberal wings of their parties respectively. As a man who won a seat in Congress in 2006 as an anti-war candidate, Sestak may well be able to mobilize the suburban liberal base of the Democratic Party even if he leaves urban minorities cold. And we can expect the liberal-media attack machine to go all-out to tar Toomey as a right-wing fanatic. In response, the stalwartly pro-Israel Toomey will have the chance to hold Sestak accountable for his very shaky stand on the Middle East since the congressman backed a J Street letter on Israel rather than one endorsed by the mainstream pro-Israel AIPAC. And Sestak has never backed away from his appearance in 2007 at a fundraiser for the pro-Hamas CAIR’s Philadelphia chapter.

The point is, once Specter is done, conservatives will have to stop cheering for Sestak and start taking him seriously as a formidable and dangerous opponent.

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The Truth and Barack Obama

Who knew that Barack Obama’s real ambition is to be Howard Kurtz?

In his commencement address at Hampton University, the president once again decided to act as if he were America’s Media-Critic-in-Chief. In Obama’s words:

You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter. And with iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — (laughter) — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.

Later in the speech, Obama added this:

So, allowing you to compete in the global economy is the first way your education can prepare you. But it can also prepare you as citizens. With so many voices clamoring for attention on blogs, and on cable, on talk radio, it can be difficult, at times, to sift through it all; to know what to believe; to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s not. Let’s face it, even some of the craziest claims can quickly gain traction. I’ve had some experience in that regard.

There are several things one can take away from the president’s remarks.

The first is that there’s a certain irony in being instructed by Obama about avoiding arguments that “don’t always rank that high on the truth meter.” This instruction, after all, comes from a man who, throughout the health-care debate, repeatedly made false and misleading arguments about the effects of ObamaCare on bending the cost curve, on the deficit and debt, on whether people will be forced to leave their employer-based policies, on whether his plan advocated Medicare cuts, on whether it would subsidize abortions, and much else.

Mr. Obama is also the person who, when he was running for the presidency, promised all health-care negotiations would be broadcast on C-SPAN (They weren’t.), that he would accept public financing for his campaign (He didn’t.), that he would put an end to “phony accounting” (He hasn’t.), that lobbyists will not work in his White House (They do.), that he would slash earmarks by more than half (He has not.), that he opposed giving Miranda rights to terrorists (He favors them.), that he was against an individual health-care mandate (He supported it.), and that he would resist the temptation “to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long” (He succumbed to the temptation.).

Where, I wonder, does Mr. Obama rank these statements on his cherished Truth Meter?

And what are we to make of the fact that the very paragraph from Obama’s speech where he laments the lack of truth in public statements includes — you guessed it — a false statement by Obama?

In his commencement address, Obama insists he doesn’t know how to work an iPod. But here’s an item that appeared on the Huffington Post on June 25, 2008:

WASHINGTON — Bob Dylan. Yo-Yo Ma. Sheryl Crow. Jay-Z. These aren’t musical acts in a summer concert series: They’re artists featured on Barack Obama’s iPod.

“I have pretty eclectic tastes,” the Democratic presidential contender said in an interview to be published in Friday’s issue of Rolling Stone.

Is that distant sound we hear the Truth Meter going off again?

By now Obama has spoken out against the New Media often enough to know that he both despises it and is obsessed with it. For all of his talk about his eagerness to listen to others, “especially when we disagree,” as he put it on the night of his election, Obama clearly resents being challenged. He gets especially exasperated and condescending when his challenger has made the better argument. That is, in fact, a trait of Team Obama; we see that attitude on display almost every day in the person of Robert Gibbs, the snidest and least likable press secretary in our lifetime.

The president and his aides are clearly used to being cosseted. They seem to believe the American public should treat them as reverentially as staff members of the New Yorker do.

It may seem odd for a man who presents himself as a public intellectual who cherishes open-mindedness and vigorous debate to be so relentlessly critical of the diversity of voices and viewpoints now in the public square. But remember this: Barack Obama is a man whose attitudes and sensibilities have been shaped by the academy, an institution that is the least (classically) liberal and open-minded in American life today. A stifling conformity and an unwillingness to engage arguments on the merits, combined with a reflexive tendency to attack the motives of those who hold opposing views, are hallmarks of the modern university. They are also, alas, hallmarks of America’s 44th president. But Mr. Obama is learning the hard way that America is not one big Ivy League campus. Here, differing opinions are heard, whether they are welcomed by those in power or not. The public will not bow down before any man or any office. And politicians who treat dissenting voices as if they are a Tower of Babble, to be mocked and ridiculed into silence, eventually receive their comeuppance. So shall Obama.

Who knew that Barack Obama’s real ambition is to be Howard Kurtz?

In his commencement address at Hampton University, the president once again decided to act as if he were America’s Media-Critic-in-Chief. In Obama’s words:

You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter. And with iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — (laughter) — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.

Later in the speech, Obama added this:

So, allowing you to compete in the global economy is the first way your education can prepare you. But it can also prepare you as citizens. With so many voices clamoring for attention on blogs, and on cable, on talk radio, it can be difficult, at times, to sift through it all; to know what to believe; to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s not. Let’s face it, even some of the craziest claims can quickly gain traction. I’ve had some experience in that regard.

There are several things one can take away from the president’s remarks.

The first is that there’s a certain irony in being instructed by Obama about avoiding arguments that “don’t always rank that high on the truth meter.” This instruction, after all, comes from a man who, throughout the health-care debate, repeatedly made false and misleading arguments about the effects of ObamaCare on bending the cost curve, on the deficit and debt, on whether people will be forced to leave their employer-based policies, on whether his plan advocated Medicare cuts, on whether it would subsidize abortions, and much else.

Mr. Obama is also the person who, when he was running for the presidency, promised all health-care negotiations would be broadcast on C-SPAN (They weren’t.), that he would accept public financing for his campaign (He didn’t.), that he would put an end to “phony accounting” (He hasn’t.), that lobbyists will not work in his White House (They do.), that he would slash earmarks by more than half (He has not.), that he opposed giving Miranda rights to terrorists (He favors them.), that he was against an individual health-care mandate (He supported it.), and that he would resist the temptation “to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long” (He succumbed to the temptation.).

Where, I wonder, does Mr. Obama rank these statements on his cherished Truth Meter?

And what are we to make of the fact that the very paragraph from Obama’s speech where he laments the lack of truth in public statements includes — you guessed it — a false statement by Obama?

In his commencement address, Obama insists he doesn’t know how to work an iPod. But here’s an item that appeared on the Huffington Post on June 25, 2008:

WASHINGTON — Bob Dylan. Yo-Yo Ma. Sheryl Crow. Jay-Z. These aren’t musical acts in a summer concert series: They’re artists featured on Barack Obama’s iPod.

“I have pretty eclectic tastes,” the Democratic presidential contender said in an interview to be published in Friday’s issue of Rolling Stone.

Is that distant sound we hear the Truth Meter going off again?

By now Obama has spoken out against the New Media often enough to know that he both despises it and is obsessed with it. For all of his talk about his eagerness to listen to others, “especially when we disagree,” as he put it on the night of his election, Obama clearly resents being challenged. He gets especially exasperated and condescending when his challenger has made the better argument. That is, in fact, a trait of Team Obama; we see that attitude on display almost every day in the person of Robert Gibbs, the snidest and least likable press secretary in our lifetime.

The president and his aides are clearly used to being cosseted. They seem to believe the American public should treat them as reverentially as staff members of the New Yorker do.

It may seem odd for a man who presents himself as a public intellectual who cherishes open-mindedness and vigorous debate to be so relentlessly critical of the diversity of voices and viewpoints now in the public square. But remember this: Barack Obama is a man whose attitudes and sensibilities have been shaped by the academy, an institution that is the least (classically) liberal and open-minded in American life today. A stifling conformity and an unwillingness to engage arguments on the merits, combined with a reflexive tendency to attack the motives of those who hold opposing views, are hallmarks of the modern university. They are also, alas, hallmarks of America’s 44th president. But Mr. Obama is learning the hard way that America is not one big Ivy League campus. Here, differing opinions are heard, whether they are welcomed by those in power or not. The public will not bow down before any man or any office. And politicians who treat dissenting voices as if they are a Tower of Babble, to be mocked and ridiculed into silence, eventually receive their comeuppance. So shall Obama.

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Biden Strikes Again

Joe Biden says many dumb things, but this, on Elena Kagan’s opposition to military recruiters on campus, is up there with the worst of them:

She was right. … All during that period, she has reached out to veterans in the law school, she has been at promotions ceremonies, she’s recognized veterans coming to the law school. So this is not a single bit of anti-military bias. She does think, and I agree with her, that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is a very bad policy.

This is inane on multiple levels. First, she wasn’t “right” — there was a law that allowed recruiters on campus, and the Supreme Court decided that she was wrong in an 8-0 decision. Moreover, if it were such a bad policy, why didn’t he or then-Senator Barack Obama move to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”? And, come to think of it, if it’s so bad, why doesn’t Obama issue an executive order to repeal it? Finally, it’s hard to argue that there wasn’t at least a bit of anti-military in her pronouncement:

“All Members of the Harvard Law School Community”: On Oct. 6, 2003, Kagan explained that she abhorred “the military’s discriminatory recruitment policy. … The military’s policy deprives many men and women of courage and character from having the opportunity to serve their country in the greatest way possible. This is a profound wrong — a moral injustice of the first order.” On Sep. 28, 2004: “… the military’s recruitment policy is both unjust and unwise. The military’s policy deprives…” etc. And on March 7, 2006: “I hope that many members of the Harvard Law School community will accept the Court’s invitation to express their views clearly and forcefully regarding the military’s discriminatory employment policy. As I have said before, I believe that policy is profoundly wrong — both unwise and unjust…,” etc.

Unfortunately, unlike vice presidents, judges and judicial nominees are judged on the precision of their words. Kagan’s got some explaining to do, and Biden isn’t helping her any.

Joe Biden says many dumb things, but this, on Elena Kagan’s opposition to military recruiters on campus, is up there with the worst of them:

She was right. … All during that period, she has reached out to veterans in the law school, she has been at promotions ceremonies, she’s recognized veterans coming to the law school. So this is not a single bit of anti-military bias. She does think, and I agree with her, that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is a very bad policy.

This is inane on multiple levels. First, she wasn’t “right” — there was a law that allowed recruiters on campus, and the Supreme Court decided that she was wrong in an 8-0 decision. Moreover, if it were such a bad policy, why didn’t he or then-Senator Barack Obama move to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”? And, come to think of it, if it’s so bad, why doesn’t Obama issue an executive order to repeal it? Finally, it’s hard to argue that there wasn’t at least a bit of anti-military in her pronouncement:

“All Members of the Harvard Law School Community”: On Oct. 6, 2003, Kagan explained that she abhorred “the military’s discriminatory recruitment policy. … The military’s policy deprives many men and women of courage and character from having the opportunity to serve their country in the greatest way possible. This is a profound wrong — a moral injustice of the first order.” On Sep. 28, 2004: “… the military’s recruitment policy is both unjust and unwise. The military’s policy deprives…” etc. And on March 7, 2006: “I hope that many members of the Harvard Law School community will accept the Court’s invitation to express their views clearly and forcefully regarding the military’s discriminatory employment policy. As I have said before, I believe that policy is profoundly wrong — both unwise and unjust…,” etc.

Unfortunately, unlike vice presidents, judges and judicial nominees are judged on the precision of their words. Kagan’s got some explaining to do, and Biden isn’t helping her any.

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Re: “Dang”

Jen, you’re right. The McCain ad on the border fence is some kind of new low in the annals of political cynicism, but the thing is, maybe when you’re being cynical, you’re best to do it whole hog. In this regard, John McCain might be following in the footsteps of my old friend Arianna Huffington. When she moved to Hollywood and realized that the position of Conservative on the West Coast was taken by David Horowitz, she just…Went Left. Instantly. No painful journey. No tortured realization that some of the things she had believed she no longer did. She seen her opportunity and she took it, and now she is a leading light on the port side of the political ship. By jumping in whole hog with the very people he attacked only three years ago, McCain is trying to save himself from an unprecedented political fate — from presidential nomination to primary ouster in less than two years. Understandable that he’d go to extreme lengths to avoid that. But really, did he have to use the weird invocation of the phrase from the early horror movie Freaks (“one of us…one of us”) to do it?

Jen, you’re right. The McCain ad on the border fence is some kind of new low in the annals of political cynicism, but the thing is, maybe when you’re being cynical, you’re best to do it whole hog. In this regard, John McCain might be following in the footsteps of my old friend Arianna Huffington. When she moved to Hollywood and realized that the position of Conservative on the West Coast was taken by David Horowitz, she just…Went Left. Instantly. No painful journey. No tortured realization that some of the things she had believed she no longer did. She seen her opportunity and she took it, and now she is a leading light on the port side of the political ship. By jumping in whole hog with the very people he attacked only three years ago, McCain is trying to save himself from an unprecedented political fate — from presidential nomination to primary ouster in less than two years. Understandable that he’d go to extreme lengths to avoid that. But really, did he have to use the weird invocation of the phrase from the early horror movie Freaks (“one of us…one of us”) to do it?

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“Dang”

Maybe John McCain uses that expression, but it and everything about his latest ad reeks of phoniness. John McCain at the border, inveighing against crimes (home invasions, murder) by illegal aliens. The border guard declares, “You’re one of us.” For a man who made immigration reform his signature mavericky legislative project, this is pretty shameless stuff. Yes, the Arizona immigration bill is popular. And yes, he’s in a close primary. But is this going to convince any rock-ribbed conservatives that he is “one of them”? I sort of doubt it.

Maybe John McCain uses that expression, but it and everything about his latest ad reeks of phoniness. John McCain at the border, inveighing against crimes (home invasions, murder) by illegal aliens. The border guard declares, “You’re one of us.” For a man who made immigration reform his signature mavericky legislative project, this is pretty shameless stuff. Yes, the Arizona immigration bill is popular. And yes, he’s in a close primary. But is this going to convince any rock-ribbed conservatives that he is “one of them”? I sort of doubt it.

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The Purpose of the Proximity Talks

The newly launched Israeli-Palestinian “proximity talks” have two remarkable features. One is the consensus, even among doves, that the talks have no chance of success. The other is the consensus that the onus for their success rests entirely on Israel.

Regarding the first, here are two of many examples: David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, once an enthusiastic peace-processor, warned last month that “whenever it is all-or-nothing in the Middle East, it is nothing. We should not set ourselves up for failure.” Avi Issacharoff, who covers Palestinian affairs for left-wing Haaretz, published an analysis whose title says it all: “Indirect Mideast peace talks – a highway to failure.”

Regarding the second, even Barack Obama’s media cheerleader-in-chief, Roger Cohen of the New York Times, noticed the embarrassing imbalance: “Israel will refrain from provocations of the Ramat Shlomo kind (those planned 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem) and will promise to get substantive, on borders above all. Palestinians will promise to, well, show up.”

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was explicit about it. Addressing the American Jewish Committee last month, she declared: “Israel must do its part by respecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, stopping settlement activity, addressing the humanitarian needs in Gaza, and supporting the institution-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority.” The Arab states also have obligations, like helping to fund the PA and backing its negotiating efforts. And the PA’s obligations? About that, she hadn’t a word to say.

Putting these two facts together, what emerges? Noah suggested that the talks’ inevitable failure is actually the point, as it will give Obama an excuse for imposing his own peace plan. I agree with the first half of this conclusion. But if the goal were merely an Obama peace plan, it wouldn’t be necessary to place the onus on Israel in advance: any impasse, regardless of who was to blame, would provide an equally good excuse.

Therefore, I think the goal is simpler: to provide an excuse for putting more “daylight” between America and Israel — presumably entailing substantive sanctions rather than merely the hostile rhetoric employed hitherto — and thereby further Obama’s goal of rapprochement with the Arab world.

Why is the proximity-talks charade necessary? Because currently, Obama lacks both public and congressional support for moving beyond mere verbal hostility. If he didn’t realize this before, the backlash to his March temper tantrum over Ramat Shlomo would certainly have convinced him.

So he needs to up the ante by painting Israel’s government as responsible for torpedoing a key American foreign-policy initiative — one he has repeatedly framed as serving both a vital American national interest and a vital Israeli one. He could then argue not only that Israel deserves punishment but that such punishment would actually serve Israel’s interests.

To avoid this trap, Jerusalem must launch its own PR campaign in America now to put the focus back where it belongs: on Palestinian unwillingness to accept a Jewish state. For if Israel lets Obama control the narrative, the public and congressional support on which it depends may be irretrievably undermined.

The newly launched Israeli-Palestinian “proximity talks” have two remarkable features. One is the consensus, even among doves, that the talks have no chance of success. The other is the consensus that the onus for their success rests entirely on Israel.

Regarding the first, here are two of many examples: David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, once an enthusiastic peace-processor, warned last month that “whenever it is all-or-nothing in the Middle East, it is nothing. We should not set ourselves up for failure.” Avi Issacharoff, who covers Palestinian affairs for left-wing Haaretz, published an analysis whose title says it all: “Indirect Mideast peace talks – a highway to failure.”

Regarding the second, even Barack Obama’s media cheerleader-in-chief, Roger Cohen of the New York Times, noticed the embarrassing imbalance: “Israel will refrain from provocations of the Ramat Shlomo kind (those planned 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem) and will promise to get substantive, on borders above all. Palestinians will promise to, well, show up.”

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was explicit about it. Addressing the American Jewish Committee last month, she declared: “Israel must do its part by respecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, stopping settlement activity, addressing the humanitarian needs in Gaza, and supporting the institution-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority.” The Arab states also have obligations, like helping to fund the PA and backing its negotiating efforts. And the PA’s obligations? About that, she hadn’t a word to say.

Putting these two facts together, what emerges? Noah suggested that the talks’ inevitable failure is actually the point, as it will give Obama an excuse for imposing his own peace plan. I agree with the first half of this conclusion. But if the goal were merely an Obama peace plan, it wouldn’t be necessary to place the onus on Israel in advance: any impasse, regardless of who was to blame, would provide an equally good excuse.

Therefore, I think the goal is simpler: to provide an excuse for putting more “daylight” between America and Israel — presumably entailing substantive sanctions rather than merely the hostile rhetoric employed hitherto — and thereby further Obama’s goal of rapprochement with the Arab world.

Why is the proximity-talks charade necessary? Because currently, Obama lacks both public and congressional support for moving beyond mere verbal hostility. If he didn’t realize this before, the backlash to his March temper tantrum over Ramat Shlomo would certainly have convinced him.

So he needs to up the ante by painting Israel’s government as responsible for torpedoing a key American foreign-policy initiative — one he has repeatedly framed as serving both a vital American national interest and a vital Israeli one. He could then argue not only that Israel deserves punishment but that such punishment would actually serve Israel’s interests.

To avoid this trap, Jerusalem must launch its own PR campaign in America now to put the focus back where it belongs: on Palestinian unwillingness to accept a Jewish state. For if Israel lets Obama control the narrative, the public and congressional support on which it depends may be irretrievably undermined.

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No One Better Than Obama

Yes, no one tops Obama when it comes to polarizing the electorate — not Reagan or even George W. Bush. Gallup reports:

His first-year ratings were the most polarized for a president in Gallup history, with an average 65-point gap between Republicans and Democrats. Obama’s approval ratings have become slightly more polarized thus far in his second year in office, with an average 69-point gap between Democrats (83%) and Republicans (14%) since late January.

Obama’s approval ratings among non-Hispanic whites slid below the majority level in July 2009, and have not returned to that mark, generally hovering around 40% since mid-November. Meanwhile, his approval ratings among blacks have been stable throughout his presidency, right around 90%.

Though the latest 58% weekly approval average among 18- to 29-year-olds is among the lowest Obama has registered to date, it remains his highest current rating among the four age groups and is significantly better than his rating among senior citizens. Older Americans last gave Obama an approval rating above 50% last July. The gap in ratings between young adults and senior citizens has averaged 16 points during Obama’s presidency.

There are several noteworthy aspects to this. First, we know historically and from the “enthusiasm” gap in recent polling that the groups that fervently support Obama — Democrats, blacks, and young voters — are those more likely to have lower turnout numbers in November than those that oppose him — Republicans, whites, and older voters. This is very bad news for House and Senate Democratic candidates.

Second, the winning coalition that Obama constructed to win the primary and then the general election has collapsed, and he is back to his core supporters. It remains unclear whether he can put the pieces back together for the 2012 election.

Third, the hyper-partisanship and ideological agenda have taken their toll. Obama wanted to do “historic things” and create a “new foundation,” but these goals lacked broad-based support, leaving Obama and his party politically vulnerable. And most important, the campaign themes that Obama successfully rode to the presidency – that he was post-partisan, post-racial, moderate, and unifying — have been thoroughly repudiated, and with them has gone the image of a larger-than-life figure. He is now a not-too-popular liberal-Democratic pol with limited support for his extreme agenda.

Which come to think of it was pretty much what he’s always been — minus the campaign hype.

Yes, no one tops Obama when it comes to polarizing the electorate — not Reagan or even George W. Bush. Gallup reports:

His first-year ratings were the most polarized for a president in Gallup history, with an average 65-point gap between Republicans and Democrats. Obama’s approval ratings have become slightly more polarized thus far in his second year in office, with an average 69-point gap between Democrats (83%) and Republicans (14%) since late January.

Obama’s approval ratings among non-Hispanic whites slid below the majority level in July 2009, and have not returned to that mark, generally hovering around 40% since mid-November. Meanwhile, his approval ratings among blacks have been stable throughout his presidency, right around 90%.

Though the latest 58% weekly approval average among 18- to 29-year-olds is among the lowest Obama has registered to date, it remains his highest current rating among the four age groups and is significantly better than his rating among senior citizens. Older Americans last gave Obama an approval rating above 50% last July. The gap in ratings between young adults and senior citizens has averaged 16 points during Obama’s presidency.

There are several noteworthy aspects to this. First, we know historically and from the “enthusiasm” gap in recent polling that the groups that fervently support Obama — Democrats, blacks, and young voters — are those more likely to have lower turnout numbers in November than those that oppose him — Republicans, whites, and older voters. This is very bad news for House and Senate Democratic candidates.

Second, the winning coalition that Obama constructed to win the primary and then the general election has collapsed, and he is back to his core supporters. It remains unclear whether he can put the pieces back together for the 2012 election.

Third, the hyper-partisanship and ideological agenda have taken their toll. Obama wanted to do “historic things” and create a “new foundation,” but these goals lacked broad-based support, leaving Obama and his party politically vulnerable. And most important, the campaign themes that Obama successfully rode to the presidency – that he was post-partisan, post-racial, moderate, and unifying — have been thoroughly repudiated, and with them has gone the image of a larger-than-life figure. He is now a not-too-popular liberal-Democratic pol with limited support for his extreme agenda.

Which come to think of it was pretty much what he’s always been — minus the campaign hype.

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Kagan’s Recusals

Yesterday, I raised the issue of Elena Kagan’s recusal in a case that might try to reverse or modify Citizens United. It seems the White House has already thought this through:

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama took the issue into consideration when he looked at Kagan for the nomination. “The president had to make a decision similar to past presidents that have tapped solicitor generals to serve on the high court,” Gibbs said. “Next year, I think we anticipate recusals in about a dozen cases, and then maybe less than half of that in the year after that.”

Really — how did they count? What standard are they using? Kagan should be very clear about what sorts of cases and what issues she believes she will be recused from. This is critical not only in determining her ethical posture but also in figuring out whether Democrats will be “down a vote” for some period of time. Is she going to opine on the constitutionality of ObamaCare? On Guantanomo cases? On this, the Senate should insist on clear and definitive answers. After all, it goes directly to her ability to perform the job for which she has been nominated.

Yesterday, I raised the issue of Elena Kagan’s recusal in a case that might try to reverse or modify Citizens United. It seems the White House has already thought this through:

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama took the issue into consideration when he looked at Kagan for the nomination. “The president had to make a decision similar to past presidents that have tapped solicitor generals to serve on the high court,” Gibbs said. “Next year, I think we anticipate recusals in about a dozen cases, and then maybe less than half of that in the year after that.”

Really — how did they count? What standard are they using? Kagan should be very clear about what sorts of cases and what issues she believes she will be recused from. This is critical not only in determining her ethical posture but also in figuring out whether Democrats will be “down a vote” for some period of time. Is she going to opine on the constitutionality of ObamaCare? On Guantanomo cases? On this, the Senate should insist on clear and definitive answers. After all, it goes directly to her ability to perform the job for which she has been nominated.

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The Gray Lady Is Nervous

The New York Times editors, even before the revelation of her abortion advice during the Clinton administration, were nervous about the stealth nominee. They fret:

President Obama may know that his new nominee to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, shares his thinking on the multitude of issues that face the court and the nation, but the public knows nothing of the kind. Whether by ambitious design or by habit of mind, Ms. Kagan has spent decades carefully husbanding her thoughts and shielding her philosophy from view. Her lack of a clear record on certain issues makes it hard to know whether Mr. Obama has nominated a full-throated counterweight to the court’s increasingly aggressive conservative wing. … But where, precisely, has Ms. Kagan been during the legal whirlwinds of the last few years, as issues like executive power, same-sex marriage, the rights of the accused and proper application of the death penalty have raged through the courts?

Why, hiding her views to position herself for the Court, of course. It is ironic that the president, who got to office concealing his own views, now is unsettling his base for selecting someone who has concealed hers. The lefty Times editors find this most troubling:

In a 2001 Harvard Law Review article, Ms. Kagan defended a robust assertion of presidential power unless specifically limited by Congress — albeit in the service of “progressive goals” on the domestic front. She told the Senate last year that she agreed the government has the right to indefinitely detain enemy combatants captured around the world. As Mr. Obama’s solicitor general, she has supported his administration’s positions, little changed since the Bush administration, on the use of military force against Al Qaeda, the habeas corpus rights of military detainees and the state secrets privilege.

Conservatives may roll their eyes, convinced that no Harvard Law School dean is going to cross the left. But the issue here is the rather paranoid and perpetually aggrieved left. Obama in their eyes has been a disappointment. Indeed, it was their apathy that convinced the Democrats that they had to roll the dice on ObamaCare in order to turn out the liberal base in November. Now he gives them a nominee — for the seat of the sainted leftist Justice Stevens — who’s a squish? Hmm. Obama may have been too clever by half on this. The right will probably still not embrace her, and the left will, once again, be peeved. Sort of the worst of all worlds, no?

The New York Times editors, even before the revelation of her abortion advice during the Clinton administration, were nervous about the stealth nominee. They fret:

President Obama may know that his new nominee to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, shares his thinking on the multitude of issues that face the court and the nation, but the public knows nothing of the kind. Whether by ambitious design or by habit of mind, Ms. Kagan has spent decades carefully husbanding her thoughts and shielding her philosophy from view. Her lack of a clear record on certain issues makes it hard to know whether Mr. Obama has nominated a full-throated counterweight to the court’s increasingly aggressive conservative wing. … But where, precisely, has Ms. Kagan been during the legal whirlwinds of the last few years, as issues like executive power, same-sex marriage, the rights of the accused and proper application of the death penalty have raged through the courts?

Why, hiding her views to position herself for the Court, of course. It is ironic that the president, who got to office concealing his own views, now is unsettling his base for selecting someone who has concealed hers. The lefty Times editors find this most troubling:

In a 2001 Harvard Law Review article, Ms. Kagan defended a robust assertion of presidential power unless specifically limited by Congress — albeit in the service of “progressive goals” on the domestic front. She told the Senate last year that she agreed the government has the right to indefinitely detain enemy combatants captured around the world. As Mr. Obama’s solicitor general, she has supported his administration’s positions, little changed since the Bush administration, on the use of military force against Al Qaeda, the habeas corpus rights of military detainees and the state secrets privilege.

Conservatives may roll their eyes, convinced that no Harvard Law School dean is going to cross the left. But the issue here is the rather paranoid and perpetually aggrieved left. Obama in their eyes has been a disappointment. Indeed, it was their apathy that convinced the Democrats that they had to roll the dice on ObamaCare in order to turn out the liberal base in November. Now he gives them a nominee — for the seat of the sainted leftist Justice Stevens — who’s a squish? Hmm. Obama may have been too clever by half on this. The right will probably still not embrace her, and the left will, once again, be peeved. Sort of the worst of all worlds, no?

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Obama Highlights What Kagan Is Not

One had the impression listening to Obama’s introduction of Elena Kagan yesterday that the White House spinners had made a list of her shortcomings and then concocted a narrative featuring an un-Kagan who had none of those shortcomings and, indeed, an overabundance of the very qualities honest observers would concede she lacks.

As Ben Smith writes:

President Barack Obama introduced Elena Kagan on Monday in the terms that have come to define his approach to the Supreme Court: She understands the law “as it affects the lives of ordinary people,” he said, adding that her presence will make the court “more reflective of us as a people than ever before.”

Obama promised judges with at least a passing knowledge of the “real world,” but Kagan’s experience draws from a world whose signposts are distant from most Americans: Manhattan’s Upper West side, Princeton University, Harvard Law School and the upper reaches of the Democratic legal establishment.

Obama also pronounced, “Elena is widely regarded as one of the nation’s foremost legal minds.” This is preposterous. She’s written little, and what she has written is banal and unexceptional. Her speeches as dean are not analytical or historical discourse but pep talks and generic spiels on ethics and the wonders of Harvard Law School’s reputation.

So she brings neither an abundance of non-elite experience nor an intellectual record of achievement. That doesn’t mean she isn’t qualified or won’t make a capable justice, but it does serve to emphasize — once again — the president’s penchant for exaggeration if not fabrication.

His remarks also suggest what he really was looking for in a justice, and regrettably reveal that he (but we hope not his nominee) is confused about what the Court should be doing. He praised her work as solicitor general in “defend[ing] the rights of shareholders and ordinary citizens against unscrupulous corporations. Last year, in the Citizens United case, she defended bipartisan campaign finance reform against special interests seeking to spend unlimited money to influence our elections.” Is that what she argued: corporation = bad and micromanaging speech = good? Is that what the Court does — find the Democratic cause and construct a legal argument to support it? Even the Washington Post‘s editors spotted the problem with the president’s demagoguery, reminding the former law professor that justices “should decide each case on its merits.”

So she’s not very real world, and she isn’t a renowned scholar, but she sure understands the president’s liberal agenda. Obama is nothing if not totally predictable in his nominations — construct a narrative, appoint a dependable liberal. Kagan, I suspect, won’t disappoint him.

One had the impression listening to Obama’s introduction of Elena Kagan yesterday that the White House spinners had made a list of her shortcomings and then concocted a narrative featuring an un-Kagan who had none of those shortcomings and, indeed, an overabundance of the very qualities honest observers would concede she lacks.

As Ben Smith writes:

President Barack Obama introduced Elena Kagan on Monday in the terms that have come to define his approach to the Supreme Court: She understands the law “as it affects the lives of ordinary people,” he said, adding that her presence will make the court “more reflective of us as a people than ever before.”

Obama promised judges with at least a passing knowledge of the “real world,” but Kagan’s experience draws from a world whose signposts are distant from most Americans: Manhattan’s Upper West side, Princeton University, Harvard Law School and the upper reaches of the Democratic legal establishment.

Obama also pronounced, “Elena is widely regarded as one of the nation’s foremost legal minds.” This is preposterous. She’s written little, and what she has written is banal and unexceptional. Her speeches as dean are not analytical or historical discourse but pep talks and generic spiels on ethics and the wonders of Harvard Law School’s reputation.

So she brings neither an abundance of non-elite experience nor an intellectual record of achievement. That doesn’t mean she isn’t qualified or won’t make a capable justice, but it does serve to emphasize — once again — the president’s penchant for exaggeration if not fabrication.

His remarks also suggest what he really was looking for in a justice, and regrettably reveal that he (but we hope not his nominee) is confused about what the Court should be doing. He praised her work as solicitor general in “defend[ing] the rights of shareholders and ordinary citizens against unscrupulous corporations. Last year, in the Citizens United case, she defended bipartisan campaign finance reform against special interests seeking to spend unlimited money to influence our elections.” Is that what she argued: corporation = bad and micromanaging speech = good? Is that what the Court does — find the Democratic cause and construct a legal argument to support it? Even the Washington Post‘s editors spotted the problem with the president’s demagoguery, reminding the former law professor that justices “should decide each case on its merits.”

So she’s not very real world, and she isn’t a renowned scholar, but she sure understands the president’s liberal agenda. Obama is nothing if not totally predictable in his nominations — construct a narrative, appoint a dependable liberal. Kagan, I suspect, won’t disappoint him.

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Leftists Beware: Kagan Favored Ban on Late-Term Abortions

The problem with nominating a blank slate, as Jane Hamsher capably argues, is that the president and his supporters have to take on faith that their nominee is “with them” on the issues they care about. But what if they haven’t seen all the documents or can’t quite be sure what she actually believes? It turns into a freak-out for the president’s supporters. And that is what may ensue on the issue nearest and dearest to the left — abortion. The AP reports:

As a White House adviser in 1997, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan urged then-President Bill Clinton to support a ban on late-term abortions, a political compromise that put the administration at odds with abortion rights groups.

Documents reviewed Monday by The Associated Press show Kagan encouraging Clinton to support a bill that would have banned all abortions of viable fetuses except when the physical health of the mother was at risk. The documents from Clinton’s presidential library are among the first to surface in which Kagan weighs in the thorny issue of abortion.

The abortion proposal was a compromise by Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle. Clinton supported it, but the proposal failed and Clinton vetoed a stricter Republican ban.

And if the left isn’t annoyed enough with Rahm Emanuel, there is this:

The memo is more of a political calculation than a legal brief, but Kagan and Reed urged Clinton to support the compromise despite noting that the Justice Department believed the proposal was unconstitutional.

“We recommend that you endorse the Daschle amendment in order to sustain your credibility on HR 1122 and prevent Congress from overriding your veto,” they wrote.

The memo noted that another White House adviser, Rahm Emmanuel, also supported the idea. Emmanuel is now Obama’s chief of staff.

Uh oh. Well, the left will have a tizzy, the leftist blogosphere will criticize Obama for “playing it safe” with an unreliable stealth nominee, and then the White House will have to reassure its supporters that she’s definitely with them — but of course, they wouldn’t have ever asked her how she’d rule on abortion. Conservatives would do well to pipe down. Let the administration untangle itself from this one and explain why it chose someone who has no paper trail and spent her entire career convincing conflicting sides that she was a sympathetic ear.

The problem with nominating a blank slate, as Jane Hamsher capably argues, is that the president and his supporters have to take on faith that their nominee is “with them” on the issues they care about. But what if they haven’t seen all the documents or can’t quite be sure what she actually believes? It turns into a freak-out for the president’s supporters. And that is what may ensue on the issue nearest and dearest to the left — abortion. The AP reports:

As a White House adviser in 1997, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan urged then-President Bill Clinton to support a ban on late-term abortions, a political compromise that put the administration at odds with abortion rights groups.

Documents reviewed Monday by The Associated Press show Kagan encouraging Clinton to support a bill that would have banned all abortions of viable fetuses except when the physical health of the mother was at risk. The documents from Clinton’s presidential library are among the first to surface in which Kagan weighs in the thorny issue of abortion.

The abortion proposal was a compromise by Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle. Clinton supported it, but the proposal failed and Clinton vetoed a stricter Republican ban.

And if the left isn’t annoyed enough with Rahm Emanuel, there is this:

The memo is more of a political calculation than a legal brief, but Kagan and Reed urged Clinton to support the compromise despite noting that the Justice Department believed the proposal was unconstitutional.

“We recommend that you endorse the Daschle amendment in order to sustain your credibility on HR 1122 and prevent Congress from overriding your veto,” they wrote.

The memo noted that another White House adviser, Rahm Emmanuel, also supported the idea. Emmanuel is now Obama’s chief of staff.

Uh oh. Well, the left will have a tizzy, the leftist blogosphere will criticize Obama for “playing it safe” with an unreliable stealth nominee, and then the White House will have to reassure its supporters that she’s definitely with them — but of course, they wouldn’t have ever asked her how she’d rule on abortion. Conservatives would do well to pipe down. Let the administration untangle itself from this one and explain why it chose someone who has no paper trail and spent her entire career convincing conflicting sides that she was a sympathetic ear.

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