Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 24, 2010

Fear and Loathing in the Far East

Conspiracy theorists would imagine that the Americans engineered the sinking of South Korean ship Cheonan – and pinned it on North Korea — as a means of pressuring Japan to agree to relocate the disputed Marine Corps air base on Okinawa. But conspiracies don’t work that well; only the natural course of events produces such ironies.

Shortly after Seoul announced its findings last week on the Cheonan sinking, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama publicly reversed his position on relocating the U.S. base. Vocal Okinawan activists have long wanted the U.S. Marine Corps out of their archipelagic prefecture entirely. Hatoyama promised during his 2009 campaign to revisit the previous government’s agreement to move the air base from its current position at Futenma to a new location in the Henoko district. And late last year he did just that, producing a months-long standoff with the U.S. over the fate of Marine Corps basing in Japan.

The Obama administration’s stance has been unyielding and less than cordial: December saw a painfully undiplomatic sequence in which President Obama refused a request for a sidebar with Hatoyama at the Copenhagen environmental summit; the Hatoyama government announced that it would not move on the basing matter at all until May 2010; and Hillary Clinton summoned the Japanese ambassador to lecture him on his government’s obligations under the previous agreement.

In spite of this unpromising history, however, the Hatoyama government has now agreed to continue with the plan to move the air base to Henoko. The move remains deeply unpopular in Okinawa, but Hatoyama is quite explicit about his reason: his concern for Japanese security in light of the tensions on the Korean peninsula.

This is a pyrrhic victory for Obama’s diplomacy. The alliance with Japan is worth tending better; it might have been possible to achieve this or a similarly advantageous outcome without leaving Japan’s government and the Okinawans feeling cornered and resentful. But our “smart power” administration didn’t even try.

Events will not always yield blind luck and drive our allies to do what we want. With events likely to begin piling up faster than we can react to them, greater care is called for. Observing with our allies the basic norms of courtesy, access, negotiation, and compromise would go a long way toward cementing our commonality of purpose as the challenges to our global security arrangements accelerate.

Conspiracy theorists would imagine that the Americans engineered the sinking of South Korean ship Cheonan – and pinned it on North Korea — as a means of pressuring Japan to agree to relocate the disputed Marine Corps air base on Okinawa. But conspiracies don’t work that well; only the natural course of events produces such ironies.

Shortly after Seoul announced its findings last week on the Cheonan sinking, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama publicly reversed his position on relocating the U.S. base. Vocal Okinawan activists have long wanted the U.S. Marine Corps out of their archipelagic prefecture entirely. Hatoyama promised during his 2009 campaign to revisit the previous government’s agreement to move the air base from its current position at Futenma to a new location in the Henoko district. And late last year he did just that, producing a months-long standoff with the U.S. over the fate of Marine Corps basing in Japan.

The Obama administration’s stance has been unyielding and less than cordial: December saw a painfully undiplomatic sequence in which President Obama refused a request for a sidebar with Hatoyama at the Copenhagen environmental summit; the Hatoyama government announced that it would not move on the basing matter at all until May 2010; and Hillary Clinton summoned the Japanese ambassador to lecture him on his government’s obligations under the previous agreement.

In spite of this unpromising history, however, the Hatoyama government has now agreed to continue with the plan to move the air base to Henoko. The move remains deeply unpopular in Okinawa, but Hatoyama is quite explicit about his reason: his concern for Japanese security in light of the tensions on the Korean peninsula.

This is a pyrrhic victory for Obama’s diplomacy. The alliance with Japan is worth tending better; it might have been possible to achieve this or a similarly advantageous outcome without leaving Japan’s government and the Okinawans feeling cornered and resentful. But our “smart power” administration didn’t even try.

Events will not always yield blind luck and drive our allies to do what we want. With events likely to begin piling up faster than we can react to them, greater care is called for. Observing with our allies the basic norms of courtesy, access, negotiation, and compromise would go a long way toward cementing our commonality of purpose as the challenges to our global security arrangements accelerate.

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Why Obama Won’t Be Going to Israel

Jen’s post on the White House rabbinical meetings contained this summary of the rabbis’ input:

[Rabbi Jack] Moline said the major responses from the rabbis were to urge Obama to visit Israel, to express some concern of there being a double standard for Israel and to tell Obama that they were not “confident from the President himself that he feels Israel in his kishkes.”

The rabbis thus echoed the request that 37 Jewish Democratic lawmakers made in their own meeting with Obama last week: go to Israel and give a speech (“Message: I care”). It is the same request that liberal Israeli and American columnists made last year. It will be ignored again, for at least four reasons.

First, Obama cannot give the speech without changing the underlying policy that necessitated it in the first place. He has adopted a foreign policy that relies on putting daylight between the U.S. and Israel to “reset” our relations with the Arab and Muslim world. There cannot be a Jerusalem speech to offset the Cairo one — because one of the principal purposes of the latter was precisely to demonstrate that Israel no longer enjoys its former position in American foreign policy.

Second, Obama is unlikely to risk a less-than-admiring reception from the Knesset, which often — as does the British Parliament — features simultaneous rebuttals from the floor. These days, Obama does not even risk prime-time press conferences in the United States. His last interview was with Bono.

Third, a Knesset speech would invite comparisons with George W. Bush’s Knesset address — which, Seth Lipsky correctly observed, “will stand as a measure for those who follow him” and which captured an extraordinary moment in history. Speaking on Israel Independence Day, Bush began as follows:

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence, founded on the “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.” What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David — a homeland for the chosen people, Eretz Yisrael.

Obama cannot approximate Bush’s address, because he does not share Bush’s perspective.

Fourth, even if Obama gave a comparable speech, it would not be believed. His actions — reneging on his pledge of an undivided Jerusalem; failing to honor U.S. understandings regarding settlements; ignoring the commitments in the 2004 Bush letter, given in exchange for the Gaza withdrawal; failing to visit Israel when he visited Turkey, failing again when he visited Egypt, and failing again over the past 12 months; slurring Israel in his Cairo speech; telling U.S. Jewish groups that closeness to Israel had resulted in “no progress” in the peace process; attempting to attend the Durban II conference; awarding a presidential medal to Durban I’s Mary Robinson; granting legitimacy to the anti-Semitic UN Human Rights Council; demanding compliance with Palestinian preconditions for peace negotiations; repeatedly humiliating Israel’s prime minister during his U.S. visits; castigating Israel for planning Jewish homes in the Jewish area of the Jewish capital; endless patience with Iran combined with public impatience with Israel; etc. — represent a record that cannot be corrected merely with a speech, even if it begins with “Let me be clear.”

The rabbis hope for a speech in Israel to show how Obama feels in his kishkes, but it is not going to happen. In any event, we already know how Obama feels, and the gently-phrased response of the rabbis (they are not “confident” about him) suggests that, despite their reluctance to admit it, they know it too.

Jen’s post on the White House rabbinical meetings contained this summary of the rabbis’ input:

[Rabbi Jack] Moline said the major responses from the rabbis were to urge Obama to visit Israel, to express some concern of there being a double standard for Israel and to tell Obama that they were not “confident from the President himself that he feels Israel in his kishkes.”

The rabbis thus echoed the request that 37 Jewish Democratic lawmakers made in their own meeting with Obama last week: go to Israel and give a speech (“Message: I care”). It is the same request that liberal Israeli and American columnists made last year. It will be ignored again, for at least four reasons.

First, Obama cannot give the speech without changing the underlying policy that necessitated it in the first place. He has adopted a foreign policy that relies on putting daylight between the U.S. and Israel to “reset” our relations with the Arab and Muslim world. There cannot be a Jerusalem speech to offset the Cairo one — because one of the principal purposes of the latter was precisely to demonstrate that Israel no longer enjoys its former position in American foreign policy.

Second, Obama is unlikely to risk a less-than-admiring reception from the Knesset, which often — as does the British Parliament — features simultaneous rebuttals from the floor. These days, Obama does not even risk prime-time press conferences in the United States. His last interview was with Bono.

Third, a Knesset speech would invite comparisons with George W. Bush’s Knesset address — which, Seth Lipsky correctly observed, “will stand as a measure for those who follow him” and which captured an extraordinary moment in history. Speaking on Israel Independence Day, Bush began as follows:

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence, founded on the “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.” What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David — a homeland for the chosen people, Eretz Yisrael.

Obama cannot approximate Bush’s address, because he does not share Bush’s perspective.

Fourth, even if Obama gave a comparable speech, it would not be believed. His actions — reneging on his pledge of an undivided Jerusalem; failing to honor U.S. understandings regarding settlements; ignoring the commitments in the 2004 Bush letter, given in exchange for the Gaza withdrawal; failing to visit Israel when he visited Turkey, failing again when he visited Egypt, and failing again over the past 12 months; slurring Israel in his Cairo speech; telling U.S. Jewish groups that closeness to Israel had resulted in “no progress” in the peace process; attempting to attend the Durban II conference; awarding a presidential medal to Durban I’s Mary Robinson; granting legitimacy to the anti-Semitic UN Human Rights Council; demanding compliance with Palestinian preconditions for peace negotiations; repeatedly humiliating Israel’s prime minister during his U.S. visits; castigating Israel for planning Jewish homes in the Jewish area of the Jewish capital; endless patience with Iran combined with public impatience with Israel; etc. — represent a record that cannot be corrected merely with a speech, even if it begins with “Let me be clear.”

The rabbis hope for a speech in Israel to show how Obama feels in his kishkes, but it is not going to happen. In any event, we already know how Obama feels, and the gently-phrased response of the rabbis (they are not “confident” about him) suggests that, despite their reluctance to admit it, they know it too.

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RE: RE: Palin and the Media

I share Pete’s and Jen’s reaction to Sarah Palin’s Fox interview yesterday — it is important for conservatives to be honest about Rand Paul and not to blame his unacceptable comments on the media that ferreted them out. But Palin was correct that Paul got it right on the second (or maybe third) try, and it is possible for people — particularly newcomers to the harsh glare of national politics — to learn from their experience.

As evidence that Palin herself has learned and benefited from the glare focused on her over the past two years, I would recommend watching her “I Can See November from My House” speech, which she gave over the weekend at the University of Denver — and especially the panel discussion featuring her, Dennis Prager, and Hugh Hewitt after her speech. The videos of both can be viewed at TheRightScoop. They are worth the time.

I share Pete’s and Jen’s reaction to Sarah Palin’s Fox interview yesterday — it is important for conservatives to be honest about Rand Paul and not to blame his unacceptable comments on the media that ferreted them out. But Palin was correct that Paul got it right on the second (or maybe third) try, and it is possible for people — particularly newcomers to the harsh glare of national politics — to learn from their experience.

As evidence that Palin herself has learned and benefited from the glare focused on her over the past two years, I would recommend watching her “I Can See November from My House” speech, which she gave over the weekend at the University of Denver — and especially the panel discussion featuring her, Dennis Prager, and Hugh Hewitt after her speech. The videos of both can be viewed at TheRightScoop. They are worth the time.

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Why Don’t the Jews Do This?

Christians United for Israel (CUFI) did something extraordinary on Sunday, according to a news release on its second annual CUFI Sunday:

Christian clergy at more than 1,500 churches in all 50 states and more than 50 foreign countries dedicated their Sunday sermons to discussing the Christian imperative of support for the State of Israel.

“We were able to reach churches on almost every continent,” said Pastor John Hagee, CUFI’s founder and Chairman.

“Israel is an outpost of freedom and democracy in one of the most undemocratic regions in the world,” Hagee added. “Now is the time for Israel’s supporters, regardless of faith or political ideology, to unite in standing with Israel as she confronts such serious threats from Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran.”

In a recent opinion piece penned for The Jewish Daily Forward Hagee wrote that attendees at CUFI Sunday services “will leave Church with a better understanding of the dangers of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Palestinian terror, and the international campaign against Israel’s legitimacy.” . . .

“Israel needs support now more than ever; I am very proud that CUFI is playing an ever increasing role in making that happen,” [executive director David] Brog said.

Now, some rabbis do devote time on the bimah to Israel, but many do not, and certainly there has not been an organized “Shabbat for Israel,” despite the extraordinary threats Israel currently faces. That’s more than a little trouble — not to mention that it’s embarrassing that Christians are doing what the Jewish community is not. But alas, I think we might sooner see a “Shabbat for Global Warming” or a “Shabbat for Nuclear Disarmament” in the vast number of  Reform shuls (which represent the majority of American Jewry). Indeed, Obama seemed able to rope the rabbinate into a High Holy Day for ObamaCare.

It is all a matter of priorities. Perhaps “leaders” in the American Jewish community should re-examine theirs.

Christians United for Israel (CUFI) did something extraordinary on Sunday, according to a news release on its second annual CUFI Sunday:

Christian clergy at more than 1,500 churches in all 50 states and more than 50 foreign countries dedicated their Sunday sermons to discussing the Christian imperative of support for the State of Israel.

“We were able to reach churches on almost every continent,” said Pastor John Hagee, CUFI’s founder and Chairman.

“Israel is an outpost of freedom and democracy in one of the most undemocratic regions in the world,” Hagee added. “Now is the time for Israel’s supporters, regardless of faith or political ideology, to unite in standing with Israel as she confronts such serious threats from Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran.”

In a recent opinion piece penned for The Jewish Daily Forward Hagee wrote that attendees at CUFI Sunday services “will leave Church with a better understanding of the dangers of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Palestinian terror, and the international campaign against Israel’s legitimacy.” . . .

“Israel needs support now more than ever; I am very proud that CUFI is playing an ever increasing role in making that happen,” [executive director David] Brog said.

Now, some rabbis do devote time on the bimah to Israel, but many do not, and certainly there has not been an organized “Shabbat for Israel,” despite the extraordinary threats Israel currently faces. That’s more than a little trouble — not to mention that it’s embarrassing that Christians are doing what the Jewish community is not. But alas, I think we might sooner see a “Shabbat for Global Warming” or a “Shabbat for Nuclear Disarmament” in the vast number of  Reform shuls (which represent the majority of American Jewry). Indeed, Obama seemed able to rope the rabbinate into a High Holy Day for ObamaCare.

It is all a matter of priorities. Perhaps “leaders” in the American Jewish community should re-examine theirs.

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RE: Palin and the Media

Pete, I want to pick up on one point you made. There is no doubt that the liberal media is, well, liberal. The evidence is overwhelming, and Newsbusters and bloggers such as Glenn Reynolds do a fine job pointing it out on a regular basis. It’s important to do so and to pressure the media to play it straight, for the ombudsmen who populate most outlets rarely, if ever, conclude that there is bias at work.

But conservative candidates generally should not whine about the media. It’s not going to help them, and it often makes things worse. When John McCain’s 2008 campaign went on the attack against the New York Times, it was a low point in the campaign and only reinforced the sense that McCain was angry and thin-skinned.

Moreover, conservative candidates today have less to complain about than Ronald Reagan did. Reagan won the governorship of California and two presidential elections without the benefit of talk radio, the Internet, and social media, which have provided new outlets for conservatives and robust competition to the liberal media. And, of course, Fox News wasn’t around either. I sometimes get the impression that candidates use the media as an excuse for why they don’t do well and why their own difficulties are getting aired. Rand Paul tried this tact when his own words landed him in trouble.

The model for how conservatives should deal with the media is Chris Christie — pointing out the bias (for example, what an alternative headline would sound like), not complaining of being a victim, smiling, and exuding jovial confidence. That’s the way for candidates and elected leaders to handle the press — and to endear themselves to voters.

Pete, I want to pick up on one point you made. There is no doubt that the liberal media is, well, liberal. The evidence is overwhelming, and Newsbusters and bloggers such as Glenn Reynolds do a fine job pointing it out on a regular basis. It’s important to do so and to pressure the media to play it straight, for the ombudsmen who populate most outlets rarely, if ever, conclude that there is bias at work.

But conservative candidates generally should not whine about the media. It’s not going to help them, and it often makes things worse. When John McCain’s 2008 campaign went on the attack against the New York Times, it was a low point in the campaign and only reinforced the sense that McCain was angry and thin-skinned.

Moreover, conservative candidates today have less to complain about than Ronald Reagan did. Reagan won the governorship of California and two presidential elections without the benefit of talk radio, the Internet, and social media, which have provided new outlets for conservatives and robust competition to the liberal media. And, of course, Fox News wasn’t around either. I sometimes get the impression that candidates use the media as an excuse for why they don’t do well and why their own difficulties are getting aired. Rand Paul tried this tact when his own words landed him in trouble.

The model for how conservatives should deal with the media is Chris Christie — pointing out the bias (for example, what an alternative headline would sound like), not complaining of being a victim, smiling, and exuding jovial confidence. That’s the way for candidates and elected leaders to handle the press — and to endear themselves to voters.

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Voters’ Remorse?

Wow. According to the latest poll by Rasmussen, 63 percent of U.S. voters now favor repeal of the plan passed by congressional Democrats and signed into law by President Obama in March. Just 32 percent oppose repeal.

Two questions: first, where are all those really smart Democrats who said that once ObamaCare passed, it would become significantly more popular? And second, has any major piece of federal legislation ever been this unpopular this soon after passage?

Wow. According to the latest poll by Rasmussen, 63 percent of U.S. voters now favor repeal of the plan passed by congressional Democrats and signed into law by President Obama in March. Just 32 percent oppose repeal.

Two questions: first, where are all those really smart Democrats who said that once ObamaCare passed, it would become significantly more popular? And second, has any major piece of federal legislation ever been this unpopular this soon after passage?

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Dark Days for Dems

William Galston, an intellectually honest Democrat, writes this:

Conventional wisdom: it is a fickle, fickle thing. The latest example of the incredible lightness of opinion in today’s media and political climate is the reaction to the results of the race in Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district. Politicians and pundits, right—as well as left-leaning, are taking it as evidence that Republican hopes of retaking the House this November are too optimistic. That may turn out to be the case, but PA-12 is hardly enough evidence to warrant the conclusion.

After citing the different reasons why, Professor Galston concludes this way:

Connect the dots and we have the portrait of an electorate that’s highly dissatisfied with the status quo and that seems poised to give more votes in the aggregate to Republican than to Democratic candidates this fall. I don’t know how many House seats that translates into, but I’d be surprised if the number didn’t start with a “3” (at least). As far as I can see, only a big change in the economy—a significant increase in the rate of GDP growth leading to a noticeable reduction in top-line unemployment numbers and a bump up in real disposable income for those who have jobs—would be enough to change the overall outlook for November.

I tend to agree with Galston’s last observation — and we are now close to the point where the narrative for November is baked in the cake. Precisely how many Democratic losses that translates into is hard to know — but I’d wager a small bet that the number will start with a figure higher than three.

William Galston, an intellectually honest Democrat, writes this:

Conventional wisdom: it is a fickle, fickle thing. The latest example of the incredible lightness of opinion in today’s media and political climate is the reaction to the results of the race in Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district. Politicians and pundits, right—as well as left-leaning, are taking it as evidence that Republican hopes of retaking the House this November are too optimistic. That may turn out to be the case, but PA-12 is hardly enough evidence to warrant the conclusion.

After citing the different reasons why, Professor Galston concludes this way:

Connect the dots and we have the portrait of an electorate that’s highly dissatisfied with the status quo and that seems poised to give more votes in the aggregate to Republican than to Democratic candidates this fall. I don’t know how many House seats that translates into, but I’d be surprised if the number didn’t start with a “3” (at least). As far as I can see, only a big change in the economy—a significant increase in the rate of GDP growth leading to a noticeable reduction in top-line unemployment numbers and a bump up in real disposable income for those who have jobs—would be enough to change the overall outlook for November.

I tend to agree with Galston’s last observation — and we are now close to the point where the narrative for November is baked in the cake. Precisely how many Democratic losses that translates into is hard to know — but I’d wager a small bet that the number will start with a figure higher than three.

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Financial Regulation Bill

In its lead editorial today, the Wall Street Journal takes aim at the financial-reform legislation that passed last week. In the words of the Journal:

The unifying theme of the Senate bill that passed last week and the House bill of last year is to hand even more discretion and authority to the same regulators who failed to foresee and in many cases created the last crisis. The Democrats who wrote the bill are selling it as new discipline for Wall Street, but Wall Street knows better. The biggest banks support the bill, and the parts they don’t like they will lobby furiously to change or water down.

Big Finance will more than hold its own with Big Government, as it always does, while politicians will have more power to exact even more campaign tribute. The losers are the overall economy, as financial costs rise, and taxpayers when the next bailout arrives.

The editorial punctures the myth that derivatives were largely unregulated. Our “new lords of the finance look an awful lot like the old lords of regulation, but with much more discretion to write the rules as they please.” And for a market that is desperately in need of clearer rules, what we now have are more opaque and subjective ones.

This legislation is among the most pernicious bills that the Democratic Congress has passed — and that Senate Republicans lacked the will to stop this is, as the Journal points out, their biggest failure this Congress.

This issue is somewhat esoteric but terribly important. In an unstable economic environment, it is making things considerably worse, not better. The liberal Obama agenda continues to roll on, and our country and economy will pay a much higher price than most could have imagined.

In its lead editorial today, the Wall Street Journal takes aim at the financial-reform legislation that passed last week. In the words of the Journal:

The unifying theme of the Senate bill that passed last week and the House bill of last year is to hand even more discretion and authority to the same regulators who failed to foresee and in many cases created the last crisis. The Democrats who wrote the bill are selling it as new discipline for Wall Street, but Wall Street knows better. The biggest banks support the bill, and the parts they don’t like they will lobby furiously to change or water down.

Big Finance will more than hold its own with Big Government, as it always does, while politicians will have more power to exact even more campaign tribute. The losers are the overall economy, as financial costs rise, and taxpayers when the next bailout arrives.

The editorial punctures the myth that derivatives were largely unregulated. Our “new lords of the finance look an awful lot like the old lords of regulation, but with much more discretion to write the rules as they please.” And for a market that is desperately in need of clearer rules, what we now have are more opaque and subjective ones.

This legislation is among the most pernicious bills that the Democratic Congress has passed — and that Senate Republicans lacked the will to stop this is, as the Journal points out, their biggest failure this Congress.

This issue is somewhat esoteric but terribly important. In an unstable economic environment, it is making things considerably worse, not better. The liberal Obama agenda continues to roll on, and our country and economy will pay a much higher price than most could have imagined.

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The New British Government Is “Wobbly” on Afghanistan

I had low expectations for the Conservative-Liberal Democratic government in the UK, but the coalition is turning out to be even worse than I expected on foreign policy. Witness the comments from new Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defense Minister Liam Fox, according to which Britain is eager to withdraw its 10,000 troops from Afghanistan, where they form the second-largest foreign contingent:

In an interview with The Times newspaper before arriving in Kabul, Fox made clear the visit would focus on speeding up the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, and that no new troops would be deployed.

“We need to accept we are at the limit of numbers now and I would like the forces to come back as soon as possible,” he was quoted as saying.

“We have to reset expectations and timelines.

“National security is the focus now. We are not a global policeman. We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country. We are there so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened,” Fox said.

What a terrible message to send at precisely the wrong time, when American forces under the command of a British general in Regional Command-South are gearing up for a major offensive to retake control of Kandahar! President Obama has already blundered badly by suggesting that U.S. troops would start coming home next summer. The message from the incoming British government only reinforces the sense, which many Taliban no doubt already have, that insurgents can simply wait out coalition forces. This development places another obstacle in the way of ordinary Afghans who might be considering siding with the coalition. Why would they want to risk life and limb if their protectors are searching for an exit strategy?

In an ideal world, a Conservative government in London would press the American president not to go “wobbly” — as Margaret Thatcher famously did with George H.W. Bush after Saddam Hussein invaded Iraq. In this case, it seems that the Conservatives are bent on reinforcing Obama’s worst wobbly instincts. That’s not the kind of trans-Atlantic cooperation I would like to see.

I had low expectations for the Conservative-Liberal Democratic government in the UK, but the coalition is turning out to be even worse than I expected on foreign policy. Witness the comments from new Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defense Minister Liam Fox, according to which Britain is eager to withdraw its 10,000 troops from Afghanistan, where they form the second-largest foreign contingent:

In an interview with The Times newspaper before arriving in Kabul, Fox made clear the visit would focus on speeding up the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, and that no new troops would be deployed.

“We need to accept we are at the limit of numbers now and I would like the forces to come back as soon as possible,” he was quoted as saying.

“We have to reset expectations and timelines.

“National security is the focus now. We are not a global policeman. We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country. We are there so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened,” Fox said.

What a terrible message to send at precisely the wrong time, when American forces under the command of a British general in Regional Command-South are gearing up for a major offensive to retake control of Kandahar! President Obama has already blundered badly by suggesting that U.S. troops would start coming home next summer. The message from the incoming British government only reinforces the sense, which many Taliban no doubt already have, that insurgents can simply wait out coalition forces. This development places another obstacle in the way of ordinary Afghans who might be considering siding with the coalition. Why would they want to risk life and limb if their protectors are searching for an exit strategy?

In an ideal world, a Conservative government in London would press the American president not to go “wobbly” — as Margaret Thatcher famously did with George H.W. Bush after Saddam Hussein invaded Iraq. In this case, it seems that the Conservatives are bent on reinforcing Obama’s worst wobbly instincts. That’s not the kind of trans-Atlantic cooperation I would like to see.

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A Sermon on Morality

For a fellow who presumably doesn’t much care for finger-wagging moralists, E.J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post has gotten quite good at that role over the years.

In his column today, Dionne deals with the fall from grace of Rep. Mark Souder, who resigned after admitting to an affair with an aide, as an opportunity to “shout as forcefully as I can to my conservative Christian friends: Enough! … Enough with pretending that personal virtue is connected with political creeds. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, and then insisting upon understanding after the failures of someone on your own side become known to the world.”

Dionne ends his column on Souder this way:

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s a scriptural passage that no doubt appeals to Mark Souder. But it would be lovely if conservative Christians remembered Jesus’ words not only when needing a lifeline but also when they are tempted to give speeches or send out mailers excoriating their political foes as permissive anti-family libertines. How many more scandals will it take for people who call themselves Christian to rediscover the virtues of humility and solidarity?

And wouldn’t it be lovely if liberal Christians remembered Jesus’s words when they were tempted, as the prominent liberal evangelical Jim Wallis has been, to say words excoriating their political foes as war criminals. I have in mind, for example, what Wallis said here:

I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. … Almost 4,000 young Americans are dead because of the lies of this administration, tens of thousands more wounded and maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also dead, and 400 billion dollars wasted — because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.

But I don’t favor impeachment, as some have suggested. I would wait until after the election, when they are out of office, and then I would favor investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges. And if they are found guilty of these high crimes, I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison — after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.

It’s worth noting that Dionne has had glowing things to say about Wallis, going so far as comparing him to the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah, Amos, Micah, or Isaiah — something that, on reflection, even E.J. must cringe at.

Mr. Wallis doesn’t exhaust the list of offenders, by any means. Take the case of Randall Balmer, an influential professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, an editor for Christianity Today, author of a dozen books, and Emmy Award nominee. In his book To Change the World, the sociologist James Davison Hunter writes that in Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament:

[Balmer’s] disdain for the Christian Right lead him to engage in name-calling that is as one-dimensional and dehumanizing as the most extreme voices of the Christian Right, labeling his opponents “right-wing zealots” and “bullies” and their followers “minions,” who together are “intolerant,” “vicious,” “militaristic,” “bloviating,” and theocratic. In this regard, his perspective also matches the Manichaeism of the most extreme voices of the Christian Right for there is no shade or nuance in his description of the political realities with which he is wrestling.

I don’t recall Dionne often, or ever, specifically taking on liberal evangelicals for their slashing rhetoric — to say nothing of the left’s often uncivil and vicious attacks against conservatives, from George W. Bush on down. (Some examples can be found here.) The Outrage Meter seems to have been out of commission during that brief eight-year interlude.

And so let me take E.J.’s column to shout out as forcefully as I can to my liberal Christian friends: enough! Enough with the double standards. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, in a spirit that is markedly un-Christian. Enough with pretending that all the vices lie on one side rather than on both. Enough of the Manichaeism. Enough with the rigid ideology. Enough with the hypocrisy. Enough with pretending that you care about civility when what you really care about is advancing liberalism.

For a fellow who presumably doesn’t much care for finger-wagging moralists, E.J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post has gotten quite good at that role over the years.

In his column today, Dionne deals with the fall from grace of Rep. Mark Souder, who resigned after admitting to an affair with an aide, as an opportunity to “shout as forcefully as I can to my conservative Christian friends: Enough! … Enough with pretending that personal virtue is connected with political creeds. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, and then insisting upon understanding after the failures of someone on your own side become known to the world.”

Dionne ends his column on Souder this way:

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s a scriptural passage that no doubt appeals to Mark Souder. But it would be lovely if conservative Christians remembered Jesus’ words not only when needing a lifeline but also when they are tempted to give speeches or send out mailers excoriating their political foes as permissive anti-family libertines. How many more scandals will it take for people who call themselves Christian to rediscover the virtues of humility and solidarity?

And wouldn’t it be lovely if liberal Christians remembered Jesus’s words when they were tempted, as the prominent liberal evangelical Jim Wallis has been, to say words excoriating their political foes as war criminals. I have in mind, for example, what Wallis said here:

I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. … Almost 4,000 young Americans are dead because of the lies of this administration, tens of thousands more wounded and maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also dead, and 400 billion dollars wasted — because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.

But I don’t favor impeachment, as some have suggested. I would wait until after the election, when they are out of office, and then I would favor investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges. And if they are found guilty of these high crimes, I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison — after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.

It’s worth noting that Dionne has had glowing things to say about Wallis, going so far as comparing him to the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah, Amos, Micah, or Isaiah — something that, on reflection, even E.J. must cringe at.

Mr. Wallis doesn’t exhaust the list of offenders, by any means. Take the case of Randall Balmer, an influential professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, an editor for Christianity Today, author of a dozen books, and Emmy Award nominee. In his book To Change the World, the sociologist James Davison Hunter writes that in Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament:

[Balmer’s] disdain for the Christian Right lead him to engage in name-calling that is as one-dimensional and dehumanizing as the most extreme voices of the Christian Right, labeling his opponents “right-wing zealots” and “bullies” and their followers “minions,” who together are “intolerant,” “vicious,” “militaristic,” “bloviating,” and theocratic. In this regard, his perspective also matches the Manichaeism of the most extreme voices of the Christian Right for there is no shade or nuance in his description of the political realities with which he is wrestling.

I don’t recall Dionne often, or ever, specifically taking on liberal evangelicals for their slashing rhetoric — to say nothing of the left’s often uncivil and vicious attacks against conservatives, from George W. Bush on down. (Some examples can be found here.) The Outrage Meter seems to have been out of commission during that brief eight-year interlude.

And so let me take E.J.’s column to shout out as forcefully as I can to my liberal Christian friends: enough! Enough with the double standards. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, in a spirit that is markedly un-Christian. Enough with pretending that all the vices lie on one side rather than on both. Enough of the Manichaeism. Enough with the rigid ideology. Enough with the hypocrisy. Enough with pretending that you care about civility when what you really care about is advancing liberalism.

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No “Mystery” Why Liberal Jews Refuse to Criticize Obama

Well, here’s the latest on the “will American Jewry every wake up?” front:

The time has come for the centrist and liberal elements of the American Jewish community to get serious about mobilizing support against a nuclear Iran. Their failure to do so until now is somewhat of a puzzle. It may be that they have simply not recognized the absolute urgency of the situation. It may also be that they are not championing this issue because others see it as a parochial one, and American Jews do not like to be perceived as self-serving. Yet it would be a terrible mistake to fall into this trap.

American Jews should never hesitate to promote the welfare of Israel, a democratic ally of the United States. In any case, there is another argument to be made: A nuclear Iran is a clear threat to America’s strategic interests. It would increase the risk of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists and encourage Egypt and Saudi Arabia to seek nuclear weapons of their own, leading to an arms race that would destabilize the region and the world.

Who is it? Eric Yoffie, who’s done a fair bit of excuse-mongering for the Obama team and cheerleading for its bully-boy tactics with Israel. Yes, this latest  message is helpful, but there is no “mystery” as to why Jews have been so silent. It is, of course, the “sick addiction” to the Democratic Party, which is becoming increasingly less pro-Israel and has given us the most Israel-hostile president we’ve ever had. If the president perpetrating an assault on Israel and producing a feeble Iran policy were a Republican, I have no doubt American Jews would be up in arms.

But alas, Yoffie quickly goes off the rails with this doozy:

The time has also come for the conservative wing of the Jewish community to get serious about Iran. Jewish conservatives have been more aware than liberals of the magnitude of the Iranian threat, but they have been acting in ways likely to make matters worse rather than better.

Huh? Conservative Jews not serious about Iran? I’d be interested to find a single conservative elected Jewish leader or candidate or a conservative Jewish journalist who’s not very serious indeed about Iran. What he means is that under no circumstances must Jews criticize Obama, the jewel of the American left. And he isn’t about to launch any serious critique himself. (“The Obama administration has a reasonably good record to date, and has recently adopted a tougher, more confrontational tone.”) And in fact Yoffie’s focus seems to be on those darn critics of Obama: “Too many American Jews — many, but not all, in the conservative camp — have chosen to pour out contempt for the Obama administration in language that is harsher than anything I have heard in three decades of involvement in American Jewish life.”

It’s progress when liberal Jews recognize they’ve been derelict, but rather than “pour out contempt” for conservative Jews – who have been struggling mightily to sound the alarm and rouse their coreligionists – it might be helpful for Yoffie to cease playing defense for the administration and offer a serious challenge: will Obama use military force if sanctions fail? Will he pledge to provide unqualified support for Israel if the Jewish state finds it necessary to strike Iran? Then we might really make some progress with the administration.

Well, here’s the latest on the “will American Jewry every wake up?” front:

The time has come for the centrist and liberal elements of the American Jewish community to get serious about mobilizing support against a nuclear Iran. Their failure to do so until now is somewhat of a puzzle. It may be that they have simply not recognized the absolute urgency of the situation. It may also be that they are not championing this issue because others see it as a parochial one, and American Jews do not like to be perceived as self-serving. Yet it would be a terrible mistake to fall into this trap.

American Jews should never hesitate to promote the welfare of Israel, a democratic ally of the United States. In any case, there is another argument to be made: A nuclear Iran is a clear threat to America’s strategic interests. It would increase the risk of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists and encourage Egypt and Saudi Arabia to seek nuclear weapons of their own, leading to an arms race that would destabilize the region and the world.

Who is it? Eric Yoffie, who’s done a fair bit of excuse-mongering for the Obama team and cheerleading for its bully-boy tactics with Israel. Yes, this latest  message is helpful, but there is no “mystery” as to why Jews have been so silent. It is, of course, the “sick addiction” to the Democratic Party, which is becoming increasingly less pro-Israel and has given us the most Israel-hostile president we’ve ever had. If the president perpetrating an assault on Israel and producing a feeble Iran policy were a Republican, I have no doubt American Jews would be up in arms.

But alas, Yoffie quickly goes off the rails with this doozy:

The time has also come for the conservative wing of the Jewish community to get serious about Iran. Jewish conservatives have been more aware than liberals of the magnitude of the Iranian threat, but they have been acting in ways likely to make matters worse rather than better.

Huh? Conservative Jews not serious about Iran? I’d be interested to find a single conservative elected Jewish leader or candidate or a conservative Jewish journalist who’s not very serious indeed about Iran. What he means is that under no circumstances must Jews criticize Obama, the jewel of the American left. And he isn’t about to launch any serious critique himself. (“The Obama administration has a reasonably good record to date, and has recently adopted a tougher, more confrontational tone.”) And in fact Yoffie’s focus seems to be on those darn critics of Obama: “Too many American Jews — many, but not all, in the conservative camp — have chosen to pour out contempt for the Obama administration in language that is harsher than anything I have heard in three decades of involvement in American Jewish life.”

It’s progress when liberal Jews recognize they’ve been derelict, but rather than “pour out contempt” for conservative Jews – who have been struggling mightily to sound the alarm and rouse their coreligionists – it might be helpful for Yoffie to cease playing defense for the administration and offer a serious challenge: will Obama use military force if sanctions fail? Will he pledge to provide unqualified support for Israel if the Jewish state finds it necessary to strike Iran? Then we might really make some progress with the administration.

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Palin and the Media

Sarah Palin was asked about Rand Paul yesterday on Fox News Sunday. In the last few days, Paul has declared that he, in fact, does support the Civil Rights Act of 1964, after repeatedly expressing disagreements with the part of the law that holds that private businesses cannot discriminate on the basis of race. According to Palin, “Rand Paul is right in his clarification” about the Civil Rights Act. True, though it was a circuitous journey, and one cannot help believing that Paul is embracing a view he doesn’t really believe. Of course, he wouldn’t be the first candidate for Congress to do such a thing.

In any event, in the course of the interview with Chris Wallace, Ms. Palin did what she often does: she aimed her rhetorical guns at the media. The lesson from the Rand Paul encounter, she said, is the same she learned during her run for the vice presidency in 2008. A candidate shouldn’t assume that you can engage in a discussion with a “TV character” (in this case, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow), who perhaps asked the question with an agenda and who then goes about “interpreting his answer in the way that she did.” It’s dangerous to engage in “hypothetical” discussions on the “constitutional impact” of certain laws with journalists who have an “agenda” and are “prejudiced” and looking for that “gotcha moment.”

Now, I don’t have any doubt that Rachel Maddow is a committed liberal; anyone who has seen her show recognizes that. And she has a style that is often adolescent, sarcastic, and sneering. (David Frum called her out on this quite effectively during the 2008 campaign.)

Still, in this particular instance, the interview was serious and not as Palin portrays it. (The interview can be seen here.) The discussion was fairly substantive. It includes excerpts from previous Paul interviews. And it was not focused on a hypothetical; it was about a landmark piece of social legislation about which Paul had expressed serious reservations. It was legitimate to ask Paul the questions Maddow did. And the “gotcha moment” was caused not by Maddow’s questions but by Paul’s answers. It was no more of a “gotcha moment” than it would be to ask a person running for vice president what specific newspapers and magazines she reads and what Supreme Court decisions she disagrees with.

Sarah Palin has undeniable talents — and on many issues, I agree with her. But too often she has become the spokesperson for cultural resentments. Understandably scarred by the 2008 campaign, she is on a quest to clear her name by pounding the media at every turn. They are always to blame — even when, as in the case of Rand Paul, they are not actually to blame. In that respect, and in others, Palin’s style is quite different from, and at times antithetical to, that of Ronald Reagan, who had a charm and winsomeness about him. He made forceful arguments in a winning way. He was blessedly free of rancor and bitterness. Ms. Palin could learn from him, as could we all.

Sarah Palin was asked about Rand Paul yesterday on Fox News Sunday. In the last few days, Paul has declared that he, in fact, does support the Civil Rights Act of 1964, after repeatedly expressing disagreements with the part of the law that holds that private businesses cannot discriminate on the basis of race. According to Palin, “Rand Paul is right in his clarification” about the Civil Rights Act. True, though it was a circuitous journey, and one cannot help believing that Paul is embracing a view he doesn’t really believe. Of course, he wouldn’t be the first candidate for Congress to do such a thing.

In any event, in the course of the interview with Chris Wallace, Ms. Palin did what she often does: she aimed her rhetorical guns at the media. The lesson from the Rand Paul encounter, she said, is the same she learned during her run for the vice presidency in 2008. A candidate shouldn’t assume that you can engage in a discussion with a “TV character” (in this case, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow), who perhaps asked the question with an agenda and who then goes about “interpreting his answer in the way that she did.” It’s dangerous to engage in “hypothetical” discussions on the “constitutional impact” of certain laws with journalists who have an “agenda” and are “prejudiced” and looking for that “gotcha moment.”

Now, I don’t have any doubt that Rachel Maddow is a committed liberal; anyone who has seen her show recognizes that. And she has a style that is often adolescent, sarcastic, and sneering. (David Frum called her out on this quite effectively during the 2008 campaign.)

Still, in this particular instance, the interview was serious and not as Palin portrays it. (The interview can be seen here.) The discussion was fairly substantive. It includes excerpts from previous Paul interviews. And it was not focused on a hypothetical; it was about a landmark piece of social legislation about which Paul had expressed serious reservations. It was legitimate to ask Paul the questions Maddow did. And the “gotcha moment” was caused not by Maddow’s questions but by Paul’s answers. It was no more of a “gotcha moment” than it would be to ask a person running for vice president what specific newspapers and magazines she reads and what Supreme Court decisions she disagrees with.

Sarah Palin has undeniable talents — and on many issues, I agree with her. But too often she has become the spokesperson for cultural resentments. Understandably scarred by the 2008 campaign, she is on a quest to clear her name by pounding the media at every turn. They are always to blame — even when, as in the case of Rand Paul, they are not actually to blame. In that respect, and in others, Palin’s style is quite different from, and at times antithetical to, that of Ronald Reagan, who had a charm and winsomeness about him. He made forceful arguments in a winning way. He was blessedly free of rancor and bitterness. Ms. Palin could learn from him, as could we all.

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Another Senate Candidate in Trouble

Richard Blumenthal and Rand Paul (with Blanche Lincoln and perhaps Joe Sestak close behind) have gotten most of the attention in the “embattled Senate candidates” media coverage, but let’s not forget the Mob’s banker, Alexi Giannoulias:

His family’s business, Broadway Bank, was seized by regulators last month. He’s had trouble getting robust support from a White House that originally preferred another candidate. And political writer Stu Rothenberg devoted a column last week to asking “Is it time for Democrats to shove Giannoulias out?”

Now, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who did not endorse anyone in the Democratic primary, is flirting with the idea of backing Republican nominee Mark Kirk in the general election.

And he might not be the only one: Bobby Rush is down on Rezko’s banker as well. (He told the Hill “in December 2009 that he was ‘afraid’ of a Giannoulias-Kirk matchup. ‘The messenger has to stand before the message. And if the messenger is weak, then the message is weak,’ he told the paper.”)

The rumblings have started about how to shove Giannoulias out of the way. But, as Rothenberg explained, it won’t be easy to dump him:

Democrats who worry about Giannoulias’ viability in the fall have a problem, though. Since the nominee isn’t running far behind Kirk in trial heats, it won’t be easy to persuade him to leave quietly. And if there is something Democratic insiders don’t need, it’s a messy food fight with a nominee they are trying to dump (especially after Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania went public that White House insiders had offered him a job to get him to pass up a primary challenge to party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter).

Yes, one candidate’s scandal makes it harder to toss another scandal-plagued candidate overboard.

Republicans should take note for 2010 and 2012. The reason the Democrats are in disarray and the race is competitive is not merely because the Democratic nominee has a load of problems; it is because the Republicans were wise enough to select a top-notch candidate well-suited to the state. (Politico notes: “Kirk already is popular in the politically competitive Chicago suburbs he represents and has a strong relationship with the state’s pro-Israel voters and donors.”) It’s really not enough in a deep Blue State to luck into a flawed Democratic candidate. For Republicans to win, they need smart candidates well-attuned to the electorate. Otherwise, golden opportunities will slip through their fingers.

Richard Blumenthal and Rand Paul (with Blanche Lincoln and perhaps Joe Sestak close behind) have gotten most of the attention in the “embattled Senate candidates” media coverage, but let’s not forget the Mob’s banker, Alexi Giannoulias:

His family’s business, Broadway Bank, was seized by regulators last month. He’s had trouble getting robust support from a White House that originally preferred another candidate. And political writer Stu Rothenberg devoted a column last week to asking “Is it time for Democrats to shove Giannoulias out?”

Now, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who did not endorse anyone in the Democratic primary, is flirting with the idea of backing Republican nominee Mark Kirk in the general election.

And he might not be the only one: Bobby Rush is down on Rezko’s banker as well. (He told the Hill “in December 2009 that he was ‘afraid’ of a Giannoulias-Kirk matchup. ‘The messenger has to stand before the message. And if the messenger is weak, then the message is weak,’ he told the paper.”)

The rumblings have started about how to shove Giannoulias out of the way. But, as Rothenberg explained, it won’t be easy to dump him:

Democrats who worry about Giannoulias’ viability in the fall have a problem, though. Since the nominee isn’t running far behind Kirk in trial heats, it won’t be easy to persuade him to leave quietly. And if there is something Democratic insiders don’t need, it’s a messy food fight with a nominee they are trying to dump (especially after Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania went public that White House insiders had offered him a job to get him to pass up a primary challenge to party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter).

Yes, one candidate’s scandal makes it harder to toss another scandal-plagued candidate overboard.

Republicans should take note for 2010 and 2012. The reason the Democrats are in disarray and the race is competitive is not merely because the Democratic nominee has a load of problems; it is because the Republicans were wise enough to select a top-notch candidate well-suited to the state. (Politico notes: “Kirk already is popular in the politically competitive Chicago suburbs he represents and has a strong relationship with the state’s pro-Israel voters and donors.”) It’s really not enough in a deep Blue State to luck into a flawed Democratic candidate. For Republicans to win, they need smart candidates well-attuned to the electorate. Otherwise, golden opportunities will slip through their fingers.

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RE: Why Israel Can’t Rely on American Jewish “Leaders”

Rabbi Jack Moline in an online bulletin board has this to say about my post from yesterday:

My argument with the piece is not disagreement but its gratuitous nastiness. That is especially true because the author elected not to go to the source (my contact info is part of what was distributed), a distressing choice being made by ideologues on both sides of many issues.

Most amusing has been the responses of some contrary colleagues (not only Conservative). It boils down to: the meetings should never have taken place and I should have been invited.

First, Moline offers no substantive response to my post, no indication that it misrepresented his original report, and no reason to believe he can engage successfully in a battle of ideas. He has “no disagreement with it,” and he has no real bone to pick with Obama’s Iran policy. Huh? Well, this only serves to confirm the take of one of my readers, who concluded that the rabbis “were out of their league.” Second, he’s “amused” by his colleagues who think the meeting should never have taken place. Such contempt for colleagues — from a rabbi no less! And bravo for the savvy contrary colleagues, who were just the type Moline no doubt screened out from the meeting. Those who questioned the value of the meeting were right that the attendees were enabling the president and his policies, which are inimical to the interests of Israel.

In reply to the outpouring of condescension from Moline, one rabbi responded with this:

I did not want my comments to be amusing but rather challenging and thought provoking. … I served as advisor to the Governor of New Jersey and as legislative assistant to the ranking Senator in New York, as well as a commissioner in New Jersey for six years. I mention this to let you know  I know a little about the game of politics. When Rabbis meet as a group with the president, Governor, Senator,  Congressman, etc. it is because the presidents’ advisors feel comfortable with those who were invited. I know I will be criticized by saying this, but it is the way I see it. I arranged enough meetings for clergy of all faiths to know how the game is played. I had and have no wish to meet with Pres. Obama unless I know I can make a difference. I am not jealous but I am curious if the President left feeling informed or if he felt he used the guests in attendance — and won them over. I did meet a number of times with Presidents Bush, father and son. Not bragging. They were happy to use me. This is the game of politics.

Well that rabbi at least understands what Moline does not — that Moline was being used. More than that, Moline is using his position not to represent his community and confront the president but rather to give comfort and aid to the only president to condemn Israel and to attempt to reorient American policy away from its democratic ally and toward the Muslim despots who threaten the Jewish state. Did Moline try to extract a promise from Obama to use military force to remove an existential threat to Israel if other options failed? Did he take the opportunity to demand that Obama vow to resupply Israel if need be in a military confrontation with Iran? Did he quiz the president on why he has snubbed and undermined the Green Movement (by defunding Iranian human rights groups and engaging their oppressors)? Did he ask Obama why we have tolerated the transfer of missiles to Hezbollah? No.

Moline is quite concerned about his own critics and those of the administration, whom he dismisses as “nasty.” These critics are not nearly as harsh as history will be to those who failed to stand up for Israel in its moment of need.

Rabbi Jack Moline in an online bulletin board has this to say about my post from yesterday:

My argument with the piece is not disagreement but its gratuitous nastiness. That is especially true because the author elected not to go to the source (my contact info is part of what was distributed), a distressing choice being made by ideologues on both sides of many issues.

Most amusing has been the responses of some contrary colleagues (not only Conservative). It boils down to: the meetings should never have taken place and I should have been invited.

First, Moline offers no substantive response to my post, no indication that it misrepresented his original report, and no reason to believe he can engage successfully in a battle of ideas. He has “no disagreement with it,” and he has no real bone to pick with Obama’s Iran policy. Huh? Well, this only serves to confirm the take of one of my readers, who concluded that the rabbis “were out of their league.” Second, he’s “amused” by his colleagues who think the meeting should never have taken place. Such contempt for colleagues — from a rabbi no less! And bravo for the savvy contrary colleagues, who were just the type Moline no doubt screened out from the meeting. Those who questioned the value of the meeting were right that the attendees were enabling the president and his policies, which are inimical to the interests of Israel.

In reply to the outpouring of condescension from Moline, one rabbi responded with this:

I did not want my comments to be amusing but rather challenging and thought provoking. … I served as advisor to the Governor of New Jersey and as legislative assistant to the ranking Senator in New York, as well as a commissioner in New Jersey for six years. I mention this to let you know  I know a little about the game of politics. When Rabbis meet as a group with the president, Governor, Senator,  Congressman, etc. it is because the presidents’ advisors feel comfortable with those who were invited. I know I will be criticized by saying this, but it is the way I see it. I arranged enough meetings for clergy of all faiths to know how the game is played. I had and have no wish to meet with Pres. Obama unless I know I can make a difference. I am not jealous but I am curious if the President left feeling informed or if he felt he used the guests in attendance — and won them over. I did meet a number of times with Presidents Bush, father and son. Not bragging. They were happy to use me. This is the game of politics.

Well that rabbi at least understands what Moline does not — that Moline was being used. More than that, Moline is using his position not to represent his community and confront the president but rather to give comfort and aid to the only president to condemn Israel and to attempt to reorient American policy away from its democratic ally and toward the Muslim despots who threaten the Jewish state. Did Moline try to extract a promise from Obama to use military force to remove an existential threat to Israel if other options failed? Did he take the opportunity to demand that Obama vow to resupply Israel if need be in a military confrontation with Iran? Did he quiz the president on why he has snubbed and undermined the Green Movement (by defunding Iranian human rights groups and engaging their oppressors)? Did he ask Obama why we have tolerated the transfer of missiles to Hezbollah? No.

Moline is quite concerned about his own critics and those of the administration, whom he dismisses as “nasty.” These critics are not nearly as harsh as history will be to those who failed to stand up for Israel in its moment of need.

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Obama’s Iraq Hypocrisy

In his commencement address at West Point, President Obama said this:

For many years, our focus was on Iraq. And year after year, our troops faced a set of challenges there that were as daunting as they were complex. A lesser Army might have seen its spirit broken. But the American military is more resilient than that. Our troops adapted, they persisted, they partnered with coalition and Iraqi counterparts, and through their competence and creativity and courage, we are poised to end our combat mission in Iraq this summer.

Even as we transition to an Iraqi lead and bring our troops home, our commitment to the Iraqi people endures. We will continue to advise and assist Iraqi security forces, who are already responsible for security in most of the country. And a strong American civilian presence will help Iraqis forge political and economic progress. This will not be a simple task, but this is what success looks like: an Iraq that provides no haven to terrorists; a democratic Iraq that is sovereign and stable and self-reliant.

It’s perhaps worth pointing out that the things Obama celebrates — an Iraq that provides no haven to terrorists and that is democratic, sovereign, stable, and self-reliant — would have been unachievable if we had followed the counsel of then Senator Barack Obama, who was among the fiercest and most visible critics of the so-called surge, which turned around the course of the war and has made success there possible.

For the record (which is documented here), on January 10, 2007, the night the surge was announced, Obama declared: “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” A week later, he insisted the surge strategy would “not prove to be one that changes the dynamics significantly.” And in reaction to the president’s January 23 State of the Union address, Obama said:

I don’t think the president’s strategy is going to work. We went through two weeks of hearings on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; experts from across the spectrum–military and civilian, conservative and liberal–expressed great skepticism about it. My suggestion to the president has been that the only way we’re going to change the dynamic in Iraq and start seeing political commendation is actually if we create a system of phased redeployment. And, frankly, the president, I think, has not been willing to consider that option, not because it’s not militarily sound but because he continues to cling to the belief that somehow military solutions are going to lead to victory in Iraq.

And as late as July 2007, after it was clear that the surge was working, Obama insisted the opposite. “My assessment is that the surge has not worked,” he said.

I’m delighted Obama was wrong in both his analysis and his predictions and that, unlike so many things since he’s been president, in Iraq he has not made the situation he inherited markedly worse. And perhaps at some point, Mr. Obama — who promised that, unlike past presidents he would be quick to admit the errors of his ways — will admit he was profoundly mistaken about the surge. If he had had his way, after all, the Iraq war would have been lost, mass death and genocide would have engulfed that nation by now, and jihadists would have chalked up their most important victory against America.

It’s also worth pointing out, I suppose, that a gracious, classy, and large-spirited president would have tipped his cap to his predecessor, whose political courage and wisdom on the surge has made success in Iraq possible. But that would require Obama to act against his basic character.

In his commencement address at West Point, President Obama said this:

For many years, our focus was on Iraq. And year after year, our troops faced a set of challenges there that were as daunting as they were complex. A lesser Army might have seen its spirit broken. But the American military is more resilient than that. Our troops adapted, they persisted, they partnered with coalition and Iraqi counterparts, and through their competence and creativity and courage, we are poised to end our combat mission in Iraq this summer.

Even as we transition to an Iraqi lead and bring our troops home, our commitment to the Iraqi people endures. We will continue to advise and assist Iraqi security forces, who are already responsible for security in most of the country. And a strong American civilian presence will help Iraqis forge political and economic progress. This will not be a simple task, but this is what success looks like: an Iraq that provides no haven to terrorists; a democratic Iraq that is sovereign and stable and self-reliant.

It’s perhaps worth pointing out that the things Obama celebrates — an Iraq that provides no haven to terrorists and that is democratic, sovereign, stable, and self-reliant — would have been unachievable if we had followed the counsel of then Senator Barack Obama, who was among the fiercest and most visible critics of the so-called surge, which turned around the course of the war and has made success there possible.

For the record (which is documented here), on January 10, 2007, the night the surge was announced, Obama declared: “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” A week later, he insisted the surge strategy would “not prove to be one that changes the dynamics significantly.” And in reaction to the president’s January 23 State of the Union address, Obama said:

I don’t think the president’s strategy is going to work. We went through two weeks of hearings on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; experts from across the spectrum–military and civilian, conservative and liberal–expressed great skepticism about it. My suggestion to the president has been that the only way we’re going to change the dynamic in Iraq and start seeing political commendation is actually if we create a system of phased redeployment. And, frankly, the president, I think, has not been willing to consider that option, not because it’s not militarily sound but because he continues to cling to the belief that somehow military solutions are going to lead to victory in Iraq.

And as late as July 2007, after it was clear that the surge was working, Obama insisted the opposite. “My assessment is that the surge has not worked,” he said.

I’m delighted Obama was wrong in both his analysis and his predictions and that, unlike so many things since he’s been president, in Iraq he has not made the situation he inherited markedly worse. And perhaps at some point, Mr. Obama — who promised that, unlike past presidents he would be quick to admit the errors of his ways — will admit he was profoundly mistaken about the surge. If he had had his way, after all, the Iraq war would have been lost, mass death and genocide would have engulfed that nation by now, and jihadists would have chalked up their most important victory against America.

It’s also worth pointing out, I suppose, that a gracious, classy, and large-spirited president would have tipped his cap to his predecessor, whose political courage and wisdom on the surge has made success in Iraq possible. But that would require Obama to act against his basic character.

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Psst: You Were Had!

Democrats made quite a show of being interested in faith and religious voters during the 2008 election. Now religious activists are shocked, shocked, to find out they apparently didn’t mean it:

“It’s a mystery to everyone what happened to Democratic faith outreach in the last year,” said Rebecca Sager, a Loyola Marymount University professor who writes and teaches about the religious progressive movement. “There is sort of this, ‘We worked so hard and made so much progress, and 2008 seemed like this great year, and then what happened?’”

Uh, Obama got elected and Democrats got control of the House. Not everyone was duped; some activists and certainly Republicans saw the Democrats’ outreach as “little more than window dressing.”

Moreover, Obama has been indifferent if not hostile to the promotion of religious freedom. Those taken in by Obama’s appeal to religious voters can join the fiscal conservatives and pro-Israel advocates who were similarly snowed.

Democrats made quite a show of being interested in faith and religious voters during the 2008 election. Now religious activists are shocked, shocked, to find out they apparently didn’t mean it:

“It’s a mystery to everyone what happened to Democratic faith outreach in the last year,” said Rebecca Sager, a Loyola Marymount University professor who writes and teaches about the religious progressive movement. “There is sort of this, ‘We worked so hard and made so much progress, and 2008 seemed like this great year, and then what happened?’”

Uh, Obama got elected and Democrats got control of the House. Not everyone was duped; some activists and certainly Republicans saw the Democrats’ outreach as “little more than window dressing.”

Moreover, Obama has been indifferent if not hostile to the promotion of religious freedom. Those taken in by Obama’s appeal to religious voters can join the fiscal conservatives and pro-Israel advocates who were similarly snowed.

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Rand Paul’s Self-Marginalizing Philosophy

Rand Paul likes to call himself a “constitutional conservative.” I don’t know what that means, nor do I think that mainstream conservative officials or candidates are unconstitutional conservatives. The Wall Street Journal editors aptly makes this point:

[Rand Paul] has now renounced the doubts he expressed last week about some parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and has declared the matter closed. But before we move on, it’s important to understand why Mr. Paul was wrong even on his own libertarian terms.

The federal laws of that era were necessary and legal interventions to remedy the unconstitutional infringement on individual rights by state and local governments. On Thursday Mr. Paul finally acknowledged this point when he told CNN, “I think there was an overriding problem in the South so big that it did require federal intervention.”

As the editors note, Paul’s difficulty in supporting civil rights legislation not only casts doubt on the Tea Party supporters who have strived to repudiate media claims that they are racists, but it has “let them change the campaign subject from the Obama Administration’s willy-nilly expansion of the corporate state.” Is the real problem, according to Paul, all that federal “meddling” by way of  the Fourteenth Amendment, which not only requires nondiscrimination by states but also authorizes Congress to enforce that edict? (If he comes out of hiding, someone in the media can ask him that.)

I’m not sure whether Paul can recover, and I have serious doubts whether he should. As Ross Douthat reminds us, Paul’s grab bag of principles — including radical noninterventionism and hostility to nearly every function of the federal government – are ultimately “self-marginalizing and self-destructive.” Mitch McConnell, I think, knew exactly what he was doing in endorsing the other guy — trying to prevent not only damage to the Tea Party movement and the Republican Party but also to those who revere the Constitution.

Rand Paul likes to call himself a “constitutional conservative.” I don’t know what that means, nor do I think that mainstream conservative officials or candidates are unconstitutional conservatives. The Wall Street Journal editors aptly makes this point:

[Rand Paul] has now renounced the doubts he expressed last week about some parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and has declared the matter closed. But before we move on, it’s important to understand why Mr. Paul was wrong even on his own libertarian terms.

The federal laws of that era were necessary and legal interventions to remedy the unconstitutional infringement on individual rights by state and local governments. On Thursday Mr. Paul finally acknowledged this point when he told CNN, “I think there was an overriding problem in the South so big that it did require federal intervention.”

As the editors note, Paul’s difficulty in supporting civil rights legislation not only casts doubt on the Tea Party supporters who have strived to repudiate media claims that they are racists, but it has “let them change the campaign subject from the Obama Administration’s willy-nilly expansion of the corporate state.” Is the real problem, according to Paul, all that federal “meddling” by way of  the Fourteenth Amendment, which not only requires nondiscrimination by states but also authorizes Congress to enforce that edict? (If he comes out of hiding, someone in the media can ask him that.)

I’m not sure whether Paul can recover, and I have serious doubts whether he should. As Ross Douthat reminds us, Paul’s grab bag of principles — including radical noninterventionism and hostility to nearly every function of the federal government – are ultimately “self-marginalizing and self-destructive.” Mitch McConnell, I think, knew exactly what he was doing in endorsing the other guy — trying to prevent not only damage to the Tea Party movement and the Republican Party but also to those who revere the Constitution.

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For Once, Israel Prefers an Ally to an Enemy

Recent articles about the Obama administration’s preference for enemies over allies ring depressingly familiar to Israelis, whose country is a past master of that perverse art (see, for instance, its treatment of the South Lebanon Army and the Druze). Thus it was encouraging to learn that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has for once preferred an ally to an enemy, by twice rejecting Qatar’s offer to restore low-level relations.

Qatar opened trade relations with Israel in 1996, then severed them during Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip in January 2009. But about six months ago, Haaretz reported, Qatar offered to let Israel reopen its trade mission in Doha if Israel would let it bring large quantities of cement and other construction material into Gaza, grant it leadership over efforts to rebuild the Strip, acknowledge its regional status, and publicly laud its regional role. It reiterated this offer four months later. Both times, Israel refused.

The initial report attributed Israel’s refusal to security concerns: fear that Hamas would use the Qatari construction material “to build bunkers and reinforced positions for missile launches against Israel.” That in itself was encouraging: after 17 years of “risks for peace” that, without exception, led to suicide bombings and rocket barrages, it’s reassuring to know that this government puts security first. Still, reasonable people could disagree over whether the risk truly outweighed the benefits of relations with another Arab country.

But a subsequent report removed all doubts about the decision’s wisdom. The real reason for Israel’s refusal, it said, was not security but Egypt’s objection: at a time when Cairo is taking enormous flak from the Arab world for blockading Gaza’s southern border, at Israel’s request, it would be intolerable for Israel to let Qatar become the Arab world’s hero by breaking the blockade.

Israel has many legitimate grievances against Egypt, from its viciously anti-Semitic state-controlled press to its insane effort to make Israel, rather than Iran, the focus of this month’s NPT Review Conference. Nevertheless, Egypt has on balance proved a valuable ally. Qatar has proved the opposite.

Unlike Qatar, Egypt has never used Israel’s counterterrorism efforts as an excuse for severing its ties with Jerusalem. Moreover, it has led Arab opposition to the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas front, whereas Qatar has cozied up to this front: for instance, Doha brokered the 2008 agreement that granted Hezbollah veto power over Lebanon’s government, and it is planning joint military exercises with Iran.

And unlike Qatar, which seeks to bolster Gaza’s Hamas government by rebuilding the Strip, Egypt, after some initial faltering, is now striving to undermine Hamas by enforcing the blockade. And it’s working: in part because Hamas can no longer smuggle large quantities of cash across the Egyptian border, its revenues have fallen steeply, forcing it to impose new taxes that have proved deeply unpopular.

Thus for all its flaws, the Egyptian alliance is worth preserving — and certainly shouldn’t be sacrificed to gain a “friend” like Qatar, which has consistently worked against Israel’s interests. That may seem self-evident. But given Israel’s history of favoring enemies over allies, Netanyahu’s government deserves kudos for recognizing it.

Recent articles about the Obama administration’s preference for enemies over allies ring depressingly familiar to Israelis, whose country is a past master of that perverse art (see, for instance, its treatment of the South Lebanon Army and the Druze). Thus it was encouraging to learn that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has for once preferred an ally to an enemy, by twice rejecting Qatar’s offer to restore low-level relations.

Qatar opened trade relations with Israel in 1996, then severed them during Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip in January 2009. But about six months ago, Haaretz reported, Qatar offered to let Israel reopen its trade mission in Doha if Israel would let it bring large quantities of cement and other construction material into Gaza, grant it leadership over efforts to rebuild the Strip, acknowledge its regional status, and publicly laud its regional role. It reiterated this offer four months later. Both times, Israel refused.

The initial report attributed Israel’s refusal to security concerns: fear that Hamas would use the Qatari construction material “to build bunkers and reinforced positions for missile launches against Israel.” That in itself was encouraging: after 17 years of “risks for peace” that, without exception, led to suicide bombings and rocket barrages, it’s reassuring to know that this government puts security first. Still, reasonable people could disagree over whether the risk truly outweighed the benefits of relations with another Arab country.

But a subsequent report removed all doubts about the decision’s wisdom. The real reason for Israel’s refusal, it said, was not security but Egypt’s objection: at a time when Cairo is taking enormous flak from the Arab world for blockading Gaza’s southern border, at Israel’s request, it would be intolerable for Israel to let Qatar become the Arab world’s hero by breaking the blockade.

Israel has many legitimate grievances against Egypt, from its viciously anti-Semitic state-controlled press to its insane effort to make Israel, rather than Iran, the focus of this month’s NPT Review Conference. Nevertheless, Egypt has on balance proved a valuable ally. Qatar has proved the opposite.

Unlike Qatar, Egypt has never used Israel’s counterterrorism efforts as an excuse for severing its ties with Jerusalem. Moreover, it has led Arab opposition to the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas front, whereas Qatar has cozied up to this front: for instance, Doha brokered the 2008 agreement that granted Hezbollah veto power over Lebanon’s government, and it is planning joint military exercises with Iran.

And unlike Qatar, which seeks to bolster Gaza’s Hamas government by rebuilding the Strip, Egypt, after some initial faltering, is now striving to undermine Hamas by enforcing the blockade. And it’s working: in part because Hamas can no longer smuggle large quantities of cash across the Egyptian border, its revenues have fallen steeply, forcing it to impose new taxes that have proved deeply unpopular.

Thus for all its flaws, the Egyptian alliance is worth preserving — and certainly shouldn’t be sacrificed to gain a “friend” like Qatar, which has consistently worked against Israel’s interests. That may seem self-evident. But given Israel’s history of favoring enemies over allies, Netanyahu’s government deserves kudos for recognizing it.

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How’s Syrian Engagement Going?

No matter how many trips John Kerry makes to Syria (could it be because he makes so many trips?), we haven’t been able to extract a smidgen of cooperation from the Syrian despot or weaken the bond between Iran and Syria. Here’s the latest:

Syria defied Western pressure on Sunday over its support for the militant group Hezbollah and said it would not act as a policeman for Israel to prevent weapons from reaching the Lebanese Shi’ite movement.

“Did Israel ever stop arming itself, did it stop instigating violence or making military maneuvers,” Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said after meeting his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle. “Why are arms forbidden to Arabs and allowed to Israel?”

The answer is because Israel is a democracy that does not foment terrorism, saddle up to aggressive regimes, or brutalize its own people. But that’s not the sort of  answer any U.S. official is going to give these days. And it is further evidence that engagement has given the Syrians not pause but encouragement to defy the U.S. We are perceived as weak, desperate, unreliable, and in retreat in the region.

It seems that no amount of evidence — not defiance by Syria in this latest incident, not Scud sales, not chummy press conferences with Assad and Ahmadinejad in perfect harmony, not the continued trampling of human rights — will convince the Obama brain trust that our current policy is horribly misguided. They have their own game plan, and they aren’t about to let reality get in the way.

No matter how many trips John Kerry makes to Syria (could it be because he makes so many trips?), we haven’t been able to extract a smidgen of cooperation from the Syrian despot or weaken the bond between Iran and Syria. Here’s the latest:

Syria defied Western pressure on Sunday over its support for the militant group Hezbollah and said it would not act as a policeman for Israel to prevent weapons from reaching the Lebanese Shi’ite movement.

“Did Israel ever stop arming itself, did it stop instigating violence or making military maneuvers,” Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said after meeting his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle. “Why are arms forbidden to Arabs and allowed to Israel?”

The answer is because Israel is a democracy that does not foment terrorism, saddle up to aggressive regimes, or brutalize its own people. But that’s not the sort of  answer any U.S. official is going to give these days. And it is further evidence that engagement has given the Syrians not pause but encouragement to defy the U.S. We are perceived as weak, desperate, unreliable, and in retreat in the region.

It seems that no amount of evidence — not defiance by Syria in this latest incident, not Scud sales, not chummy press conferences with Assad and Ahmadinejad in perfect harmony, not the continued trampling of human rights — will convince the Obama brain trust that our current policy is horribly misguided. They have their own game plan, and they aren’t about to let reality get in the way.

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Unsurprisingly, Crist Is Friendless

It’s not clear to which voters Charlie Crist will appeal. He’s burned his bridges with the GOP. And his independent status isn’t gaining him any new supporters:

The labor union AFL-CIO has endorsed a Democrat in the race for Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat after an unusual sales pitch by the state’s governor, who’s running as an independent. The labor union chose on Sunday to back U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek in the Senate race. Meek served seven years in the state Legislature before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002.The decision comes two days after Gov. Charlie Crist appeared before the union’s leaders to ask for their support. Crist, a lifelong Republican until this month, had never before sought the help of the union that typically endorses Democrats.

Big Labor is savvy enough to know that Crist is an untrustworthy ally. The labor bosses, not unreasonably, may figure that Crist is headed for third place. And even if Meek loses (quite likely), Big Labor won’t have burned its bridges with its devoted beneficiary, the Democratic Party. In politics, loyalty counts for something. Perhaps Florida voters, unlike those who turned out for primaries in Pennsylvania and Arkansas, have a yen for mushy moderates with no defined ideology other than self-promotion. But I doubt it.

It’s not clear to which voters Charlie Crist will appeal. He’s burned his bridges with the GOP. And his independent status isn’t gaining him any new supporters:

The labor union AFL-CIO has endorsed a Democrat in the race for Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat after an unusual sales pitch by the state’s governor, who’s running as an independent. The labor union chose on Sunday to back U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek in the Senate race. Meek served seven years in the state Legislature before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002.The decision comes two days after Gov. Charlie Crist appeared before the union’s leaders to ask for their support. Crist, a lifelong Republican until this month, had never before sought the help of the union that typically endorses Democrats.

Big Labor is savvy enough to know that Crist is an untrustworthy ally. The labor bosses, not unreasonably, may figure that Crist is headed for third place. And even if Meek loses (quite likely), Big Labor won’t have burned its bridges with its devoted beneficiary, the Democratic Party. In politics, loyalty counts for something. Perhaps Florida voters, unlike those who turned out for primaries in Pennsylvania and Arkansas, have a yen for mushy moderates with no defined ideology other than self-promotion. But I doubt it.

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