Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 3, 2010

What’s That You Say, Mr. Robinson?

I’ve admitted that it’s become something of a hobby of mine to point out how the left is becoming increasingly unhinged and alienated from America and turning on the American people with a vengeance (see here and here). We can add the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson to the list. According to Robinson,

In the punditry business, it’s considered bad form to question the essential wisdom of the American people. But at this point, it’s impossible to ignore the obvious: The American people are acting like a bunch of spoiled brats.

For the record, in the aftermath of Obama’s election, Robinson wrote a column titled “Morning in America.” According to Robinson:

Yet something changed on [Election Day 2008] when Americans — white, black, Latino, Asian — entrusted a black man with the power and responsibility of the presidency. I always meant it when I said the Pledge of Allegiance in school. I always meant it when I sang the national anthem at ball games and shot off fireworks on the Fourth of July. But now there’s more meaning in my expressions of patriotism, because there’s more meaning in the stirring ideals that the pledge and the anthem and the fireworks represent. … For me, the emotion of this moment has less to do with Obama than with the nation. Now I know how some people must have felt when they heard Ronald Reagan say “it’s morning again in America.” The new sunshine feels warm on my face.

Today thunderclouds are blocking the sunshine. Morning in America is turning to night. We have gone from an estimable people to a bunch of spoiled brats — all because the citizenry is rising up against a president who they believe (with considerable evidence on their side) is doing harm to their country.

What’s that you say, Mr. Robinson? The character of the American people hasn’t left and gone away … hey, hey, hey.

I’ve admitted that it’s become something of a hobby of mine to point out how the left is becoming increasingly unhinged and alienated from America and turning on the American people with a vengeance (see here and here). We can add the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson to the list. According to Robinson,

In the punditry business, it’s considered bad form to question the essential wisdom of the American people. But at this point, it’s impossible to ignore the obvious: The American people are acting like a bunch of spoiled brats.

For the record, in the aftermath of Obama’s election, Robinson wrote a column titled “Morning in America.” According to Robinson:

Yet something changed on [Election Day 2008] when Americans — white, black, Latino, Asian — entrusted a black man with the power and responsibility of the presidency. I always meant it when I said the Pledge of Allegiance in school. I always meant it when I sang the national anthem at ball games and shot off fireworks on the Fourth of July. But now there’s more meaning in my expressions of patriotism, because there’s more meaning in the stirring ideals that the pledge and the anthem and the fireworks represent. … For me, the emotion of this moment has less to do with Obama than with the nation. Now I know how some people must have felt when they heard Ronald Reagan say “it’s morning again in America.” The new sunshine feels warm on my face.

Today thunderclouds are blocking the sunshine. Morning in America is turning to night. We have gone from an estimable people to a bunch of spoiled brats — all because the citizenry is rising up against a president who they believe (with considerable evidence on their side) is doing harm to their country.

What’s that you say, Mr. Robinson? The character of the American people hasn’t left and gone away … hey, hey, hey.

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Obama’s Hell of a Ride

Something weird happens when presidencies go wrong — presidents become incompetent at doing the things they were always able to do in their sleep, and their aides follow suit. I noted this when I wrote my first book, Hell of a Ride, about the decline and fall of the first President Bush, back in 1993. When Bush spoke, it rained, and his advancemen weren’t quick-thinking enough to move his events indoors. When he went to Japan on a state visit, he vomited. He was so intent on getting out his message of the day that he referred to it as “Message: I Care.”

Obama is heading in that direction right now. It’s hard to imagine what could have possessed him to take to the microphones this morning to claim that the unemployment numbers released this morning were “positive news” and that the “economy is moving in a positive direction” when the unemployment rate rose a tenth of a point.

Now, by definition, the economy is moving in a positive direction because it is not shrinking in size. And I know that analysts are saying that the increase in the unemployment number is due to people attempting to rejoin the workforce, not from people being fired, and that there are glimmers of encouragement in the hard data on the August numbers. Nor should presidents “talk down” the economy, as I’m sure his aides warn him. And he did say the news was “not good enough.”

But the news is worse than “not good enough” — otherwise, he wouldn’t simultaneously be hinting at dramatic new plans for hundreds of billions in new spending that he has no chance of getting through Congress right now and that can’t be spent in time for the election either. But if the only claim he and his team can make about the $800 billion stimulus is that it prevented even worse employment numbers (and even then, only by shoring up the public sector), he is going to have trouble convincing anyone who isn’t already all in with him that the United States needs to pile on even more unprecedented debt.

The notion that proposing more government action will be a political winner for him now — to say nothing of whether it would be economically and fiscally wise — needs to be considered in conjunction with his foolish rhetoric this morning. He is moving into the permanently-out-of-touch territory in which the Elder Bush found himself mired throughout his final year in office. When this president next week begins proposing expensive new measures to save us from a crisis he has just told us we are emerging from, he is going to compound the growing sense that he has no idea what he is doing or where to go to fix the mess. And he is going to convince many more people that the mess in which we are now mired is of a different order from the mess he inherited, and that it belongs to him and his party, and that somebody else is going to have to clean it up.

Something weird happens when presidencies go wrong — presidents become incompetent at doing the things they were always able to do in their sleep, and their aides follow suit. I noted this when I wrote my first book, Hell of a Ride, about the decline and fall of the first President Bush, back in 1993. When Bush spoke, it rained, and his advancemen weren’t quick-thinking enough to move his events indoors. When he went to Japan on a state visit, he vomited. He was so intent on getting out his message of the day that he referred to it as “Message: I Care.”

Obama is heading in that direction right now. It’s hard to imagine what could have possessed him to take to the microphones this morning to claim that the unemployment numbers released this morning were “positive news” and that the “economy is moving in a positive direction” when the unemployment rate rose a tenth of a point.

Now, by definition, the economy is moving in a positive direction because it is not shrinking in size. And I know that analysts are saying that the increase in the unemployment number is due to people attempting to rejoin the workforce, not from people being fired, and that there are glimmers of encouragement in the hard data on the August numbers. Nor should presidents “talk down” the economy, as I’m sure his aides warn him. And he did say the news was “not good enough.”

But the news is worse than “not good enough” — otherwise, he wouldn’t simultaneously be hinting at dramatic new plans for hundreds of billions in new spending that he has no chance of getting through Congress right now and that can’t be spent in time for the election either. But if the only claim he and his team can make about the $800 billion stimulus is that it prevented even worse employment numbers (and even then, only by shoring up the public sector), he is going to have trouble convincing anyone who isn’t already all in with him that the United States needs to pile on even more unprecedented debt.

The notion that proposing more government action will be a political winner for him now — to say nothing of whether it would be economically and fiscally wise — needs to be considered in conjunction with his foolish rhetoric this morning. He is moving into the permanently-out-of-touch territory in which the Elder Bush found himself mired throughout his final year in office. When this president next week begins proposing expensive new measures to save us from a crisis he has just told us we are emerging from, he is going to compound the growing sense that he has no idea what he is doing or where to go to fix the mess. And he is going to convince many more people that the mess in which we are now mired is of a different order from the mess he inherited, and that it belongs to him and his party, and that somebody else is going to have to clean it up.

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Defining Recovery Down

What are we to make of the most recent jobs report, which shows that (a) unemployment increased from 9.5 percent to 9.6 percent and (b) nonfarm payrolls fell by 54,000 last month? If you’re White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, you tweet, “Don’t be fooled — the economy added 67,000 private sector jobs, 8th straight month of added private sector jobs, job loss came in Census work.” Picking up on this, David Mark, Politico’s senior editor, writes this:

At the White House Friday morning President Obama praised the private sector addition of 67,000 jobs in August, the eighth straight month of job growth. “That’s positive news, and it reflects the steps we’ve already taken to break the back of this recession. But it’s not good enough,” the president said. And Christina Romer, outgoing chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, said the jobs figures were “better than expected.” Do they have a point about a slowly-but-surely improving jobs situation?

The answer is “no.” To understand why, it might be helpful to put things in a wider perspective. Read More

What are we to make of the most recent jobs report, which shows that (a) unemployment increased from 9.5 percent to 9.6 percent and (b) nonfarm payrolls fell by 54,000 last month? If you’re White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, you tweet, “Don’t be fooled — the economy added 67,000 private sector jobs, 8th straight month of added private sector jobs, job loss came in Census work.” Picking up on this, David Mark, Politico’s senior editor, writes this:

At the White House Friday morning President Obama praised the private sector addition of 67,000 jobs in August, the eighth straight month of job growth. “That’s positive news, and it reflects the steps we’ve already taken to break the back of this recession. But it’s not good enough,” the president said. And Christina Romer, outgoing chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, said the jobs figures were “better than expected.” Do they have a point about a slowly-but-surely improving jobs situation?

The answer is “no.” To understand why, it might be helpful to put things in a wider perspective.

For one thing, the so-called underemployment rate, which includes workers who are working part-time but who want full-time work, increased from 16.5 percent to 16.7 percent. During our supposed “Recovery Summer,” we have lost 283,000 jobs (54,000 in June, 171,000 in July, and 54,000 in August). And for August, the employment-population ratio — the percentage of Americans with jobs — was 58.5 percent. We haven’t seen figures this low in nearly three decades. As Henry Olson of the American Enterprise Institute points out, “Since the start of this summer, nearly 400,000 Americans have entered the labor force, but only 130,000 have found jobs. … America’s adult population has risen by 2 million people since [August 2009], but the number of adults with jobs has dropped by 180,000. The unemployment rate declined slightly despite these numbers, from 9.7 percent to 9.6 percent, because over 2.3 million people have left the labor force entirely, so discouraged they are no longer even looking for work. ”

Keep in mind that all this is occurring during a period when job growth should be considerably higher, at least based on past post-recession recoveries. Former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Michael Boskin points out that “compared to the 6.2% first-year Ford recovery and 7.7% Reagan recovery, the Obama recovery at 3% is less than half speed.” Bear in mind, too, that today’s jobs report comes a week after the GDP for the second quarter was revised downward, from 2.4 percent to 1.6 percent. Economists generally agree that the economy needs to grow 2.5 percent to keep unemployment from going up, and a good deal better than that to begin to bring it substantially down.

What all this means, I think, is that we’re not in a recovery at all, at least not in any meaningful sense. And those who insist otherwise are (to amend a phrase from Daniel Patrick Moynihan) Defining Recovery Down.

The most recent GDP figures also have harmful fiscal ramifications. For example, estimates for the deficit this year (more than $1.3 trillion) are based on both the Congressional Budget Office’s and the Obama administration’s assumption of roughly 3 percent growth. If growth is well below that, government revenues are going to be lower than estimated. And so this year’s deficit and net increase in the debt are going to be worse than even the (already quite troubling) projections. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve has very few, if any, arrows left in its quiver. It has done just about all that can be done.

The narrative the Obama administration is trying to sell is that we were on the edge of another Great Depression but avoided it and are now, in the president’s oft-repeated phrase, “moving in the right direction.” If we persist in following Obama’s policies on spending, taxes, and regulations, Obama assures us, we will build on this recovery and turn a sluggish one into a strong one. At the end of Obamaism lies the land of milk and honey.

This is wishful thinking. The economy right now is sick and, in some important respects, getting sicker. And the president is pursuing policies that are not only not helping; they are downright counterproductive.

Robert Gibbs can tweet away, but he cannot tweet away reality.

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An Alternate History: In Which the Pundits Had Obama Pegged

David Brooks has an amusing column that speculates about what an alternative set of decisions by Obama (e.g.,an energy bill before ObamaCare, tax cuts instead of the spend-athon) would have looked like. I would quibble with some items: for example, the energy bill would not have been just about “technological advances, private sector growth and breakthrough productivity gains”; it would have been about taxes, taxes, taxes. But that’s minor.

The real amusement comes from the fact that the “alternate history” bears no resemblance at all to what Obama has done; it is the ultimate un-Obama. It’s not just a few decisions that were wrong. The real Obama at nearly every juncture made the wrong call (e.g., letting Nancy Pelosi run wild rather than “develop[ing] a political strategy they called Save Nancy From Herself”). The implication is that the real Obama blew it — again and again.

This says something about the pundits who believed they were getting un-Obama. They were impressed with image and with pants, but failed to comprehend what Obama was all about. They painted an un-Obama vision — moderate, responsible, evidence-based, unifying. The list could go on. All ludicrously off-base, except in some alternate reality. (Like the Star Trek episode where Spock had a beard.)

Moreover, the real “alternate history” would have to include this:

The mainstream media and liberal pundits – who had been derided by conservative critics as out of touch or as actively engaged in a conspiracy to present a pleasing but false image of Obama – were vindicated. The liberal print media and broadcast news networks enjoyed newfound credibility. The conservative pundits were thoroughly discredited. The New York Times, basking in the glow of its reaffirmation as the “newspaper of record,” saw a dramatic improvement in its balance sheet. Meanwhile, Fox News closed its doors, the blogosphere shriveled, the conservative activists hid under their beds, and the center-left coalition cemented its gains in the 2010 midterm elections.

Yeah, no resemblance to reality. Whatsoever.

David Brooks has an amusing column that speculates about what an alternative set of decisions by Obama (e.g.,an energy bill before ObamaCare, tax cuts instead of the spend-athon) would have looked like. I would quibble with some items: for example, the energy bill would not have been just about “technological advances, private sector growth and breakthrough productivity gains”; it would have been about taxes, taxes, taxes. But that’s minor.

The real amusement comes from the fact that the “alternate history” bears no resemblance at all to what Obama has done; it is the ultimate un-Obama. It’s not just a few decisions that were wrong. The real Obama at nearly every juncture made the wrong call (e.g., letting Nancy Pelosi run wild rather than “develop[ing] a political strategy they called Save Nancy From Herself”). The implication is that the real Obama blew it — again and again.

This says something about the pundits who believed they were getting un-Obama. They were impressed with image and with pants, but failed to comprehend what Obama was all about. They painted an un-Obama vision — moderate, responsible, evidence-based, unifying. The list could go on. All ludicrously off-base, except in some alternate reality. (Like the Star Trek episode where Spock had a beard.)

Moreover, the real “alternate history” would have to include this:

The mainstream media and liberal pundits – who had been derided by conservative critics as out of touch or as actively engaged in a conspiracy to present a pleasing but false image of Obama – were vindicated. The liberal print media and broadcast news networks enjoyed newfound credibility. The conservative pundits were thoroughly discredited. The New York Times, basking in the glow of its reaffirmation as the “newspaper of record,” saw a dramatic improvement in its balance sheet. Meanwhile, Fox News closed its doors, the blogosphere shriveled, the conservative activists hid under their beds, and the center-left coalition cemented its gains in the 2010 midterm elections.

Yeah, no resemblance to reality. Whatsoever.

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Back to the Future

Robert Reich, President Clinton’s secretary of Labor, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times in which he tries to explain why the recovery from the “Great Recession” has been so sluggish. He fails to do that, but the article is a window into why the Obama administration has failed so dismally in this area: liberals are hopelessly stuck in the past. And in order to remain so, they distort history and manipulate statistics.

As always, Reich blames the rich for making too much money, noting that while the top 1 percent had only 9 percent of total income in the late 1970s, today’s super-rich take in 23.5 percent. These figures are based on adjusted gross income reported in federal tax returns and so should be looked at carefully to see how they square with “compensation,” which is something very different. But Reich simply ignores the fact that whenever there has been a major technological development, from the full-rigged ship in the 15th century to the microprocessor in the 20th, there has always quickly followed an inflorescence of fortunes based on the new technology. This, inevitably, causes income inequality to widen. The poor don’t get poorer, the rich just get suddenly much richer. The more fundamental the new technology is, the more the gap will widen, and the microprocessor is the most fundamental new technology since agriculture 10,000 years ago.

Just look at the Forbes 400 list to see how many brand-new fortunes are based on the microprocessor. Seven of the top 10 are (neither Wal-Mart nor Bloomberg would have been possible without cheap computing power). Any attempt to flatten the income curve in these revolutionary terms and thus reduce inequality would inescapably reduce wealth creation.

He writes, “What’s more, the rich don’t necessarily invest their earnings and savings in the American economy; they send them anywhere around the globe where they’ll summon the highest returns — sometimes that’s here, but often it’s the Cayman Islands, China or elsewhere.” That’s perfectly true. But the rich living in the Cayman Islands, China, and elsewhere do exactly the same thing, often investing in America, which enjoys robust capital inflows as well as outflows. We now have a nearly total global economy, especially when it comes to capital. Any attempt to change that would be disastrous for both the United States and the world. Read More

Robert Reich, President Clinton’s secretary of Labor, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times in which he tries to explain why the recovery from the “Great Recession” has been so sluggish. He fails to do that, but the article is a window into why the Obama administration has failed so dismally in this area: liberals are hopelessly stuck in the past. And in order to remain so, they distort history and manipulate statistics.

As always, Reich blames the rich for making too much money, noting that while the top 1 percent had only 9 percent of total income in the late 1970s, today’s super-rich take in 23.5 percent. These figures are based on adjusted gross income reported in federal tax returns and so should be looked at carefully to see how they square with “compensation,” which is something very different. But Reich simply ignores the fact that whenever there has been a major technological development, from the full-rigged ship in the 15th century to the microprocessor in the 20th, there has always quickly followed an inflorescence of fortunes based on the new technology. This, inevitably, causes income inequality to widen. The poor don’t get poorer, the rich just get suddenly much richer. The more fundamental the new technology is, the more the gap will widen, and the microprocessor is the most fundamental new technology since agriculture 10,000 years ago.

Just look at the Forbes 400 list to see how many brand-new fortunes are based on the microprocessor. Seven of the top 10 are (neither Wal-Mart nor Bloomberg would have been possible without cheap computing power). Any attempt to flatten the income curve in these revolutionary terms and thus reduce inequality would inescapably reduce wealth creation.

He writes, “What’s more, the rich don’t necessarily invest their earnings and savings in the American economy; they send them anywhere around the globe where they’ll summon the highest returns — sometimes that’s here, but often it’s the Cayman Islands, China or elsewhere.” That’s perfectly true. But the rich living in the Cayman Islands, China, and elsewhere do exactly the same thing, often investing in America, which enjoys robust capital inflows as well as outflows. We now have a nearly total global economy, especially when it comes to capital. Any attempt to change that would be disastrous for both the United States and the world.

He writes:

Meanwhile, as the economy grows, the vast majority in the middle naturally want to live better. Their consequent spending fuels continued growth and creates enough jobs for almost everyone, at least for a time. But because this situation can’t be sustained, at some point — 1929 and 2008 offer ready examples — the bill comes due.

This time around, policymakers had knowledge their counterparts didn’t have in 1929; they knew they could avoid immediate financial calamity by flooding the economy with money. But, paradoxically, averting another Great Depression-like calamity removed political pressure for more fundamental reform. We’re left instead with a long and seemingly endless Great Jobs Recession.

The Great Depression and its aftermath demonstrate that there is only one way back to full recovery: through more widely shared prosperity. In the 1930s, the American economy was completely restructured. New Deal measures — Social Security, a 40-hour work week with time-and-a-half overtime, unemployment insurance, the right to form unions and bargain collectively, the minimum wage — leveled the playing field.

Where do I begin? The depression that began in 1929 came out of a severe depression in American agriculture, caused by a revival in European agriculture and falling food prices owing to land once devoted to fodder crops for horses and mules being turned over to production of human food as the internal combustion engine took over the transportation and farm-equipment sectors. It did not come out of excess personal debt and a real estate bubble.

They didn’t know in 1929 that you could avoid immediate financial calamity by flooding the economy with money? Here’s what Benjamin Strong, governor of the New York Federal Reserve and effectively head of the Fed, wrote in 1928. “The very existence of the Federal Reserve System is a safeguard against anything like a calamity growing out of money rates. … We have the power to deal with such an emergency instantly by flooding the Street with money.” The problem was that the Federal Reserve didn’t flood the economy with money after the crash in 1929 (Ben Strong died in late 1928) but kept interest rates high. An ordinary stock market crash and economic depression were turned into the Great Depression by horrendous government mistakes, of which the Fed’s was only one.

And if the New Deal was the way back to full recovery, why did it take 10 years (and suddenly vast orders for war materiél) to achieve it? Robert Reich should read Amity Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, which pretty well demolishes the now ancient notions about the New Deal that liberals cling to, sort of like the way people in fly-over country cling to guns and religion.

He writes,

In the decades after World War II, legislation like the G.I. Bill, a vast expansion of public higher education and civil rights and voting rights laws further reduced economic inequality. Much of this was paid for with a 70 percent to 90 percent marginal income tax on the highest incomes.

Ah, the good old days of 91 percent tax rates on those rascally rich guys! Of course, those were mere nominal rates, the rich didn’t pay anything like that much, because deductions and other tax fiddles were nearly limitless in those days. All interest rates were deductible, for instance, allowing someone in the 91 percent bracket to borrow money and have Uncle Sam pay 91 percent of the interest costs.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

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This Is Why the Democrats Will Get Trounced

Politico reports on Obama’s comments following the jobs report:

“We are confident that we are moving in the right direction, but we want to keep this recovery moving stronger and accelerate the job growth that’s needed so desperately all across the country,” he told reporters outside the White House after calling the Labor Department’s jobs report “positive news.”

Obama dismissed a reporter who asked if he regrets calling the past months the “summer of recovery.” “I don’t regret the notion that we are moving forward because of the steps that we’ve taken,” he said. “We are moving in the right direction. We just have to speed it up.”

He must be joking. The comments are so at odds with public perception, and the suggestion that 54,000 lost jobs is somehow “encouraging” is so daft, that one wonders what is going on inside the White House. I suspect those remarks are going to appear in many GOP ads this fall. Obama, who was thought to be a genius at campaigning, has lost his touch and now is something of a one-man wrecking crew for the Democratic Party.

Politico reports on Obama’s comments following the jobs report:

“We are confident that we are moving in the right direction, but we want to keep this recovery moving stronger and accelerate the job growth that’s needed so desperately all across the country,” he told reporters outside the White House after calling the Labor Department’s jobs report “positive news.”

Obama dismissed a reporter who asked if he regrets calling the past months the “summer of recovery.” “I don’t regret the notion that we are moving forward because of the steps that we’ve taken,” he said. “We are moving in the right direction. We just have to speed it up.”

He must be joking. The comments are so at odds with public perception, and the suggestion that 54,000 lost jobs is somehow “encouraging” is so daft, that one wonders what is going on inside the White House. I suspect those remarks are going to appear in many GOP ads this fall. Obama, who was thought to be a genius at campaigning, has lost his touch and now is something of a one-man wrecking crew for the Democratic Party.

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Sestak Throws J Street Under the Bus

Ben Smith reports that after weeks and weeks of defending his signature on the Gaza 54 letter, Joe Sestak has now confessed he was wrong to sign on to the J Street letter bashing Israel for its supposed “collective punishment” of the Palestinians. Smith observes:

Now the highest-profile signatory, Senate candidate Rep. Joe Sestak, says he regrets signing the letter — a win for the hawks and a blow to J Street’s attempt to create political space on a pro-Israel left of the Middle East conflict.

Sestak says he should have sent his own letter. Goodness knows what would have been in that.

Sestak has now alienated just about everyone on this issue. Just as he reversed course on his $350,000 earmark, here too he tried out one excuse, saw it wasn’t working, and then declared he was so very sorry to have done something he denied was a problem to begin with. Both J Street and truly pro-Israel voters understand that Sestak’s word is meaningless.

Moreover, recall that not only did he protest the ECI ad on this issue; Sestak also tried to have it taken down. His attorney at the time wrote that it was false to assert that Sestak had accused Israel of “collective punishment.” I guess the ad was accurate after all. Maybe he should apologize to ECI as well.

Another thing: Sestak says this was the one action he regretted. So he still thinks keynoting for CAIR and lauding its work was the right thing to do? Or is that apology coming next week?

It’s hard to decide who is in worse shape — Sestak or J Street. Before this, the former was heading for defeat, and this won’t help matters. But J Street’s problem isn’t going to end on Election Day. What lawmaker will now want to sign their Israel-bashing letters after this? The J Street line is politically toxic, and its “support” (a whole $7,500 ad-buy) has proved to be minuscule compared to the grief the group has caused Sestak.

J Street has tried to do two things, as I have pointed out: to be a player in electoral politics and to stake out a leftist position on Israel. It turns out that there is no market for the latter, and hence, the former is a flop.

Ben Smith reports that after weeks and weeks of defending his signature on the Gaza 54 letter, Joe Sestak has now confessed he was wrong to sign on to the J Street letter bashing Israel for its supposed “collective punishment” of the Palestinians. Smith observes:

Now the highest-profile signatory, Senate candidate Rep. Joe Sestak, says he regrets signing the letter — a win for the hawks and a blow to J Street’s attempt to create political space on a pro-Israel left of the Middle East conflict.

Sestak says he should have sent his own letter. Goodness knows what would have been in that.

Sestak has now alienated just about everyone on this issue. Just as he reversed course on his $350,000 earmark, here too he tried out one excuse, saw it wasn’t working, and then declared he was so very sorry to have done something he denied was a problem to begin with. Both J Street and truly pro-Israel voters understand that Sestak’s word is meaningless.

Moreover, recall that not only did he protest the ECI ad on this issue; Sestak also tried to have it taken down. His attorney at the time wrote that it was false to assert that Sestak had accused Israel of “collective punishment.” I guess the ad was accurate after all. Maybe he should apologize to ECI as well.

Another thing: Sestak says this was the one action he regretted. So he still thinks keynoting for CAIR and lauding its work was the right thing to do? Or is that apology coming next week?

It’s hard to decide who is in worse shape — Sestak or J Street. Before this, the former was heading for defeat, and this won’t help matters. But J Street’s problem isn’t going to end on Election Day. What lawmaker will now want to sign their Israel-bashing letters after this? The J Street line is politically toxic, and its “support” (a whole $7,500 ad-buy) has proved to be minuscule compared to the grief the group has caused Sestak.

J Street has tried to do two things, as I have pointed out: to be a player in electoral politics and to stake out a leftist position on Israel. It turns out that there is no market for the latter, and hence, the former is a flop.

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A Damning Admission

In his superb column today, Charles Krauthammer highlights a paragraph from Peter Baker’s New York Times story on Barack Obama as commander in chief:

One adviser at the time said Mr. Obama calculated that an open-ended commitment would undermine the rest of his agenda. “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics,” the adviser said. “He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.”

“If this is true,” Krauthammer writes, “Obama’s military leadership can only be called scandalous.”

Quite right. And it’s not the first time such a thing has been said about Obama. Here is a paragraph from a June 23 Washington Post article on the controversy then surrounding General Stanley McChrystal:

McChrystal’s apparent disdain for his civilian colleagues, and the facts on the ground in Afghanistan, have exposed the enduring fault lines in the agreement Obama forged last fall among policymakers and military commanders. In exchange for approving McChrystal’s request for more troops and treasure, Obama imposed, and the military accepted, two deadlines sought by his political aides. In December, one year after the strategy was announced, the situation would be reviewed and necessary adjustments made. In July 2011, the troops would begin to come home. [emphasis added]

These are damning admissions — war policies not only being influenced by partisan considerations but in important respects being driven by them.

In embracing a new counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, President Obama made the right decision. At the same time, he made a political accommodation on the withdrawal date, which we now know is undermining our efforts. Earlier this week, I pointed out that Marine Commandant General James Conway, in speaking about the 2011 deadline, said this: “In some ways, we think right now it’s probably giving our enemy sustenance. We think that he may be saying to himself … ‘Hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long.’” Intelligence intercepts suggest that Taliban fighters have been encouraged by the talk of the U.S. beginning to withdraw troops next year, according to Conway. Yet in Tuesday’s prime-time address to the nation, Obama, rather than walk back from his arbitrary withdrawal date, went out of his way to re-emphasize it. “Make no mistake,” the president said, “this transition will begin because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.”

It turns out that the locution “our interests” refers not to America’s national interests but to Obama’s political self-interest instead.

I worked for President George W. Bush for most of two terms. It is not only inconceivable that he would have allowed such a thing to happen, as he showed in his embrace of the surge despite gale-force political winds and intense pressure from Republicans to withdraw from Iraq because it was damaging the GOP. And I would wager a good deal of money that if a political adviser had even suggested such a thing to him, he would have exploded in anger and probably fired the offending party on the spot. And he would have been right to do so.

“Among the thirty-five men who have held the presidential office,” Dean Acheson wrote in Present at the Creation, “Mr. Truman will stand with the few who in the midst of great difficulties managed their offices with eminent benefit to the public interest. … In the last analysis Mr. Truman’s methods reflected the basic integrity of his own character.”

If only such a thing could be said now.

In his superb column today, Charles Krauthammer highlights a paragraph from Peter Baker’s New York Times story on Barack Obama as commander in chief:

One adviser at the time said Mr. Obama calculated that an open-ended commitment would undermine the rest of his agenda. “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics,” the adviser said. “He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.”

“If this is true,” Krauthammer writes, “Obama’s military leadership can only be called scandalous.”

Quite right. And it’s not the first time such a thing has been said about Obama. Here is a paragraph from a June 23 Washington Post article on the controversy then surrounding General Stanley McChrystal:

McChrystal’s apparent disdain for his civilian colleagues, and the facts on the ground in Afghanistan, have exposed the enduring fault lines in the agreement Obama forged last fall among policymakers and military commanders. In exchange for approving McChrystal’s request for more troops and treasure, Obama imposed, and the military accepted, two deadlines sought by his political aides. In December, one year after the strategy was announced, the situation would be reviewed and necessary adjustments made. In July 2011, the troops would begin to come home. [emphasis added]

These are damning admissions — war policies not only being influenced by partisan considerations but in important respects being driven by them.

In embracing a new counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, President Obama made the right decision. At the same time, he made a political accommodation on the withdrawal date, which we now know is undermining our efforts. Earlier this week, I pointed out that Marine Commandant General James Conway, in speaking about the 2011 deadline, said this: “In some ways, we think right now it’s probably giving our enemy sustenance. We think that he may be saying to himself … ‘Hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long.’” Intelligence intercepts suggest that Taliban fighters have been encouraged by the talk of the U.S. beginning to withdraw troops next year, according to Conway. Yet in Tuesday’s prime-time address to the nation, Obama, rather than walk back from his arbitrary withdrawal date, went out of his way to re-emphasize it. “Make no mistake,” the president said, “this transition will begin because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.”

It turns out that the locution “our interests” refers not to America’s national interests but to Obama’s political self-interest instead.

I worked for President George W. Bush for most of two terms. It is not only inconceivable that he would have allowed such a thing to happen, as he showed in his embrace of the surge despite gale-force political winds and intense pressure from Republicans to withdraw from Iraq because it was damaging the GOP. And I would wager a good deal of money that if a political adviser had even suggested such a thing to him, he would have exploded in anger and probably fired the offending party on the spot. And he would have been right to do so.

“Among the thirty-five men who have held the presidential office,” Dean Acheson wrote in Present at the Creation, “Mr. Truman will stand with the few who in the midst of great difficulties managed their offices with eminent benefit to the public interest. … In the last analysis Mr. Truman’s methods reflected the basic integrity of his own character.”

If only such a thing could be said now.

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Key Democrat: Dump ObamaCare’s Individual Mandate

This is big:

Last week [Democratic Sen. Ron] Wyden sent a letter to Oregon health authority director Bruce Goldberg, encouraging the state to seek a waiver from certain ObamaCare rules so it can “come up with innovative solutions that the Federal government has never had the flexibility or will to implement.”

One little-known provision of the bill allows states to opt out of the “requirement that individuals purchase health insurance,” Mr. Wyden wrote, and “Because you and I believe that the heart of real health reform is affordability and not mandates, I wanted to bring this feature of Section 1332 to the attention of you and the legislature.”

Several thoughts. First, why then did he vote for the bill? Second, this suggests that, post-election, there might just be enough votes for “Repeal and Reform.” After all, Wyden is a liberal Democrat, so if he thinks the bill is bad, why wouldn’t his sure-to-be-shell-shocked colleagues (those who survive the election) agree? And finally, it seems that every conservative senator, congressman, governor, and state legislator should be adopting Wyden’s position and challenging their opponents to do the same. Heck, if 50 states opt out of the individual mandate, the bill is essentially kaput.

This is big:

Last week [Democratic Sen. Ron] Wyden sent a letter to Oregon health authority director Bruce Goldberg, encouraging the state to seek a waiver from certain ObamaCare rules so it can “come up with innovative solutions that the Federal government has never had the flexibility or will to implement.”

One little-known provision of the bill allows states to opt out of the “requirement that individuals purchase health insurance,” Mr. Wyden wrote, and “Because you and I believe that the heart of real health reform is affordability and not mandates, I wanted to bring this feature of Section 1332 to the attention of you and the legislature.”

Several thoughts. First, why then did he vote for the bill? Second, this suggests that, post-election, there might just be enough votes for “Repeal and Reform.” After all, Wyden is a liberal Democrat, so if he thinks the bill is bad, why wouldn’t his sure-to-be-shell-shocked colleagues (those who survive the election) agree? And finally, it seems that every conservative senator, congressman, governor, and state legislator should be adopting Wyden’s position and challenging their opponents to do the same. Heck, if 50 states opt out of the individual mandate, the bill is essentially kaput.

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Can a Sacred Text Be Secular as Well?

The debate over the Ten Commandments is firing up again. Writing for the New York Times’s website earlier this week, veteran legal commentator Linda Greenhouse warns of “the continuing effort by state and local governments to post the Ten Commandments in public places,” as well as an upcoming attempt to overturn the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 ruling of 2005 that barred the posting of the Ten Commandments before two Kentucky courthouses.

At the heart of these new legal efforts is a caviat written into Justice Souter’s 2005 decision that seems to open the door for such displays if they are intended for a secular purpose — a sentence that many people, Ms. Greenhouse writes, wrongfully took “as a green light for gaming the system.” The Court, Souter wrote, did not “have occasion here to hold that a sacred text can never be integrated constitutionally into a governmental display on the subject of law, or American history.” The problem is not in the Ten Commandments themselves, we learn, but in the real intentions behind putting them on display — whether they be “secular” or “sectarian.”

Like many Americans, Ms. Greenhouse bristles at such a loophole, mainly because of how hard it is for her to imagine the Bible representing anything other than religion. “The prospect of watching lawyers and justices engage in still more contorted efforts to attach supposedly secular meaning to obviously sectarian objects and texts,” she writes, “is not a pleasant one.”

But is this fair? Can’t the Ten Commandments — indeed, the Bible as a whole, with its thousand pages of ancient stories, speeches, poems, proverbs, laws, and histories — have secular meaning? Read More

The debate over the Ten Commandments is firing up again. Writing for the New York Times’s website earlier this week, veteran legal commentator Linda Greenhouse warns of “the continuing effort by state and local governments to post the Ten Commandments in public places,” as well as an upcoming attempt to overturn the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 ruling of 2005 that barred the posting of the Ten Commandments before two Kentucky courthouses.

At the heart of these new legal efforts is a caviat written into Justice Souter’s 2005 decision that seems to open the door for such displays if they are intended for a secular purpose — a sentence that many people, Ms. Greenhouse writes, wrongfully took “as a green light for gaming the system.” The Court, Souter wrote, did not “have occasion here to hold that a sacred text can never be integrated constitutionally into a governmental display on the subject of law, or American history.” The problem is not in the Ten Commandments themselves, we learn, but in the real intentions behind putting them on display — whether they be “secular” or “sectarian.”

Like many Americans, Ms. Greenhouse bristles at such a loophole, mainly because of how hard it is for her to imagine the Bible representing anything other than religion. “The prospect of watching lawyers and justices engage in still more contorted efforts to attach supposedly secular meaning to obviously sectarian objects and texts,” she writes, “is not a pleasant one.”

But is this fair? Can’t the Ten Commandments — indeed, the Bible as a whole, with its thousand pages of ancient stories, speeches, poems, proverbs, laws, and histories — have secular meaning?

For nearly two decades I’ve lived in Israel, where the Bible is seen very differently. A country founded on an ultra-secular socialism refused to cut itself off from the Jewish people’s ancient textual heritage. David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, himself fully secular, held Bible-study groups in his home and encouraged Israelis to read the Bible at every opportunity, without promoting any form of religious worship or observance. Today every Jewish IDF soldier gets a copy of the Bible upon completing basic training; and every Jewish high-schooler is required to study the Bible as a central part of the curriculum. Biblical idioms and allusions are found throughout secular culture, from music to literature to film. And when a nonobservant student took third place in this year’s national Bible quiz, his mother — Sarah Netanyahu, wife of the prime minister — proclaimed it as a lesson for all secular Israelis: that the Bible belonged to them no less than to the religious.

Could such an attitude gain traction in America? Many will be quick to point out that Israel doesn’t have a separation of church and state — the result of which is that an inflexible ultra-Orthodox minority continues to foster deep resentment, much of it justified, among the secular majority because of the rabbinic monopolization of marriage and divorce, burial, and conversions.

But this argument fails when looking at the role of the Bible in Israeli life, for the simple reason that, unlike Ms. Greenhouse, most Israelis don’t see the Bible as an “obviously sectarian” text all. They see it, rather, as a national treasure, a basis of identity, a rich collection of ancient writings that is of interest not so much because of its authority as much as for its wisdom and testament to a unique cultural heritage. In other words, they see it as a secular text — much as Americans view the Federalist Papers or the Declaration of Independence.

Ms. Greenhouse, of course, is far from alone among Americans in seeing the Bible as having “obviously sectarian” symbolism and nothing else — an attitude that effectively grants exclusive ownership of the Bible to the religious establishment. But there is another secular America, one that longs for fresh readings of our ancient texts without either the axiomatic assumption or the explicit repudiation of faith. Bestselling authors like Bruce Feiler, Karen Armstrong, and Jack Miles have succeeded precisely because they meet a growing demand for sympathetic yet non-faith-based readings of the Bible. Far from being a legal loophole, Justice Souter’s words suggest an acute longing that many Americans share for an approach to sacred texts that on the one hand protects our modern sensibilities — especially our right to a self-defined spirituality — while giving us access to something we suspect may possess far more cultural wisdom than we have been led to believe, something that lies at the core of Western identity, something that continues to resonate regardless of our faith.

The Bible is not just a sacred text. It’s also a major pillar of our civilization — no less so than the works of ancient Greece, Enlightenment Europe, or the American Founders. Biblical stories and figures were invoked in every successful progressive movement in American history, from the Revolution to Emancipation to women’s suffrage to the civil rights movement. To presumptively dismiss public presentation of the Bible’s most famous encapsulation, the Ten Commandments, as “sectarian” is to cut ourselves off from this great fountainhead of wisdom, history, and self-understanding that we desperately need in our constant search to understand what the experiment of modern democratic life is really all about.

My new book, The Ten Commandments, takes this ball and runs with it. It hits bookstores next week.

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Brandeis Study on American Jewry’s Attitudes Toward Israel

Brandeis University’s Maurice and Marilyn Cohen’s Center for Modern Jewish studies is out with a survey on American Jewish attitudes toward Israel. The lengthy report is certainly worth reviewing in its entirety. I will highlight a few findings as well as some of the conclusions that the study’s authors draw. One caveat: the study as released does not break down responses by denomination (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform). I have e-mailed the center asking if such material is available and will certainly report back with the response I receive.

The study begins by telling us:

Sixty-three percent of respondents felt “very much” or “somewhat” connected to Israel. Seventy-five percent agreed that caring about Israel is an important part of their Jewish identities. The findings, when compared to earlier surveys asking similar questions, indicate overall stability in American Jewish attachment to Israel over the past quarter-century.

Respondents under age 45 were less likely to feel connected to Israel but no less likely to regard Israel as important to their Jewish identities. Insofar as age differences are not new—younger respondents have been less attached to Israel in surveys conducted at regular intervals over the past 24 years— the study attributes such differences to stages of the lifecycle rather than generational turnover.

On one hand, this completely debunks the Peter Beinarts who are convinced that Jews are becoming increasingly alienated from Israel because of the Jewish state’s recent conduct. There is no evidence of this. At all. And it is not surprising to me that as Jews age, have children, go through personal and professional challenges, and experience illnesses or the deaths of loved ones, they become more religious (in modern lingo “spiritual”) and connected to Israel. If you go to enough Purim plays, run years of kid-friendly seders, and maybe take an adult-education class when your kids are going to hadar, you’re very likely going to spend more time contemplating and worrying about Israel.

However, unlike the authors, I take no solace from the stability in the findings. If 37 percent of Jews have little or no connection to Israel, there is a problem. And the fact that there has been no improvement despite the presence of so many Jewish organizations and institutions is reason for concern. What are these groups doing? Read More

Brandeis University’s Maurice and Marilyn Cohen’s Center for Modern Jewish studies is out with a survey on American Jewish attitudes toward Israel. The lengthy report is certainly worth reviewing in its entirety. I will highlight a few findings as well as some of the conclusions that the study’s authors draw. One caveat: the study as released does not break down responses by denomination (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform). I have e-mailed the center asking if such material is available and will certainly report back with the response I receive.

The study begins by telling us:

Sixty-three percent of respondents felt “very much” or “somewhat” connected to Israel. Seventy-five percent agreed that caring about Israel is an important part of their Jewish identities. The findings, when compared to earlier surveys asking similar questions, indicate overall stability in American Jewish attachment to Israel over the past quarter-century.

Respondents under age 45 were less likely to feel connected to Israel but no less likely to regard Israel as important to their Jewish identities. Insofar as age differences are not new—younger respondents have been less attached to Israel in surveys conducted at regular intervals over the past 24 years— the study attributes such differences to stages of the lifecycle rather than generational turnover.

On one hand, this completely debunks the Peter Beinarts who are convinced that Jews are becoming increasingly alienated from Israel because of the Jewish state’s recent conduct. There is no evidence of this. At all. And it is not surprising to me that as Jews age, have children, go through personal and professional challenges, and experience illnesses or the deaths of loved ones, they become more religious (in modern lingo “spiritual”) and connected to Israel. If you go to enough Purim plays, run years of kid-friendly seders, and maybe take an adult-education class when your kids are going to hadar, you’re very likely going to spend more time contemplating and worrying about Israel.

However, unlike the authors, I take no solace from the stability in the findings. If 37 percent of Jews have little or no connection to Israel, there is a problem. And the fact that there has been no improvement despite the presence of so many Jewish organizations and institutions is reason for concern. What are these groups doing?

Second, charm offensive or not, only 25 percent of American Jews approve of Obama’s handling of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Thirty-seven percent disapprove. Thirty-eight percent are not sure. This number is especially high among liberal or very liberal (49 percent) or slightly liberal (46 percent) respondents, suggesting to me that they just can’t bring themselves to disapprove of Obama. Really, 49 percent of liberals aren’t sure? No, I’d wager quite a bit that they are just afraid to say so. A whopping 86 percent of conservative or very conservative Jews disapprove of Obama’s performance, while only 24 percent of liberal or very liberal Jews do. (Unfortunately, this question was not asked: “Would you support Obama if he reversed his position on abortion?” I’m sure liberals would have an opinion about that.)

There is much more about ideology. I was surprised that the study found no difference in “attachment to Israel” between liberals and conservatives. Then I realized that this was meaningless. The authors explain:

Notwithstanding the lack of relationship between ideology and attachment, the present study showed that respondents’ general  political orientations played a large role in their perspectives on virtually all policy issues related to Israel. Conservatives were more likely than liberals to support the official Israeli version of the flotilla incident, blame pro-Palestinian activists for the outcome, and regard U.S. support for Israel as not enough. Although most respondents did not believe the flotilla incident had any effect on their general feelings about Israel, conservatives were more likely to believe the incident strengthened, and liberals to believe it weakened, their attachment to Israel. Political ideology was also a decisive factor in assessments of President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s handling of the U.S.- Israel relationship and with respect to opinions about the future of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Thus, political ideology is a major factor in shaping opinions about specific Israeli and U.S. policies but only a minor factor—and one tied to respondents’ subjective assessment rather than objective measurement—in the determination of feelings of attachment to Israel.

To put it bluntly, liberals think they are attached to Israel, but they really aren’t in any meaningful sense. Good intentions are swell, but if that attachment consists in adopting positions at odds with Israel’s interests, then how attached are they really?

The results, like those regarding approval of Obama, are stark. For example, 82 percent of conservative or very conservative respondents blame pro-Palestinian activists for the flotilla incident, while only 16 percent blame Israel. Among those who are liberal or very liberal, only 44 percent blame the activists and a shocking 41 percent blame Israel. (But they are still “attached to Israel” — so it’s OK? No, not at all.) Asked about American support for Israel, 47 percent of conservative or very conservative Jews say the U.S. is not supportive enough, while 24 percent of liberal and very liberal respondents say so.

In future posts I will look at other findings, including opinion on settlements and Jerusalem. Unfortunately, no question was asked about Iran. I wonder why; it is, after all, the most serious threat the Jewish state has ever faced.

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The Summer of Failure

The workforce lost 54,000 non-farm jobs in August, and the unemployment rate went up to 9.6 percent. There is no way to sugarcoat this: it is awful news. For the Obama administration it is further proof that its economic policies have been misguided and unhelpful.

The Democrats’ position going into the midterm elections was already deteriorating. Now expect a Republican rout. Obama said we were to grade him on the economy. The voters will do that on Election Day. He won’t be getting a B+.

The workforce lost 54,000 non-farm jobs in August, and the unemployment rate went up to 9.6 percent. There is no way to sugarcoat this: it is awful news. For the Obama administration it is further proof that its economic policies have been misguided and unhelpful.

The Democrats’ position going into the midterm elections was already deteriorating. Now expect a Republican rout. Obama said we were to grade him on the economy. The voters will do that on Election Day. He won’t be getting a B+.

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He Said What?!

The Washington Post reports:

In briefing reporters, [George] Mitchell said one thing he learned from studying previous U.S.-mediated Middle East peace efforts is that “at least in a couple of instances, time ran out.”

Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush began serious pushes for peace with a year left in office. Clinton was still attempting to forge a deal as a lame duck.

It is hard to believe Mitchell actually studied past negotiations. Didn’t he pick up on the many lessons to be learned — the inadvisability of preconditions, for example? The indispensible element of a warm and robust U.S.-Israeli relationship? And it’s mind-boggling that the man who insisted on a one-year deadline for talks now tells us that the problem in past negotiations was a lack of time.

Now, I certainly don’t subscribe to the “not enough time” argument, but he does. The U.S.-Israeli relationship is severely hampered by a president unsympathetic, if not downright hostile, to the Jewish state. But Mitchell has certainly done his part. I’d be hard pressed to think of a more foolish Middle East negotiator.

The Washington Post reports:

In briefing reporters, [George] Mitchell said one thing he learned from studying previous U.S.-mediated Middle East peace efforts is that “at least in a couple of instances, time ran out.”

Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush began serious pushes for peace with a year left in office. Clinton was still attempting to forge a deal as a lame duck.

It is hard to believe Mitchell actually studied past negotiations. Didn’t he pick up on the many lessons to be learned — the inadvisability of preconditions, for example? The indispensible element of a warm and robust U.S.-Israeli relationship? And it’s mind-boggling that the man who insisted on a one-year deadline for talks now tells us that the problem in past negotiations was a lack of time.

Now, I certainly don’t subscribe to the “not enough time” argument, but he does. The U.S.-Israeli relationship is severely hampered by a president unsympathetic, if not downright hostile, to the Jewish state. But Mitchell has certainly done his part. I’d be hard pressed to think of a more foolish Middle East negotiator.

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Obama Muddies the Waters

Obama not only managed to confuse American audiences with his Iraq speech; he’s baffled the Iraqis as well. An Iraqi politician reveals: “Despite U.S. insistence that Americans remain committed to Iraq, they are halfway out the door.” Mahmoud Othman explains:

“They decided to finish it, but they know it’s not over,” Othman said Thursday. “War with terrorism is here, and Iranian intervention is here. They are lying to tell their people that they left behind a government that is capable and Iraqi security forces that are capable. … There is no government, the people don’t have confidence in the Iraqi security forces, and Iraqi suffering is increasing.”

The report observes that many Iraqis “did not expect Obama’s declaration to sound so final or that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates would acknowledge that the war is over.” The report continues:

The perception of a mixed U.S. message has fed the uncertainty many Iraqis say they feel. They are unsure what they want, they say, unsure if the United States is staying or going, unsure that their future will be any better than their past.

If this seems like deja vu all over again, it is. The same consternation, confusion, and irritation was evident in Afghanistan after Obama’s West Point speech. Unfortunately, with each public utterance, Obama manages to befuddle our side and encourage our opponents. No wonder he is a reluctant commander in chief; we rarely enjoy things we do poorly.

Obama not only managed to confuse American audiences with his Iraq speech; he’s baffled the Iraqis as well. An Iraqi politician reveals: “Despite U.S. insistence that Americans remain committed to Iraq, they are halfway out the door.” Mahmoud Othman explains:

“They decided to finish it, but they know it’s not over,” Othman said Thursday. “War with terrorism is here, and Iranian intervention is here. They are lying to tell their people that they left behind a government that is capable and Iraqi security forces that are capable. … There is no government, the people don’t have confidence in the Iraqi security forces, and Iraqi suffering is increasing.”

The report observes that many Iraqis “did not expect Obama’s declaration to sound so final or that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates would acknowledge that the war is over.” The report continues:

The perception of a mixed U.S. message has fed the uncertainty many Iraqis say they feel. They are unsure what they want, they say, unsure if the United States is staying or going, unsure that their future will be any better than their past.

If this seems like deja vu all over again, it is. The same consternation, confusion, and irritation was evident in Afghanistan after Obama’s West Point speech. Unfortunately, with each public utterance, Obama manages to befuddle our side and encourage our opponents. No wonder he is a reluctant commander in chief; we rarely enjoy things we do poorly.

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When All Else Fails, Do the Right Thing

Understandably, Democrats are peeved with the White House. This report quotes a Democratic operative: “We did the mosque, Katrina, Iraq, and now Middle East peace? … And in between you redo the Oval Office? It has become a joke.” Well, yes it has.

When all else fails, Democrats throw in the towel on their loopy economic policies and resort to tax cuts — just like the Republicans wanted in February 2009. We learn:

With just two months until the November elections, the White House is seriously weighing a package of business tax breaks — potentially worth hundreds of billions of dollars — to spur hiring and combat Republican charges that Democratic tax policies hurt small businesses, according to people with knowledge of the deliberations.

Among the options under consideration are a temporary payroll-tax holiday and a permanent extension of the now-expired research-and-development tax credit, which rewards companies that conduct research into new technologies within the United States.

A couple of problems with that. First, it won’t improve the economy before the election. The voice of sanity for the Democrats, William Galston, says: “Substantively, there is nothing they could do between now and Election Day that would have any measurable effect on the economy. Nothing.” Second, this renders the Obama economy policy entirely incoherent. If the economy is worsening and they admit tax cuts are good, why eliminate the Bush tax cuts? What sense does it make to give with one hand and take away with the other?

We’ll see what the Democrats come up with. As Milton Freidman advised, “I am in favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it’s possible.” But conservatives should insist that in addition to any tax cuts Obama proposes, the Bush tax cuts must be retained. Otherwise, we are merely treading water.

Understandably, Democrats are peeved with the White House. This report quotes a Democratic operative: “We did the mosque, Katrina, Iraq, and now Middle East peace? … And in between you redo the Oval Office? It has become a joke.” Well, yes it has.

When all else fails, Democrats throw in the towel on their loopy economic policies and resort to tax cuts — just like the Republicans wanted in February 2009. We learn:

With just two months until the November elections, the White House is seriously weighing a package of business tax breaks — potentially worth hundreds of billions of dollars — to spur hiring and combat Republican charges that Democratic tax policies hurt small businesses, according to people with knowledge of the deliberations.

Among the options under consideration are a temporary payroll-tax holiday and a permanent extension of the now-expired research-and-development tax credit, which rewards companies that conduct research into new technologies within the United States.

A couple of problems with that. First, it won’t improve the economy before the election. The voice of sanity for the Democrats, William Galston, says: “Substantively, there is nothing they could do between now and Election Day that would have any measurable effect on the economy. Nothing.” Second, this renders the Obama economy policy entirely incoherent. If the economy is worsening and they admit tax cuts are good, why eliminate the Bush tax cuts? What sense does it make to give with one hand and take away with the other?

We’ll see what the Democrats come up with. As Milton Freidman advised, “I am in favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it’s possible.” But conservatives should insist that in addition to any tax cuts Obama proposes, the Bush tax cuts must be retained. Otherwise, we are merely treading water.

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Why He Doesn’t Explain Why We Fight

Charles Krauthammer’s (I won’t say “must-read,” because all are) column today critiques both what Obama said on Tuesday (much discussion of deadlines) and what he did not. As to the latter, Krauthammer explains:

Where does America stand on the spreading threats to stability, decency and U.S. interests from the Horn of Africa to the Hindu Kush?

On this, not a word. Instead, Obama made a strange and clumsy segue into a pep talk on the economy. Rebuilding it, he declared, “must be our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as president.” This in a speech ostensibly about the two wars he is directing. He could not have made more clear where his priorities lie, and how much he sees foreign policy — war policy — as subordinate to his domestic ambitions.

Unfortunately, what for Obama is a distraction is life or death for U.S. troops now on patrol in Kandahar province. Some presidents may not like being wartime leaders. But they don’t get to decide. History does. Obama needs to accept the role. It’s not just the U.S. military, as [the New York Times‘s] Baker reports, that is “worried he is not fully invested in the cause.” Our allies, too, are experiencing doubt. And our enemies are drawing sustenance.

One can understand why Obama does not like to speak about a worldwide, amorphous war against jihadists. Many of the policies he has implemented are based on the premise that we are not engaged in a war to save our civilization. The Obama administration Mirandizes the Christmas Day  and the Times Square terrorists because these are “one-offs,” as Janet Napolitano put it. They offer KSM a public trial because they turn a blind eye to the impact such a trial would have on jihadists around the world. They excise “jihadist” and “Islamic fundamentalist” from their vocabulary because they imagine the war has nothing to do with ideology. (Al-Qaeda is an extremist group, but of what kind? Are they environmental or animal-rights activists who’ve gone over the edge — or murderers who kill in the name of Islam?)

Obama can’t talk about the struggle we are engaged in against Islamic fascists, because he doesn’t believe we’re in such a struggle. Or he pretends we’re not, because to acknowledge reality would make all his deadlines – and the announcement that his central task is the economy — seem ludicrous. And they are.

Charles Krauthammer’s (I won’t say “must-read,” because all are) column today critiques both what Obama said on Tuesday (much discussion of deadlines) and what he did not. As to the latter, Krauthammer explains:

Where does America stand on the spreading threats to stability, decency and U.S. interests from the Horn of Africa to the Hindu Kush?

On this, not a word. Instead, Obama made a strange and clumsy segue into a pep talk on the economy. Rebuilding it, he declared, “must be our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as president.” This in a speech ostensibly about the two wars he is directing. He could not have made more clear where his priorities lie, and how much he sees foreign policy — war policy — as subordinate to his domestic ambitions.

Unfortunately, what for Obama is a distraction is life or death for U.S. troops now on patrol in Kandahar province. Some presidents may not like being wartime leaders. But they don’t get to decide. History does. Obama needs to accept the role. It’s not just the U.S. military, as [the New York Times‘s] Baker reports, that is “worried he is not fully invested in the cause.” Our allies, too, are experiencing doubt. And our enemies are drawing sustenance.

One can understand why Obama does not like to speak about a worldwide, amorphous war against jihadists. Many of the policies he has implemented are based on the premise that we are not engaged in a war to save our civilization. The Obama administration Mirandizes the Christmas Day  and the Times Square terrorists because these are “one-offs,” as Janet Napolitano put it. They offer KSM a public trial because they turn a blind eye to the impact such a trial would have on jihadists around the world. They excise “jihadist” and “Islamic fundamentalist” from their vocabulary because they imagine the war has nothing to do with ideology. (Al-Qaeda is an extremist group, but of what kind? Are they environmental or animal-rights activists who’ve gone over the edge — or murderers who kill in the name of Islam?)

Obama can’t talk about the struggle we are engaged in against Islamic fascists, because he doesn’t believe we’re in such a struggle. Or he pretends we’re not, because to acknowledge reality would make all his deadlines – and the announcement that his central task is the economy — seem ludicrous. And they are.

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The Key to Middle East Peace Is in Tehran

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Sen. Scott Brown makes a cogent (and too infrequently made) argument:

The fact that Palestinians finally agreed to direct negotiations, without preconditions, is a positive step. But let’s not delude ourselves: There can never be peace in the Middle East with a nuclear-armed Iran.

He confirms what many observers have already reported: moderate Arab states care far less about the “peace process” than they do about the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. (“[I]n all my meetings in Israel and Jordan, what weighed most on the minds of security officials and political leaders was the prospect of a nuclear Iran.”) He explains:

It is not hard to imagine the terror that would be unleashed if Hezbollah and Hamas—emboldened by the protective watch of their benefactor—stepped up their campaign of hate against Israel. This would, in turn, embolden extremists around the globe.

But of course, an increasingly aggressive Iranian regime, even without nuclear weapons, is largely responsible for the ongoing terror directed against Israel. This is the real barrier to peace (sorry, Peter Beinart et. al, it’s not the settlements). Hamas killed five Israelis this week, but what country supports and funds Hamas? Iran. Abbas can’t make a peace deal even if he wanted to (a very big “if”), because he cannot give Israel what it wants — an end to violence. That will only come when terrorist groups (including Hezbollah on its northern boarder) are defanged. And that requires regime change and/or a decisive blow to their patrons in Tehran.

From the start of his presidency, Obama has had linkage backward — making the unsupportable claim that Iran can be disarmed only in the aftermath of a successful peace process. It is actually the reverse — toppling the mullahs would be the best encouragement (other than the Palestinians’ renunciation of violence and a one-state solution) to a true peace process. Ironically, doing what Obama loathes (attacking Iran, adopting regime change as our official policy) may be the only way for him to get what he desperately wants but cannot achieve (resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict).

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Sen. Scott Brown makes a cogent (and too infrequently made) argument:

The fact that Palestinians finally agreed to direct negotiations, without preconditions, is a positive step. But let’s not delude ourselves: There can never be peace in the Middle East with a nuclear-armed Iran.

He confirms what many observers have already reported: moderate Arab states care far less about the “peace process” than they do about the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. (“[I]n all my meetings in Israel and Jordan, what weighed most on the minds of security officials and political leaders was the prospect of a nuclear Iran.”) He explains:

It is not hard to imagine the terror that would be unleashed if Hezbollah and Hamas—emboldened by the protective watch of their benefactor—stepped up their campaign of hate against Israel. This would, in turn, embolden extremists around the globe.

But of course, an increasingly aggressive Iranian regime, even without nuclear weapons, is largely responsible for the ongoing terror directed against Israel. This is the real barrier to peace (sorry, Peter Beinart et. al, it’s not the settlements). Hamas killed five Israelis this week, but what country supports and funds Hamas? Iran. Abbas can’t make a peace deal even if he wanted to (a very big “if”), because he cannot give Israel what it wants — an end to violence. That will only come when terrorist groups (including Hezbollah on its northern boarder) are defanged. And that requires regime change and/or a decisive blow to their patrons in Tehran.

From the start of his presidency, Obama has had linkage backward — making the unsupportable claim that Iran can be disarmed only in the aftermath of a successful peace process. It is actually the reverse — toppling the mullahs would be the best encouragement (other than the Palestinians’ renunciation of violence and a one-state solution) to a true peace process. Ironically, doing what Obama loathes (attacking Iran, adopting regime change as our official policy) may be the only way for him to get what he desperately wants but cannot achieve (resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict).

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A Mess of His Own Making

Politico reports that Obama will probably not go to Ground Zero for 9/11, where he hasn’t visited since his campaign. Well, you can imagine the reaction if he did:

Obama’s aides … are unsure if they want to put him back in the middle of the Park51 controversy, which has damped down somewhat. Obama has not been to ground zero since he ran for president, when he and Republican nominee Sen. John McCain appeared there together on Sept. 11, 2008 — a rare bipartisan moment in a hard-fought campaign.

Last year, in his first commemoration of the Sept. 11 attacks as commander in chief, Obama and the first lady held a moment of silence on the south driveway of the White House. The president later spoke at the Pentagon to families and friends of the 184 people killed there.

This is the proverbial rock and a hard place. (“No matter where he goes, the president’s critics will likely speak out. If he doesn’t go to New York , Obama could be accused of dodging ground zero because of the Islamic center. If he does, he risks facing the anger of some Sept. 11 families and New York officials offended by his position.”)

What other locale has he avoided since the campaign? Why Israel, of course. He’s gotten some flack from American Jewish groups for not going. But once again, imagine the reaction if he showed up in the Jewish state. It would be hard to keep him out of reach of the 90 percent of Israelis who think he’s pro-Palestinian. Bad visuals of Israeli Jews screaming, waving signs, and potentially walking out in the Knesset must terrify the Obami.

We have gone from a president who was lionized by emergency and rescue workers at Ground Zero and who gave one of the best speeches (to the Knesset) on Israel ever given by a U.S. president (what even comes close?) to one who’s afraid to go to both. You can’t get more un-Bush than that. And in case you have forgotten:

Yes, it still makes me cry too.

Politico reports that Obama will probably not go to Ground Zero for 9/11, where he hasn’t visited since his campaign. Well, you can imagine the reaction if he did:

Obama’s aides … are unsure if they want to put him back in the middle of the Park51 controversy, which has damped down somewhat. Obama has not been to ground zero since he ran for president, when he and Republican nominee Sen. John McCain appeared there together on Sept. 11, 2008 — a rare bipartisan moment in a hard-fought campaign.

Last year, in his first commemoration of the Sept. 11 attacks as commander in chief, Obama and the first lady held a moment of silence on the south driveway of the White House. The president later spoke at the Pentagon to families and friends of the 184 people killed there.

This is the proverbial rock and a hard place. (“No matter where he goes, the president’s critics will likely speak out. If he doesn’t go to New York , Obama could be accused of dodging ground zero because of the Islamic center. If he does, he risks facing the anger of some Sept. 11 families and New York officials offended by his position.”)

What other locale has he avoided since the campaign? Why Israel, of course. He’s gotten some flack from American Jewish groups for not going. But once again, imagine the reaction if he showed up in the Jewish state. It would be hard to keep him out of reach of the 90 percent of Israelis who think he’s pro-Palestinian. Bad visuals of Israeli Jews screaming, waving signs, and potentially walking out in the Knesset must terrify the Obami.

We have gone from a president who was lionized by emergency and rescue workers at Ground Zero and who gave one of the best speeches (to the Knesset) on Israel ever given by a U.S. president (what even comes close?) to one who’s afraid to go to both. You can’t get more un-Bush than that. And in case you have forgotten:

Yes, it still makes me cry too.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Nothing in common with Shakespeare except comic genius.

Nothing matches the Joe Sestak campaign for sheer incompetence. Now he’s changing his tune on a $350,000 earmark. Boy, must Arlen Specter be grinding his teeth. There is an art to flip-flops, you know!

Nothing is leaning Democratic these days: “In 10 matchups this year by Rasmussen Reports between three-term Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and Republican challenger Dino Rossi, the two have never been further than 4 points apart. Now, with Rossi moving to a 2 point lead, the pollster has changed its rating of the race from ‘leans Democratic’ to ‘toss-up.’ … Polling analyst Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com has calculated a 46 percent probability that the Democrats will lose the seat.”

Nothing but bad news for the Democrats from Charlie Cook: “[A] look at the 37 Senate races on the ballot shows some deterioration for Democrats in some of the 19 seats they are defending, while Republicans’ prospects have stayed the same or improved slightly in their most competitive seats. As such, it is now likely that Republicans will score a net gain of between seven and nine seats.”

Nothing but Red in California: SurveyUSA shows Meg Whitman up by seven and Carly Fiorina up by two.

Nothing in doubt in this race: “Robert Hurt (R) now leads [Virginia Democrat] Perriello by a whopping 61% to 35%.”

Nothing like a mosque at Ground Zero to wake up New York Jews. “As the fight over the center escalated from a zoning dispute into a battle in the culture wars, it has splintered New Yorkers along party lines. Seventy-four percent of Republicans are opposed; Democrats are split, with 43 percent for and 44 percent against. … More than half, 53 percent, of city residents with incomes over $100,000 back the center; only 31 percent of those with incomes under $50,000 agree. Protestants are evenly divided, while most Catholics and Jewish New Yorkers oppose the center.”

Nothing like a Cliff May piece on Muslim terror — and excoriating Fareed Zakaria. Read the whole thing — a few times.

Nothing in common with Shakespeare except comic genius.

Nothing matches the Joe Sestak campaign for sheer incompetence. Now he’s changing his tune on a $350,000 earmark. Boy, must Arlen Specter be grinding his teeth. There is an art to flip-flops, you know!

Nothing is leaning Democratic these days: “In 10 matchups this year by Rasmussen Reports between three-term Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and Republican challenger Dino Rossi, the two have never been further than 4 points apart. Now, with Rossi moving to a 2 point lead, the pollster has changed its rating of the race from ‘leans Democratic’ to ‘toss-up.’ … Polling analyst Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com has calculated a 46 percent probability that the Democrats will lose the seat.”

Nothing but bad news for the Democrats from Charlie Cook: “[A] look at the 37 Senate races on the ballot shows some deterioration for Democrats in some of the 19 seats they are defending, while Republicans’ prospects have stayed the same or improved slightly in their most competitive seats. As such, it is now likely that Republicans will score a net gain of between seven and nine seats.”

Nothing but Red in California: SurveyUSA shows Meg Whitman up by seven and Carly Fiorina up by two.

Nothing in doubt in this race: “Robert Hurt (R) now leads [Virginia Democrat] Perriello by a whopping 61% to 35%.”

Nothing like a mosque at Ground Zero to wake up New York Jews. “As the fight over the center escalated from a zoning dispute into a battle in the culture wars, it has splintered New Yorkers along party lines. Seventy-four percent of Republicans are opposed; Democrats are split, with 43 percent for and 44 percent against. … More than half, 53 percent, of city residents with incomes over $100,000 back the center; only 31 percent of those with incomes under $50,000 agree. Protestants are evenly divided, while most Catholics and Jewish New Yorkers oppose the center.”

Nothing like a Cliff May piece on Muslim terror — and excoriating Fareed Zakaria. Read the whole thing — a few times.

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The Mosque: A View from Israel

Daniel Gordis, who was the vice president of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles before moving to Israel in 1998,  offers a powerful perspective on the wider meaning of the mosque controversy in the Jerusalem Post today:

In the suburban, well-educated, politically and Jewishly liberal America in which I grew up, we didn’t use the label “enemy.” “Enemy” was a dirty word, because it implied the immutability of conflict. Yes, there were people who fought us, but only because we hadn’t yet arrived at a fair resolution of our conflict. We needed to understand them, so we could then resolve the conflicts that divided us….

It’s fine to say that “America is not at war with Islam,” to point out that most Muslims are not terrorists and that many American Muslims are moderates. That’s true, as far as it goes. But it only goes so far. Because America is at war and its enemies are Muslims. Politically correct hairsplitting runs the risk of Americans blinding themselves to that simple but critical fact….Whether or not the Ground Zero mosque ultimately gets built may not matter nearly as much as whether or not Americans are willing to gird themselves for the battles that sadly lie ahead.

Read the whole thing.

Daniel Gordis, who was the vice president of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles before moving to Israel in 1998,  offers a powerful perspective on the wider meaning of the mosque controversy in the Jerusalem Post today:

In the suburban, well-educated, politically and Jewishly liberal America in which I grew up, we didn’t use the label “enemy.” “Enemy” was a dirty word, because it implied the immutability of conflict. Yes, there were people who fought us, but only because we hadn’t yet arrived at a fair resolution of our conflict. We needed to understand them, so we could then resolve the conflicts that divided us….

It’s fine to say that “America is not at war with Islam,” to point out that most Muslims are not terrorists and that many American Muslims are moderates. That’s true, as far as it goes. But it only goes so far. Because America is at war and its enemies are Muslims. Politically correct hairsplitting runs the risk of Americans blinding themselves to that simple but critical fact….Whether or not the Ground Zero mosque ultimately gets built may not matter nearly as much as whether or not Americans are willing to gird themselves for the battles that sadly lie ahead.

Read the whole thing.

Read Less




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