Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 2010

A Straw in the Wind?

One of the best predictors of elections over the years has been the mock elections held in schools. Most school kids only reflect what their parents think and, unlike parents avoiding pollsters and unwanted telephone calls, have no reason to either lie or clam up.

Michael Barone reports that in Washington state, 15,400 K-12 students voted, and Republican Dino Rossi won the Senate race 53 percent to 47 percent over Democratic incumbent Patty Murray. That’s comfortably beyond the margin within which Washington’s political establishment could fiddle with the votes to produce a favored outcome, which might well have happened in Rossi’s first, whisker-close run for governor in 2004.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the job-killing proposal to tax the incomes of the rich, ending Washington’s income-tax-free status, passed in the mock election. Pushed by Bill Gates and his father (like they care about an additional few percentage points in taxes), the main force behind it has been the teachers’ unions, whose members will be the prime beneficiaries. Let’s hope, for the state of Washington’s economy, that the kids were more influenced by their teachers than their parents will be on Tuesday.

One of the best predictors of elections over the years has been the mock elections held in schools. Most school kids only reflect what their parents think and, unlike parents avoiding pollsters and unwanted telephone calls, have no reason to either lie or clam up.

Michael Barone reports that in Washington state, 15,400 K-12 students voted, and Republican Dino Rossi won the Senate race 53 percent to 47 percent over Democratic incumbent Patty Murray. That’s comfortably beyond the margin within which Washington’s political establishment could fiddle with the votes to produce a favored outcome, which might well have happened in Rossi’s first, whisker-close run for governor in 2004.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the job-killing proposal to tax the incomes of the rich, ending Washington’s income-tax-free status, passed in the mock election. Pushed by Bill Gates and his father (like they care about an additional few percentage points in taxes), the main force behind it has been the teachers’ unions, whose members will be the prime beneficiaries. Let’s hope, for the state of Washington’s economy, that the kids were more influenced by their teachers than their parents will be on Tuesday.

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Is President Obama the New Woodrow Wilson?

Jen referred this morning to David Brooks’s column, in which he advises the President to change his ways after the midterm election, especially if it turns out to be as disastrous for Democrats as nearly everyone expects. And this means changing his politics, just as Bill Clinton did after the 1994 midterm:

Obama needs to redefine his identity. Bill Clinton gave himself a New Democrat label. Obama has never categorized himself so clearly. This ambiguity was useful in 2008 when people could project whatever they wanted onto him. But it has been harmful since. Obama came to be defined by his emergency responses to the fiscal crisis — by the things he had to do, not by the things he wanted to do. Then he got defined as an orthodox, big government liberal who lacks deep roots in American culture.

Unlike Clinton, who doesn’t have an ideological bone in his body, I’m not sure Obama has the capacity to do that. I’ve just finished reading Louis Auchincloss’s mini-biography of Woodrow Wilson (part of the “Penguin Lives” series), and I was struck by the similarities between the country’s first liberal president and the man who might be its last (I know, I know, ever the optimist).

Wilson was, at heart, an academic, the author of several books, (including Congressional Government, still in print after 125 years). He thought and acted like a professor even after he entered politics. Wilson always took it for granted, for instance, that he was the smartest guy in the room and acted accordingly. Does that sound familiar? Wilson was a remarkably powerful orator. (It was he who revived the custom of delivering the State of the Union message in person, a custom that had been dropped by Thomas Jefferson, a poor and most reluctant public speaker.)

Both men had very short public careers before the White House. Wilson’s only pre-presidential office was two years as Governor of New Jersey. And Wilson thought he had a pipeline to God, which allowed him to divine what was best for the world and gave him a moral obligation to give it to the world whether the world wanted it or not. This last tendency, evident even when he was president of Princeton University, became more pronounced with age as a series of debilitating strokes (the first at age 40) increasingly rigidified his personality.

Both Wilson and Obama were the subjects of remarkable public adulation, and both won the Nobel Peace Prize for their aspirations rather than their accomplishments. In Wilson’s case, at least, it only increased his sense of being God’s instrument on earth. Although the Republicans had won majorities just before Armistice Day in November 1918, in both houses of Congress — and the Senate’s consent by a two-thirds majority would be necessary to ratify any treaty — Wilson shut them out of any say in the treaty he went to Paris to negotiate with the other victorious powers. Obama, of course, shut the Republicans out of any say in both the stimulus bill and ObamaCare.

The result was disastrous for Wilson’s dream of world peace. So obsessed was he with creating a League of Nations that he was willing to surrender on almost everything else enunciated in his Fourteen Points to get it. Clemenceau and Lloyd George, shrewd and ruthless negotiators, played him like a fiddle. The result was the Treaty of Versailles, perhaps the most catastrophic work of diplomacy in world history, which produced a smoldering resentment in Germany at its harshness, a resentment exploited by Adolf Hitler.

When Wilson returned home, he flatly refused to compromise with the Republicans in the Senate and embarked on a speaking tour to build public pressure to force the treaty and the League through. The result was another stroke that left him incapacitated. The treaty was defeated 55-39, and when the Republicans tried to add a “reservation” that was essentially trivial but would have resulted in ratification, Wilson would have none of it. If he could not have the treaty, word for word, that he had negotiated, then he preferred nothing. He asked Democratic senators to vote against the amended treaty, and they did so. As a result, the United States did not join the League, which was hopelessly ineffective without the world’s greatest power, and what Wilson had hoped would be eternal peace became a 20-year truce.

President Obama, so far as I know, is in the best of health, but will he be any more able to deal with a changed political reality and work with Republicans? I hope so, but even this incorrigible optimist is not too confident of that.

Jen referred this morning to David Brooks’s column, in which he advises the President to change his ways after the midterm election, especially if it turns out to be as disastrous for Democrats as nearly everyone expects. And this means changing his politics, just as Bill Clinton did after the 1994 midterm:

Obama needs to redefine his identity. Bill Clinton gave himself a New Democrat label. Obama has never categorized himself so clearly. This ambiguity was useful in 2008 when people could project whatever they wanted onto him. But it has been harmful since. Obama came to be defined by his emergency responses to the fiscal crisis — by the things he had to do, not by the things he wanted to do. Then he got defined as an orthodox, big government liberal who lacks deep roots in American culture.

Unlike Clinton, who doesn’t have an ideological bone in his body, I’m not sure Obama has the capacity to do that. I’ve just finished reading Louis Auchincloss’s mini-biography of Woodrow Wilson (part of the “Penguin Lives” series), and I was struck by the similarities between the country’s first liberal president and the man who might be its last (I know, I know, ever the optimist).

Wilson was, at heart, an academic, the author of several books, (including Congressional Government, still in print after 125 years). He thought and acted like a professor even after he entered politics. Wilson always took it for granted, for instance, that he was the smartest guy in the room and acted accordingly. Does that sound familiar? Wilson was a remarkably powerful orator. (It was he who revived the custom of delivering the State of the Union message in person, a custom that had been dropped by Thomas Jefferson, a poor and most reluctant public speaker.)

Both men had very short public careers before the White House. Wilson’s only pre-presidential office was two years as Governor of New Jersey. And Wilson thought he had a pipeline to God, which allowed him to divine what was best for the world and gave him a moral obligation to give it to the world whether the world wanted it or not. This last tendency, evident even when he was president of Princeton University, became more pronounced with age as a series of debilitating strokes (the first at age 40) increasingly rigidified his personality.

Both Wilson and Obama were the subjects of remarkable public adulation, and both won the Nobel Peace Prize for their aspirations rather than their accomplishments. In Wilson’s case, at least, it only increased his sense of being God’s instrument on earth. Although the Republicans had won majorities just before Armistice Day in November 1918, in both houses of Congress — and the Senate’s consent by a two-thirds majority would be necessary to ratify any treaty — Wilson shut them out of any say in the treaty he went to Paris to negotiate with the other victorious powers. Obama, of course, shut the Republicans out of any say in both the stimulus bill and ObamaCare.

The result was disastrous for Wilson’s dream of world peace. So obsessed was he with creating a League of Nations that he was willing to surrender on almost everything else enunciated in his Fourteen Points to get it. Clemenceau and Lloyd George, shrewd and ruthless negotiators, played him like a fiddle. The result was the Treaty of Versailles, perhaps the most catastrophic work of diplomacy in world history, which produced a smoldering resentment in Germany at its harshness, a resentment exploited by Adolf Hitler.

When Wilson returned home, he flatly refused to compromise with the Republicans in the Senate and embarked on a speaking tour to build public pressure to force the treaty and the League through. The result was another stroke that left him incapacitated. The treaty was defeated 55-39, and when the Republicans tried to add a “reservation” that was essentially trivial but would have resulted in ratification, Wilson would have none of it. If he could not have the treaty, word for word, that he had negotiated, then he preferred nothing. He asked Democratic senators to vote against the amended treaty, and they did so. As a result, the United States did not join the League, which was hopelessly ineffective without the world’s greatest power, and what Wilson had hoped would be eternal peace became a 20-year truce.

President Obama, so far as I know, is in the best of health, but will he be any more able to deal with a changed political reality and work with Republicans? I hope so, but even this incorrigible optimist is not too confident of that.

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The Policies That Keep Us Safe

The foiled package-bomb plot originating in Yemen is the latest sign of how determined Islamist extremists remain in trying to strike the United States. Just in the past year, we have seen the shooting at Fort Hood, which left 13 people dead; an attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner with explosives hidden in underwear; an attempt to set off an explosion in Times Square with explosives hidden in a vehicle; and the arrest of a suspect accused of plotting to attack the Washington subway. These attacks serve as a reminder, as Andy McCarthy notes, that our homeland remains very much in danger. So why isn’t terrorism more of an election issue? Largely because this is an area where there is — mercifully — a high degree of bipartisan agreement.

That hasn’t always been the case. Barack Obama ran for president not only pledging to pull out of Iraq but also to end what he viewed as the abuses of George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” The very term “war on terror” has been banished from the Obama administration’s lexicon, but luckily, most of the practices instituted by Bush have been continued.

Obama, recall, promised to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, to try terrorists in civilian courts, to end “renditions” of terrorist suspects, to end torture, and to end or severely curtail warrantless wiretaps. What has he actually done?

He has limited the use of interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects — but they had already been curtailed by Bush, who banned the use of most “stress techniques” in his second term. But Obama hasn’t closed Gitmo, largely because of overwhelming congressional opposition. His plan to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court came to naught. The military commissions are still in business. Suspected terrorists continue to be  held without trial, not only at Gitmo but also in the Parwan detention facility in Afghanistan. He signed an extension of the Patriot Act, which provides most of the surveillance authorities instituted after 9/11. Renditions continue. And Obama has actually stepped up the use of drone strikes to kill terrorists, especially but not exclusively in Pakistan. He has even placed an American citizen (Anwar al-Aliki, a leader of al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch) on the list for elimination without any judicial overview. Finally, he has essentially continued the Bush policy of drawing down slowly in Iraq while building up our forces in Afghanistan.

Thus Obama has, in most important respects, essentially ratified the post-9/11 measures instituted by the Bush administration. He has not instituted a “law enforcement” approach to terrorism, as was feared by so many of his critics and expected by so many of his supporters. A Republican president might approve harsher interrogation techniques or make some other changes at the margins, but I doubt that anything very substantial will change no matter who succeeds Obama — unless there is some horrific new attack on American soil, in which case the balance will swing even more against civil liberties.

Just as we have a wide degree of agreement now on how to fight terrorism at home, so we have bipartisan uncertainty about how to fight it in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. No one seriously suggests invading them barring another 9/11. The debate is mainly about how much and what kind of aid we should give to the governments in question, how much we can trust them to act on our behalf, and how many unilateral strikes we should carry out. These are not ideological questions; they are tough judgment calls on which experts of all stripes can disagree.

Obama, to his credit, hasn’t hesitated to approve drone strikes and other covert actions against terrorists in places like Somalia and Yemen, but there is a limit to what such measures can do. Defeating the terrorists who hide in these unstable areas requires improving their level of governance — a difficult, long-term project that we are attempting to undertake but without any great prospects of immediate success.

More than nine years after 9/11, we have made great strides in countering terrorism, especially in toughening up domestic security, increasing intelligence-gathering, and lowering barriers between law enforcement and intelligence. We still have more to do domestically — for instance, the latest plots highlight the need for better inspection of cargo. And there is much more to do abroad to try to root al-Qaeda out of its foreign bastions. But the greatest progress we have made is to reach a high degree of domestic consensus about what it takes to fight terrorism.

Give Obama credit for breaking his campaign pledges and essentially adopting the Bush approach. And of course, give Bush credit for weathering years of abuse from Senator Obama and other critics to hang tough and institute policies that have helped keep us safe.

The foiled package-bomb plot originating in Yemen is the latest sign of how determined Islamist extremists remain in trying to strike the United States. Just in the past year, we have seen the shooting at Fort Hood, which left 13 people dead; an attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner with explosives hidden in underwear; an attempt to set off an explosion in Times Square with explosives hidden in a vehicle; and the arrest of a suspect accused of plotting to attack the Washington subway. These attacks serve as a reminder, as Andy McCarthy notes, that our homeland remains very much in danger. So why isn’t terrorism more of an election issue? Largely because this is an area where there is — mercifully — a high degree of bipartisan agreement.

That hasn’t always been the case. Barack Obama ran for president not only pledging to pull out of Iraq but also to end what he viewed as the abuses of George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” The very term “war on terror” has been banished from the Obama administration’s lexicon, but luckily, most of the practices instituted by Bush have been continued.

Obama, recall, promised to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, to try terrorists in civilian courts, to end “renditions” of terrorist suspects, to end torture, and to end or severely curtail warrantless wiretaps. What has he actually done?

He has limited the use of interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects — but they had already been curtailed by Bush, who banned the use of most “stress techniques” in his second term. But Obama hasn’t closed Gitmo, largely because of overwhelming congressional opposition. His plan to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court came to naught. The military commissions are still in business. Suspected terrorists continue to be  held without trial, not only at Gitmo but also in the Parwan detention facility in Afghanistan. He signed an extension of the Patriot Act, which provides most of the surveillance authorities instituted after 9/11. Renditions continue. And Obama has actually stepped up the use of drone strikes to kill terrorists, especially but not exclusively in Pakistan. He has even placed an American citizen (Anwar al-Aliki, a leader of al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch) on the list for elimination without any judicial overview. Finally, he has essentially continued the Bush policy of drawing down slowly in Iraq while building up our forces in Afghanistan.

Thus Obama has, in most important respects, essentially ratified the post-9/11 measures instituted by the Bush administration. He has not instituted a “law enforcement” approach to terrorism, as was feared by so many of his critics and expected by so many of his supporters. A Republican president might approve harsher interrogation techniques or make some other changes at the margins, but I doubt that anything very substantial will change no matter who succeeds Obama — unless there is some horrific new attack on American soil, in which case the balance will swing even more against civil liberties.

Just as we have a wide degree of agreement now on how to fight terrorism at home, so we have bipartisan uncertainty about how to fight it in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. No one seriously suggests invading them barring another 9/11. The debate is mainly about how much and what kind of aid we should give to the governments in question, how much we can trust them to act on our behalf, and how many unilateral strikes we should carry out. These are not ideological questions; they are tough judgment calls on which experts of all stripes can disagree.

Obama, to his credit, hasn’t hesitated to approve drone strikes and other covert actions against terrorists in places like Somalia and Yemen, but there is a limit to what such measures can do. Defeating the terrorists who hide in these unstable areas requires improving their level of governance — a difficult, long-term project that we are attempting to undertake but without any great prospects of immediate success.

More than nine years after 9/11, we have made great strides in countering terrorism, especially in toughening up domestic security, increasing intelligence-gathering, and lowering barriers between law enforcement and intelligence. We still have more to do domestically — for instance, the latest plots highlight the need for better inspection of cargo. And there is much more to do abroad to try to root al-Qaeda out of its foreign bastions. But the greatest progress we have made is to reach a high degree of domestic consensus about what it takes to fight terrorism.

Give Obama credit for breaking his campaign pledges and essentially adopting the Bush approach. And of course, give Bush credit for weathering years of abuse from Senator Obama and other critics to hang tough and institute policies that have helped keep us safe.

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RE: Down to West Virginia and Washington

If the GOP were to pick up nine seats and neither Ben Nelson nor Joe Lieberman could be lured across the aisle, that would tie the Senate at 50-50. That last happened after the 2000 election (before Jim Jeffords of Vermont crossed the aisle in the other direction a few months later and gave the Democrats a 51-49 majority). In 2001, that meant that Vice President Dick Cheney was the deciding vote on how the Senate would be organized. Now it would be Joe Biden. It would also mean that Biden would have to stick pretty close to home while the Senate was in session to be available to break any ties. Whether that would be a net plus or minus for the Republic, I know not.

But how likely is it that Lieberman or Nelson would switch? I agree with James Taranto that it’s not likely.

And then there’s Alaska. It’s now a Republican seat, but the current holder, Lisa Murkowski, lost the primary and decided, in a fit of chutzpah, to run a write-in campaign. Some polls show her ahead, but do they have any predictive value? I doubt it. I think a lot of people who told the pollsters they were voting for her will, on arriving at the polling booth, decide a write-in vote is just too much trouble and vote for Joe Miller. Even if she wins, I imagine that she would caucus with the Republicans, despite the fact that she was roundly denounced by her Republican colleagues for not accepting the results of the primary and thus putting the seat in jeopardy by splitting the vote. If that were to happen, and the Democrat were to win thanks to Murkowski’s ego, thereby depriving the Republicans of the majority, I don’t think that Murkowski will be invited to many future Republican picnics.

If the GOP were to pick up nine seats and neither Ben Nelson nor Joe Lieberman could be lured across the aisle, that would tie the Senate at 50-50. That last happened after the 2000 election (before Jim Jeffords of Vermont crossed the aisle in the other direction a few months later and gave the Democrats a 51-49 majority). In 2001, that meant that Vice President Dick Cheney was the deciding vote on how the Senate would be organized. Now it would be Joe Biden. It would also mean that Biden would have to stick pretty close to home while the Senate was in session to be available to break any ties. Whether that would be a net plus or minus for the Republic, I know not.

But how likely is it that Lieberman or Nelson would switch? I agree with James Taranto that it’s not likely.

And then there’s Alaska. It’s now a Republican seat, but the current holder, Lisa Murkowski, lost the primary and decided, in a fit of chutzpah, to run a write-in campaign. Some polls show her ahead, but do they have any predictive value? I doubt it. I think a lot of people who told the pollsters they were voting for her will, on arriving at the polling booth, decide a write-in vote is just too much trouble and vote for Joe Miller. Even if she wins, I imagine that she would caucus with the Republicans, despite the fact that she was roundly denounced by her Republican colleagues for not accepting the results of the primary and thus putting the seat in jeopardy by splitting the vote. If that were to happen, and the Democrat were to win thanks to Murkowski’s ego, thereby depriving the Republicans of the majority, I don’t think that Murkowski will be invited to many future Republican picnics.

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Hope and Change in a Muslim Country

One of the many unfortunate aspects of the Obama administration’s “Muslim outreach” policy is that too little attention is paid to success stories in the Middle East – regimes and activists who are modernizing, democratizing, and advancing the cause of women’s rights.

There is no better example than Aicha Ech Channa, an activist from Morocco who has survived multiple fatwas from religious extremists and gained support from a reformist monarch and international recognition for her extraordinary work on behalf of unwed mothers and children in Morocco. She is visiting the U.S. with Moroccan officials.

Aicha’s appearance is deceptive. She looks like a sweet grandmother, speaks fluent French, and has a sly sense of humor. You would never guess that for 40 years, she has been battling Islamists and quietly revolutionizing the lives of women in Morocco. When she began her work, unwed mothers were considered prostitutes, even if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. Under the threat of imprisonment and social ostracism, many abandoned their children, leaving them, Aicha explains, in the streets, in mosques, or even in the woods. She explains, “They just didn’t talk about it.”

This was the impetus, she explains, to create her own organization to assist unwed mothers, provide training and education, reconcile family members, and provide a legal mechanism for identifying the father and, if there is sufficient evidence, obtaining DNA testing to establish paternity. At the cost of $400 per month per person, she puts the women through job-training and literacy programs and provides psychological counseling, social services, and mediation with the father of the child. She operates restaurants and a catering service to employ unwed mothers who would otherwise be jobless. The goal is to have economically independent women and to insure that the country does not have a generation of cast-off children “who will be bitter toward their country.”

I ask if there is legal recourse for women in situations of rape and incest in Morocco. She answers: “Yes, in principle, but first you have to have the courage to go to the judge. So a lot of associations are there to go with women to the judge.” But this is not sufficient, she says. Her goal is much bigger. She contends that only through social and economic development can women and the country as a whole progress. She explains: “Everything is important. You have to develop a training system [for women]. Get involved in politics. Educate men.” She is candid that child labor remains a problem: “Little girls are working because the family is poor. Economic development is needed.”

If all this sounds as if it would be threatening to Islamic radicals, it was.  In 2000, a fatwa was issued. She explains that on June 6, 2000: “I dared to be interviewed on Al Jazeera for 45 minutes. I talked about rape, pedophilia, child workers, unwed mothers. … I was breaking taboos.” When she heard about the threat to have her punished, she recalls: “I wanted to throw in the towel. [But] there was a moment of solidarity.” From the media, private associations, and foreign embassies, she received calls of support. Then King Mohammed VI’s advisers contacted her and told her to stick with her work. To send the message to Islamist radicals, the reformist monarch invited her to the palace and gave her the Mohammed V Foundation’s Medal of Honor. She recalls the king’s comments: “I know you. I know what you do. I know what you write. I know what they write about you. Continue to do your work.” Also, in 2000, when she attended a ceremony honoring over 40 women’s organizations in Morocco, the king told the activists: “Alone I can’t change things. Together, hand in hand we can change things.”

Another fatwa followed, but so did international awards including the $1 million Opus Prize. She praises the change in the Family Code that the king championed but says changes to the law are needed. Unwed women still must go to court to register their children. She stresses that there needs to be “time to change.” Taking a water bottle from my side, she picks it up and pretends to pour it on the table. She analogizes society to dry land. “You have to pour water slowly or it floods.”

For Morocco, a moderate Muslim state in a region painted with a broad brush (by U.S. President, no less, who insists it is all the “Muslim World”), Aicha’s story is evidence that the country is modernizing. Ayache Khellaf, a senior expert on economic planning on the High Commission for Planning, an independent advisory organization in Morocco, explains: “The society is changing. The civil society is playing an important role. …  At one time people wanted to execute her. Now they are coming to hear her talk.” As one Morocco observer put it, “If she were doing this in Iran or Saudi or just about any other Muslim country, she would be dead by now, not getting medals of honor from the king.”

So if Muslim outreach is our goal, and cultivation of truly moderate, reformist Muslims is in our national-security interest, we would do well to stop showering attention on the despots of the region and pay more heed to those regimes and individuals who are actually offering, to borrow a phrase, hope and change.

One of the many unfortunate aspects of the Obama administration’s “Muslim outreach” policy is that too little attention is paid to success stories in the Middle East – regimes and activists who are modernizing, democratizing, and advancing the cause of women’s rights.

There is no better example than Aicha Ech Channa, an activist from Morocco who has survived multiple fatwas from religious extremists and gained support from a reformist monarch and international recognition for her extraordinary work on behalf of unwed mothers and children in Morocco. She is visiting the U.S. with Moroccan officials.

Aicha’s appearance is deceptive. She looks like a sweet grandmother, speaks fluent French, and has a sly sense of humor. You would never guess that for 40 years, she has been battling Islamists and quietly revolutionizing the lives of women in Morocco. When she began her work, unwed mothers were considered prostitutes, even if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. Under the threat of imprisonment and social ostracism, many abandoned their children, leaving them, Aicha explains, in the streets, in mosques, or even in the woods. She explains, “They just didn’t talk about it.”

This was the impetus, she explains, to create her own organization to assist unwed mothers, provide training and education, reconcile family members, and provide a legal mechanism for identifying the father and, if there is sufficient evidence, obtaining DNA testing to establish paternity. At the cost of $400 per month per person, she puts the women through job-training and literacy programs and provides psychological counseling, social services, and mediation with the father of the child. She operates restaurants and a catering service to employ unwed mothers who would otherwise be jobless. The goal is to have economically independent women and to insure that the country does not have a generation of cast-off children “who will be bitter toward their country.”

I ask if there is legal recourse for women in situations of rape and incest in Morocco. She answers: “Yes, in principle, but first you have to have the courage to go to the judge. So a lot of associations are there to go with women to the judge.” But this is not sufficient, she says. Her goal is much bigger. She contends that only through social and economic development can women and the country as a whole progress. She explains: “Everything is important. You have to develop a training system [for women]. Get involved in politics. Educate men.” She is candid that child labor remains a problem: “Little girls are working because the family is poor. Economic development is needed.”

If all this sounds as if it would be threatening to Islamic radicals, it was.  In 2000, a fatwa was issued. She explains that on June 6, 2000: “I dared to be interviewed on Al Jazeera for 45 minutes. I talked about rape, pedophilia, child workers, unwed mothers. … I was breaking taboos.” When she heard about the threat to have her punished, she recalls: “I wanted to throw in the towel. [But] there was a moment of solidarity.” From the media, private associations, and foreign embassies, she received calls of support. Then King Mohammed VI’s advisers contacted her and told her to stick with her work. To send the message to Islamist radicals, the reformist monarch invited her to the palace and gave her the Mohammed V Foundation’s Medal of Honor. She recalls the king’s comments: “I know you. I know what you do. I know what you write. I know what they write about you. Continue to do your work.” Also, in 2000, when she attended a ceremony honoring over 40 women’s organizations in Morocco, the king told the activists: “Alone I can’t change things. Together, hand in hand we can change things.”

Another fatwa followed, but so did international awards including the $1 million Opus Prize. She praises the change in the Family Code that the king championed but says changes to the law are needed. Unwed women still must go to court to register their children. She stresses that there needs to be “time to change.” Taking a water bottle from my side, she picks it up and pretends to pour it on the table. She analogizes society to dry land. “You have to pour water slowly or it floods.”

For Morocco, a moderate Muslim state in a region painted with a broad brush (by U.S. President, no less, who insists it is all the “Muslim World”), Aicha’s story is evidence that the country is modernizing. Ayache Khellaf, a senior expert on economic planning on the High Commission for Planning, an independent advisory organization in Morocco, explains: “The society is changing. The civil society is playing an important role. …  At one time people wanted to execute her. Now they are coming to hear her talk.” As one Morocco observer put it, “If she were doing this in Iran or Saudi or just about any other Muslim country, she would be dead by now, not getting medals of honor from the king.”

So if Muslim outreach is our goal, and cultivation of truly moderate, reformist Muslims is in our national-security interest, we would do well to stop showering attention on the despots of the region and pay more heed to those regimes and individuals who are actually offering, to borrow a phrase, hope and change.

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The German Example

Chris Caldwell provides one of the most important pieces of economic analysis since the financial meltdown more than two years ago. The focus is on Germany, but it tells us much about Obama and his mindset.

As for Germany, Caldwell explains they told the Obami and the Keynesians to buzz off:

“You won’t find a lot of Keynesians here,” explained one German economic policymaker in Berlin in September. That will not be news to anyone who has spoken to his counterparts in Washington. In their view, Germany is a skulker, a rotten citizen of the global economy, the macroeconomic equivalent of a juvenile delinquent, or worse. It is a smart aleck in the emergency ward that is the global economy. It is a flouter of the prescriptions of the new Doctor New Deal who sits in the White House.

And, wouldn’t you know it, Germany was right:

Germany’s growth in this year’s second quarter was 2.2 percent on a quarter-to-quarter basis. That means it is growing at almost 9 percent a year. Its unemployment rate has fallen to 7.5 percent, below what it was at the start of the global financial crisis—indeed, the lowest in 18 years. The second-biggest Western economy appears to be handling this deep recession much more effectively than the biggest—and emerging from it much earlier.

It seems the Germans’ skepticism of Keynesian alchemy — technically the “multiplier effect” (a dollar spent by the government magically transforms to more than a dollar in economic activity) – was correct. According to the Germans, the famed multiplier is actually a divider:

“Our research says the multiplier is more like .60,” says the German official. If he is correct, then a stimulus plan can actually deaden an economy rather than stimulate it. If he is correct, you might have been as well off to have taken the stimulus money and thrown it away.

Caldwell is straightforward — Germany already does a lot of “stimulating” and embodies many aspects of the social-welfare state. But his argument — and Germany’s — is compelling: anti-Obamanomics is superior to Obamanomics.

So what does this tell us about Obama? For starters, he operates in an intellectual cocoon. Remember, he told us that “all” economists believed in his Keynesian stimulus plan. Well, as he was spinning us, a body of research was building that Keynesianism is, to put it mildly, bunk:

The Harvard economist Alberto Alesina and his colleague Silvia Ardagna published an influential paper last fall in which they surveyed all the major fiscal adjustments in OECD countries between 1970 and 2007 and showed that tax cuts are more likely to increase growth than spending hikes. One of their most controversial findings—which comes from the work of two other Italian economists—is that cutting deficits can be expansionary, particularly if it is done through “large, decisive” government spending cuts, as it was in Ireland and Denmark in the 1980s. More generally, Alesina has argued that “monomaniacal” Keynesians have focused unduly on aggregate demand.

So much for the pose that Obama is a sophisticated intellectual. He is, rather, monomaniacally wedded to liberal dogma.

The German experience also tells us much about the bullying behavior of the Obama team. Domestic critics are brushed off, Israel is browbeaten, and Germany is harangued because they don’t roll over and comply with the misguided vision of the president. Caldwell explains:

Germany has been scolded, even browbeaten, by Obama administration officials, from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on down, for saving too much and spending too little. It has refused to stimulate its economy as the United States has done, on the grounds that the resulting budget deficits would not be sustainable and the policies themselves would not work. Administration officials have not been the only ones to warn the Germans about the path they’re on. On the eve of last summer’s G‑20 summit in Toronto, the economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman gave an interview to the German business paper Handelsblatt in which he said that, while Germany might think its deficits are big, they are peanuts “from an American viewpoint.” Germany cannot say it wasn’t warned.

There is a dreary predictability about Obama. Take outmoded liberal dogma. Double down on it. Ignore empirical evidence. Deride and bully opponents. And when the dogma fails, blame those who resisted. Whether we are talking about health care, economic policy, or the Middle East, the pattern is the same. It is not simply that Obama is wrong on the merits on these issues (although surely he is). It is that Obama’s self-image as the “smartest man in the room” prevents him from learning from errors, absorbing the experience of alternative policy choices, and showing grace and magnanimity toward friends and foes. No wonder Obama has become a sour figure, and the public has soured on him.

Chris Caldwell provides one of the most important pieces of economic analysis since the financial meltdown more than two years ago. The focus is on Germany, but it tells us much about Obama and his mindset.

As for Germany, Caldwell explains they told the Obami and the Keynesians to buzz off:

“You won’t find a lot of Keynesians here,” explained one German economic policymaker in Berlin in September. That will not be news to anyone who has spoken to his counterparts in Washington. In their view, Germany is a skulker, a rotten citizen of the global economy, the macroeconomic equivalent of a juvenile delinquent, or worse. It is a smart aleck in the emergency ward that is the global economy. It is a flouter of the prescriptions of the new Doctor New Deal who sits in the White House.

And, wouldn’t you know it, Germany was right:

Germany’s growth in this year’s second quarter was 2.2 percent on a quarter-to-quarter basis. That means it is growing at almost 9 percent a year. Its unemployment rate has fallen to 7.5 percent, below what it was at the start of the global financial crisis—indeed, the lowest in 18 years. The second-biggest Western economy appears to be handling this deep recession much more effectively than the biggest—and emerging from it much earlier.

It seems the Germans’ skepticism of Keynesian alchemy — technically the “multiplier effect” (a dollar spent by the government magically transforms to more than a dollar in economic activity) – was correct. According to the Germans, the famed multiplier is actually a divider:

“Our research says the multiplier is more like .60,” says the German official. If he is correct, then a stimulus plan can actually deaden an economy rather than stimulate it. If he is correct, you might have been as well off to have taken the stimulus money and thrown it away.

Caldwell is straightforward — Germany already does a lot of “stimulating” and embodies many aspects of the social-welfare state. But his argument — and Germany’s — is compelling: anti-Obamanomics is superior to Obamanomics.

So what does this tell us about Obama? For starters, he operates in an intellectual cocoon. Remember, he told us that “all” economists believed in his Keynesian stimulus plan. Well, as he was spinning us, a body of research was building that Keynesianism is, to put it mildly, bunk:

The Harvard economist Alberto Alesina and his colleague Silvia Ardagna published an influential paper last fall in which they surveyed all the major fiscal adjustments in OECD countries between 1970 and 2007 and showed that tax cuts are more likely to increase growth than spending hikes. One of their most controversial findings—which comes from the work of two other Italian economists—is that cutting deficits can be expansionary, particularly if it is done through “large, decisive” government spending cuts, as it was in Ireland and Denmark in the 1980s. More generally, Alesina has argued that “monomaniacal” Keynesians have focused unduly on aggregate demand.

So much for the pose that Obama is a sophisticated intellectual. He is, rather, monomaniacally wedded to liberal dogma.

The German experience also tells us much about the bullying behavior of the Obama team. Domestic critics are brushed off, Israel is browbeaten, and Germany is harangued because they don’t roll over and comply with the misguided vision of the president. Caldwell explains:

Germany has been scolded, even browbeaten, by Obama administration officials, from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on down, for saving too much and spending too little. It has refused to stimulate its economy as the United States has done, on the grounds that the resulting budget deficits would not be sustainable and the policies themselves would not work. Administration officials have not been the only ones to warn the Germans about the path they’re on. On the eve of last summer’s G‑20 summit in Toronto, the economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman gave an interview to the German business paper Handelsblatt in which he said that, while Germany might think its deficits are big, they are peanuts “from an American viewpoint.” Germany cannot say it wasn’t warned.

There is a dreary predictability about Obama. Take outmoded liberal dogma. Double down on it. Ignore empirical evidence. Deride and bully opponents. And when the dogma fails, blame those who resisted. Whether we are talking about health care, economic policy, or the Middle East, the pattern is the same. It is not simply that Obama is wrong on the merits on these issues (although surely he is). It is that Obama’s self-image as the “smartest man in the room” prevents him from learning from errors, absorbing the experience of alternative policy choices, and showing grace and magnanimity toward friends and foes. No wonder Obama has become a sour figure, and the public has soured on him.

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A Surplus of Enemies

A flock of liberal pundits is now trying to convince its members — and us — that losing the House and maybe the Senate is a really good thing for Obama. It’s not because he might moderate his views. Oh no, for in their book, Obama wasn’t radical enough. They suggest he’ll look better because he’ll have an “enemy” — John Boehner.

First, it would be nice if the punditocracy and the president, himself, talked more about the real enemies — Islamic terrorists, mullahs with nuclear ambitions, human-rights abusers, etc. For a gang who whimpered when their “patriotism was questioned” and decried “divisiveness” (i.e., the refusal to capitulate to the Obama agenda), this is rich.

But more important, the president’s problem is hardly a lack of “enemies.” The problem is, he has too many — Republicans, Wall Street, talk-show hosts, 24/7 media outlets, Fox, pollsters, insurance companies, Islamaphobe opponents of the Ground Zero mosque, the Chamber of Commerce, and, ultimately, the voters themselves, who are too irrational and too scared to appreciate his greatness. The “no-blue-states-no-red-states” candidate has morphed into an angry figure who treats opposition as illegitimate and opponents as “enemies.” Or as P.J. O’Rourke said of the Democrats, “They hate our guts.” And now the president can’t hide his feelings.

As Mickey Kaus points out, the growing enemies’ list isn’t helping Obama. Quite the opposite:

It’s amazing that the Blues don’t understand that all BHO’s comments, particularly the “punish your enemies” meme, are on FOX, talk radio, and the Internet. Your trash talk goes right into the other guy’s locker room. … It’s not just that rousing the Dem base also rouses the GOP base (which can hardly be roused more than it already is anyway). It’s that rousing the Dem base alienates the middle.

If he intends to base his last two years on vilifying Republicans, he may succeed — in solidifying the not-Obama, center-right coalition.

Bill Clinton ran circles around the GOP Congress following the 1994 midterm debacle because he was more amiable, flexible, and adroit than his opponents. Whatever his faults, Clinton didn’t hate our guts. He loved being president, and he loved being praised by his fellow citizens. Obama suffers us — first in silence, and now in public. And flexibility has really not been his strong suit. In short, Democrats long for a repeat of post-1994, but they lack the Bill Clinton part of the equation. (Frankly, they also lack the Newt Gingrich villain figure. Whatever their shortcomings, the current GOP leadership generally avoids personal displays of grandiosity and lacks a compulsion to say whatever ludicrously daft thought pops into their heads.)

So for those Democrats licking their chops at the prospect of an Obama-GOP face-off, they might want to reconsider. Isn’t it just as likely Obama will make the Republicans look better than the other way around? He’s sure done that during the midterm campaign.

A flock of liberal pundits is now trying to convince its members — and us — that losing the House and maybe the Senate is a really good thing for Obama. It’s not because he might moderate his views. Oh no, for in their book, Obama wasn’t radical enough. They suggest he’ll look better because he’ll have an “enemy” — John Boehner.

First, it would be nice if the punditocracy and the president, himself, talked more about the real enemies — Islamic terrorists, mullahs with nuclear ambitions, human-rights abusers, etc. For a gang who whimpered when their “patriotism was questioned” and decried “divisiveness” (i.e., the refusal to capitulate to the Obama agenda), this is rich.

But more important, the president’s problem is hardly a lack of “enemies.” The problem is, he has too many — Republicans, Wall Street, talk-show hosts, 24/7 media outlets, Fox, pollsters, insurance companies, Islamaphobe opponents of the Ground Zero mosque, the Chamber of Commerce, and, ultimately, the voters themselves, who are too irrational and too scared to appreciate his greatness. The “no-blue-states-no-red-states” candidate has morphed into an angry figure who treats opposition as illegitimate and opponents as “enemies.” Or as P.J. O’Rourke said of the Democrats, “They hate our guts.” And now the president can’t hide his feelings.

As Mickey Kaus points out, the growing enemies’ list isn’t helping Obama. Quite the opposite:

It’s amazing that the Blues don’t understand that all BHO’s comments, particularly the “punish your enemies” meme, are on FOX, talk radio, and the Internet. Your trash talk goes right into the other guy’s locker room. … It’s not just that rousing the Dem base also rouses the GOP base (which can hardly be roused more than it already is anyway). It’s that rousing the Dem base alienates the middle.

If he intends to base his last two years on vilifying Republicans, he may succeed — in solidifying the not-Obama, center-right coalition.

Bill Clinton ran circles around the GOP Congress following the 1994 midterm debacle because he was more amiable, flexible, and adroit than his opponents. Whatever his faults, Clinton didn’t hate our guts. He loved being president, and he loved being praised by his fellow citizens. Obama suffers us — first in silence, and now in public. And flexibility has really not been his strong suit. In short, Democrats long for a repeat of post-1994, but they lack the Bill Clinton part of the equation. (Frankly, they also lack the Newt Gingrich villain figure. Whatever their shortcomings, the current GOP leadership generally avoids personal displays of grandiosity and lacks a compulsion to say whatever ludicrously daft thought pops into their heads.)

So for those Democrats licking their chops at the prospect of an Obama-GOP face-off, they might want to reconsider. Isn’t it just as likely Obama will make the Republicans look better than the other way around? He’s sure done that during the midterm campaign.

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Let’s Not Forget the Letter

Lost in the rush of polls and soon to be forgotten (as the Democrats begin the blame-a-thon, and the moving vans arrive to pack off the casualties of Obamaism) was a multi-car pile-up in the left lane of legal scholarship. The culprit, we are reminded by the scalding wit of this observer, was Harvard law professor and Supreme Court advocate Laurence Tribe, who managed in a letter to his former student and now president to embarrass two Supreme Court justices (Sonia Sotomayor, for limited intellect; and Anthony Kennedy, for being perpetually influenced and never influencing). But it is Tribe’s own toadyism that is the real cringe-inducer. (It is not often we see such “pathetic grovelling and job-begging” from Harvard’s best-known liberal prof).

But that got me thinking. Doesn’t Tribe’s warning about Sotomayor’s shortcomings apply with equal force to Obama, himself?

Bluntly put she’s he’s not nearly as smart as she he seems to think she he is, and her his reputation for being something of a bully could well make her his liberal impulses backfire and simply add to the fire power of the Roberts/Alito/Scalia/Thomas conservative wing of the Court GOP.

You can understand why Obama and Sotomayor were sympatico.

And second, we must hold Tribe and the rest of the Harvard faculty partially responsible for the president’s distorted self-image. Those who were witnesses to Obama’s years as a law student can vouch that Tribe and his colleagues were no less slobbery when it came to student Obama some decades ago. They had their eye on him and figured he’d go far. His every word elicited praise. And as with the professors’ cooing, his placement on the Harvard Law Review was, it seems, based on factors other than legal scholarship, of which he produced none.

It is a pity that Sotomayor, Obama, and many less prominent names wind up with oversized egos and jobs for which they are underqualified. For that, as with so many other counterproductive contributions, we can blame, to some degree, the leftist intelligentsia who populate academia and the mainstream media. We often bear the brunt of their obsession with “diversity” (oh heavens, not the intellectual variety!) and their assurance that liberal conformity=brilliance and glibness=intellectualism. The good news is that the mainstream media are dying, and there is an election in 2012. The bad news: Sotomayor is there for life.

Lost in the rush of polls and soon to be forgotten (as the Democrats begin the blame-a-thon, and the moving vans arrive to pack off the casualties of Obamaism) was a multi-car pile-up in the left lane of legal scholarship. The culprit, we are reminded by the scalding wit of this observer, was Harvard law professor and Supreme Court advocate Laurence Tribe, who managed in a letter to his former student and now president to embarrass two Supreme Court justices (Sonia Sotomayor, for limited intellect; and Anthony Kennedy, for being perpetually influenced and never influencing). But it is Tribe’s own toadyism that is the real cringe-inducer. (It is not often we see such “pathetic grovelling and job-begging” from Harvard’s best-known liberal prof).

But that got me thinking. Doesn’t Tribe’s warning about Sotomayor’s shortcomings apply with equal force to Obama, himself?

Bluntly put she’s he’s not nearly as smart as she he seems to think she he is, and her his reputation for being something of a bully could well make her his liberal impulses backfire and simply add to the fire power of the Roberts/Alito/Scalia/Thomas conservative wing of the Court GOP.

You can understand why Obama and Sotomayor were sympatico.

And second, we must hold Tribe and the rest of the Harvard faculty partially responsible for the president’s distorted self-image. Those who were witnesses to Obama’s years as a law student can vouch that Tribe and his colleagues were no less slobbery when it came to student Obama some decades ago. They had their eye on him and figured he’d go far. His every word elicited praise. And as with the professors’ cooing, his placement on the Harvard Law Review was, it seems, based on factors other than legal scholarship, of which he produced none.

It is a pity that Sotomayor, Obama, and many less prominent names wind up with oversized egos and jobs for which they are underqualified. For that, as with so many other counterproductive contributions, we can blame, to some degree, the leftist intelligentsia who populate academia and the mainstream media. We often bear the brunt of their obsession with “diversity” (oh heavens, not the intellectual variety!) and their assurance that liberal conformity=brilliance and glibness=intellectualism. The good news is that the mainstream media are dying, and there is an election in 2012. The bad news: Sotomayor is there for life.

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Media Star Blames … the Media?

Jon Stewart is a media star. He’s rich and famous because he has perfected the art of news-tainment that a key demographic (young TV viewers with lots of dispensable income) can’t get enough of. So he holds a rally, is savvy enough to steer clear of real political issues, and slams the media, which has made him who he is. No, really:

Did Stewart and Colbert strike a blow for sanity, or just furnish an afternoon’s ephemeral entertainment? Jon turned serious at the end, even while acknowledging that “there are boundaries for a comedian/pundit/talker guy.”

And did he take aim at Washington? No, it was once again the low-hanging fruit of the 24-hour cable news “conflictinator.” This machine “did not cause our problems”—whew, I thought he might call for banning the channels—”but its existence makes solving them that much harder. … If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”

So is Stewart part of the problem — the leading purveyor of snark in lieu of substance? Or is it lame to hold him — and those on the other 500 channels — responsible for what ails us? It reminds me of the Comedy Channel’s favorite pol, who proclaimed:

Meanwhile, you’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t rank all that high on the truth meter. With iPods and iPads; Xboxes and PlayStations; information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment. All of this is not only putting new pressures on you; it is putting new pressures on our country and on our democracy.

Yes, that was Obama. He, too, was once a media darling who now blames too much on the 24/7 news cycle.

It seems the media is a scapegoat, even for those who have benefited the most from it. You’d think that those who’ve attained fame and fortune would show a little more gratitude for the plethora of outlets that allow their message to reach hundreds of millions of Americans. And it would be swell if Obama and his liberal cheerleaders would show a little more enthusiasm for the vibrant, unruly, and delightfully robust political debate that is the hallmark of a free country and a functioning democracy.

Jon Stewart is a media star. He’s rich and famous because he has perfected the art of news-tainment that a key demographic (young TV viewers with lots of dispensable income) can’t get enough of. So he holds a rally, is savvy enough to steer clear of real political issues, and slams the media, which has made him who he is. No, really:

Did Stewart and Colbert strike a blow for sanity, or just furnish an afternoon’s ephemeral entertainment? Jon turned serious at the end, even while acknowledging that “there are boundaries for a comedian/pundit/talker guy.”

And did he take aim at Washington? No, it was once again the low-hanging fruit of the 24-hour cable news “conflictinator.” This machine “did not cause our problems”—whew, I thought he might call for banning the channels—”but its existence makes solving them that much harder. … If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”

So is Stewart part of the problem — the leading purveyor of snark in lieu of substance? Or is it lame to hold him — and those on the other 500 channels — responsible for what ails us? It reminds me of the Comedy Channel’s favorite pol, who proclaimed:

Meanwhile, you’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t rank all that high on the truth meter. With iPods and iPads; Xboxes and PlayStations; information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment. All of this is not only putting new pressures on you; it is putting new pressures on our country and on our democracy.

Yes, that was Obama. He, too, was once a media darling who now blames too much on the 24/7 news cycle.

It seems the media is a scapegoat, even for those who have benefited the most from it. You’d think that those who’ve attained fame and fortune would show a little more gratitude for the plethora of outlets that allow their message to reach hundreds of millions of Americans. And it would be swell if Obama and his liberal cheerleaders would show a little more enthusiasm for the vibrant, unruly, and delightfully robust political debate that is the hallmark of a free country and a functioning democracy.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

So naturally, she had to go. “[Michelle] Rhee added a new urgency and righteous anger to the school reform movement, one that she will now take to a national platform. She asked how the District could compile an abysmal academic record and yet rate most of their teachers as meeting or exceeding expectations. She decreed that poverty was no longer a reason for expecting less of a child in Anacostia than one in Tenleytown.”

So now the New York Times sounds like National Review: “Rather than entertaining the possibility that the program they have pursued is genuinely and even legitimately unpopular, the White House and its allies have concluded that their political troubles amount to mainly a message and image problem.” The Gray Lady has also discovered Obama has an “elitism” problem. Who knew?

So smart are these Obama diplomats, we were told. Alas: “The White House spent an hour Friday afternoon trying to convince angry Hill staffers and human rights activists that ‘naming and shaming’ governments that recruit child soldiers, rather than imposing Congressionally-mandated sanctions on them, will better address the problem. But advocacy leaders are upset with the administration and rejected top White House officials’ contention that removing sanctions against four troubled states will be a positive move. … Overall, the call showed that the White House realized it botched the rollout of the decision but is standing by the decision itself. Next, they will have to defend it on Capitol Hill, where staffers are set to receive a special briefing on the issue next week.”

So let me see if I got this straight? President Obama goes to Florida in August to campaign for Rep. Kendrick Meek. Then recently, former President Clinton goes in to ‘campaign’ for Meek by trying to get him to drop out of the race. And voters this year are being accused of being ‘radical’ and ‘too angry’ because they are rejecting politics as usual?” That, from Susan Molinari.

So the administration’s flunky on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights walks out to deny a quorum, preventing a vote on the interim report concerning the New Black Panther Party scandal. (But the vice chairman is no better — she didn’t show up.) Remember, your tax dollars are paying these people to play hide and seek.

So what is not to like about this man? Nothing yet.

So Obama is no George W. Bush. “Mr. Mubarak’s tightening sharply contrasts with his behavior during Egypt’s last major election season, in 2005. Then he loosened controls on the media, introduced a constitutional amendment allowing the first contested election for president, and released his principal secular challenger from jail. He did all this under heavy pressure from then-President George W. Bush, who had publicly called on Egypt to ‘lead the way’ in Arab political reform. … Mr. Mubarak’s actions reflect a common calculation across the Middle East: that this U.S. president, unlike his predecessor, is not particularly interested in democratic change.”

So what grade does he get? Obama said we should evaluate him on the economy: “An economy growing at a sluggish 2 percent, almost all economists agree, cannot produce nearly the demand needed to lower the nation’s painfully high 9.6 percent unemployment rate. And inventories continued to grow and the trade gap remained wide, as imports outpaced exports. The numbers are not likely to provide much of a morale boost for President Obama and Democrats, who are days away from crucial midterm elections. High unemployment and soaring foreclosure numbers in the Midwest and West already made this a particularly difficult election for Democrats. Friday’s numbers offer little relief.”

So what is missing from David Brooks’s excellent advice? “First, the president is going to have to win back independents. … Second, Obama needs to redefine his identity. … Third, Obama will need to respond to the nation’s fear of decline. … Fourth, Obama has to build an institutional structure to support a more moderate approach.” Well, a president who is moderate, flexible, and self-reflective.

So how did Obama get his reputation as an “intellectual”? James Taranto and I agree: “Professors imagine Obama is one of them because he shares their attitudes: their politically correct opinions, their condescending view of ordinary Americans, their belief in their own authority as an intellectual elite. He is the ideal product of the homogeneous world of contemporary academia. In his importance, they see a reflection of their self-importance.”

So naturally, she had to go. “[Michelle] Rhee added a new urgency and righteous anger to the school reform movement, one that she will now take to a national platform. She asked how the District could compile an abysmal academic record and yet rate most of their teachers as meeting or exceeding expectations. She decreed that poverty was no longer a reason for expecting less of a child in Anacostia than one in Tenleytown.”

So now the New York Times sounds like National Review: “Rather than entertaining the possibility that the program they have pursued is genuinely and even legitimately unpopular, the White House and its allies have concluded that their political troubles amount to mainly a message and image problem.” The Gray Lady has also discovered Obama has an “elitism” problem. Who knew?

So smart are these Obama diplomats, we were told. Alas: “The White House spent an hour Friday afternoon trying to convince angry Hill staffers and human rights activists that ‘naming and shaming’ governments that recruit child soldiers, rather than imposing Congressionally-mandated sanctions on them, will better address the problem. But advocacy leaders are upset with the administration and rejected top White House officials’ contention that removing sanctions against four troubled states will be a positive move. … Overall, the call showed that the White House realized it botched the rollout of the decision but is standing by the decision itself. Next, they will have to defend it on Capitol Hill, where staffers are set to receive a special briefing on the issue next week.”

So let me see if I got this straight? President Obama goes to Florida in August to campaign for Rep. Kendrick Meek. Then recently, former President Clinton goes in to ‘campaign’ for Meek by trying to get him to drop out of the race. And voters this year are being accused of being ‘radical’ and ‘too angry’ because they are rejecting politics as usual?” That, from Susan Molinari.

So the administration’s flunky on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights walks out to deny a quorum, preventing a vote on the interim report concerning the New Black Panther Party scandal. (But the vice chairman is no better — she didn’t show up.) Remember, your tax dollars are paying these people to play hide and seek.

So what is not to like about this man? Nothing yet.

So Obama is no George W. Bush. “Mr. Mubarak’s tightening sharply contrasts with his behavior during Egypt’s last major election season, in 2005. Then he loosened controls on the media, introduced a constitutional amendment allowing the first contested election for president, and released his principal secular challenger from jail. He did all this under heavy pressure from then-President George W. Bush, who had publicly called on Egypt to ‘lead the way’ in Arab political reform. … Mr. Mubarak’s actions reflect a common calculation across the Middle East: that this U.S. president, unlike his predecessor, is not particularly interested in democratic change.”

So what grade does he get? Obama said we should evaluate him on the economy: “An economy growing at a sluggish 2 percent, almost all economists agree, cannot produce nearly the demand needed to lower the nation’s painfully high 9.6 percent unemployment rate. And inventories continued to grow and the trade gap remained wide, as imports outpaced exports. The numbers are not likely to provide much of a morale boost for President Obama and Democrats, who are days away from crucial midterm elections. High unemployment and soaring foreclosure numbers in the Midwest and West already made this a particularly difficult election for Democrats. Friday’s numbers offer little relief.”

So what is missing from David Brooks’s excellent advice? “First, the president is going to have to win back independents. … Second, Obama needs to redefine his identity. … Third, Obama will need to respond to the nation’s fear of decline. … Fourth, Obama has to build an institutional structure to support a more moderate approach.” Well, a president who is moderate, flexible, and self-reflective.

So how did Obama get his reputation as an “intellectual”? James Taranto and I agree: “Professors imagine Obama is one of them because he shares their attitudes: their politically correct opinions, their condescending view of ordinary Americans, their belief in their own authority as an intellectual elite. He is the ideal product of the homogeneous world of contemporary academia. In his importance, they see a reflection of their self-importance.”

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Arming the Terrorists: Try, Try Again

Nigerian authorities opened cargo containers this week to find a large shipment of unauthorized arms at their port. Tightened surveillance in East Africa may be forcing Iran to ship arms to Hamas from transfer points further and further from Gaza: Israeli authorities suspect that the arms shipment, which was dropped off by an Iranian ship in July disguised as construction materials, was intended for Hamas.

On first glance, the implied route seems prohibitive. Getting the shipment to Gaza from a Nigerian port would still involve one or more transit paths that are under vigilant surveillance by regional authorities. Land transport to Egypt is the least likely method; besides poor road quality and the problems of highway bandits and border crossings, there was apparently no arrangement made for follow-on handling of the arms shipment inside Nigeria.

The way the cargo was dropped off suggests that it was supposed to be transshipped through Lagos to another port, perhaps somewhere on the North African coast. A local report indicates the agent in Nigeria was an Iranian businessman who has gone into hiding. The advantage of the swap in Nigeria would have been that a non-Iranian ship carried the arms cargo into the Mediterranean, where Israeli and U.S. intelligence, between them, are fully embedded with most port authorities.

The shipment was essentially orphaned at the drop-off point, however. A Nigerian official reports that there was a ham-handed attempt at bribing the port authorities to turn a blind eye to the cargo, which arrived without proper documentation. When that didn’t work, the drop-off ship simply left the port. The cargo sat unprocessed in its containers for months.

It’s possible that the arms were destined for the Shia Muslim Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria. If they were, this would be the first detected instance of Iran trying to arm that insurgency directly. But Boko Haram’s arms route reportedly snakes across the northern border with Algeria, an arrangement dictated by the fact that the central government and the Christians of Nigeria’s south hold the ports. Moreover, Iran has been cultivating economic ties with Nigeria in the hope of importing uranium. Jeopardizing that relationship by arming an insurgency would appear counterproductive even to the unique geopolitical perspective in Tehran.

Perhaps the best news, if this was an arms shipment intended for Hamas, is that the Iranians seem to have miscalculated the law-enforcement environment in Nigeria’s ports. Presumably they will learn from this failure and prepare better for the next attempt. There are a lot of West African ports to choose from. We can be certain Iran will try again.

Nigerian authorities opened cargo containers this week to find a large shipment of unauthorized arms at their port. Tightened surveillance in East Africa may be forcing Iran to ship arms to Hamas from transfer points further and further from Gaza: Israeli authorities suspect that the arms shipment, which was dropped off by an Iranian ship in July disguised as construction materials, was intended for Hamas.

On first glance, the implied route seems prohibitive. Getting the shipment to Gaza from a Nigerian port would still involve one or more transit paths that are under vigilant surveillance by regional authorities. Land transport to Egypt is the least likely method; besides poor road quality and the problems of highway bandits and border crossings, there was apparently no arrangement made for follow-on handling of the arms shipment inside Nigeria.

The way the cargo was dropped off suggests that it was supposed to be transshipped through Lagos to another port, perhaps somewhere on the North African coast. A local report indicates the agent in Nigeria was an Iranian businessman who has gone into hiding. The advantage of the swap in Nigeria would have been that a non-Iranian ship carried the arms cargo into the Mediterranean, where Israeli and U.S. intelligence, between them, are fully embedded with most port authorities.

The shipment was essentially orphaned at the drop-off point, however. A Nigerian official reports that there was a ham-handed attempt at bribing the port authorities to turn a blind eye to the cargo, which arrived without proper documentation. When that didn’t work, the drop-off ship simply left the port. The cargo sat unprocessed in its containers for months.

It’s possible that the arms were destined for the Shia Muslim Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria. If they were, this would be the first detected instance of Iran trying to arm that insurgency directly. But Boko Haram’s arms route reportedly snakes across the northern border with Algeria, an arrangement dictated by the fact that the central government and the Christians of Nigeria’s south hold the ports. Moreover, Iran has been cultivating economic ties with Nigeria in the hope of importing uranium. Jeopardizing that relationship by arming an insurgency would appear counterproductive even to the unique geopolitical perspective in Tehran.

Perhaps the best news, if this was an arms shipment intended for Hamas, is that the Iranians seem to have miscalculated the law-enforcement environment in Nigeria’s ports. Presumably they will learn from this failure and prepare better for the next attempt. There are a lot of West African ports to choose from. We can be certain Iran will try again.

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Down to West Virginia and Washington

The latest batch of Senate polls suggests that there is a good chance of Republicans picking up these seats: North Dakota, Arkansas, Indiana, Wisconsin (Russ Feingold is down 6.6 points in the RealClearPolitics average), Illinois, Pennsylvania, Nevada (Sharron Angle is up by 4 in the most recent poll), and Colorad0 (Ken Buck is leading in all recent polls). That is a total of eight.

If the recent polls are to be believed, Carly Fiorina is in a tough spot in California. Connecticut is trending solidly Democratic. But there is Washington, where it is a dead heat. And there is West Virginia, where polls have been inconsistent, but the incumbent governor’s administration is now ensnared in an FBI investigation. Is it doable for the GOP? Sure. I’d give it better odds than 50-50.

And, by the way, if the GOP gets nine, the scramble is on to lure Joe Lieberman or Ben Nelson to switch parties. In sum, the excitement may be far from over on election night.

The latest batch of Senate polls suggests that there is a good chance of Republicans picking up these seats: North Dakota, Arkansas, Indiana, Wisconsin (Russ Feingold is down 6.6 points in the RealClearPolitics average), Illinois, Pennsylvania, Nevada (Sharron Angle is up by 4 in the most recent poll), and Colorad0 (Ken Buck is leading in all recent polls). That is a total of eight.

If the recent polls are to be believed, Carly Fiorina is in a tough spot in California. Connecticut is trending solidly Democratic. But there is Washington, where it is a dead heat. And there is West Virginia, where polls have been inconsistent, but the incumbent governor’s administration is now ensnared in an FBI investigation. Is it doable for the GOP? Sure. I’d give it better odds than 50-50.

And, by the way, if the GOP gets nine, the scramble is on to lure Joe Lieberman or Ben Nelson to switch parties. In sum, the excitement may be far from over on election night.

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Debating Israel in Virginia

J Street’s worst nightmare: “Virginia House candidates battle over Israel in final debate.” It seems that candidates who actually are pro-Israel are making the case that their opponents’ records should be scrutinized. What’s wrong with that? Well, those being scrutinized don’t like explaining themselves. In fact, the candidates under attack sound bewildered, as if their J Street backers didn’t fully explain that the positions they were taking and the documents they were signing were, in no meaningful sense, “pro- Israel.”

The Hill reports on a debate sponsored by the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater between Republican Scott Rigell, Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.), and Independent Kenny Golden. With the race neck-and-neck, “many of the questions revolved around Washington’s relationship with Israel and the Muslim world.” Rigell discussed the Juan Williams firing (he was against), the Ground Zero mosque (against), and the Gaza 54 letter (against). The Gaza 54 letter made for an interesting discussion:

Some 300 people crammed into the Simon Family Jewish Community Center in Virginia Beach to hear the candidates’ final debate. The Jewish community, which leaders say numbers about 6,000 families, has some sway in Virginia’s 2nd district. And all three candidates sought to highlight their pro-Israel stances.

“They have a right, a true right and an unquestionable right, in my view, to occupy that land,” Rigell said, before criticizing a letter Nye signed onto that urged President Obama to seek an easing of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. “By sending that letter,” Rigell said, “it is creating doubt of where America stands with our ally, Israel.”

The letter was signed by 54 members of Congress, including Nye, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee.

“We recognize that the Israeli government has imposed restrictions on Gaza out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups,” the group wrote. “This concern must be addressed without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip.”

Rigell said he wouldn’t have signed that letter.

Nye disputed Rigell’s characterization of the letter’s intent and said he supports what Israel has to do to ensure its survival.

“Israel is an important ally; they need our support. We have to continue to work to ensure that they have and maintain a military so their neighbors cannot defeat them,” Nye said.

It’s not a “characterization” of the letter that is at issue. The letter itself takes Israel to task for “de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip” and calls for Israel to relax the blockade that was put in place to, as Nye would say, “ensure its survival.” So Nye was either flim-flamming his audience, or he really didn’t get what the letter was about — another J Street gambit to undermine the Israeli government and help mainstream the Hamas propaganda line.

No wonder J Street is in a tizzy. It’s not easy to explain to informed pro-Israel activists why you are taking money from Richard Goldstone’s handlers and why you’ve signed documents that advocate steps that would imperil the Jewish state.

J Street’s worst nightmare: “Virginia House candidates battle over Israel in final debate.” It seems that candidates who actually are pro-Israel are making the case that their opponents’ records should be scrutinized. What’s wrong with that? Well, those being scrutinized don’t like explaining themselves. In fact, the candidates under attack sound bewildered, as if their J Street backers didn’t fully explain that the positions they were taking and the documents they were signing were, in no meaningful sense, “pro- Israel.”

The Hill reports on a debate sponsored by the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater between Republican Scott Rigell, Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.), and Independent Kenny Golden. With the race neck-and-neck, “many of the questions revolved around Washington’s relationship with Israel and the Muslim world.” Rigell discussed the Juan Williams firing (he was against), the Ground Zero mosque (against), and the Gaza 54 letter (against). The Gaza 54 letter made for an interesting discussion:

Some 300 people crammed into the Simon Family Jewish Community Center in Virginia Beach to hear the candidates’ final debate. The Jewish community, which leaders say numbers about 6,000 families, has some sway in Virginia’s 2nd district. And all three candidates sought to highlight their pro-Israel stances.

“They have a right, a true right and an unquestionable right, in my view, to occupy that land,” Rigell said, before criticizing a letter Nye signed onto that urged President Obama to seek an easing of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. “By sending that letter,” Rigell said, “it is creating doubt of where America stands with our ally, Israel.”

The letter was signed by 54 members of Congress, including Nye, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee.

“We recognize that the Israeli government has imposed restrictions on Gaza out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups,” the group wrote. “This concern must be addressed without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip.”

Rigell said he wouldn’t have signed that letter.

Nye disputed Rigell’s characterization of the letter’s intent and said he supports what Israel has to do to ensure its survival.

“Israel is an important ally; they need our support. We have to continue to work to ensure that they have and maintain a military so their neighbors cannot defeat them,” Nye said.

It’s not a “characterization” of the letter that is at issue. The letter itself takes Israel to task for “de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip” and calls for Israel to relax the blockade that was put in place to, as Nye would say, “ensure its survival.” So Nye was either flim-flamming his audience, or he really didn’t get what the letter was about — another J Street gambit to undermine the Israeli government and help mainstream the Hamas propaganda line.

No wonder J Street is in a tizzy. It’s not easy to explain to informed pro-Israel activists why you are taking money from Richard Goldstone’s handlers and why you’ve signed documents that advocate steps that would imperil the Jewish state.

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The Multi-Plane Attack Story

If, indeed, the developing story involving UPS planes and others carrying suspicious boxes, including ones from Yemen, means a major attack on the United States has been thwarted, two things suggest themselves. First, that this is an election-eve plan similar to the monstrous Madrid train bombing in 2004 — and the Bin Laden tape on the eve of the 2004 election. In the case of those elections, it was clear what al Qaeda wanted — to punish Spain for its role in the Iraq war effort and to punish George Bush. Parsing what the possible goal would be in this election is difficult, though the simplest explanation is usually the best: It’s about the U.S.’s more aggressive stance in Afghanistan. Second: This comes after an election season in which the word “terrorism” has barely been spoken. That will end this weekend, as the closing discussion before Tuesday’s election will suddenly center on foreign, military, and homeland security policy.

If, indeed, the developing story involving UPS planes and others carrying suspicious boxes, including ones from Yemen, means a major attack on the United States has been thwarted, two things suggest themselves. First, that this is an election-eve plan similar to the monstrous Madrid train bombing in 2004 — and the Bin Laden tape on the eve of the 2004 election. In the case of those elections, it was clear what al Qaeda wanted — to punish Spain for its role in the Iraq war effort and to punish George Bush. Parsing what the possible goal would be in this election is difficult, though the simplest explanation is usually the best: It’s about the U.S.’s more aggressive stance in Afghanistan. Second: This comes after an election season in which the word “terrorism” has barely been spoken. That will end this weekend, as the closing discussion before Tuesday’s election will suddenly center on foreign, military, and homeland security policy.

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Some Historical Perspective on Negative Campaigning

Every election, it seems, political commentators and reporters suggest that the most recent election we’re in is “the nastiest, most negative election season of all time.” You have to be largely clueless about American history to argue such things — as this short video by Reason.tv highlights. The truth is that angry, fractious elections and political bickering have characterized American politics since the country’s founding.

Consider, for example, the first real political campaign in American history, between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800. According to Professor Kerwin Swint, author of Mudslingers, “it reached a level of personal animosity that almost tore apart the young republic, and has rarely been equaled in two hundred years of presidential politics.” One pro-Adams newspaper predicted that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

The 1872 election between Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley was a race the New York Sun said deteriorated into “a shower of mud.” One pamphlet circulated by Greeley’s supporters called the Grant Administration the “crowning point of governmental wickedness” and accused Grant of bringing forth a “burning lava of seething corruption, a foul despotism….”

Or consider the 1884 race between Grover Cleveland and James Blaine. Cleveland was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock, which led Blaine supporters to chant what became a national slogan: “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?” (After Cleveland won the election, his supporters answered: “Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”). The Reverend Samuel Burchard, a Presbyterian minister, spoke at a gathering of pro-Blaine clergy in New York City just days before the election: “We are Republicans, and don’t propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been Rum, Romanism, and Rebellions.” Accusations of Blaine’s corruption, as well as charges of his own sexual scandals, also dominated the debate. At campaign rallies, Democrats chanted, “Blaine! Blaine! James G. Blaine! The continental liar from the state of Maine!”

And despite the deep differences that exist between political figures today, we do not settle our differences the way Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr did, by duels at 10 paces with flintlock pistols. Heated exchanges are endemic to politics and what we are seeing today, while often not edifying, is not outside the norm of American history.

Like most people, I wish our debates were less trivial, more spirited, and more serious and contained fewer ad hominem attacks. We should have a clash of views about substantively important matters, such as what the proper role and purpose of the state should be in our lives. “Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords,” is how Theodore Roosevelt put it. We should therefore hope for serious, honest, reasoned arguments.

Abraham Lincoln is a unique figure in American history, and there is a danger in measuring the quality of our arguments by the quality of his. But there is a lot to be said for holding him up as the ideal. And if you read the words of Lincoln, you will find him constantly making his case in a compelling and philosophically serious way. That is what is most notable about his debates with Stephen Douglas. The burden was on Lincoln to show why Douglas’s advocacy for “popular sovereignty” was incompatible with self-government and the moral meaning of the Declaration of Independence — which is precisely what Lincoln did. If you read the transcripts of the debates, there was plenty of “negative” campaigning going on. But it is long forgotten, because the quality of the debate was so good and the stakes so high. The lesson for us is to aim high, not low, when it comes to the caliber of arguments we make to the public.

Politics is about important matters, and we should bring to it seriousness of purpose. But we should also bring to it a sense of history.

Every election, it seems, political commentators and reporters suggest that the most recent election we’re in is “the nastiest, most negative election season of all time.” You have to be largely clueless about American history to argue such things — as this short video by Reason.tv highlights. The truth is that angry, fractious elections and political bickering have characterized American politics since the country’s founding.

Consider, for example, the first real political campaign in American history, between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800. According to Professor Kerwin Swint, author of Mudslingers, “it reached a level of personal animosity that almost tore apart the young republic, and has rarely been equaled in two hundred years of presidential politics.” One pro-Adams newspaper predicted that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

The 1872 election between Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley was a race the New York Sun said deteriorated into “a shower of mud.” One pamphlet circulated by Greeley’s supporters called the Grant Administration the “crowning point of governmental wickedness” and accused Grant of bringing forth a “burning lava of seething corruption, a foul despotism….”

Or consider the 1884 race between Grover Cleveland and James Blaine. Cleveland was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock, which led Blaine supporters to chant what became a national slogan: “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?” (After Cleveland won the election, his supporters answered: “Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”). The Reverend Samuel Burchard, a Presbyterian minister, spoke at a gathering of pro-Blaine clergy in New York City just days before the election: “We are Republicans, and don’t propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been Rum, Romanism, and Rebellions.” Accusations of Blaine’s corruption, as well as charges of his own sexual scandals, also dominated the debate. At campaign rallies, Democrats chanted, “Blaine! Blaine! James G. Blaine! The continental liar from the state of Maine!”

And despite the deep differences that exist between political figures today, we do not settle our differences the way Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr did, by duels at 10 paces with flintlock pistols. Heated exchanges are endemic to politics and what we are seeing today, while often not edifying, is not outside the norm of American history.

Like most people, I wish our debates were less trivial, more spirited, and more serious and contained fewer ad hominem attacks. We should have a clash of views about substantively important matters, such as what the proper role and purpose of the state should be in our lives. “Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords,” is how Theodore Roosevelt put it. We should therefore hope for serious, honest, reasoned arguments.

Abraham Lincoln is a unique figure in American history, and there is a danger in measuring the quality of our arguments by the quality of his. But there is a lot to be said for holding him up as the ideal. And if you read the words of Lincoln, you will find him constantly making his case in a compelling and philosophically serious way. That is what is most notable about his debates with Stephen Douglas. The burden was on Lincoln to show why Douglas’s advocacy for “popular sovereignty” was incompatible with self-government and the moral meaning of the Declaration of Independence — which is precisely what Lincoln did. If you read the transcripts of the debates, there was plenty of “negative” campaigning going on. But it is long forgotten, because the quality of the debate was so good and the stakes so high. The lesson for us is to aim high, not low, when it comes to the caliber of arguments we make to the public.

Politics is about important matters, and we should bring to it seriousness of purpose. But we should also bring to it a sense of history.

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Colorado’s Got Initiative

Forget the Colorado Senate and guberantorial races. I’m keeping my eye on this one:

Ballot Initiative 300 would require the city to set up an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission, stocked with Ph.D. scientists, to “ensure the health, safety and cultural awareness of Denver residents” when it comes to future contact “with extraterrestrial intelligent beings or their vehicles.

I suppose the vehicles could come without drivers, so it’s good the ballot sponsors are thorough. The contest is getting a tad nasty:

Promoting the initiative: Jeff Peckman, a silver-haired entrepreneur who lives with his parents. “Low overhead,” he explains. Mr. Peckman is a firm believer in intergalactic life, though he has never been personally contacted by an alien. That gives him more credibility, he says; it’s harder to dismiss him as biased.

Mr. Peckman has recruited about 20 volunteers for his campaign.

They face an impassioned opposition led by Bryan Bonner, who dismisses the unidentified-flying-object buffs as delusional if not outright frauds.

“Frauds” seems sort of harsh, no? Especially for a ghost-hunter. You got that right: “One thing about Mr. Bonner: He spends his spare time crawling through spooky spaces, deploying remote digital thermometers, seismographs, infrared cameras, electromagnetic field detectors and Nerf balls in pursuit of evidence of the paranormal. He is, in short, a ghost hunter.” Clearly this man is peeved that there is no initiative to “ensure the health, safety, and cultural awareness of Denver residents” when it comes to future contact with ghosts. Or their vehicles.

Now the election is getting ugly:

Mr. Bonner, the ghost hunter, is fighting back with his own website asserting that “Peckman and his ‘little green people’ are not representative of the people of Denver.”

“Little green people,” Mr. Peckman responds with outrage, is a “racial slur.”

Peckman is no political novice. He says this is about jobs, jobs, jobs:

Recognizing that ET contact protocols aren’t foremost in the minds of voters these days, Mr. Peckman has refined his pitch on Initiative 300. These days, he promotes it as a jobs bill. He envisions sci-fi film directors flocking here, space-travel researchers, and engineers hoping to pry the secrets of intergalactic technology from space visitors.

Councilman Charlie Brown is skeptical. “That’s not the kind of job we want to create,” he says.

But Kelly Brough, president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, says she’s game: “We are open for business to all other planets.”

It sounds like just the sort of thing stimulus money would be used for. You don’t want jobs going to other galaxies.

Forget the Colorado Senate and guberantorial races. I’m keeping my eye on this one:

Ballot Initiative 300 would require the city to set up an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission, stocked with Ph.D. scientists, to “ensure the health, safety and cultural awareness of Denver residents” when it comes to future contact “with extraterrestrial intelligent beings or their vehicles.

I suppose the vehicles could come without drivers, so it’s good the ballot sponsors are thorough. The contest is getting a tad nasty:

Promoting the initiative: Jeff Peckman, a silver-haired entrepreneur who lives with his parents. “Low overhead,” he explains. Mr. Peckman is a firm believer in intergalactic life, though he has never been personally contacted by an alien. That gives him more credibility, he says; it’s harder to dismiss him as biased.

Mr. Peckman has recruited about 20 volunteers for his campaign.

They face an impassioned opposition led by Bryan Bonner, who dismisses the unidentified-flying-object buffs as delusional if not outright frauds.

“Frauds” seems sort of harsh, no? Especially for a ghost-hunter. You got that right: “One thing about Mr. Bonner: He spends his spare time crawling through spooky spaces, deploying remote digital thermometers, seismographs, infrared cameras, electromagnetic field detectors and Nerf balls in pursuit of evidence of the paranormal. He is, in short, a ghost hunter.” Clearly this man is peeved that there is no initiative to “ensure the health, safety, and cultural awareness of Denver residents” when it comes to future contact with ghosts. Or their vehicles.

Now the election is getting ugly:

Mr. Bonner, the ghost hunter, is fighting back with his own website asserting that “Peckman and his ‘little green people’ are not representative of the people of Denver.”

“Little green people,” Mr. Peckman responds with outrage, is a “racial slur.”

Peckman is no political novice. He says this is about jobs, jobs, jobs:

Recognizing that ET contact protocols aren’t foremost in the minds of voters these days, Mr. Peckman has refined his pitch on Initiative 300. These days, he promotes it as a jobs bill. He envisions sci-fi film directors flocking here, space-travel researchers, and engineers hoping to pry the secrets of intergalactic technology from space visitors.

Councilman Charlie Brown is skeptical. “That’s not the kind of job we want to create,” he says.

But Kelly Brough, president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, says she’s game: “We are open for business to all other planets.”

It sounds like just the sort of thing stimulus money would be used for. You don’t want jobs going to other galaxies.

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A Letter to Gary Ackerman

A reader sends in an open letter to Rep. Gary Ackerman that will run in the Jewish Week, the Long Island Jewish World, the Queens Tribune, the Great Neck Record, Manhasset Press, Roslyn News, and Port Washington News. The letter reads:

We are deeply troubled by your support for and endorsement by J Street, which claims to be a “Pro-Israel lobby,” but advocates radical policies that include having the U.S. government pressure Israel in ways that would undermine the security of the Jewish State.

How far outside the mainstream is J Street? It actively challenges AIPAC and other pro-Israel supporters in Washington and on college campuses. During the war in Gaza, J Street equated the IDF to Hamas and later on even tried to facilitate the promotion of the biased U.N. ‘Goldstone’ report that falsely and outrageously accuses Israel of war crimes.

Who appointed the radicals at J Street to be arbiters of Israel’s national security? Why are you, Congressman Ackerman, lending your name to this effort and taking money raised by J Street for you?

Despite years of denial, we now know that J Street has been secretly funded by billionaire George Soros, a notorious antagonist of the Jewish state. Your involvement with this duplicitous group is incompatible with your expressions of support for the security of the State of Israel.

Your continued affiliation with J Street is unacceptable to your constituents who care about Israel’s well being. We call upon you to disassociate yourself from this group.

The letter is signed by 40 pro-Israel constituents of the NY-5. Are you getting the sense that J Streeters will have a hard time — if they are still around in 2012 — getting candidates to accept endorsements and money? The group certainly is more trouble than it is worth.

A reader sends in an open letter to Rep. Gary Ackerman that will run in the Jewish Week, the Long Island Jewish World, the Queens Tribune, the Great Neck Record, Manhasset Press, Roslyn News, and Port Washington News. The letter reads:

We are deeply troubled by your support for and endorsement by J Street, which claims to be a “Pro-Israel lobby,” but advocates radical policies that include having the U.S. government pressure Israel in ways that would undermine the security of the Jewish State.

How far outside the mainstream is J Street? It actively challenges AIPAC and other pro-Israel supporters in Washington and on college campuses. During the war in Gaza, J Street equated the IDF to Hamas and later on even tried to facilitate the promotion of the biased U.N. ‘Goldstone’ report that falsely and outrageously accuses Israel of war crimes.

Who appointed the radicals at J Street to be arbiters of Israel’s national security? Why are you, Congressman Ackerman, lending your name to this effort and taking money raised by J Street for you?

Despite years of denial, we now know that J Street has been secretly funded by billionaire George Soros, a notorious antagonist of the Jewish state. Your involvement with this duplicitous group is incompatible with your expressions of support for the security of the State of Israel.

Your continued affiliation with J Street is unacceptable to your constituents who care about Israel’s well being. We call upon you to disassociate yourself from this group.

The letter is signed by 40 pro-Israel constituents of the NY-5. Are you getting the sense that J Streeters will have a hard time — if they are still around in 2012 — getting candidates to accept endorsements and money? The group certainly is more trouble than it is worth.

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Is Frank Toast?

Robert Snider of Pajamas Media is flatly predicting Barney Frank’s defeat next week (h/t Instapundit). He makes a good case.

I have thought for a while now that Frank was in deep trouble, and the fact that he loaned his campaign $200,000 last week (and he’s not a rich man) has only confirmed that. A sitting committee chairman who can’t outraise his little-known opponent? Now that’s trouble.

According to Snider, Frank’s tepid support for Israel is one of his problems:

A record number of AIPAC members, over one thousand, attended its dinner in Boston this year. That is an objective indication of the level of fear in the Jewish community. Barney Frank gave a short statement in which he assured the audience that if there is a crisis, the audience could count on him. Frank’s statement showed a devastating lack of understanding of the issue. If there is a crisis in the Middle East, it will be too late. Frank was greeted by a wall of coldness: members walked out to show their displeasure. Frank’s body language and the tone of his statement were uncertain. In the several events I attended in which there was a substantial Jewish audience, Bielat’s announcement that “I am Sean Bielat and I am running against Barney Frank” was greeted by unusually loud and enthusiastic applause. AIPAC members define the term “opinion makers.”

The polls close in Massachusetts at 8 p.m. I imagine exit polling will be announced almost instantly.

Robert Snider of Pajamas Media is flatly predicting Barney Frank’s defeat next week (h/t Instapundit). He makes a good case.

I have thought for a while now that Frank was in deep trouble, and the fact that he loaned his campaign $200,000 last week (and he’s not a rich man) has only confirmed that. A sitting committee chairman who can’t outraise his little-known opponent? Now that’s trouble.

According to Snider, Frank’s tepid support for Israel is one of his problems:

A record number of AIPAC members, over one thousand, attended its dinner in Boston this year. That is an objective indication of the level of fear in the Jewish community. Barney Frank gave a short statement in which he assured the audience that if there is a crisis, the audience could count on him. Frank’s statement showed a devastating lack of understanding of the issue. If there is a crisis in the Middle East, it will be too late. Frank was greeted by a wall of coldness: members walked out to show their displeasure. Frank’s body language and the tone of his statement were uncertain. In the several events I attended in which there was a substantial Jewish audience, Bielat’s announcement that “I am Sean Bielat and I am running against Barney Frank” was greeted by unusually loud and enthusiastic applause. AIPAC members define the term “opinion makers.”

The polls close in Massachusetts at 8 p.m. I imagine exit polling will be announced almost instantly.

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Stop Being Shocked

Observers of the Obama administration are perpetually shocked by a foreign policy that often lacks both heart and rationality. Yesterday, Josh Rogin wrote:

The Obama administration quietly waived a key section of the law meant to combat the use of child soldiers for four troubled states on Monday. Today, the White House tells The Cable that they intend to give these countries — all of whose armed forces use underage troops — one more year to improve before bringing any penalties to bear. The NGO community was shocked by the announcement.

It seems there is already some flexibility in the law, and this move by the administration simply encourages behavior that we and other Western democracies consider abhorrent. (“‘This exception gives the U.S. government very wide berth to continue to provide assistance to bring these militaries more in line with the American image of what their military should look like,’ said Rachel Stohl, Associate Fellow at the Washington office of Chatham House, a U.K.-based think tank. ‘The law allows for professionalization of these militaries, so these waivers are really disappointing and add insult to injury.’”)

Maybe the Obama team was trying to curry favor with despotic regimes — again. Perhaps they didn’t understand existing law. But no matter what the rationale, the administration never quite manages to exercise care and exert available pressure when it comes to human rights. Eager conservatives greeted Obama’s recent UN speech touting human rights as a sign he was turning the corner on his feckless human-rights policy. Alas, a speech is just a speech for him; the policy remains the same. Human-rights dissidents, oppressed activists, and yes, child soldiers, are on their own.

Observers of the Obama administration are perpetually shocked by a foreign policy that often lacks both heart and rationality. Yesterday, Josh Rogin wrote:

The Obama administration quietly waived a key section of the law meant to combat the use of child soldiers for four troubled states on Monday. Today, the White House tells The Cable that they intend to give these countries — all of whose armed forces use underage troops — one more year to improve before bringing any penalties to bear. The NGO community was shocked by the announcement.

It seems there is already some flexibility in the law, and this move by the administration simply encourages behavior that we and other Western democracies consider abhorrent. (“‘This exception gives the U.S. government very wide berth to continue to provide assistance to bring these militaries more in line with the American image of what their military should look like,’ said Rachel Stohl, Associate Fellow at the Washington office of Chatham House, a U.K.-based think tank. ‘The law allows for professionalization of these militaries, so these waivers are really disappointing and add insult to injury.’”)

Maybe the Obama team was trying to curry favor with despotic regimes — again. Perhaps they didn’t understand existing law. But no matter what the rationale, the administration never quite manages to exercise care and exert available pressure when it comes to human rights. Eager conservatives greeted Obama’s recent UN speech touting human rights as a sign he was turning the corner on his feckless human-rights policy. Alas, a speech is just a speech for him; the policy remains the same. Human-rights dissidents, oppressed activists, and yes, child soldiers, are on their own.

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RE: “Yes We Can, But…”

As Pete pointed out, the president’s appearance on Jon Stewart’s show was a telling one. It’s not only we conservatives who think it was a bad outing for Obama. Dana Milbank observes:

The president had come, on the eve of what will almost certainly be the loss of his governing majority, to plead his case before Jon Stewart, gatekeeper of the disillusioned left. But instead of displaying the sizzle that won him an army of youthful supporters two years ago, Obama had a Brownie moment.

Obama may have thought that he’d get the “cool kid” treatment — the condescending left is full of his kind of people, after all — but, instead, he was the butt of the joke. Milbank continues:

“In fairness,” the president replied defensively, “Larry Summers did a heckuva job.”

“You don’t want to use that phrase, dude,” Stewart recommended with a laugh.

Dude. The indignity of a comedy show host calling the commander in chief “dude” pretty well captured the moment for Obama. He was making this first-ever appearance by a president on the Daily Show as part of a long-shot effort to rekindle the spirit of ’08. In the Daily Show, Obama had a friendly host and an even friendlier crowd.

And yet he wound up looking neither cool nor presidential. Milbank suggests that this was an attempt to compensate for a lousy MTV outing. (Then, “he was serious and defensive, pointing a finger at his host several times as he quarreled with the premise of a question.”) But it was really an attempt to compensate for a lousy two years.

In a real sense, Obama has tried to maintain two contradictory roles. On the one hand, he wants to be the darling of the left and of the cultural elites. He sneers at middle America, turns up his nose at “triumphalism” (as he described pride in the Iraq war effort), finds shoddy our record on human rights, attacks Wall Street, and finds American exceptionalism gauche. But he is also president, commander in chief, attempting to encourage an economic revival, leader of a major national party, and — most important from his perspective — up for re-election in 2012. The darling of the left runs headlong into thechief executive/presidential 2012 candidate. We saw the dramatic clash of these two roles in the debate over the Ground Zero mosque. Obama and the leftist elites vs. everyone else.

But here’s the thing about the leftist elites — nicely personified for this purpose by Jon Stewart. They don’t like a loser. Cool kids are not losers. Their spin doesn’t get by the cynics and the wisecrackers. So, pretty soon, the cool kids have something in common with the rest of America: they conclude that this president is a bumbler and not, after all, the change they were hoping for.

As Pete pointed out, the president’s appearance on Jon Stewart’s show was a telling one. It’s not only we conservatives who think it was a bad outing for Obama. Dana Milbank observes:

The president had come, on the eve of what will almost certainly be the loss of his governing majority, to plead his case before Jon Stewart, gatekeeper of the disillusioned left. But instead of displaying the sizzle that won him an army of youthful supporters two years ago, Obama had a Brownie moment.

Obama may have thought that he’d get the “cool kid” treatment — the condescending left is full of his kind of people, after all — but, instead, he was the butt of the joke. Milbank continues:

“In fairness,” the president replied defensively, “Larry Summers did a heckuva job.”

“You don’t want to use that phrase, dude,” Stewart recommended with a laugh.

Dude. The indignity of a comedy show host calling the commander in chief “dude” pretty well captured the moment for Obama. He was making this first-ever appearance by a president on the Daily Show as part of a long-shot effort to rekindle the spirit of ’08. In the Daily Show, Obama had a friendly host and an even friendlier crowd.

And yet he wound up looking neither cool nor presidential. Milbank suggests that this was an attempt to compensate for a lousy MTV outing. (Then, “he was serious and defensive, pointing a finger at his host several times as he quarreled with the premise of a question.”) But it was really an attempt to compensate for a lousy two years.

In a real sense, Obama has tried to maintain two contradictory roles. On the one hand, he wants to be the darling of the left and of the cultural elites. He sneers at middle America, turns up his nose at “triumphalism” (as he described pride in the Iraq war effort), finds shoddy our record on human rights, attacks Wall Street, and finds American exceptionalism gauche. But he is also president, commander in chief, attempting to encourage an economic revival, leader of a major national party, and — most important from his perspective — up for re-election in 2012. The darling of the left runs headlong into thechief executive/presidential 2012 candidate. We saw the dramatic clash of these two roles in the debate over the Ground Zero mosque. Obama and the leftist elites vs. everyone else.

But here’s the thing about the leftist elites — nicely personified for this purpose by Jon Stewart. They don’t like a loser. Cool kids are not losers. Their spin doesn’t get by the cynics and the wisecrackers. So, pretty soon, the cool kids have something in common with the rest of America: they conclude that this president is a bumbler and not, after all, the change they were hoping for.

Read Less




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