Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 19, 2010

Campaigning on Iran

Josh Rogin has been all over Democrat Alexi Giannoulias’s claim that Rep. Mark Kirk didn’t have anything to do with the Iran-sanctions bill. Rogin has Giannoulias dead to rights:

But according to lawmakers, Congressional staffers, and outside groups who worked closely on the legislation, Kirk was in fact a key advocate for over four years of using gasoline and refined petroleum restrictions to pressure Iran to make concessions regarding its nuclear program.

In fact, Berman worked so closely with Kirk and others on the idea that media reports at the time acknowledged that Berman’s Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, introduced in April 2009, borrowed language from related legislation introduced earlier by Kirk and Rep. Brad Sherman.

Even Democratic Congressional staffers gave Kirk credit for leading on the idea of petroleum sanction for Iran. They said that Berman’s bill was clearly built off of Kirk’s work, and criticized Berman for politicizing such a sensitive foreign policy issue.

“On this particular issue, Kirk has been a leader, if not the leader. When you talk about Iran petroleum sanctions, you talk about Mark Kirk,” said one Democratic Hill staffer who worked on the bill.

And if that weren’t enough, Democrat Josh Block, who recently left AIPAC (which championed the sanctions bill) to run a consulting firm with Lanny David, blows Giannoulias out of the water: “There’s no question that Mark Kirk was one of the first, if not the first member of Congress to advocate restricting the flow of gasoline to Iran as a way of pressuring Iran on its nuclear program.”

Yikes. It seems that in an election season, everyone is tough on Iran and pro-Israel. But when you examine candidates’ actual voting records, it’s another story. That is why groups like J Street fear “politicizing” Israel — in other words, holding elected leaders and candidates accountable for their votes, statements, and associations.

Josh Rogin has been all over Democrat Alexi Giannoulias’s claim that Rep. Mark Kirk didn’t have anything to do with the Iran-sanctions bill. Rogin has Giannoulias dead to rights:

But according to lawmakers, Congressional staffers, and outside groups who worked closely on the legislation, Kirk was in fact a key advocate for over four years of using gasoline and refined petroleum restrictions to pressure Iran to make concessions regarding its nuclear program.

In fact, Berman worked so closely with Kirk and others on the idea that media reports at the time acknowledged that Berman’s Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, introduced in April 2009, borrowed language from related legislation introduced earlier by Kirk and Rep. Brad Sherman.

Even Democratic Congressional staffers gave Kirk credit for leading on the idea of petroleum sanction for Iran. They said that Berman’s bill was clearly built off of Kirk’s work, and criticized Berman for politicizing such a sensitive foreign policy issue.

“On this particular issue, Kirk has been a leader, if not the leader. When you talk about Iran petroleum sanctions, you talk about Mark Kirk,” said one Democratic Hill staffer who worked on the bill.

And if that weren’t enough, Democrat Josh Block, who recently left AIPAC (which championed the sanctions bill) to run a consulting firm with Lanny David, blows Giannoulias out of the water: “There’s no question that Mark Kirk was one of the first, if not the first member of Congress to advocate restricting the flow of gasoline to Iran as a way of pressuring Iran on its nuclear program.”

Yikes. It seems that in an election season, everyone is tough on Iran and pro-Israel. But when you examine candidates’ actual voting records, it’s another story. That is why groups like J Street fear “politicizing” Israel — in other words, holding elected leaders and candidates accountable for their votes, statements, and associations.

Read Less

GOP Turnout

If you are tired of obsessing about polls and dissecting turnout models, here are some actual votes to pore over:

In Nevada’s prime swing county, Republicans are significantly outpacing Democrats in early-voting turnout, according to official statistics — a potential sign of difficulty for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as he attempts to rally his base for his tough contest with Republican Sharron Angle.

Some 47 percent of early voters in Reno’s bellwether Washoe County so far have been Republicans, while 40 percent have been Democrats, according to the Washoe County Registrar. Nearly 11,000 people had voted in Washoe over the first three days of early voting, which began Saturday.

Voter registration in the county is evenly split, 39 percent to 39 percent. The disproportionate turnout is a concrete indication of the Republican enthusiasm that is expected to portend a nationwide GOP wave.

In Nevada’s large, urban Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, nearly 47,000 votes were cast in the first three days. The voters were 46 percent Democrats, 39 percent Republicans, according to the Clark County Election Department. But while Democrats make up 46 percent of the county’s registered voters, Republicans constitute just 33 percent — another sign Republicans are voting out of proportion to their numbers.

Throughout the primary season, GOP turnout topped past records and current estimates in many states. If this is any indication, the GOP enthusiasm will hold during the general election. The result may be a raft of pollsters who, quite understandably, will need to explain that they underestimated the Republican turnout because we simply have never had a midterm race like that. I’m sure Harry Reid hasn’t.

If you are tired of obsessing about polls and dissecting turnout models, here are some actual votes to pore over:

In Nevada’s prime swing county, Republicans are significantly outpacing Democrats in early-voting turnout, according to official statistics — a potential sign of difficulty for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as he attempts to rally his base for his tough contest with Republican Sharron Angle.

Some 47 percent of early voters in Reno’s bellwether Washoe County so far have been Republicans, while 40 percent have been Democrats, according to the Washoe County Registrar. Nearly 11,000 people had voted in Washoe over the first three days of early voting, which began Saturday.

Voter registration in the county is evenly split, 39 percent to 39 percent. The disproportionate turnout is a concrete indication of the Republican enthusiasm that is expected to portend a nationwide GOP wave.

In Nevada’s large, urban Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, nearly 47,000 votes were cast in the first three days. The voters were 46 percent Democrats, 39 percent Republicans, according to the Clark County Election Department. But while Democrats make up 46 percent of the county’s registered voters, Republicans constitute just 33 percent — another sign Republicans are voting out of proportion to their numbers.

Throughout the primary season, GOP turnout topped past records and current estimates in many states. If this is any indication, the GOP enthusiasm will hold during the general election. The result may be a raft of pollsters who, quite understandably, will need to explain that they underestimated the Republican turnout because we simply have never had a midterm race like that. I’m sure Harry Reid hasn’t.

Read Less

Neither One of Them Seems Senatorial

I share Pete’s dismay at Christine O’Donnell’s not being familiar with the First Amendment. It is a reminder that some candidates, even in a wave election, don’t meet the bar of acceptability with voters.

Speaking of which, Harry Reid is demonstrating that for a Senate majority leader, he’s an awful candidate. He quite possibly turned in the worst debate performance of the general election. I’m torn between his discourse on colonoscopies and his paper shuffling at the end — not sure which of them was my favorite part. Certainly the most appalling was his false assertion that he backed the surge in Iraq.

That’s not all that is bedeviling Reid this week. Joshua Green notes that among Reid’s “unforced errors” is “his decision to take up residence in the Ritz-Carlton.” Of course, the GOP has pounced with a new ad contrasting ”the image of stupendous wealth while other Nevadans suffer record unemployment and a nasty foreclosure crisis.”

As Nicholas Lemann points out:

Although he first ran for office at the age of twenty-eight and he is now seventy, he is still strikingly bad at the public part of his job. His voice is soft, with little resonance. When he’s talking to someone, he has a habit of looking down instead of into the person’s eyes. His gestures on a podium are awkward hand chops.

Ironically, the most experienced pol in the Senate and the least-tested newcomer increasingly seem less and less plausible as officeholders. For the GOP, it is a lesson in candidate selection. For the Democrats, it is a warning that it takes exceptionally skilled incumbents to survive the anti-Obama wave. Incumbents a heck of a lot better than Harry Reid.

I share Pete’s dismay at Christine O’Donnell’s not being familiar with the First Amendment. It is a reminder that some candidates, even in a wave election, don’t meet the bar of acceptability with voters.

Speaking of which, Harry Reid is demonstrating that for a Senate majority leader, he’s an awful candidate. He quite possibly turned in the worst debate performance of the general election. I’m torn between his discourse on colonoscopies and his paper shuffling at the end — not sure which of them was my favorite part. Certainly the most appalling was his false assertion that he backed the surge in Iraq.

That’s not all that is bedeviling Reid this week. Joshua Green notes that among Reid’s “unforced errors” is “his decision to take up residence in the Ritz-Carlton.” Of course, the GOP has pounced with a new ad contrasting ”the image of stupendous wealth while other Nevadans suffer record unemployment and a nasty foreclosure crisis.”

As Nicholas Lemann points out:

Although he first ran for office at the age of twenty-eight and he is now seventy, he is still strikingly bad at the public part of his job. His voice is soft, with little resonance. When he’s talking to someone, he has a habit of looking down instead of into the person’s eyes. His gestures on a podium are awkward hand chops.

Ironically, the most experienced pol in the Senate and the least-tested newcomer increasingly seem less and less plausible as officeholders. For the GOP, it is a lesson in candidate selection. For the Democrats, it is a warning that it takes exceptionally skilled incumbents to survive the anti-Obama wave. Incumbents a heck of a lot better than Harry Reid.

Read Less

A Friend on a Friend

Bret Stephens, our valued contributor and Wall Street Journal columnist, has a wonderful profile in the new Philanthropy of Roger Hertog, a longtime COMMENTARY board member. Bret’s portrait of Roger Hertog’s classic American story — from a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx to City College and then into an improbable career as a full-time banker and passionate Muse of intellectual causes, ideas, and institutions — is brilliantly done. Perhaps most interesting, given the tenor of the times, is that Roger Hertog’s professional career was largely spent at an investment bank that prided itself on its scrupulous treatment of its clients and rigorously impartial research that ensured no conflicts of interest arose between the bank’s bottom line and the furtherance of the goals of those who had entrusted their money to it.

Among Hertog’s many projects are Jewish Ideas Daily, a website under the management of COMMENTARY’s former editor and now editor-at-large Neal Kozodoy, a peerless examination of intellectual, political, and cultural trends in Jewish life, and — just out with a sensational third issue — the Jewish Review of Books. Its editor, Abe Socher, has a terrific piece on the Lubavitch movement, and there are sterling contributions by the literary critic Ruth Franklin (which you can only read by subscribing, and you should), and the historians Anthony Grafton and Jon D. Levenson.

Roger Hertog was recently awarded the William E. Simon Prize from the Philanthropy Roundtable. In his acceptance speech, he explained his expansive view of the role of philanthropy in the furtherance of ideas:

At 68 years of age, in the final chapter of my life, my full-time occupation is investing in the world of ideas.   It is hard work — requiring the same creativity, judgment, and strategic sense that were necessary in business. My governing purpose is to find, support, and hopefully influence the next generation of leaders, be it in politics, the academy, history, religion, or national security.  [There must be] the willingness to speculate.  To take chances of making a mistake.  There’s irony in the fact that most entrepreneurs make their money by taking risks – betting on what they believe in, even though they may be wrong.  Then, when they become philanthropists, they forget what sparked their success in the first place.  They become too risk-averse.

My greatest worry, however, is that conservatives like me haven’t invested enough time, energy and treasure in the many spaces where young minds – and even more mature adults — are influenced.  History teaches that political philosophers, both when they’re right and when they’re wrong, have more impact on the way the world goes than is commonly understood.  Over time, the world is often shaped by the greatest thoughts—or most destructive theories—of the most powerful minds. But even the greatest minds begin life as young people. They need mentors. They need teachers. They need to be introduced to bodies of thought and worlds of ideas that might enable them to become great thinkers themselves.

This job—the education of the young—should reside with the universities.  Every single year, the smartest, most capable young men and women – those who will be the leaders of the next generation – are to be found at the top hundred or so campuses around the country. One only needs to check on where our Congressmen, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet members, and business and religious leaders have studied or taught.  Then you recognize why the top universities are so important.

The teachers at those places are the arbiters, maybe not the final arbiters, of what our children learn and believe.  If their teaching is one sided, in either direction, it does a tremendous disservice to these young men and women. Unless we populate the humanities with an alternative to the ascendant ideology, conservative ideas about limited government, rule of law, individual liberty and the role of religion will over time lose out. This doesn’t mean we should indulge in indoctrination.  That shouldn’t be necessary!  If we can simply get our ideas on the table, we’ll win our fair share of minds….If educational programs are the essential long-term investment, think tanks, small magazines, books and other free-standing institutions are the best middle-term investment, especially if the aim is to develop and disseminate ideas. There are many good think tanks and magazines around the country, both left- and right-of-center.  They don’t usually have much overhead either. They’re all about ideas.

So is Roger Hertog.

Bret Stephens, our valued contributor and Wall Street Journal columnist, has a wonderful profile in the new Philanthropy of Roger Hertog, a longtime COMMENTARY board member. Bret’s portrait of Roger Hertog’s classic American story — from a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx to City College and then into an improbable career as a full-time banker and passionate Muse of intellectual causes, ideas, and institutions — is brilliantly done. Perhaps most interesting, given the tenor of the times, is that Roger Hertog’s professional career was largely spent at an investment bank that prided itself on its scrupulous treatment of its clients and rigorously impartial research that ensured no conflicts of interest arose between the bank’s bottom line and the furtherance of the goals of those who had entrusted their money to it.

Among Hertog’s many projects are Jewish Ideas Daily, a website under the management of COMMENTARY’s former editor and now editor-at-large Neal Kozodoy, a peerless examination of intellectual, political, and cultural trends in Jewish life, and — just out with a sensational third issue — the Jewish Review of Books. Its editor, Abe Socher, has a terrific piece on the Lubavitch movement, and there are sterling contributions by the literary critic Ruth Franklin (which you can only read by subscribing, and you should), and the historians Anthony Grafton and Jon D. Levenson.

Roger Hertog was recently awarded the William E. Simon Prize from the Philanthropy Roundtable. In his acceptance speech, he explained his expansive view of the role of philanthropy in the furtherance of ideas:

At 68 years of age, in the final chapter of my life, my full-time occupation is investing in the world of ideas.   It is hard work — requiring the same creativity, judgment, and strategic sense that were necessary in business. My governing purpose is to find, support, and hopefully influence the next generation of leaders, be it in politics, the academy, history, religion, or national security.  [There must be] the willingness to speculate.  To take chances of making a mistake.  There’s irony in the fact that most entrepreneurs make their money by taking risks – betting on what they believe in, even though they may be wrong.  Then, when they become philanthropists, they forget what sparked their success in the first place.  They become too risk-averse.

My greatest worry, however, is that conservatives like me haven’t invested enough time, energy and treasure in the many spaces where young minds – and even more mature adults — are influenced.  History teaches that political philosophers, both when they’re right and when they’re wrong, have more impact on the way the world goes than is commonly understood.  Over time, the world is often shaped by the greatest thoughts—or most destructive theories—of the most powerful minds. But even the greatest minds begin life as young people. They need mentors. They need teachers. They need to be introduced to bodies of thought and worlds of ideas that might enable them to become great thinkers themselves.

This job—the education of the young—should reside with the universities.  Every single year, the smartest, most capable young men and women – those who will be the leaders of the next generation – are to be found at the top hundred or so campuses around the country. One only needs to check on where our Congressmen, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet members, and business and religious leaders have studied or taught.  Then you recognize why the top universities are so important.

The teachers at those places are the arbiters, maybe not the final arbiters, of what our children learn and believe.  If their teaching is one sided, in either direction, it does a tremendous disservice to these young men and women. Unless we populate the humanities with an alternative to the ascendant ideology, conservative ideas about limited government, rule of law, individual liberty and the role of religion will over time lose out. This doesn’t mean we should indulge in indoctrination.  That shouldn’t be necessary!  If we can simply get our ideas on the table, we’ll win our fair share of minds….If educational programs are the essential long-term investment, think tanks, small magazines, books and other free-standing institutions are the best middle-term investment, especially if the aim is to develop and disseminate ideas. There are many good think tanks and magazines around the country, both left- and right-of-center.  They don’t usually have much overhead either. They’re all about ideas.

So is Roger Hertog.

Read Less

RE: Time for Conservatives to Get Serious About Fiscal Responsibility

I entirely agree with Pete that conservatives must get serious about federal spending, à la David Cameron. And a wholesale reduction in the number of government agencies, boards, commissions, etc., a major part of Cameron’s program, would be a great place to start.

But I’m reminded of St. Augustine’s famous prayer, “Oh, Lord, make me good, but not yet.”  To be sure, I have a shorter time frame in mind than the author of The City of God, to wit, two weeks. In a sound-bite and attack-ad age, a proposal to gore some particular interest group’s ox right before an election can be fatal, especially if there is not time to effectively respond. And it is always easier to attack than defend in a 30-second ad.

On Fox News Sunday this week, Carly Fiorina rightly resisted Chris Wallace’s repeated attempts to get her to be specific on how she would cut federal spending. Had she mentioned, say, reforming the federal school-lunch program, Barbara Boxer would have had an ad on the air in 24 hours saying, “Do you want children starving in the streets? Then vote for Fiorina!” Several Republican candidates have been hammered recently for having had nice things to say regarding the so-called fair tax, which would abolish the personal income tax and substitute a 23 percent sales tax. The ads being run against them, of course, mention the 23 percent hike in prices that would be the result, without mentioning the fact that paychecks would increase dramatically with the end of withholding.

So I recommend getting serious immediately after the election. That’s when Cameron got serious. As the late Mo Udall was fond of saying when he was running for the Democratic nomination in 1976, “It takes two things to be a great president. First, you have to be great. Second, you have to be president.”

I entirely agree with Pete that conservatives must get serious about federal spending, à la David Cameron. And a wholesale reduction in the number of government agencies, boards, commissions, etc., a major part of Cameron’s program, would be a great place to start.

But I’m reminded of St. Augustine’s famous prayer, “Oh, Lord, make me good, but not yet.”  To be sure, I have a shorter time frame in mind than the author of The City of God, to wit, two weeks. In a sound-bite and attack-ad age, a proposal to gore some particular interest group’s ox right before an election can be fatal, especially if there is not time to effectively respond. And it is always easier to attack than defend in a 30-second ad.

On Fox News Sunday this week, Carly Fiorina rightly resisted Chris Wallace’s repeated attempts to get her to be specific on how she would cut federal spending. Had she mentioned, say, reforming the federal school-lunch program, Barbara Boxer would have had an ad on the air in 24 hours saying, “Do you want children starving in the streets? Then vote for Fiorina!” Several Republican candidates have been hammered recently for having had nice things to say regarding the so-called fair tax, which would abolish the personal income tax and substitute a 23 percent sales tax. The ads being run against them, of course, mention the 23 percent hike in prices that would be the result, without mentioning the fact that paychecks would increase dramatically with the end of withholding.

So I recommend getting serious immediately after the election. That’s when Cameron got serious. As the late Mo Udall was fond of saying when he was running for the Democratic nomination in 1976, “It takes two things to be a great president. First, you have to be great. Second, you have to be president.”

Read Less

What Is in the First Amendment?

Sarah Palin has assured us that Delaware Senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell is a “constitutional conservative.” In that case, O’Donnell might set aside some time to re-read the Constitution.

In her debate this morning with her opponent Chris Coons, O’Donnell was unsure whether the Constitution prevents the establishment of religion. According to press reports,

Coons said that creationism, which he considers “a religious doctrine,” should not be taught in public schools due to the Constitution’s First Amendment.  He argued that it explicitly enumerates the separation of church and state.

“The First Amendment does?” O’Donnell asked. “Let me just clarify: You’re telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?”

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” Coons responded, reciting from memory the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“That’s in the First Amendment…?” O’Donnell responded.

How the non-establishment clause applies to particular issues is a subject of debate — but the fact that the First Amendment bars Congress from making any laws respecting the establishment of religion is not (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”)

Asking candidates for the United States Senate to be familiar with one of the magnificent achievements of the American founding doesn’t strike me as an overly burdensome requirement.

Sarah Palin has assured us that Delaware Senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell is a “constitutional conservative.” In that case, O’Donnell might set aside some time to re-read the Constitution.

In her debate this morning with her opponent Chris Coons, O’Donnell was unsure whether the Constitution prevents the establishment of religion. According to press reports,

Coons said that creationism, which he considers “a religious doctrine,” should not be taught in public schools due to the Constitution’s First Amendment.  He argued that it explicitly enumerates the separation of church and state.

“The First Amendment does?” O’Donnell asked. “Let me just clarify: You’re telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?”

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” Coons responded, reciting from memory the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“That’s in the First Amendment…?” O’Donnell responded.

How the non-establishment clause applies to particular issues is a subject of debate — but the fact that the First Amendment bars Congress from making any laws respecting the establishment of religion is not (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”)

Asking candidates for the United States Senate to be familiar with one of the magnificent achievements of the American founding doesn’t strike me as an overly burdensome requirement.

Read Less

Forgetful Architecture

It is hard to design a memorial, let alone a Holocaust museum. There are a handful of firms equipped to handle the demands of the institution, the local community, the municipality, and those who are to be honored, let alone the style du jour of memorial-building.

Take, for example, the opening of the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum this week. Reviewing the museum in the Forward, Gavriel Rosenfeld discusses how the building, literally underground and conforming, mostly, to the terrain of Pan Pacific Park, is itself a metaphor for Holocaust remembrance. He writes:

It is hard not to conclude that the building’s underground location also has deeper significance. In one sense, the building’s self-effacing character might be seen as reflecting an assimilationist reflex on the part of L.A.’s Jewish community. After all, some of the city’s most important Jewish institutions, such as the Museum of Tolerance and the Skirball Cultural Center (designed by Moshe Safdie in the years 1986 to 1995), have strived not to appear architecturally Jewish in any way, a strategy that echoes their universalistic mission of reaching out to non-Jewish audiences.

As Rosenfeld notes, other museums have shied away from architectural elements that are distinctly Jewish. What he is referring to are direct references to Holocaust imagery such as smoke stacks and barbed wire. Some designs are not so literal but are nonetheless specific. The Houston Holocaust Museum design includes six steel poles, stand-ins for the 6 million murdered Jews.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum does not include such literalist elements but is designed to create an experience. James Ingo Freed, the architect for this building, writes, “There are no literal references to particular places or occurrences from the historic event. Instead, the architectural form is open-ended so the Museum becomes a resonator of memory.” Read More

It is hard to design a memorial, let alone a Holocaust museum. There are a handful of firms equipped to handle the demands of the institution, the local community, the municipality, and those who are to be honored, let alone the style du jour of memorial-building.

Take, for example, the opening of the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum this week. Reviewing the museum in the Forward, Gavriel Rosenfeld discusses how the building, literally underground and conforming, mostly, to the terrain of Pan Pacific Park, is itself a metaphor for Holocaust remembrance. He writes:

It is hard not to conclude that the building’s underground location also has deeper significance. In one sense, the building’s self-effacing character might be seen as reflecting an assimilationist reflex on the part of L.A.’s Jewish community. After all, some of the city’s most important Jewish institutions, such as the Museum of Tolerance and the Skirball Cultural Center (designed by Moshe Safdie in the years 1986 to 1995), have strived not to appear architecturally Jewish in any way, a strategy that echoes their universalistic mission of reaching out to non-Jewish audiences.

As Rosenfeld notes, other museums have shied away from architectural elements that are distinctly Jewish. What he is referring to are direct references to Holocaust imagery such as smoke stacks and barbed wire. Some designs are not so literal but are nonetheless specific. The Houston Holocaust Museum design includes six steel poles, stand-ins for the 6 million murdered Jews.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum does not include such literalist elements but is designed to create an experience. James Ingo Freed, the architect for this building, writes, “There are no literal references to particular places or occurrences from the historic event. Instead, the architectural form is open-ended so the Museum becomes a resonator of memory.”

Freed wants the visitor to experience the museum building viscerally. Just as the Holocaust defies understanding, so, too, should the building, which is meant not to be understood but rather felt.

Such experience-as-metaphor is the sin qua non of contemporary memorial design. The as-yet-to-be-built 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero exhibits many of the same tropes as the LAHM. Michael Arad and Peter Walker, the creators of the winning design, describe viewers’ experience of Reflecting Absence:

Bordering each pool is a pair of ramps that lead down to the memorial spaces. Descending into the memorial, visitors are removed from the sights and sounds of the city and immersed in a cool darkness. As they proceed, the sound of water falling grows louder, and more daylight filters in from below. At the bottom of their descent, they find themselves behind a thin curtain of water, staring out at an enormous pool. Surrounding this pool is a continuous ribbon of names. The enormity of this space and the multitude of names that form this endless ribbon underscore the vast scope of the destruction. Standing there at the water’s edge, looking at a pool of water that is flowing away into an abyss, a visitor to the site can sense that what is beyond this curtain of water and ribbon of names is inaccessible.

These contemporary designs wish to evoke an experience. Certain motifs prevail, such as a descent into the ground, a list of individual names, familiar yet distant forms — all of which are intended to “move” the viewer to contemplate the inaccessibility of horrific tragedy.

These motifs are not new. Take for example this description of perhaps the first such “non-monument”:

A corner submerged into the earth, the work is welcoming in its open-ended, book-like form, and yet disconcerting to those who realize that to read the names is to stand below the horizon — six feet under — conversing in the space of the dead. The work is outspoken and angry in the way in which it functions as a visual scar on the American landscape, cutting aggressively into the Washington Mall, and yet is dignified for the way in which it carves out a space for a public display of grief and pain. These emotions, necessary to the healing process, have a place in Lin’s work and are as natural as the cycles of the earth.

This describes the Vietnam Memorial designed by Maya Lin on the Washington Mall in Washington, D.C. This monument makes it clear that passage underground is a metaphor for death. One feels an uneasiness while reading the names of each soldier. Her monument does indeed reflect “grief and pain” and is to be understood not only as a memorial to those who sacrificed their lives but also to the ambivalence and anger at the country that sent them to war.

But should ambivalence be what visitors experience toward the Holocaust or 9/11? The architectural motif of descent into the ground does not carry the same complexity as it does for the Vietnam Memorial, nor should it. But if we accept the interpretation offered by the LAHM architect, Hagy Belzberg, not only are these monuments invisible, they celebrate that invisibility by communicating a dubious contradiction:

He noted that embedding LAMH into the natural environment of a public park represented a commentary on how the Holocaust transpired in the midst of ordinary German life. Citing Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, in Berlin, whose location in the heart of the busy metropolis lends itself to such prosaic activities “as picnicking and playing Frisbee,” Belzberg observed that the daily occurrence of these same activities near LAMH would symbolically underscore the chilling fact that during the Holocaust, “people knowingly or unknowingly went on with their lives while extraordinary events were taking place.” Given this claim, the museum’s relative inconspicuousness as architecture does not so much hide as illuminate one of the more disturbing facts of the Holocaust: the coexistence of atrocity and normalcy.

Rosenfeld and Belzberg are exactly correct; the horror of the Holocaust is heightened when one considers German complicity and daily life. And life goes on for us. We picnic and play frisbee and visit parks on our day off. But when even our monuments dedicated to the memory of atrocity forget the victims, surely everyone else will too.

Read Less

Conway Blows Himself Up

Howard Fineman is not exactly a conservative shill. But it is apparent that both he and a slew of Democrats are aghast at Jack Conway’s attack on Rand Paul’s religion. (But the prize for indignant liberal goes to Chris Matthews.) Fineman writes:

Democrats in Kentucky and elsewhere seem ready to bail — perhaps wholesale — on Democrat Jack Conway for his “mocking Christianity” attack on Dr. Rand Paul.

“I wouldn’t have done it,” Rep. John Yarmuth, the popular Louisville Democrat who is also a member of the House leadership, told The Huffington Post. “And it looks like it’s backfiring.” …

Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri criticized the ad theme, and other Democrats have privately done so, but open criticism from the politically savvy Yarmuth — on the ballot in Kentucky with Conway — is a sign that the ad is rapidly coming to be regarded as a one-step-too-far move in a year in which nothing seems to be over the line.

The ad is so distasteful that you wonder what in the world Conway and his campaign advisers were thinking. And because it comes from the party that can’t get enough of finger-wagging at us for “religious tolerance,” it makes it virtually impossible for Democrats to defend. What makes it doubly bizarre is that Paul is not without his vulnerabilities, but now the entire “he’s a wacko” attack is undermined. It’s Conway who seems like he’s from a parallel political universe.

This is why politics is so much fun. The ability of candidates and parties to annihilate themselves provides constant amusement, and it reminds us that politics is as much about human fallibility as anything else.

Howard Fineman is not exactly a conservative shill. But it is apparent that both he and a slew of Democrats are aghast at Jack Conway’s attack on Rand Paul’s religion. (But the prize for indignant liberal goes to Chris Matthews.) Fineman writes:

Democrats in Kentucky and elsewhere seem ready to bail — perhaps wholesale — on Democrat Jack Conway for his “mocking Christianity” attack on Dr. Rand Paul.

“I wouldn’t have done it,” Rep. John Yarmuth, the popular Louisville Democrat who is also a member of the House leadership, told The Huffington Post. “And it looks like it’s backfiring.” …

Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri criticized the ad theme, and other Democrats have privately done so, but open criticism from the politically savvy Yarmuth — on the ballot in Kentucky with Conway — is a sign that the ad is rapidly coming to be regarded as a one-step-too-far move in a year in which nothing seems to be over the line.

The ad is so distasteful that you wonder what in the world Conway and his campaign advisers were thinking. And because it comes from the party that can’t get enough of finger-wagging at us for “religious tolerance,” it makes it virtually impossible for Democrats to defend. What makes it doubly bizarre is that Paul is not without his vulnerabilities, but now the entire “he’s a wacko” attack is undermined. It’s Conway who seems like he’s from a parallel political universe.

This is why politics is so much fun. The ability of candidates and parties to annihilate themselves provides constant amusement, and it reminds us that politics is as much about human fallibility as anything else.

Read Less

Time for Conservatives to Get Serious About Fiscal Responsibility

Tomorrow Prime Minister David Cameron, who heads a coalition government, is expected to announce the results of a Comprehensive Spending Review of all government expenditures — a review that will result in unprecedented cuts. The goal is to slash the budget deficit from over 10 percent of GDP to almost zero in five years — and in the process to (a) reduce the “crowding out” effect of big government, (b) restore market confidence in government finances, and (c) encourage private business to invest and hire people, which will in turn fuel economic growth.

The cuts in public spending will probably exceed anything either Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or President Reagan ever attempted.

In the past, David Cameron was chided by some American conservatives for being a faux conservative because of his stands on the environment, the National Health Service, and social issues like gay rights (see David Frum’s fine commentary here). But facing the preeminent domestic threat to the West these days — unsustainable budget deficits and the amassing debt – Cameron is wielding a budget axe. Unlike, say, David Stockman, it’s not something Cameron seemed terribly eager to do; he envisioned himself in a different role. But to Cameron’s credit, he is facing reality in a far more responsible manner than the president of the United States, who has made things considerably worse with his spending agenda (President Obama has added $3 trillion to the debt in his first two years in office).

In the end, the truest measure of how serious American conservatives are about governing will be how they address the entitlement crisis. Will they follow the path charted by David Cameron (with the caveat that the UK’s fiscal problems are somewhat different in scope and nature from ours)? Or will they wilt when it comes to reforming entitlement programs by raising the retirement age (for people under 55), tying benefits to prices rather than to wages, means-testing Social Security and Medicare, and turning Medicare into a defined contribution (instead of a defined benefit) program (see here).

Having served in three different administrations, I realize that dealing with entitlements is not an easy task. Republicans need to put forward plans that are gradual, responsible, and prudent. Impaling itself on entitlement reform is not a reasonable demand to make of a political party. Nevertheless, there needs to be a governing strategy that gets America from where we are (an unsustainable fiscal path) to where we need to be (reconfiguring entitlements).

That will need to be done incrementally rather than all at once. But what the Republican Party cannot do is to speak endlessly about the virtues of limited government and the need to cut spending in the abstract — but avoid the hard choices in the particulars. Sooner rather than later, the GOP is going to have to address head on this issue of entitlements (as Representative Paul Ryan has done). Failing to do so would damage its credibility, its cause (conservatism), and its claim that it is serious about fiscal responsibility.

Tomorrow Prime Minister David Cameron, who heads a coalition government, is expected to announce the results of a Comprehensive Spending Review of all government expenditures — a review that will result in unprecedented cuts. The goal is to slash the budget deficit from over 10 percent of GDP to almost zero in five years — and in the process to (a) reduce the “crowding out” effect of big government, (b) restore market confidence in government finances, and (c) encourage private business to invest and hire people, which will in turn fuel economic growth.

The cuts in public spending will probably exceed anything either Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or President Reagan ever attempted.

In the past, David Cameron was chided by some American conservatives for being a faux conservative because of his stands on the environment, the National Health Service, and social issues like gay rights (see David Frum’s fine commentary here). But facing the preeminent domestic threat to the West these days — unsustainable budget deficits and the amassing debt – Cameron is wielding a budget axe. Unlike, say, David Stockman, it’s not something Cameron seemed terribly eager to do; he envisioned himself in a different role. But to Cameron’s credit, he is facing reality in a far more responsible manner than the president of the United States, who has made things considerably worse with his spending agenda (President Obama has added $3 trillion to the debt in his first two years in office).

In the end, the truest measure of how serious American conservatives are about governing will be how they address the entitlement crisis. Will they follow the path charted by David Cameron (with the caveat that the UK’s fiscal problems are somewhat different in scope and nature from ours)? Or will they wilt when it comes to reforming entitlement programs by raising the retirement age (for people under 55), tying benefits to prices rather than to wages, means-testing Social Security and Medicare, and turning Medicare into a defined contribution (instead of a defined benefit) program (see here).

Having served in three different administrations, I realize that dealing with entitlements is not an easy task. Republicans need to put forward plans that are gradual, responsible, and prudent. Impaling itself on entitlement reform is not a reasonable demand to make of a political party. Nevertheless, there needs to be a governing strategy that gets America from where we are (an unsustainable fiscal path) to where we need to be (reconfiguring entitlements).

That will need to be done incrementally rather than all at once. But what the Republican Party cannot do is to speak endlessly about the virtues of limited government and the need to cut spending in the abstract — but avoid the hard choices in the particulars. Sooner rather than later, the GOP is going to have to address head on this issue of entitlements (as Representative Paul Ryan has done). Failing to do so would damage its credibility, its cause (conservatism), and its claim that it is serious about fiscal responsibility.

Read Less

That’s a Lot of Local Issues

In one of his least believable utterances, Robert Gibbs said the election wasn’t so much about Obama. It was about “local” issues. That’s preposterous, of course, given that this is arguably one of the most “nationalized” midterm elections in recent memory. It is even more ludicrous when one understands the size of the tsunami:

With two weeks remaining until Election Day, the political map has expanded to put Democrats on the run across the country – with 99 Democratic-held House seats now in play, according to a POLITICO analysis, and Republicans well in reach of retaking the House.

It’s a dramatic departure from the outlook one year ago – and a broader landscape than even just prior to the summer congressional recess. As recently as early September, many Republicans were hesitant to talk about winning a majority for fear of overreaching.

Today, however, the non-partisan Cook Political Report predicts a GOP net gain of at least 40 House seats, with 90 Democratic seats in total rated as competitive or likely Republican.

This is not to say that 90 seats will fall to the Republicans, but the numbers now are so large that a GOP House majority is nearly assured. With results that decisive it will be hard even for Gibbs to spin it as anything but a repudiation of one-party liberal rule.

But what about all that money? Two things should be kept in mind. First, money follows excitement and enthusiasm. The best example was Obama’s own 2008 campaign. Second, I tend to agree with David Brooks on this one: money is overrated. Brooks writes:

After all, money wasn’t that important when Phil Gramm and John Connally ran for president. In those and many other cases, huge fund-raising prowess yielded nothing. Money wasn’t that important in 2006 when Republican incumbents outraised Democrats by $100 million and still lost. Money wasn’t that important in the 2010 Alaska primary when Joe Miller beat Lisa Murkowski despite being outspent 10 to 1. It wasn’t that important in the 2010 Delaware primary when Mike Castle, who raised $1.5 million, was beaten by Christine O’Donnell, who had raised $230,000.

And Brooks points out that for all the president’s huffing and puffing, that independent money is about “a tenth of spending by candidates and parties.”

Nevertheless, it’s a nice excuse to say, “We were outspent.” But there is no amount of money that would help 90+ Democrats guarantee their re-election. There is no amount of money that will change the public’s perception of Obama and his agenda. And there is no amount of money that will convince an increasingly irritated media that the midterm elections are local.

In one of his least believable utterances, Robert Gibbs said the election wasn’t so much about Obama. It was about “local” issues. That’s preposterous, of course, given that this is arguably one of the most “nationalized” midterm elections in recent memory. It is even more ludicrous when one understands the size of the tsunami:

With two weeks remaining until Election Day, the political map has expanded to put Democrats on the run across the country – with 99 Democratic-held House seats now in play, according to a POLITICO analysis, and Republicans well in reach of retaking the House.

It’s a dramatic departure from the outlook one year ago – and a broader landscape than even just prior to the summer congressional recess. As recently as early September, many Republicans were hesitant to talk about winning a majority for fear of overreaching.

Today, however, the non-partisan Cook Political Report predicts a GOP net gain of at least 40 House seats, with 90 Democratic seats in total rated as competitive or likely Republican.

This is not to say that 90 seats will fall to the Republicans, but the numbers now are so large that a GOP House majority is nearly assured. With results that decisive it will be hard even for Gibbs to spin it as anything but a repudiation of one-party liberal rule.

But what about all that money? Two things should be kept in mind. First, money follows excitement and enthusiasm. The best example was Obama’s own 2008 campaign. Second, I tend to agree with David Brooks on this one: money is overrated. Brooks writes:

After all, money wasn’t that important when Phil Gramm and John Connally ran for president. In those and many other cases, huge fund-raising prowess yielded nothing. Money wasn’t that important in 2006 when Republican incumbents outraised Democrats by $100 million and still lost. Money wasn’t that important in the 2010 Alaska primary when Joe Miller beat Lisa Murkowski despite being outspent 10 to 1. It wasn’t that important in the 2010 Delaware primary when Mike Castle, who raised $1.5 million, was beaten by Christine O’Donnell, who had raised $230,000.

And Brooks points out that for all the president’s huffing and puffing, that independent money is about “a tenth of spending by candidates and parties.”

Nevertheless, it’s a nice excuse to say, “We were outspent.” But there is no amount of money that would help 90+ Democrats guarantee their re-election. There is no amount of money that will change the public’s perception of Obama and his agenda. And there is no amount of money that will convince an increasingly irritated media that the midterm elections are local.

Read Less

Swing Away from Obama

Two swing states tell the story of Obama’s radioactive effect on his party. Obama and his wife have been campaigning in Ohio for Gov. Ted Strickland. Here is the result:

Republican John Kasich remains in command of the Ohio governor’s race with a 51 – 41 percent likely voter lead over Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, statistically unchanged from Kasich’s 50 – 41 percent edge October 5, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today, two weeks before Election Day.

Kasich’s lead is built on a 59 – 32 percent margin among independent likely voters, and a 64 – 29 percent spread among white evangelical Christians, according to the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University survey conducted by live interviewers.

President Barack Obama remains unpopular among Ohio voters who disapprove 56 – 40 percent of the job he is doing and say 32 – 9 percent they are less likely rather than more likely to vote for Strickland because the President is campaigning for the governor. Independent voters say 35 – 4 percent that Obama’s campaigning makes them less likely to vote for Strickland.

So why did Obama go? Maybe his massive ego won’t allow him to get out of the way, or perhaps the White House suspected that the race was lost anyway and Obama could do no further damage.

Meanwhile, in the West Virginia race, Gov. Joe Manchin and John Raese faced off. Watching the debate on C-SPAN, I had trouble believing Manchin was the incumbent challenger, while Raese the amateur. The latter was fluid and forceful, mincing no words about his disdain for ObamaCare (“socialism”) and using “Obama” at least once in every sentence. Manchin seemed tepid and defensive, promising that he really, honestly, would be independent of the White House. But if the contest is to see who can be the most independent, Raese won hands down. This exchange was telling:

“I’m not prepared to scrap the entire bill, there are parts that need changed,” [Manchin] said, “but let me tell you, I’m not prepared to tell your child who had a pre-existing condition, that he or she can’t be covered. There’s a lot of good in the bill that basically Democrats and Republicans agree with.”

But not Raese. And he pulled no punches when discussing his issues with the legislation.

“It is pure, unadulterated Socialism, it is the worst bill that has ever come out of the United States Senate and House,” he said.

“I think right now, when you look at the gross domestic product in this country, with Obamacare, you’re looking at the fact that we’re over almost 51 percent of the GDP in this country will be controlled by the federal government, unacceptable.”

If the point is to be the least Obama-like, wouldn’t the voters take the repealer over the tinkerer?

In both these races, Obama’s presence looms large. Manchin pleaded that Obama is not on the ballot. True, but voters in these two states seem poised to do the next best thing and vote for candidates who are unalterably opposed to Obama’s policies.

Two swing states tell the story of Obama’s radioactive effect on his party. Obama and his wife have been campaigning in Ohio for Gov. Ted Strickland. Here is the result:

Republican John Kasich remains in command of the Ohio governor’s race with a 51 – 41 percent likely voter lead over Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, statistically unchanged from Kasich’s 50 – 41 percent edge October 5, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today, two weeks before Election Day.

Kasich’s lead is built on a 59 – 32 percent margin among independent likely voters, and a 64 – 29 percent spread among white evangelical Christians, according to the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University survey conducted by live interviewers.

President Barack Obama remains unpopular among Ohio voters who disapprove 56 – 40 percent of the job he is doing and say 32 – 9 percent they are less likely rather than more likely to vote for Strickland because the President is campaigning for the governor. Independent voters say 35 – 4 percent that Obama’s campaigning makes them less likely to vote for Strickland.

So why did Obama go? Maybe his massive ego won’t allow him to get out of the way, or perhaps the White House suspected that the race was lost anyway and Obama could do no further damage.

Meanwhile, in the West Virginia race, Gov. Joe Manchin and John Raese faced off. Watching the debate on C-SPAN, I had trouble believing Manchin was the incumbent challenger, while Raese the amateur. The latter was fluid and forceful, mincing no words about his disdain for ObamaCare (“socialism”) and using “Obama” at least once in every sentence. Manchin seemed tepid and defensive, promising that he really, honestly, would be independent of the White House. But if the contest is to see who can be the most independent, Raese won hands down. This exchange was telling:

“I’m not prepared to scrap the entire bill, there are parts that need changed,” [Manchin] said, “but let me tell you, I’m not prepared to tell your child who had a pre-existing condition, that he or she can’t be covered. There’s a lot of good in the bill that basically Democrats and Republicans agree with.”

But not Raese. And he pulled no punches when discussing his issues with the legislation.

“It is pure, unadulterated Socialism, it is the worst bill that has ever come out of the United States Senate and House,” he said.

“I think right now, when you look at the gross domestic product in this country, with Obamacare, you’re looking at the fact that we’re over almost 51 percent of the GDP in this country will be controlled by the federal government, unacceptable.”

If the point is to be the least Obama-like, wouldn’t the voters take the repealer over the tinkerer?

In both these races, Obama’s presence looms large. Manchin pleaded that Obama is not on the ballot. True, but voters in these two states seem poised to do the next best thing and vote for candidates who are unalterably opposed to Obama’s policies.

Read Less

‘Why Saigon Fell and Jerusalem Hasn’t’

In yesterday’s post, I described how newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War reveal the enormous strategic impact that America’s perceived credibility as an ally (or lack thereof) has on the Middle East. But the documents also teach another important lesson about the modern Middle East — the importance of Congress.

In 1973, the Yom Kippur War erupted even as the Vietnam War still raged. Thus Israel and South Vietnam wound up submitting very similar requests for military aid to Washington. As then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer noted in one internal discussion, “Many of the things [South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu] wants, Israel wants too. We have to make some decisions.”

Ultimately, those decisions heavily favored Israel: Jerusalem got most of what it wanted; Saigon did not. But that was not because either the Nixon administration or the subsequent Ford administration preferred Israel to South Vietnam. It was because Congress did.

In 1974, then-president Gerald Ford explained this bluntly to South Vietnam’s foreign minister, Vuong Van Bac. After pledging the administration’s full support, he qualified, “Our problem is not us, but on the Hill.”

Then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger echoed this in an internal discussion in 1975. Congress, he complained, had told him:

“You’ve got to give aid to Israel because they win their wars, but we can’t give aid to other countries that are losing their wars.” Well, on that goddamn theory it’s a wonder that the Soviets are not in Bonn already. On that theory the Nazis would have taken over the world.

Haaretz journalist Amir Oren summed the lesson up nicely:

Fortunately for Israel, Washington does not only consist of the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department, but also Congress. Thanks to Israel’s power in Congress, it has fared better than other, smaller allies, like South Vietnam. In the absence of congressional support, they did not win the administration’s affection; this is why Saigon fell and Jerusalem hasn’t.

Unfortunately, it’s a lesson few Israeli prime ministers seem to have learned. Because Israel’s Knesset has virtually no power over foreign affairs, Israeli leaders often fail to understand the crucial role that congressional support, or opposition, plays in American foreign affairs. They therefore focus exclusively on good relations with the administration, while ignoring Congress entirely.

That would be a bad mistake for any country. But it’s a particularly egregious mistake for a country that has traditionally enjoyed far more support in Congress than it has from even the friendliest administration.

Yet it isn’t only Israeli leaders who could benefit from studying this lesson: the newly released documents also provide a crucial reminder for American voters. Americans, of course, do understand the role of Congress. Nevertheless, there is sometimes a tendency to think that since foreign policy is primarily in the president’s domain, congressional votes should focus on domestic concerns.

But, in fact, as these documents show, Congress plays a vital role in foreign policy as well. The lesson is clear: if voters want a pro-Israel foreign policy, they must keep electing pro-Israel congressmen.

In yesterday’s post, I described how newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War reveal the enormous strategic impact that America’s perceived credibility as an ally (or lack thereof) has on the Middle East. But the documents also teach another important lesson about the modern Middle East — the importance of Congress.

In 1973, the Yom Kippur War erupted even as the Vietnam War still raged. Thus Israel and South Vietnam wound up submitting very similar requests for military aid to Washington. As then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer noted in one internal discussion, “Many of the things [South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu] wants, Israel wants too. We have to make some decisions.”

Ultimately, those decisions heavily favored Israel: Jerusalem got most of what it wanted; Saigon did not. But that was not because either the Nixon administration or the subsequent Ford administration preferred Israel to South Vietnam. It was because Congress did.

In 1974, then-president Gerald Ford explained this bluntly to South Vietnam’s foreign minister, Vuong Van Bac. After pledging the administration’s full support, he qualified, “Our problem is not us, but on the Hill.”

Then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger echoed this in an internal discussion in 1975. Congress, he complained, had told him:

“You’ve got to give aid to Israel because they win their wars, but we can’t give aid to other countries that are losing their wars.” Well, on that goddamn theory it’s a wonder that the Soviets are not in Bonn already. On that theory the Nazis would have taken over the world.

Haaretz journalist Amir Oren summed the lesson up nicely:

Fortunately for Israel, Washington does not only consist of the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department, but also Congress. Thanks to Israel’s power in Congress, it has fared better than other, smaller allies, like South Vietnam. In the absence of congressional support, they did not win the administration’s affection; this is why Saigon fell and Jerusalem hasn’t.

Unfortunately, it’s a lesson few Israeli prime ministers seem to have learned. Because Israel’s Knesset has virtually no power over foreign affairs, Israeli leaders often fail to understand the crucial role that congressional support, or opposition, plays in American foreign affairs. They therefore focus exclusively on good relations with the administration, while ignoring Congress entirely.

That would be a bad mistake for any country. But it’s a particularly egregious mistake for a country that has traditionally enjoyed far more support in Congress than it has from even the friendliest administration.

Yet it isn’t only Israeli leaders who could benefit from studying this lesson: the newly released documents also provide a crucial reminder for American voters. Americans, of course, do understand the role of Congress. Nevertheless, there is sometimes a tendency to think that since foreign policy is primarily in the president’s domain, congressional votes should focus on domestic concerns.

But, in fact, as these documents show, Congress plays a vital role in foreign policy as well. The lesson is clear: if voters want a pro-Israel foreign policy, they must keep electing pro-Israel congressmen.

Read Less

A Snob, but Not Really an Intellectual

Michael Gerson writes of Obama’s last temper tantrum:

Obama clearly believes that his brand of politics represents “facts and science and argument.” His opponents, in disturbing contrast, are using the more fearful, primitive portion of their brains. Obama views himself as the neocortical leader — the defender, not just of the stimulus package and health-care reform but also of cognitive reasoning. His critics rely on their lizard brains — the location of reptilian ritual and aggression. Some, presumably Democrats, rise above their evolutionary hard-wiring in times of social stress; others, sadly, do not.

Though there is plenty of competition, these are some of the most arrogant words ever uttered by an American president.

From this, Gerson concludes that Obama is “an intellectual snob” and, alas, that snobs “don’t make very good politicians.” But there is another problem here: in no sense is Obama an intellectual. His understanding of free markets, international affairs, war strategy, and domestic policy evidences no originality. To the contrary, his vision is supported by myths and inaccuracies. (Recall the serial misstatements about history during the campaign.) It is not, then, the public that lacks reasoning skills; it is the president, whose rigid ideology prevents him from taking in new data, analyzing it dispassionately, and rendering decisions based on the facts before him.

He displays contempt for Americans who don’t agree with his flawed policies, in effect instructing them to shut up. But his arrogance is both unwise (these people vote!) and undeserved. Had he not spent trillions on a flawed Keynesian economics, had he not botched the Middle East peace talks, had he not misread the mullahs, had he not mistaken appeasement for “reset” with Russia, and had he not hired ill-prepared senior advisers (who now must be cast off), his self-satisfaction might be warranted. But to put it bluntly, where does a garden-variety leftist with a track record as bad as his get off telling the voters that they lack adequate reasoning skills?

Obama’s self-image is as distorted and unreliable as his political and policy judgments. Next time, perhaps the voters should select someone for the White House who has not merely been told he is an intellectual marvel but who actually has demonstrated that he deserves such praise.

Michael Gerson writes of Obama’s last temper tantrum:

Obama clearly believes that his brand of politics represents “facts and science and argument.” His opponents, in disturbing contrast, are using the more fearful, primitive portion of their brains. Obama views himself as the neocortical leader — the defender, not just of the stimulus package and health-care reform but also of cognitive reasoning. His critics rely on their lizard brains — the location of reptilian ritual and aggression. Some, presumably Democrats, rise above their evolutionary hard-wiring in times of social stress; others, sadly, do not.

Though there is plenty of competition, these are some of the most arrogant words ever uttered by an American president.

From this, Gerson concludes that Obama is “an intellectual snob” and, alas, that snobs “don’t make very good politicians.” But there is another problem here: in no sense is Obama an intellectual. His understanding of free markets, international affairs, war strategy, and domestic policy evidences no originality. To the contrary, his vision is supported by myths and inaccuracies. (Recall the serial misstatements about history during the campaign.) It is not, then, the public that lacks reasoning skills; it is the president, whose rigid ideology prevents him from taking in new data, analyzing it dispassionately, and rendering decisions based on the facts before him.

He displays contempt for Americans who don’t agree with his flawed policies, in effect instructing them to shut up. But his arrogance is both unwise (these people vote!) and undeserved. Had he not spent trillions on a flawed Keynesian economics, had he not botched the Middle East peace talks, had he not misread the mullahs, had he not mistaken appeasement for “reset” with Russia, and had he not hired ill-prepared senior advisers (who now must be cast off), his self-satisfaction might be warranted. But to put it bluntly, where does a garden-variety leftist with a track record as bad as his get off telling the voters that they lack adequate reasoning skills?

Obama’s self-image is as distorted and unreliable as his political and policy judgments. Next time, perhaps the voters should select someone for the White House who has not merely been told he is an intellectual marvel but who actually has demonstrated that he deserves such praise.

Read Less

Obama Isn’t Helping the Democrats

Insulting the voters and whining about the Chamber of Commerce seems not to have done the trick for Obama. Gallup reports:

Gallup’s tracking of the generic ballot for Congress finds Republicans leading Democrats by 5 percentage points among registered voters, 48% to 43%, and by 11- and 17-point margins among likely voters, depending on turnout. This is the third consecutive week the Republicans have led on the measure among registered voters, after two weeks in September when the parties were about tied. …

For Republicans to lead, or even be at parity with Democrats, on the generic congressional ballot indicates they are in a good position to win a majority of House seats in the upcoming elections. This is because of Republicans’ typical advantage in voter turnout, which in recent years has given that party an average five-point boost in support on Election Day.

Obama has been singularly unsuccessful in convincing the voters that ObamaCare is a swell idea, that the stimulus “worked,” and, now, that they should keep the Democrats in the majority. If anything, his presence has served as a reminder to voters of what they want their representatives to block (Obamaism), and to the media of Obama’s preference for self-pity and unsubstantiated rhetoric. It is interesting that with the president’s increased vulnerability, Democrats’ standing has continued to deteriorate, along with his own approval ratings.

At the very least, voters are tuning out Obama. At most, he is doing further damage to his party’s fortunes. Gerald Seib is convinced:

Democrats are riding the back of President Barack Obama in a last-lap attempt to contain damage in the midterm elections, and for good reason: Bruised though he may be, the president remains the best asset Democrats have.

If that’s the case, you can understand why the Democrats are heading for a shellacking.

Insulting the voters and whining about the Chamber of Commerce seems not to have done the trick for Obama. Gallup reports:

Gallup’s tracking of the generic ballot for Congress finds Republicans leading Democrats by 5 percentage points among registered voters, 48% to 43%, and by 11- and 17-point margins among likely voters, depending on turnout. This is the third consecutive week the Republicans have led on the measure among registered voters, after two weeks in September when the parties were about tied. …

For Republicans to lead, or even be at parity with Democrats, on the generic congressional ballot indicates they are in a good position to win a majority of House seats in the upcoming elections. This is because of Republicans’ typical advantage in voter turnout, which in recent years has given that party an average five-point boost in support on Election Day.

Obama has been singularly unsuccessful in convincing the voters that ObamaCare is a swell idea, that the stimulus “worked,” and, now, that they should keep the Democrats in the majority. If anything, his presence has served as a reminder to voters of what they want their representatives to block (Obamaism), and to the media of Obama’s preference for self-pity and unsubstantiated rhetoric. It is interesting that with the president’s increased vulnerability, Democrats’ standing has continued to deteriorate, along with his own approval ratings.

At the very least, voters are tuning out Obama. At most, he is doing further damage to his party’s fortunes. Gerald Seib is convinced:

Democrats are riding the back of President Barack Obama in a last-lap attempt to contain damage in the midterm elections, and for good reason: Bruised though he may be, the president remains the best asset Democrats have.

If that’s the case, you can understand why the Democrats are heading for a shellacking.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Stu Rothenberg doesn’t think much of the Dems’ Chamber of Commerce gambit: “This is what we call the political version of ‘jumping the shark’ — a desperate-looking charge that a campaign or a party hopes could be a game-changer. It’s pretty early for Democrats to jump the shark, and you have to wonder whether this is really the best shot they have in their arsenal. Yes, it might get some folks agitated, but not many. And it reeks of desperation.”

Voters don’t think much of it either: “Election Day is just two weeks away, and Republican candidates hold a nine-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, October 17, 2010. … Even more worrisome for Democrats, however, is the finding that among the voters who are most closely following the midterm elections Republicans hold a 55% to 36% lead.”

CNN voters don’t think much of the Parker-Spitzer show, and Vic Matus thinks even less of Spitzer’s likening himself to Icarus: “Putz. He doesn’t even know the quotation. …It ends, ‘… they first make mad.’ As in insane. Which is precisely the case with Spitzer. … Sorry. I knew Icarus—Icarus was a friend of mine. Eliot Spitzer is no Icarus.”

Charles Lane doesn’t think much of Democrats’ excessive dependence on public-employee unions. “But in an era of increasing discontent over taxes, government spending and the perks of government employees, these are not necessarily the allies you want to have. A party that depends on the public employees to get elected will have trouble reaching out to the wider electorate — i.e., the people who pay the taxes that support public employee salaries and pensions. In politics, you never want to find yourself beholden to a minority whose core interests often clash with the interests of voters.”

Josh Rogin doesn’t think much of Jon Stewart’s claim that Sen. Tom Coburn is holding up aid to Haiti. “The problem is that Coburn’s hold is not responsible for delaying the $1.15 billion Congress already appropriated in late July to help Haiti. … Even the State Department acknowledges that Coburn is not responsible for the delay in this tranche of funds for Haiti.”

ABC doesn’t think much of Dems’ chances of holding the House majority: “In the House, many key House races have seen some tightening, but it’s not enough to make Democrats feel all that much better. Democrats have 63 seats in serious danger compared to just four for Republicans.”

Anyone who lives in the VA-11 (like me!) doesn’t think much of Marc Ambinder’s spin that Rep. Gerry Connolly “knows this district inside and out.” If he did, he would have maintained a moderate voting record like his predecessor Tom Davis, instead of rubber-stamping the Obama agenda and putting his seat at risk.

The liberal JTA doesn’t think much of Howard Berman’s claim that Mark Kirk didn’t have anything to do with the Iran-sanctions bill: “Kirk gets this one, I think, on points — as the Sun Times notes, Berman thanked [co-sponsor Rep. Rob] Andrews for his work, a hint that the bill he and Kirk shaped played a role in the final bill. So did AIPAC when the bill passed. And, the sanctions are pretty much identical.”

The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee doesn’t think much of its party’s chances in at least five races. A fundraising appeal, Ben Smith explains, “seems to concede what many on both sides now see as nearly done: Five open GOP-held seats, in Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida, and Kansas, have slipped pretty near out of reach.”

Stu Rothenberg doesn’t think much of the Dems’ Chamber of Commerce gambit: “This is what we call the political version of ‘jumping the shark’ — a desperate-looking charge that a campaign or a party hopes could be a game-changer. It’s pretty early for Democrats to jump the shark, and you have to wonder whether this is really the best shot they have in their arsenal. Yes, it might get some folks agitated, but not many. And it reeks of desperation.”

Voters don’t think much of it either: “Election Day is just two weeks away, and Republican candidates hold a nine-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, October 17, 2010. … Even more worrisome for Democrats, however, is the finding that among the voters who are most closely following the midterm elections Republicans hold a 55% to 36% lead.”

CNN voters don’t think much of the Parker-Spitzer show, and Vic Matus thinks even less of Spitzer’s likening himself to Icarus: “Putz. He doesn’t even know the quotation. …It ends, ‘… they first make mad.’ As in insane. Which is precisely the case with Spitzer. … Sorry. I knew Icarus—Icarus was a friend of mine. Eliot Spitzer is no Icarus.”

Charles Lane doesn’t think much of Democrats’ excessive dependence on public-employee unions. “But in an era of increasing discontent over taxes, government spending and the perks of government employees, these are not necessarily the allies you want to have. A party that depends on the public employees to get elected will have trouble reaching out to the wider electorate — i.e., the people who pay the taxes that support public employee salaries and pensions. In politics, you never want to find yourself beholden to a minority whose core interests often clash with the interests of voters.”

Josh Rogin doesn’t think much of Jon Stewart’s claim that Sen. Tom Coburn is holding up aid to Haiti. “The problem is that Coburn’s hold is not responsible for delaying the $1.15 billion Congress already appropriated in late July to help Haiti. … Even the State Department acknowledges that Coburn is not responsible for the delay in this tranche of funds for Haiti.”

ABC doesn’t think much of Dems’ chances of holding the House majority: “In the House, many key House races have seen some tightening, but it’s not enough to make Democrats feel all that much better. Democrats have 63 seats in serious danger compared to just four for Republicans.”

Anyone who lives in the VA-11 (like me!) doesn’t think much of Marc Ambinder’s spin that Rep. Gerry Connolly “knows this district inside and out.” If he did, he would have maintained a moderate voting record like his predecessor Tom Davis, instead of rubber-stamping the Obama agenda and putting his seat at risk.

The liberal JTA doesn’t think much of Howard Berman’s claim that Mark Kirk didn’t have anything to do with the Iran-sanctions bill: “Kirk gets this one, I think, on points — as the Sun Times notes, Berman thanked [co-sponsor Rep. Rob] Andrews for his work, a hint that the bill he and Kirk shaped played a role in the final bill. So did AIPAC when the bill passed. And, the sanctions are pretty much identical.”

The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee doesn’t think much of its party’s chances in at least five races. A fundraising appeal, Ben Smith explains, “seems to concede what many on both sides now see as nearly done: Five open GOP-held seats, in Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida, and Kansas, have slipped pretty near out of reach.”

Read Less