Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 16, 2010

Streisand Returns from Political Exile

Barbra Streisand — an influential figure within Democratic circles — told Larry King that while they were “misguided,” both Presidents Reagan and Bush showed “real strength,” which voters admire. This stands in contrast to Obama — though she credits him for having an “open mind,” an “open heart,” and being “very smart.”

She also said that the problem with Democrats is that — you guessed it — they had a “communications problem.” They were unable to convey to the public all the great things they had done. And oh, by the way, Ms. Streisand fled to Europe because of the last election. Alas, she didn’t stay.

Barbra Streisand — an influential figure within Democratic circles — told Larry King that while they were “misguided,” both Presidents Reagan and Bush showed “real strength,” which voters admire. This stands in contrast to Obama — though she credits him for having an “open mind,” an “open heart,” and being “very smart.”

She also said that the problem with Democrats is that — you guessed it — they had a “communications problem.” They were unable to convey to the public all the great things they had done. And oh, by the way, Ms. Streisand fled to Europe because of the last election. Alas, she didn’t stay.

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Fewer than 1 in 4 Believe Country Headed in Right Direction

According to Scott Rasmussen, just 23 percent  of voters now say the country is heading in the right direction, the lowest numbers of the Obama presidency. In addition, likely voters trust Republicans more than Democrats on seven out of the 10 most-important issues regularly surveyed by Rasmussen Reports (that’s down slightly from just before the election, when Republicans were preferred on all 10 issues).

On the economy, the issue of most importance to  voters, the GOP holds a 47 percent to
39 percent edge.

Rasmussen also found that most voters have favored repeal of the new national health-care law every week since it was passed and that support for repeal has now inched up to its highest level since mid-September. Tracking with this result, this week’s ABC News/Washington Post survey found that support for ObamaCare to be at its lowest level to date, with 43 percent supporting it and 52 percent opposing it.

None of these findings is surprising; in fact, they are interconnected. The direction President Obama and his party are taking the country is unnerving and upsetting a lot of people. That unease has to be undone, at least in part, next year. Because if it’s not, then Democrats will begin to abandon the Obama ship in droves. Having experienced a historic midterm repudiation of their party, Democrats won’t be eager for another.

According to Scott Rasmussen, just 23 percent  of voters now say the country is heading in the right direction, the lowest numbers of the Obama presidency. In addition, likely voters trust Republicans more than Democrats on seven out of the 10 most-important issues regularly surveyed by Rasmussen Reports (that’s down slightly from just before the election, when Republicans were preferred on all 10 issues).

On the economy, the issue of most importance to  voters, the GOP holds a 47 percent to
39 percent edge.

Rasmussen also found that most voters have favored repeal of the new national health-care law every week since it was passed and that support for repeal has now inched up to its highest level since mid-September. Tracking with this result, this week’s ABC News/Washington Post survey found that support for ObamaCare to be at its lowest level to date, with 43 percent supporting it and 52 percent opposing it.

None of these findings is surprising; in fact, they are interconnected. The direction President Obama and his party are taking the country is unnerving and upsetting a lot of people. That unease has to be undone, at least in part, next year. Because if it’s not, then Democrats will begin to abandon the Obama ship in droves. Having experienced a historic midterm repudiation of their party, Democrats won’t be eager for another.

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Toomey Support for DADT Repeal Highlights a Conservative’s Independent Streak

The announcement that Pennsylvania Senator-elect Pat Toomey will support repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy about gays in the military may signal the end of this pointless rule. Those who haven’t followed Toomey’s career may be surprised that a hard-core conservative Republican and devout pro-life Catholic like Toomey would support a gay-rights measure. But Toomey’s libertarian instincts and abhorrence of big government have led him to the correct conclusion that seeking to ban a portion of the population that might usefully serve their country is a mistake. Nor is this a new position for Toomey.

During his successful Senate campaign, Toomey made it clear that he wanted to end DADT. In fact, he mentioned it in an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he wrote last summer in which he detailed why he would have voted against Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court. In the piece, he criticized Kagan for banning military recruiters from Harvard Law School because of DADT. Toomey wrote:

I share the view that the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy regarding gay servicemen and women has outlived its usefulness and, subject to the military’s conclusion of the feasibility of removing it, I support its repeal. However, one’s disagreement with a federal law does not give one license to circumvent it.

While Toomey won’t be able to cast a vote on the repeal attempt during the lame-duck session of Congress, his willingness to do so after January may change the mathematics of this debate. Moreover, Toomey — whose reputation as a pro-life stalwart, Tea Party favorite, and libertarian hardliner on fiscal matters renders him largely impervious to attacks from the right — could help give cover to other wavering Republicans. Previously, the only Republicans to announce support for the end of DADT were the liberal Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine.

Toomey’s stand on gays in the military might put him in conflict with conservative culture-war advocates, who will lament his willingness to put this issue to rest. Indeed, this puts him at odds with Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who has recently been beating the bushes in New Hampshire promoting a possible 2012 presidential candidacy (though not too many people are taking Santorum’s ego-trip of a campaign seriously). But the irony here is that six years ago, Santorum, the man who now proclaims himself as the true guardian of conservative values, did his best to torpedo Toomey’s primary challenge of liberal Arlen Specter. Though Santorum and President Bush urged Toomey to step aside, he wouldn’t compromise and stayed in the race, ultimately narrowly losing the primary to Specter. Six years later, Toomey, who stuck to his guns on his conservative principles, is now about to take the place of the turncoat Specter, who was beaten out for the Democratic nomination earlier this year.

Six years is a lifetime in politics, but Pennsylvania Democrats are already looking ahead to 2016, since they believe the election of a conservative like Toomey was a fluke that cannot be repeated. They may be right, but what we will see until then is a senator who denounces big government and actually means it. That may not earn Toomey many friends in a state that has long counted upon its representatives to fight for local special interests, something that Toomey is unlikely to do. But as we are seeing with the issue of gays in the military, Toomey’s principled independence is a factor that political observers ought not to take for granted.

The announcement that Pennsylvania Senator-elect Pat Toomey will support repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy about gays in the military may signal the end of this pointless rule. Those who haven’t followed Toomey’s career may be surprised that a hard-core conservative Republican and devout pro-life Catholic like Toomey would support a gay-rights measure. But Toomey’s libertarian instincts and abhorrence of big government have led him to the correct conclusion that seeking to ban a portion of the population that might usefully serve their country is a mistake. Nor is this a new position for Toomey.

During his successful Senate campaign, Toomey made it clear that he wanted to end DADT. In fact, he mentioned it in an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he wrote last summer in which he detailed why he would have voted against Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court. In the piece, he criticized Kagan for banning military recruiters from Harvard Law School because of DADT. Toomey wrote:

I share the view that the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy regarding gay servicemen and women has outlived its usefulness and, subject to the military’s conclusion of the feasibility of removing it, I support its repeal. However, one’s disagreement with a federal law does not give one license to circumvent it.

While Toomey won’t be able to cast a vote on the repeal attempt during the lame-duck session of Congress, his willingness to do so after January may change the mathematics of this debate. Moreover, Toomey — whose reputation as a pro-life stalwart, Tea Party favorite, and libertarian hardliner on fiscal matters renders him largely impervious to attacks from the right — could help give cover to other wavering Republicans. Previously, the only Republicans to announce support for the end of DADT were the liberal Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine.

Toomey’s stand on gays in the military might put him in conflict with conservative culture-war advocates, who will lament his willingness to put this issue to rest. Indeed, this puts him at odds with Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who has recently been beating the bushes in New Hampshire promoting a possible 2012 presidential candidacy (though not too many people are taking Santorum’s ego-trip of a campaign seriously). But the irony here is that six years ago, Santorum, the man who now proclaims himself as the true guardian of conservative values, did his best to torpedo Toomey’s primary challenge of liberal Arlen Specter. Though Santorum and President Bush urged Toomey to step aside, he wouldn’t compromise and stayed in the race, ultimately narrowly losing the primary to Specter. Six years later, Toomey, who stuck to his guns on his conservative principles, is now about to take the place of the turncoat Specter, who was beaten out for the Democratic nomination earlier this year.

Six years is a lifetime in politics, but Pennsylvania Democrats are already looking ahead to 2016, since they believe the election of a conservative like Toomey was a fluke that cannot be repeated. They may be right, but what we will see until then is a senator who denounces big government and actually means it. That may not earn Toomey many friends in a state that has long counted upon its representatives to fight for local special interests, something that Toomey is unlikely to do. But as we are seeing with the issue of gays in the military, Toomey’s principled independence is a factor that political observers ought not to take for granted.

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Mel Gibson’s Innovative Anti-Semitism

Lest you thought that you’d heard everything bad you could have heard about Mel Gibson and his views of Jews — from his rant to the Malibu cop that “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” and asking a reporter who asked him about that, “I take it you have a dog in that fight” — comes this detail from the actress Winona Ryder (née Winona Horowitz):

“Fifteen years ago, I was at one of those big Hollywood parties. And he was really drunk,” Ryder tells the January issue of GQ. “I was with my friend, who’s gay. [Gibson] made a really horrible gay joke. And somehow it came up that I was Jewish. He said something about ‘oven dodgers,’ but I didn’t get it. I’d never heard that before.”

Oven dodgers. Maybe Ms. Ryder had never heard that before because the formulation might have simply arrived in her ear fully formed from the inside of Gibson’s own vicious, repugnant, evil brain.

Lest you thought that you’d heard everything bad you could have heard about Mel Gibson and his views of Jews — from his rant to the Malibu cop that “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” and asking a reporter who asked him about that, “I take it you have a dog in that fight” — comes this detail from the actress Winona Ryder (née Winona Horowitz):

“Fifteen years ago, I was at one of those big Hollywood parties. And he was really drunk,” Ryder tells the January issue of GQ. “I was with my friend, who’s gay. [Gibson] made a really horrible gay joke. And somehow it came up that I was Jewish. He said something about ‘oven dodgers,’ but I didn’t get it. I’d never heard that before.”

Oven dodgers. Maybe Ms. Ryder had never heard that before because the formulation might have simply arrived in her ear fully formed from the inside of Gibson’s own vicious, repugnant, evil brain.

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The Science Is Beyond Belief

Scary, scary news to report. We can now confirm that 2010 was “probably the hottest year ever recorded.” And we can take that to the bank. As Barack Obama has told us, when it comes to climate change, “the science is beyond dispute.”

For example, we know that 2009 was the second warmest year on record. Well, either that or the fifth, but let’s not split hairs, shall we. Just like we knew that 2008 was tied as the eighth warmest year on record. Or was it the tenth? The important thing is that we know for certain that 2007 was tied as the second warmest year — you know, kind of like good old 2009. Except 2009 ended up being the fifth warmest, whereas 2007 became the sixth. Now, 2006, that was really the second warmest year ever. Until, of course, it became the fifth.

Now, back to that warmest-year-ever spot. Up until this year, the winner was 2005. Which exemplified regal humility and declined the title only to move into second place — where it had a lot of company. As you can see, this is very precise, undeniable, serious stuff. And the trend is glaringly obvious — we’re steadily degrading science.

Scary, scary news to report. We can now confirm that 2010 was “probably the hottest year ever recorded.” And we can take that to the bank. As Barack Obama has told us, when it comes to climate change, “the science is beyond dispute.”

For example, we know that 2009 was the second warmest year on record. Well, either that or the fifth, but let’s not split hairs, shall we. Just like we knew that 2008 was tied as the eighth warmest year on record. Or was it the tenth? The important thing is that we know for certain that 2007 was tied as the second warmest year — you know, kind of like good old 2009. Except 2009 ended up being the fifth warmest, whereas 2007 became the sixth. Now, 2006, that was really the second warmest year ever. Until, of course, it became the fifth.

Now, back to that warmest-year-ever spot. Up until this year, the winner was 2005. Which exemplified regal humility and declined the title only to move into second place — where it had a lot of company. As you can see, this is very precise, undeniable, serious stuff. And the trend is glaringly obvious — we’re steadily degrading science.

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What Audiences Applaud in the Arab World

Thanks to monitoring groups such as MEMRI.org, many in the West have become more aware of the tone of popular culture in the Arab and Islamic world. As a result, we have a better understanding of the way anti-Semitism has become a staple of popular culture there. But one needn’t focus solely on the hatred of Jews and Israel that is so prevalent in Islamic societies to understand the shocking differences between what is accepted and even applauded in these cultures and our own.

The New Republic’s Ruth Franklin attended the Marrakech Film Festival in relatively liberal Morocco this month. Her account might have focused on the Western stars in attendance and “the glitz of the film festival” or “the charm and warmth of the Moroccans.” Instead, she wrote about a film screening in which a largely Arab audience reacted with spontaneous applause to a scene in which two women are stoned by a mob.

As Franklin writes:

This was one crowd, on one evening, at one screening; and need it even be said that applause is not the same as stoning itself? But, as the lights went up in the theater and the men and women around me calmly gathered their belongings, I could not help but remember that in an Arab country … liberation, at least for women, inevitably comes with limits. The glitz, the red carpet, and the celebrities might have been the same, but the atmosphere in the theater that night felt very far from Cannes or Sundance.

Thanks to monitoring groups such as MEMRI.org, many in the West have become more aware of the tone of popular culture in the Arab and Islamic world. As a result, we have a better understanding of the way anti-Semitism has become a staple of popular culture there. But one needn’t focus solely on the hatred of Jews and Israel that is so prevalent in Islamic societies to understand the shocking differences between what is accepted and even applauded in these cultures and our own.

The New Republic’s Ruth Franklin attended the Marrakech Film Festival in relatively liberal Morocco this month. Her account might have focused on the Western stars in attendance and “the glitz of the film festival” or “the charm and warmth of the Moroccans.” Instead, she wrote about a film screening in which a largely Arab audience reacted with spontaneous applause to a scene in which two women are stoned by a mob.

As Franklin writes:

This was one crowd, on one evening, at one screening; and need it even be said that applause is not the same as stoning itself? But, as the lights went up in the theater and the men and women around me calmly gathered their belongings, I could not help but remember that in an Arab country … liberation, at least for women, inevitably comes with limits. The glitz, the red carpet, and the celebrities might have been the same, but the atmosphere in the theater that night felt very far from Cannes or Sundance.

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Morning Commentary

Are Republicans coming around on New START? Eight GOP members voted to open debate on the treaty in the Senate last night, which some see as a “proxy” for the final vote. New START needs nine Republican supporters in the Senate to pass.

As repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell passes the House for a second time, it picks up another Republican supporter in the Senate: “‘After careful analysis of the comprehensive report compiled by the Department of Defense and thorough consideration of the testimony provided by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service chiefs, I support repeal of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law,’ [Sen. Olympia] Snowe said in a statement.”

Well, this pretty much ensures that the next Organization of the Islamic Conferences summit is going to be sufficiently awkward: “Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak compared Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East to a ‘cancer,’ according to a cable released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. ‘President Mubarak has made it clear that he sees Iran as Egypt’s — and the region’s — primary strategic threat,’ says the secret cable, sent April 28, 2009, from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.”

Two writers and recent Columbia graduates discuss in the New Republic the problematic politics of the university’s controversial new Center for Palestine Studies: “Of course, there is nothing wrong with gathering a broad-based community of scholars behind a new academic initiative. Columbia and American academia need a venue for the interdisciplinary study of Palestine. But, unaccompanied by a dedication to real expertise, the CPS will be little more than a clique of like-minded academics whose defining commonality is hostility toward Israel. In its current form, it’s likely that the first Palestine Center at an American university will lead the way not in ‘a new era of civility,’ but, rather, in politicizing Middle East studies further than ever before.”

The Guardian is predictably outraged that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was given to, apparently, a neocon: “[Liu Xiaobo] has endorsed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. … Liu argues that ‘The free world led by the US fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights [and the] major wars that the US became involved in are all ethically defensible.’… Liu has also one-sidedly praised Israel’s stance in the Middle East conflict. He places the blame for the Israel/Palestine conflict on Palestinians, who he regards as ‘often the provocateurs.’”

Ross Douthat responds to Mitt Romney supporters who excuse the politician’s “serial insincerity”: “I believe that Mitt Romney is a more serious person, and would probably be a better president, than his campaign style suggests. But issue by issue, policy by policy, that same campaign style makes it awfully hard to figure out where he would actually stand when the pandering stops and the governing begins … because everything he does feels like a pander, I don’t know where he really stands on any of them. And freak show or no freak show, base or no base, that’s no way to run for president.”

Are Republicans coming around on New START? Eight GOP members voted to open debate on the treaty in the Senate last night, which some see as a “proxy” for the final vote. New START needs nine Republican supporters in the Senate to pass.

As repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell passes the House for a second time, it picks up another Republican supporter in the Senate: “‘After careful analysis of the comprehensive report compiled by the Department of Defense and thorough consideration of the testimony provided by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service chiefs, I support repeal of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law,’ [Sen. Olympia] Snowe said in a statement.”

Well, this pretty much ensures that the next Organization of the Islamic Conferences summit is going to be sufficiently awkward: “Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak compared Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East to a ‘cancer,’ according to a cable released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. ‘President Mubarak has made it clear that he sees Iran as Egypt’s — and the region’s — primary strategic threat,’ says the secret cable, sent April 28, 2009, from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.”

Two writers and recent Columbia graduates discuss in the New Republic the problematic politics of the university’s controversial new Center for Palestine Studies: “Of course, there is nothing wrong with gathering a broad-based community of scholars behind a new academic initiative. Columbia and American academia need a venue for the interdisciplinary study of Palestine. But, unaccompanied by a dedication to real expertise, the CPS will be little more than a clique of like-minded academics whose defining commonality is hostility toward Israel. In its current form, it’s likely that the first Palestine Center at an American university will lead the way not in ‘a new era of civility,’ but, rather, in politicizing Middle East studies further than ever before.”

The Guardian is predictably outraged that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was given to, apparently, a neocon: “[Liu Xiaobo] has endorsed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. … Liu argues that ‘The free world led by the US fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights [and the] major wars that the US became involved in are all ethically defensible.’… Liu has also one-sidedly praised Israel’s stance in the Middle East conflict. He places the blame for the Israel/Palestine conflict on Palestinians, who he regards as ‘often the provocateurs.’”

Ross Douthat responds to Mitt Romney supporters who excuse the politician’s “serial insincerity”: “I believe that Mitt Romney is a more serious person, and would probably be a better president, than his campaign style suggests. But issue by issue, policy by policy, that same campaign style makes it awfully hard to figure out where he would actually stand when the pandering stops and the governing begins … because everything he does feels like a pander, I don’t know where he really stands on any of them. And freak show or no freak show, base or no base, that’s no way to run for president.”

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The Extremism of E.J. Dionne Jr.

E.J. Dionne Jr. has a column registering his concerns about the “No Labels” group. But he isn’t entirely critical. Dionne makes it clear that there are some things he’s sympathetic to, including this:

The No Labelers are also right to be repulsed by the replacement of real argument with a vicious brand of name-calling. When a president of the United States is attacked simultaneously as an “extreme liberal liar” and a “Nazi,” there is a sick irrationality at work in our discourse.

It’s perhaps worth noting that during the Bush presidency, when George W. Bush was slandered by leading members of the Democratic Party as a “moral coward” (Vice President Al Gore), as a “loser” and a “liar” who had “betrayed his country” (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), and who “Week after week after week after week … told lie after lie after lie after lie” (Senator Edward Kennedy), Dionne, in an amazing feat of self-control, held his outrage in abeyance. Back then, it was not “sick irrationality at work in our discourse”; it was just the normal, good-spirited back and forth of American politics. And if E.J. has written a column reprimanding the loathsome Representative Alan Grayson for his vicious brand of name-calling, I missed it. (Grayson dubbed his opponent Daniel Webster “Taliban Dan” in a deeply dishonest ad. He has also said, “If you get sick, America, the Republican health-care plan is this: Die quickly.” And for good measure, Grayson has compared Republicans to “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals” and Nazis burning the Reichstag.)

In any event, in his column Dionne goes on to assure us that “I am still devoted to moderation.” Of course he is. But what’s really troubling him are those right-wing extremist Republicans and conservatives. Moderation, you see, is “very much alive on the center-left and among Democrats” — but it is “so dead in the Republican Party and on the right.” The No Labelers can yet be a constructive force, Dionne instructs us, “if they remind us of how extreme the right has become and help broker an alliance between the center and the left, the only coalition that can realistically stop an ever more zealous brand of conservatism.”

E.J. faces a bit of a problem, of course. The GOP he deems to be so radical, so zealous, and so outside the mainstream is barely a month removed from a historically successful midterm election. Republicans picked up more House seats (63) than in any election since 1938 and have not enjoyed this much power in state capitals since the 1920s. In addition, Americans, by a greater than 2-to-1 margin, self-identify as conservative rather than liberal. Public trust in government is at record lows; so is the approval rating for the Democratically controlled Congress. And the signature domestic initiative of the Obama presidency, health-care reform, is quite unpopular and falling short of virtually every promise its advocates made on its behalf. Read More

E.J. Dionne Jr. has a column registering his concerns about the “No Labels” group. But he isn’t entirely critical. Dionne makes it clear that there are some things he’s sympathetic to, including this:

The No Labelers are also right to be repulsed by the replacement of real argument with a vicious brand of name-calling. When a president of the United States is attacked simultaneously as an “extreme liberal liar” and a “Nazi,” there is a sick irrationality at work in our discourse.

It’s perhaps worth noting that during the Bush presidency, when George W. Bush was slandered by leading members of the Democratic Party as a “moral coward” (Vice President Al Gore), as a “loser” and a “liar” who had “betrayed his country” (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), and who “Week after week after week after week … told lie after lie after lie after lie” (Senator Edward Kennedy), Dionne, in an amazing feat of self-control, held his outrage in abeyance. Back then, it was not “sick irrationality at work in our discourse”; it was just the normal, good-spirited back and forth of American politics. And if E.J. has written a column reprimanding the loathsome Representative Alan Grayson for his vicious brand of name-calling, I missed it. (Grayson dubbed his opponent Daniel Webster “Taliban Dan” in a deeply dishonest ad. He has also said, “If you get sick, America, the Republican health-care plan is this: Die quickly.” And for good measure, Grayson has compared Republicans to “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals” and Nazis burning the Reichstag.)

In any event, in his column Dionne goes on to assure us that “I am still devoted to moderation.” Of course he is. But what’s really troubling him are those right-wing extremist Republicans and conservatives. Moderation, you see, is “very much alive on the center-left and among Democrats” — but it is “so dead in the Republican Party and on the right.” The No Labelers can yet be a constructive force, Dionne instructs us, “if they remind us of how extreme the right has become and help broker an alliance between the center and the left, the only coalition that can realistically stop an ever more zealous brand of conservatism.”

E.J. faces a bit of a problem, of course. The GOP he deems to be so radical, so zealous, and so outside the mainstream is barely a month removed from a historically successful midterm election. Republicans picked up more House seats (63) than in any election since 1938 and have not enjoyed this much power in state capitals since the 1920s. In addition, Americans, by a greater than 2-to-1 margin, self-identify as conservative rather than liberal. Public trust in government is at record lows; so is the approval rating for the Democratically controlled Congress. And the signature domestic initiative of the Obama presidency, health-care reform, is quite unpopular and falling short of virtually every promise its advocates made on its behalf.

If you want to place the Devoted-to-Moderation Dionne on the political spectrum, consider that he’s a great defender of the soon-to-be-ex-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose own extremism led to her registering an 8 percent favorability rating among independents just prior to the election (61 percent viewed her unfavorably).

The main problem for E.J., though, is that the 2010 midterm election was a massive repudiation of contemporary liberalism, as embodied by people like President Obama and E.J. Dionne. It was among the most nationalized midterm elections in our history. Having lived under liberal governance for two years, the public reacted to it like the human body reacts to food poisoning. This is something that Dionne doesn’t seem able to process; his ideology won’t allow it. And so he continues to bellow, week after week, about how radical the right has become.

It’s true that Dionne’s columns highlight political extremism of a sort. But the extremism is his, not conservatism’s.

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We Are Winning in Afghanistan, Though Work Remains to Be Done

In the L.A. Times today, Pete Mansoor and I have an op-ed reporting on our recently completed trip to Afghanistan. (Mansoor is a retired army colonel who served two combat tours in Iraq and now teaches history at Ohio State). In brief, our message is that we are now winning in Afghanistan, at least in Helmand and Kandahar, the heartland of the Taliban, where we have focused most of our resources. But don’t take our word for it. The New York Times runs a fantastic article by Carlotta Gall and Ruhullah Khapalwak that quotes an unnamed mid-level Taliban commander conceding that “the government has the upper hand now” in and around Kandahar — a message confirmed by local residents they spoke with. The article explains:

“The people are not happy with us,” the Taliban fighter said. “People gave us a place to stay for several years, but we did not provide them with anything except fighting. The situation is different now: the local people are not willingly cooperating with us. They are not giving us a place to stay or giving us food.”

NATO’s announcement that it would remain until a transfer to Afghan forces in 2014 has also convinced people that it will not withdraw quickly, he said.

“The Americans are more serious, and another thing that made people hopeful was when they said they would stay until 2014,” the Taliban commander said. “That has made people change their minds.”

Naturally, the article reports that the Taliban will plan to return to their old stomping grounds in the spring, but “in a dozen interviews, Afghan landowners, tribal elders and villagers said they believed that the Taliban could find it hard to return if American troops remained.”

That was exactly what Mansoor and I found. But isn’t there a danger that the insurgency, after setbacks in the south, will simply move to the north or east? That’s what another New York Times article claims.

Alissa Rubin reports from Kunduz in the north — an area garrisoned primarily by Germans — where she finds security conditions have deteriorated. No doubt that’s true, but there is scant chance that the Taliban could re-create strongholds in other parts of the country after being chased out of the south. That’s because the Taliban have essentially no appeal outside the Pashtun community, and there are few Pashtuns in the north or west. True, the Taliban have made some inroads among Pashtun pockets in those areas, but let’s not exaggerate. Most days, there are no reported attacks at all in the north or west. The Taliban may be spreading some fear and intimidation, but there is a natural limit on their appeal. The odds of their gaining support in the Tajik or Hazara communities are about as great as the odds of Hamas winning supporters in Jewish neighborhoods of Israel.

I do not, by any means, suggest that all the news from Afghanistan is great. As Mansoor and I note, governance and Pakistan sanctuaries remain difficult challenges, and the eastern part of the country — where there are a lot of Pashtuns — has not yet seen the kind of concerted counterinsurgency campaign that has taken place in the south. (There simply aren’t enough troops even now to pacify both south and east at the same time.) But overall, we are making great progress with the surge, which, after all, has only just been completed.

In the L.A. Times today, Pete Mansoor and I have an op-ed reporting on our recently completed trip to Afghanistan. (Mansoor is a retired army colonel who served two combat tours in Iraq and now teaches history at Ohio State). In brief, our message is that we are now winning in Afghanistan, at least in Helmand and Kandahar, the heartland of the Taliban, where we have focused most of our resources. But don’t take our word for it. The New York Times runs a fantastic article by Carlotta Gall and Ruhullah Khapalwak that quotes an unnamed mid-level Taliban commander conceding that “the government has the upper hand now” in and around Kandahar — a message confirmed by local residents they spoke with. The article explains:

“The people are not happy with us,” the Taliban fighter said. “People gave us a place to stay for several years, but we did not provide them with anything except fighting. The situation is different now: the local people are not willingly cooperating with us. They are not giving us a place to stay or giving us food.”

NATO’s announcement that it would remain until a transfer to Afghan forces in 2014 has also convinced people that it will not withdraw quickly, he said.

“The Americans are more serious, and another thing that made people hopeful was when they said they would stay until 2014,” the Taliban commander said. “That has made people change their minds.”

Naturally, the article reports that the Taliban will plan to return to their old stomping grounds in the spring, but “in a dozen interviews, Afghan landowners, tribal elders and villagers said they believed that the Taliban could find it hard to return if American troops remained.”

That was exactly what Mansoor and I found. But isn’t there a danger that the insurgency, after setbacks in the south, will simply move to the north or east? That’s what another New York Times article claims.

Alissa Rubin reports from Kunduz in the north — an area garrisoned primarily by Germans — where she finds security conditions have deteriorated. No doubt that’s true, but there is scant chance that the Taliban could re-create strongholds in other parts of the country after being chased out of the south. That’s because the Taliban have essentially no appeal outside the Pashtun community, and there are few Pashtuns in the north or west. True, the Taliban have made some inroads among Pashtun pockets in those areas, but let’s not exaggerate. Most days, there are no reported attacks at all in the north or west. The Taliban may be spreading some fear and intimidation, but there is a natural limit on their appeal. The odds of their gaining support in the Tajik or Hazara communities are about as great as the odds of Hamas winning supporters in Jewish neighborhoods of Israel.

I do not, by any means, suggest that all the news from Afghanistan is great. As Mansoor and I note, governance and Pakistan sanctuaries remain difficult challenges, and the eastern part of the country — where there are a lot of Pashtuns — has not yet seen the kind of concerted counterinsurgency campaign that has taken place in the south. (There simply aren’t enough troops even now to pacify both south and east at the same time.) But overall, we are making great progress with the surge, which, after all, has only just been completed.

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NIF Cuts Off Funding for BDS Groups

Some Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions groups are going to have to find a new way to bankroll their important anti-Israel endeavors (hummus boycotts, costume parties, impromptu choral performances) because the New Israel Fund is cutting off funding for organizations involved in the BDS movement.

NIF has been criticized for giving grants to groups that engage in anti-Israel boycott campaigns, such as Concerned Women for Peace, Israel Social TV, Mossawa, Machsom Watch, and Women Against Violence. The fund amended its website on Dec. 13 to reflect its change in policy:

The NIF opposes the global BDS movement, views the use of these tactics as ineffective and counterproductive and is concerned that segments of this movement seek to undermine the existence of the state of Israel.

NIF will not fund global BDS activities against Israel nor support organizations that have global BDS programs.

I’m really pleased to see NIF finally come around on this issue. But as Jeffrey Goldberg noted at the Atlantic, NIF’s statement stopped short of rebuking the BDS movement as a whole. “I was slightly taken aback by [CEO Daniel] Sokatch’s statement that, ‘segments of this movement seek to undermine the existence of the state of Israel,’” wrote Goldberg. “I would say that undermining the existence of the state of Israel is this movement’s raison d’etre.”

And while the change in policy is still new, several of the boycott groups that NIF was funding have yet to remove their affiliations with NIF from their websites. Concerned Women for Peace, Israel Social TV, and Mossawa are still asking their donors to route contributions through NIF.

NGO Monitor, a watchdog group that has pressured the New Israel Fund to cut ties with BDS groups, asked for these links to be removed. “NIF now needs to implement these important new guidelines,” [NGO Monitor president] Professor Gerald Steinberg [wrote]. “Despite NIF’s new policy, CWP’s and Who Profits’ websites still provide links for donations via NIF.  These links should be removed immediately. We also expect NIF to clarify how and when the new grant guidelines will be enforced, and we are prepared to work with NIF and its donors in their implementation. As NIF severs ties with groups that promote BDS, it is on the same page as NGO Monitor.”

Also, while scrolling through NIF’s funding guidelines on its website, I came across another statement outlining the group’s policy on “lawfare” that (I think) is new:

As the leading organization advancing democracy in Israel, the New Israel Fund strongly believes that our job is to work within Israel to ensure democratic accountability.

With a free press, involved citizenry, a strong and independent judiciary, and a track record of officially constituted commissions and committees of inquiry, there are internal means to hold Israeli leaders accountable to the law, and we work to strengthen all those institutions. We therefore firmly oppose attempts to prosecute Israeli officials in foreign courts as an inherent principle of our dedication to Israeli democracy.

While it’s great to hear that NIF opposes lawfare, this statement means absolutely nothing unless the organization is willing to stop funding organizations that use lawfare tactics against Israel. The New Israel Fund practically is the lawfare movement — its grants basically keep the campaign alive. If NIF cut off financing to lawfare groups, it could cripple the movement.

So while these policy changes are an improvement, it looks like NIF still has a ways to go before it can be considered a respectable pro-Israel group.

Some Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions groups are going to have to find a new way to bankroll their important anti-Israel endeavors (hummus boycotts, costume parties, impromptu choral performances) because the New Israel Fund is cutting off funding for organizations involved in the BDS movement.

NIF has been criticized for giving grants to groups that engage in anti-Israel boycott campaigns, such as Concerned Women for Peace, Israel Social TV, Mossawa, Machsom Watch, and Women Against Violence. The fund amended its website on Dec. 13 to reflect its change in policy:

The NIF opposes the global BDS movement, views the use of these tactics as ineffective and counterproductive and is concerned that segments of this movement seek to undermine the existence of the state of Israel.

NIF will not fund global BDS activities against Israel nor support organizations that have global BDS programs.

I’m really pleased to see NIF finally come around on this issue. But as Jeffrey Goldberg noted at the Atlantic, NIF’s statement stopped short of rebuking the BDS movement as a whole. “I was slightly taken aback by [CEO Daniel] Sokatch’s statement that, ‘segments of this movement seek to undermine the existence of the state of Israel,’” wrote Goldberg. “I would say that undermining the existence of the state of Israel is this movement’s raison d’etre.”

And while the change in policy is still new, several of the boycott groups that NIF was funding have yet to remove their affiliations with NIF from their websites. Concerned Women for Peace, Israel Social TV, and Mossawa are still asking their donors to route contributions through NIF.

NGO Monitor, a watchdog group that has pressured the New Israel Fund to cut ties with BDS groups, asked for these links to be removed. “NIF now needs to implement these important new guidelines,” [NGO Monitor president] Professor Gerald Steinberg [wrote]. “Despite NIF’s new policy, CWP’s and Who Profits’ websites still provide links for donations via NIF.  These links should be removed immediately. We also expect NIF to clarify how and when the new grant guidelines will be enforced, and we are prepared to work with NIF and its donors in their implementation. As NIF severs ties with groups that promote BDS, it is on the same page as NGO Monitor.”

Also, while scrolling through NIF’s funding guidelines on its website, I came across another statement outlining the group’s policy on “lawfare” that (I think) is new:

As the leading organization advancing democracy in Israel, the New Israel Fund strongly believes that our job is to work within Israel to ensure democratic accountability.

With a free press, involved citizenry, a strong and independent judiciary, and a track record of officially constituted commissions and committees of inquiry, there are internal means to hold Israeli leaders accountable to the law, and we work to strengthen all those institutions. We therefore firmly oppose attempts to prosecute Israeli officials in foreign courts as an inherent principle of our dedication to Israeli democracy.

While it’s great to hear that NIF opposes lawfare, this statement means absolutely nothing unless the organization is willing to stop funding organizations that use lawfare tactics against Israel. The New Israel Fund practically is the lawfare movement — its grants basically keep the campaign alive. If NIF cut off financing to lawfare groups, it could cripple the movement.

So while these policy changes are an improvement, it looks like NIF still has a ways to go before it can be considered a respectable pro-Israel group.

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