Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 17, 2010

The Kennedys Leave Washington with a Whimper

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

Read Less

Obama Signs the Tax Cut Bill

An extraordinary moment. It appears Barack Obama understands that he has staked his political future on the success of this legislation.

An extraordinary moment. It appears Barack Obama understands that he has staked his political future on the success of this legislation.

Read Less

RE: Palin’s Got Bigger Problems Than Charles Krauthammer

Jonathan, I agree with your superb analysis of Sarah Palin’s interview with Bill O’Reilly — and specifically, her response to what Charles Krauthammer said.

Krauthammer was actually quite gentle in his critique. If his words cause this kind of bristling, defensive response from her, she is simply unprepared to endure a presidential run, quite apart from her disquieting (and quite striking) inability to engage in a serious discussion about policy.

Virtually every time Ms. Palin speaks out, she reinforces some of the worst impressions or deepest concerns many of us have about her. If she were to become the voice and representative of the GOP and the modern conservatism movement, both would suffer a massive rejection.

Sarah Palin will not be elected president; and for her sake, I hope she decides not to run.

Jonathan, I agree with your superb analysis of Sarah Palin’s interview with Bill O’Reilly — and specifically, her response to what Charles Krauthammer said.

Krauthammer was actually quite gentle in his critique. If his words cause this kind of bristling, defensive response from her, she is simply unprepared to endure a presidential run, quite apart from her disquieting (and quite striking) inability to engage in a serious discussion about policy.

Virtually every time Ms. Palin speaks out, she reinforces some of the worst impressions or deepest concerns many of us have about her. If she were to become the voice and representative of the GOP and the modern conservatism movement, both would suffer a massive rejection.

Sarah Palin will not be elected president; and for her sake, I hope she decides not to run.

Read Less

More Non-Nihilistic Conservative Policy Prescriptions

In my response to Alan Wolfe’s silly essay, I mentioned that he should consider visiting the National Affairs website to become acquainted with serious — to say nothing of non-nihilistic — conservative policy ideas. As it happens, National Affairs has just posted an article by my Ethics and Public Policy colleague James Capretta, “Priorities for a New Congress,” that deals with health-care, budgetary, and entitlement reforms.

Unlike Wolfe’s, Capretta’s is an excellent essay: sober, informed, non-dogmatic, and intellectually serious. It can be found here.

In my response to Alan Wolfe’s silly essay, I mentioned that he should consider visiting the National Affairs website to become acquainted with serious — to say nothing of non-nihilistic — conservative policy ideas. As it happens, National Affairs has just posted an article by my Ethics and Public Policy colleague James Capretta, “Priorities for a New Congress,” that deals with health-care, budgetary, and entitlement reforms.

Unlike Wolfe’s, Capretta’s is an excellent essay: sober, informed, non-dogmatic, and intellectually serious. It can be found here.

Read Less

Nefesh Yehudi in a Brad Pitt/Sean Penn Trailer?

Despite the presence (or perhaps because of the presence) in the cast of Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, I doubt you will see the 2011 film release of The Tree of Life. It’s the latest from the writer-director Terence Malick, whose World War II travesty The Thin Red Line and John Smith-and-Pocahontas travesty The New World marked him as perhaps the most self-serious and pretentious filmmaker on earth. So I won’t belabor the point about the nonsense dripping from this trailer.

I did want to point out one peculiarity, though. Thirty-four seconds into the proceedings, in a scene set on a small-town American street in the 1950s, the soundtrack swells with the sound of … Hatikvah, the national anthem of the State of Israel. Much as I appreciate the subliminal Zionism, I suspect it’s entirely unintentional. But funny.

Despite the presence (or perhaps because of the presence) in the cast of Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, I doubt you will see the 2011 film release of The Tree of Life. It’s the latest from the writer-director Terence Malick, whose World War II travesty The Thin Red Line and John Smith-and-Pocahontas travesty The New World marked him as perhaps the most self-serious and pretentious filmmaker on earth. So I won’t belabor the point about the nonsense dripping from this trailer.

I did want to point out one peculiarity, though. Thirty-four seconds into the proceedings, in a scene set on a small-town American street in the 1950s, the soundtrack swells with the sound of … Hatikvah, the national anthem of the State of Israel. Much as I appreciate the subliminal Zionism, I suspect it’s entirely unintentional. But funny.

Read Less

Guess We’re Governable After All

Don’t look now, but the American government is working as it should. Harry Reid, bending to bipartisan reality, has quit fighting for his $1.2 trillion spending bill and turned to short-term budget solutions. We can debate the merits of the $858 billion tax compromise, but it passed without any trickery and, more important, we knew what was in it. Congress now turns to genuine deliberation on the Dream Act, the repeal of DADT, and the ratification of New START. Gone are the kabuki summits, unseemly prime-time sales pitches, and abstruse parliamentary con games. Where Nancy Pelosi had wielded a giant prop gavel and boasted of “making history” with ObamaCare, one real-life federal judge just declared it unconstitutional. How did all this happen? Only a year ago, liberal pundits had pronounced America ungovernable.

What spurred magazines like Newsweek to render that judgment in the first place? A civic and governmental travesty of such gargantuan proportion that it’s chilling to think it actually happened in the United States: Massachusetts elected a Republican senator.

This left little question about whom to blame. “Perhaps the greatest hindrance to good governance today is the Republican Party, which has adopted an agenda of pure nihilism for naked political gain,” the magazine’s editors wrote.  Moreover, “any regular observer of Washington would conclude that congressional Republicans have no desire to be reached out to — because they aren’t actually very interested in governing the country.”

Were grapes ever so sour? President Obama and an unbridled Democratic Congress drove Massachusetts into the arms of the GOP within one year, and this meant that Republicans were a danger to the union. The case made before the people was simply an inversion of reality. While Newsweek cited the “GOP’s flagrant use of parliamentary tricks,” Democrats on the Hill were employing maneuvers so recondite, few could accurately define or explain the intricacies of what was happening.  The editors lamented the Republicans’ bullying of the “spineless Democrats,” while Nancy Pelosi bragged of her commando legislation tactics: “We’ll go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, we’ll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in, but we’re going to get health-care reform passed for the America people.” Newsweek claimed that “congressional Republicans offered no serious counterproposals to the Democrats’ health-care initiative and sought instead to either mislead or simply lie about its key elements,” but it was President Obama who impatiently dismissed the prospect of a bipartisan effort as “another year of partisan wrangling around these issues, another six months’ or eight months’ or nine months’ worth of hearings in every single committee in the House and the Senate in which there’s a lot of posturing.”

What Obama’s first year actually proved was that America is undictatable. Scott Brown was elected because Americans were screaming out for governance and rejecting rule by decree. If a year ago liberals were weeping for America the ungovernable, less than a year later, with the midterm-election trouncing, only celebrity activists and zombified Democratic operatives continue to make such claims. Read More

Don’t look now, but the American government is working as it should. Harry Reid, bending to bipartisan reality, has quit fighting for his $1.2 trillion spending bill and turned to short-term budget solutions. We can debate the merits of the $858 billion tax compromise, but it passed without any trickery and, more important, we knew what was in it. Congress now turns to genuine deliberation on the Dream Act, the repeal of DADT, and the ratification of New START. Gone are the kabuki summits, unseemly prime-time sales pitches, and abstruse parliamentary con games. Where Nancy Pelosi had wielded a giant prop gavel and boasted of “making history” with ObamaCare, one real-life federal judge just declared it unconstitutional. How did all this happen? Only a year ago, liberal pundits had pronounced America ungovernable.

What spurred magazines like Newsweek to render that judgment in the first place? A civic and governmental travesty of such gargantuan proportion that it’s chilling to think it actually happened in the United States: Massachusetts elected a Republican senator.

This left little question about whom to blame. “Perhaps the greatest hindrance to good governance today is the Republican Party, which has adopted an agenda of pure nihilism for naked political gain,” the magazine’s editors wrote.  Moreover, “any regular observer of Washington would conclude that congressional Republicans have no desire to be reached out to — because they aren’t actually very interested in governing the country.”

Were grapes ever so sour? President Obama and an unbridled Democratic Congress drove Massachusetts into the arms of the GOP within one year, and this meant that Republicans were a danger to the union. The case made before the people was simply an inversion of reality. While Newsweek cited the “GOP’s flagrant use of parliamentary tricks,” Democrats on the Hill were employing maneuvers so recondite, few could accurately define or explain the intricacies of what was happening.  The editors lamented the Republicans’ bullying of the “spineless Democrats,” while Nancy Pelosi bragged of her commando legislation tactics: “We’ll go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, we’ll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in, but we’re going to get health-care reform passed for the America people.” Newsweek claimed that “congressional Republicans offered no serious counterproposals to the Democrats’ health-care initiative and sought instead to either mislead or simply lie about its key elements,” but it was President Obama who impatiently dismissed the prospect of a bipartisan effort as “another year of partisan wrangling around these issues, another six months’ or eight months’ or nine months’ worth of hearings in every single committee in the House and the Senate in which there’s a lot of posturing.”

What Obama’s first year actually proved was that America is undictatable. Scott Brown was elected because Americans were screaming out for governance and rejecting rule by decree. If a year ago liberals were weeping for America the ungovernable, less than a year later, with the midterm-election trouncing, only celebrity activists and zombified Democratic operatives continue to make such claims.

The present circumstance should serve as a “teachable moment” for those frustrated Obama enthusiasts who were more outraged by a non-compliant citizenry than they were by an entitled leadership. If there was a threat to the structural soundness of our democracy, it came not from voices of opposition but rather from the ideological bullies who assumed that dissent could only mean defectiveness. In a democracy, the machinery of governance comes to a halt when the people sense someone has tried to override the system. In despotic countries, friction can stop the gears. In the U.S., it’s the energy source that keeps things moving.

On matters of policy, this administration still has much to learn. A new NBC–Wall Street Journal poll shows that 63 percent of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction. This is the highest wrong-track number since Obama became president. The figure mostly reflects Americans’ concern about the economy and the government’s failure to raise employment prospects. As grim as things are, the good news is that America is now poised to tackle its toughest challenges. Accountability and ideological pluralism have come out of hiding. As Americans, we need to panic only when they go missing, not when our elected officials don’t get their way.

Read Less

The Resolution and the Process

The Palestinians are upset at the unanimously adopted Congressional Resolution, authored by the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its ranking Republican member, which opposes any attempt to establish a Palestinian state outside a negotiated agreement. The resolution calls on the administration to lead a diplomatic effort against a unilaterally declared state, affirm that the U.S. would not recognize it, and veto any UN resolution seeking to establish one. The resolution — and the Palestinian reaction to it — caps a series of clarifying developments over the past year and a half:

First, the Palestinians refused to negotiate unless Netanyahu endorsed a two-state solution and froze settlement construction; Netanyahu did both, and the Palestinians refused to negotiate. They had to be dragged into “proximity talks” and then dragged into “direct negotiations” and then left.

Second, the Palestinian Authority canceled local elections in the West Bank, unwilling to risk them even in the part of the putative state it nominally controls. The PA is now headed by a “president” currently in the 72nd month of his 48-month term, with a “prime minister” appointed by the holdover “president” rather than by the Palestinian parliament (which, unfortunately, is controlled by the terrorist group the Palestinians elected five years ago). These days, the PA turns for approval not to its public or its parliament but rather to the Arab League, while the other half of the putative state is run by the terrorist group. As a democratic state, “Palestine” is already a failed one.

Third, the peace-partner Palestinians rejected the two criteria that Netanyahu set forth for a peace agreement: recognition of a Jewish state and demilitarization of the Palestinian one. The first requirement reflects a series of essential points: the Palestinians cannot have a state and a “right of return” to the other one; there cannot be a two-stage plan to obtain a second state and then work to change the character of the first one; and a peace agreement must contain an “end-of-claims” provision precluding further disputes. The second requirement reflects the obvious fact that, having withdrawn completely from Lebanon and Gaza only to have them become staging areas for new wars, Israel would be crazy to expose its eastern border to the same thing with a militarized Palestinian state. But the Palestinians rejected both of the requirements.

Fourth, the peace-partner Palestinians objected to an Israeli referendum on any peace agreement, considering democratic approval an obstacle to peace. A referendum serves as a necessary check on the legitimacy of the process; it is why the PA itself continually assures its own public (and the terrorist group in Gaza) that any peace agreement would be subject to a Palestinian referendum. But the peace-partner Palestinians do not want one for the Israeli public if it would serve as a check on further one-sided concessions.

Israel is currently faced with a PA that is unwilling to meet the basic requirements of a permanent peace, lacks the political authority to enter into a peace agreement (much less the ability to implement one), opposes any process in which the Israeli public can assure itself of the result, and wants a state simply imposed on Israel by the U.S. or the UN. If the Congressional Resolution helps disabuse it of these notions, it will be a significant contribution to the current non-peace non-process.

The Palestinians are upset at the unanimously adopted Congressional Resolution, authored by the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its ranking Republican member, which opposes any attempt to establish a Palestinian state outside a negotiated agreement. The resolution calls on the administration to lead a diplomatic effort against a unilaterally declared state, affirm that the U.S. would not recognize it, and veto any UN resolution seeking to establish one. The resolution — and the Palestinian reaction to it — caps a series of clarifying developments over the past year and a half:

First, the Palestinians refused to negotiate unless Netanyahu endorsed a two-state solution and froze settlement construction; Netanyahu did both, and the Palestinians refused to negotiate. They had to be dragged into “proximity talks” and then dragged into “direct negotiations” and then left.

Second, the Palestinian Authority canceled local elections in the West Bank, unwilling to risk them even in the part of the putative state it nominally controls. The PA is now headed by a “president” currently in the 72nd month of his 48-month term, with a “prime minister” appointed by the holdover “president” rather than by the Palestinian parliament (which, unfortunately, is controlled by the terrorist group the Palestinians elected five years ago). These days, the PA turns for approval not to its public or its parliament but rather to the Arab League, while the other half of the putative state is run by the terrorist group. As a democratic state, “Palestine” is already a failed one.

Third, the peace-partner Palestinians rejected the two criteria that Netanyahu set forth for a peace agreement: recognition of a Jewish state and demilitarization of the Palestinian one. The first requirement reflects a series of essential points: the Palestinians cannot have a state and a “right of return” to the other one; there cannot be a two-stage plan to obtain a second state and then work to change the character of the first one; and a peace agreement must contain an “end-of-claims” provision precluding further disputes. The second requirement reflects the obvious fact that, having withdrawn completely from Lebanon and Gaza only to have them become staging areas for new wars, Israel would be crazy to expose its eastern border to the same thing with a militarized Palestinian state. But the Palestinians rejected both of the requirements.

Fourth, the peace-partner Palestinians objected to an Israeli referendum on any peace agreement, considering democratic approval an obstacle to peace. A referendum serves as a necessary check on the legitimacy of the process; it is why the PA itself continually assures its own public (and the terrorist group in Gaza) that any peace agreement would be subject to a Palestinian referendum. But the peace-partner Palestinians do not want one for the Israeli public if it would serve as a check on further one-sided concessions.

Israel is currently faced with a PA that is unwilling to meet the basic requirements of a permanent peace, lacks the political authority to enter into a peace agreement (much less the ability to implement one), opposes any process in which the Israeli public can assure itself of the result, and wants a state simply imposed on Israel by the U.S. or the UN. If the Congressional Resolution helps disabuse it of these notions, it will be a significant contribution to the current non-peace non-process.

Read Less

Alan Wolfe’s Silly Essay

Sometimes, well-educated people can write the silliest essays. Take Boston College professor Alan Wolfe, who has written an article — “Why Conservatives Won’t Govern” — in the Winter 2011 issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

According to Wolfe:

There is much to be learned from the way Republicans behaved during the first two years of the Obama Administration. If that history is any indication, the problem will no longer be that conservatives cannot govern. We are instead in for an era in which conservatives will not govern. [emphasis in the original]

The problem with the GOP, you see, isn’t that it is cynical, because even a cynic cares. “What we witness instead is nihilism,” Wolfe writes, “and in the most literal sense of the term.”

Nihilism, we are told,

is as dangerous a political stance as one can find. Unlike polarization, it guarantees that words become divorced from any underlying reality they are meant to describe, that those watching the spectacle turn away in disgust, that tactical maneuvering replaces all discussion of substantive policy issues, and that political opponents are to be treated as enemies to be conquered. Lacking regenerative qualities of its own, nihilism can never produce new sources of political energy.

In case the point isn’t clear enough, Wolfe goes on to write:

[C]onservative nihilism poisons the soil that allows any set of ideas, liberal or conservative, to grow … a party that will not govern does not wish to replace strong government with weak and decentralized government in order to show how often the public sector fails. It instead much prefers to make it impossible for government to carry out its functions in the first place. If its political strategy is nihilistic, its ultimate outcome is anarchistic … when it comes to government, [conservatives] are as nihilistic as Abbie Hoffman. … No 1960s radical ever went as far as so many twenty-first century conservatives are going now.

All told, Wolfe used some version of the word “nihilism” more than 30 times in describing Republicans and conservatives.

The editor who allowed this essay to be published did Professor Wolfe no favors. His arguments are not only foolish; they are delusional. Read More

Sometimes, well-educated people can write the silliest essays. Take Boston College professor Alan Wolfe, who has written an article — “Why Conservatives Won’t Govern” — in the Winter 2011 issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

According to Wolfe:

There is much to be learned from the way Republicans behaved during the first two years of the Obama Administration. If that history is any indication, the problem will no longer be that conservatives cannot govern. We are instead in for an era in which conservatives will not govern. [emphasis in the original]

The problem with the GOP, you see, isn’t that it is cynical, because even a cynic cares. “What we witness instead is nihilism,” Wolfe writes, “and in the most literal sense of the term.”

Nihilism, we are told,

is as dangerous a political stance as one can find. Unlike polarization, it guarantees that words become divorced from any underlying reality they are meant to describe, that those watching the spectacle turn away in disgust, that tactical maneuvering replaces all discussion of substantive policy issues, and that political opponents are to be treated as enemies to be conquered. Lacking regenerative qualities of its own, nihilism can never produce new sources of political energy.

In case the point isn’t clear enough, Wolfe goes on to write:

[C]onservative nihilism poisons the soil that allows any set of ideas, liberal or conservative, to grow … a party that will not govern does not wish to replace strong government with weak and decentralized government in order to show how often the public sector fails. It instead much prefers to make it impossible for government to carry out its functions in the first place. If its political strategy is nihilistic, its ultimate outcome is anarchistic … when it comes to government, [conservatives] are as nihilistic as Abbie Hoffman. … No 1960s radical ever went as far as so many twenty-first century conservatives are going now.

All told, Wolfe used some version of the word “nihilism” more than 30 times in describing Republicans and conservatives.

The editor who allowed this essay to be published did Professor Wolfe no favors. His arguments are not only foolish; they are delusional.

According to Wolfe, “the shift from polarization to nihilism is well illustrated by the pre-election fate of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s ‘A Roadmap for America’s Future.’” During the campaign, Wolfe writes, “conservatives shunned Ryan’s plan like a virus.”

“Will Ryan become a conservative hero in the new House? Don’t bet on it,” Wolfe writes. “Once your purpose is to say no to everything the other side proposes, you do not want to put yourself in the position of saying yes to anything else, lest you actually have to spend your energy defending a position.”

In fact, many conservatives not only don’t shun Ryan’s plan; they enthusiastically embrace it. Sarah Palin did so as recently as a week ago. And while it’s true that the GOP leadership in the House hasn’t fully embraced the Roadmap, it is open to key elements of it. Any hesitancy in fully blessing Ryan’s roadmap doesn’t have to do with nihilism; it has to do with fear that reforming entitlements will be politically catastrophic.

More important, Ryan, the incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee, is going to present the GOP’s budget — in effect, its governing blueprint — in the spring. His plan will be far-reaching, bold, intellectually coherent — and it will have the support of the Republican caucus. Ryan will, in fact, be among the most important Republicans in America next year.

On the matter of judges, Professor Wolfe is terribly upset by the fact that fewer than half of Obama’s nominations for judgeships have been approved. “There can be little doubt that conservatives will now feel emboldened to continue and even ratchet-up their policy of judicial refusal in the next two years,” Wolfe writes. “It is, after all, a near-perfect expression of their nihilism; the best way to stop judges from interpreting the law, as conservatives like to call decisions they happen to disfavor, is to have fewer judges.” He goes on to say:

All this suggests that Elena Kagan will be the last judge Obama gets to place on the high court. This is not because openings are unlikely to occur. It is instead because Republicans, confident that Democrats will never come close to the 60 votes necessary to stop them, will use their veto power to block any Supreme Court nominee they dislike, which amounts to anyone Obama selects. On the court, if not in Congress, conservatives believe in an active government; they need judges who will say no to every piece of legislation they want to block.

It’s probably worth pointing out that it was Democrats, not Republicans, who did the most to politicize the appointment of judges and Supreme Court nominations, with their ferocious opposition to Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. No recent liberal nominee has been treated as disgracefully as were Bork and Thomas. It’s worth asking, too: was Senator Obama a nihilist for not only opposing the confirmation of Samuel Alito but also for supporting the filibuster of his nomination?

Beyond that, assume that Obama nominates centrist-to-conservative judges. Republicans would support them in the blink of an eye. The problem Obama would face would be with his liberal base, not with conservatives. This explodes the theory that Republicans are nihilists; if they were, they would oppose for the sake of opposition, as a means to achieving anarchy. But, of course, Republicans have no interest in such a thing.

And note well: the tax bill that was just agreed to was the product of a compromise between President Obama and the GOP leadership — precisely the kind of compromise that Wolfe says Republicans and conservatives oppose in principle and in every instance.

Professor Wolfe’s essay is instructive in this respect: it shows the kind of paranoia and diseased thinking that afflicts some liberals and progressives. He acts as if no conservative policy world exists and exerts any influence on lawmakers. This is flatly untrue. Professor Wolfe might, for starters, consider visiting the website of National Affairs in order to become acquainted with arguments and ideas he is now blind to.

Moreover, progressives like Wolfe seem to genuinely believe the cartoonish image they have created of Republicans and conservatives, portraying them as if they were characters out of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. They cannot seem to fathom that the differences between conservatives and liberals, between the incoming GOP Congress and Barack Obama, are rooted in different governing philosophies, not nihilism vs. non-nihilism. They do not even entertain the possibility that opposition to ObamaCare is based on the belief that a more sustainable, market-based, and patient-centered version of health reform is better for our nation. Conservatives may be wrong about this; but to hold this view does not mean they are pining for anarchy.

The Alan Wolfe approach, of course, makes governing in America much more difficult. If you view your opponents not simply as wrong but as a disciple of Nietzsche, eager to burn down the village, it changes almost everything about politics. It would be all to the good, I think, if people on both sides resisted the temptation — unless the evidence is overwhelming and to the contrary — to refer to one’s political opponents as Nazis, as terrorists, as nihilists, and so forth. This is almost always a sign of the weakness, not the strength, of one’s arguments.

In Fathers and Sons, the protagonist, Bazarov, says to the woman he loves, and hated himself for loving, “Breathe on the dying flame and let it go out. Enough!”

The same can be said about Professor Wolfe’s essay.

Read Less

The Estate Tax

The tax bill that passed the House last night and headed to the president’s desk (he’ll sign it this afternoon, apparently) raises the estate tax to 35 percent on estates over $5 million ($10 million for couples), from zero percent this year. Had nothing been done, however, it would have reverted to what it had been in 2000: 55 percent on estates over $1 million.

The estate tax goes all the way back to 1797, when Congress passed a stamp tax on wills to help finance the new American Navy. It was repealed in 1801. The Civil War and Spanish American War also saw estate taxes that were soon repealed when the wars were over. But the modern estate tax was not enacted as a revenue-raising measure so much as a social engineering one. Theodore Roosevelt was the first major politician to call for an estate tax to prevent the accumulation of great fortunes from one generation to the next. In 1906, he wrote:

As a matter of personal conviction, and without pretending to discuss the details or formulate the system, I feel that we shall ultimately have to consider the adoption of some such scheme as that of a progressive tax on all fortunes, beyond a certain amount, either given in life or devised or bequeathed upon death to any individual — a tax so framed as to put it out of the power of the owner of one of these enormous fortunes to hand on more than a certain amount to any one individual; the tax of course, to be imposed by the national and not the state government.

The colossal fortunes created by the industrialization of the country in the post–Civil War era caused many to worry about the development of a plutocracy, a few families with so much money, and thus power, that they could dictate policy. In 1916, the modern estate tax was passed. It called for a 1 percent tax on estates over $50,000 and going up to 10 percent on estates over $5 million (a very large fortune indeed in 1916). The tax was raised the next year, lowered but not eliminated in the 1920s, and then raised sky-high by Franklin Roosevelt, peaking at 71 percent for estates over $50 million in 1941. FDR made no bones about his reasons: “The transmission from generation to generation of vast fortunes by will, inheritance or gift is not consistent with the ideals and sentiments of the American people.” FDR, it turns out, was wrong. Read More

The tax bill that passed the House last night and headed to the president’s desk (he’ll sign it this afternoon, apparently) raises the estate tax to 35 percent on estates over $5 million ($10 million for couples), from zero percent this year. Had nothing been done, however, it would have reverted to what it had been in 2000: 55 percent on estates over $1 million.

The estate tax goes all the way back to 1797, when Congress passed a stamp tax on wills to help finance the new American Navy. It was repealed in 1801. The Civil War and Spanish American War also saw estate taxes that were soon repealed when the wars were over. But the modern estate tax was not enacted as a revenue-raising measure so much as a social engineering one. Theodore Roosevelt was the first major politician to call for an estate tax to prevent the accumulation of great fortunes from one generation to the next. In 1906, he wrote:

As a matter of personal conviction, and without pretending to discuss the details or formulate the system, I feel that we shall ultimately have to consider the adoption of some such scheme as that of a progressive tax on all fortunes, beyond a certain amount, either given in life or devised or bequeathed upon death to any individual — a tax so framed as to put it out of the power of the owner of one of these enormous fortunes to hand on more than a certain amount to any one individual; the tax of course, to be imposed by the national and not the state government.

The colossal fortunes created by the industrialization of the country in the post–Civil War era caused many to worry about the development of a plutocracy, a few families with so much money, and thus power, that they could dictate policy. In 1916, the modern estate tax was passed. It called for a 1 percent tax on estates over $50,000 and going up to 10 percent on estates over $5 million (a very large fortune indeed in 1916). The tax was raised the next year, lowered but not eliminated in the 1920s, and then raised sky-high by Franklin Roosevelt, peaking at 71 percent for estates over $50 million in 1941. FDR made no bones about his reasons: “The transmission from generation to generation of vast fortunes by will, inheritance or gift is not consistent with the ideals and sentiments of the American people.” FDR, it turns out, was wrong.

In the post–World War II era, the estate tax had little to do with revenues, never providing more than 2 percent of total federal income. Nor was it about plutocracy prevention. As I pointed out in a recent article in Philanthropy magazine, unlike European fortunes, American ones just don’t last, thanks to the tradition of dividing them among many heirs, new and larger fortunes being created in each generation, and the grand American tradition of the American rich making massive eleemosynary bequests. Of all names associated with the great fortunes of the Gilded Age, only Rockefeller, Mellon, and Hearst are to be found on the Forbes 400 list today. A considerable majority of the current list created their own fortunes.

Today only the liberal elite still subscribes to the idea of estate taxes. As William McGurn pointed out in the Wall Street Journal the other day, the American dream of getting rich and passing that wealth on to one’s children is very much alive and well. In the 1972 campaign, George McGovern called for a tax of 100 percent on estates over $500,000. The socialist Michael Harrington said to a friend who had been campaigning for McGovern in New York’s garment district that he must have had an easy time selling the idea to the poorly paid workers there:

The friend informed Harrington how wrong he was: “Those underpaid women … were outraged that the government would confiscate the money they would hand down to their children if they made a million dollars.” No matter how he tried to tell these garment workers how unlikely they ever were to see a million dollars in their lifetimes, they couldn’t get past the idea that the government would take it from them if they did.

The liberal elite has been agonizing over the zero-percent estate tax rate this year, as most recently manifested in Bernie Sanders’s socialist cri de coeur in the Senate. But while the estate tax was zero in 2010 (Good timing, George Steinbrenner and John Kluge!), the capital-gains tax applied. Most great fortunes consist of unrealized capital gains, but after the estate tax is paid, the heirs’ cost basis for the stock they inherit is bumped up to the date of death. Not in 2010, when it remained at the decedent’s cost basis, which is often virtually zero. That strikes me as the only estate tax we should have in a country where even the poorest can dream of one day being rich.

Read Less

Palin’s Got Bigger Problems Than Charles Krauthammer

Last night on Bill O’Reilly’s show, the FOX News host asked Sarah Palin what she thought about columnist Charles Krauthammer’s observation that the former Alaska governor’s reality TV show, in which she hangs out with fellow TLC network reality star Kate Gosselin, wasn’t exactly presidential.

Palin could have merely responded that she and the eminent analyst had a lot in common lately, as both have been critical of the Republican congressional leadership’s tax deal with President Obama, and that her qualifications for the presidency should be judged by her conservative policy stands, not a television show that everyone knows is meant as entertainment intended to boost her public profile.

But, as even those of us who have been inclined to judge her more favorably than much of the chattering class have come to understand, Sarah Palin is every bit as thin-skinned as the man she’d like to replace in the White House. Her response was vintage Palin, combining a sort of schoolyard banter with bristling resentment. “Oooh. Sorry that I’m not so hoity-toity,” was the best she could come up with as a retort while gesturing that she was not someone who had to put her finger in the air to determine what to think, as if the intellectual yet down-to-earth conservative sage Krauthammer was some liberal media consultant. Just as disturbing as the obnoxiousness of her response was the vague thought that perhaps she’s not quite sure who exactly Krauthammer is. I know she probably isn’t reading his columns (which ought to be required reading for every serious student of politics and policy, no matter where they are on the political spectrum), but you’d think she watches the network where both appear regularly.

But Palin has bigger problems than Krauthammer. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 60 percent of registered voters said they would “definitely not consider” voting for Palin for president and that she would lose to President Obama in a head-to-head match-up by a margin of 53-40 percent.

Palin’s popularity among Republicans continues to be high, and she will be a formidable contender for the GOP nomination if, as appears likely, she runs. But her appeal is limited to those who already share her views. Palin’s resentment of the Washington establishment and perhaps even of such intellectual gatekeepers of the conservative movement as Krauthammer may resonate with many conservative voters, but her attitude (which is the opposite of conservative icon Ronald Reagan’s genial responses to hostile media) alienates everyone else.

Everything she does and says lately seems geared toward reinforcing the negative opinion of that 60 percent already convinced that she isn’t qualified to be the commander in chief. And there’s simply no way that a person that six out of 10 voters wouldn’t vote for under any circumstances can be elected president.

So, rather than taunting people like Krauthammer, who merely said aloud what so many others are thinking about her unpresidential demeanor, maybe Sarah Palin ought to be waking up to the fact that she is simply unelectable.

Last night on Bill O’Reilly’s show, the FOX News host asked Sarah Palin what she thought about columnist Charles Krauthammer’s observation that the former Alaska governor’s reality TV show, in which she hangs out with fellow TLC network reality star Kate Gosselin, wasn’t exactly presidential.

Palin could have merely responded that she and the eminent analyst had a lot in common lately, as both have been critical of the Republican congressional leadership’s tax deal with President Obama, and that her qualifications for the presidency should be judged by her conservative policy stands, not a television show that everyone knows is meant as entertainment intended to boost her public profile.

But, as even those of us who have been inclined to judge her more favorably than much of the chattering class have come to understand, Sarah Palin is every bit as thin-skinned as the man she’d like to replace in the White House. Her response was vintage Palin, combining a sort of schoolyard banter with bristling resentment. “Oooh. Sorry that I’m not so hoity-toity,” was the best she could come up with as a retort while gesturing that she was not someone who had to put her finger in the air to determine what to think, as if the intellectual yet down-to-earth conservative sage Krauthammer was some liberal media consultant. Just as disturbing as the obnoxiousness of her response was the vague thought that perhaps she’s not quite sure who exactly Krauthammer is. I know she probably isn’t reading his columns (which ought to be required reading for every serious student of politics and policy, no matter where they are on the political spectrum), but you’d think she watches the network where both appear regularly.

But Palin has bigger problems than Krauthammer. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 60 percent of registered voters said they would “definitely not consider” voting for Palin for president and that she would lose to President Obama in a head-to-head match-up by a margin of 53-40 percent.

Palin’s popularity among Republicans continues to be high, and she will be a formidable contender for the GOP nomination if, as appears likely, she runs. But her appeal is limited to those who already share her views. Palin’s resentment of the Washington establishment and perhaps even of such intellectual gatekeepers of the conservative movement as Krauthammer may resonate with many conservative voters, but her attitude (which is the opposite of conservative icon Ronald Reagan’s genial responses to hostile media) alienates everyone else.

Everything she does and says lately seems geared toward reinforcing the negative opinion of that 60 percent already convinced that she isn’t qualified to be the commander in chief. And there’s simply no way that a person that six out of 10 voters wouldn’t vote for under any circumstances can be elected president.

So, rather than taunting people like Krauthammer, who merely said aloud what so many others are thinking about her unpresidential demeanor, maybe Sarah Palin ought to be waking up to the fact that she is simply unelectable.

Read Less

In-Country Analysis vs. Mud-Slinging Critics

I have just returned from 10 days traveling around Afghanistan — along with retired Army Colonel Pete Mansoor and former Army Ranger Andrew Exum — at the invitation of General David Petraeus. Upon our return, all of us have published articles laying out our findings. Pete and I, for example, wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times laying out the progress that our troops have made as well as the challenges still posed by bad governance and Pakistan sanctuaries. Rather than engage in a respectful discussion of our analysis, some overly excitable critics of the war effort have chosen to impugn our fact-gathering methods, suggesting that we have somehow been duped by the wily Petraeus into thinking that the war is going better than it actually is.

There is always a danger of drawing incorrect conclusions based on a 10-day visit — but that danger is even greater if, like many who opine on Afghanistan or Iraq, you never visit the country at all. (Or, like so many congressional delegations, spend only 24 or 48 hours in-country.)

The record will show that I have hardly been an unalloyed cheerleader for military efforts in either country — but nor did I ever conclude, as did so many others, that the situation was hopeless. In the case of Iraq, I may have been overly optimistic in my early assessments, as many were; but by 2006, I was writing that we were losing the war, much to the consternation of some conservatives — and I said so face to face with President Bush in the Oval Office in September 2006 (which didn’t make him happy). In 2007, I saw a turnaround and wrote that we were starting to win at a time when the conventional wisdom was that there was no way we could win. I think my trips to Iraq and Afghanistan have been invaluable in helping me to assess the situation, even if (like everyone else) I don’t always get it right.

I approach all such trips with great intellectual humility and do not claim to have greater expertise than I actually have. I just report what I see, and try to put it in the context of my close, ongoing study of the war effort and of previous wars. I would not by any stretch claim that 10 days in-country tells me everything I need to know; I always leave humbled by the limits of my understanding.

But on the other hand, I also get a better overview of conditions than many soldiers/civilians who spend longer periods of time in-country because they tend to stay in one small area, thus developing deep knowledge of that area but remaining aware of what is happening elsewhere. (Some soldiers — known as “Fobbits” — never leave their Forward Operating Bases at all.) Also, those who are actually deployed don’t generally keep personal tabs on what is happening after they leave — unless/until they prepare for another deployment — whereas the advantage that think tankers have is that we can keep traveling fairly regularly to examine progress or lack thereof. Read More

I have just returned from 10 days traveling around Afghanistan — along with retired Army Colonel Pete Mansoor and former Army Ranger Andrew Exum — at the invitation of General David Petraeus. Upon our return, all of us have published articles laying out our findings. Pete and I, for example, wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times laying out the progress that our troops have made as well as the challenges still posed by bad governance and Pakistan sanctuaries. Rather than engage in a respectful discussion of our analysis, some overly excitable critics of the war effort have chosen to impugn our fact-gathering methods, suggesting that we have somehow been duped by the wily Petraeus into thinking that the war is going better than it actually is.

There is always a danger of drawing incorrect conclusions based on a 10-day visit — but that danger is even greater if, like many who opine on Afghanistan or Iraq, you never visit the country at all. (Or, like so many congressional delegations, spend only 24 or 48 hours in-country.)

The record will show that I have hardly been an unalloyed cheerleader for military efforts in either country — but nor did I ever conclude, as did so many others, that the situation was hopeless. In the case of Iraq, I may have been overly optimistic in my early assessments, as many were; but by 2006, I was writing that we were losing the war, much to the consternation of some conservatives — and I said so face to face with President Bush in the Oval Office in September 2006 (which didn’t make him happy). In 2007, I saw a turnaround and wrote that we were starting to win at a time when the conventional wisdom was that there was no way we could win. I think my trips to Iraq and Afghanistan have been invaluable in helping me to assess the situation, even if (like everyone else) I don’t always get it right.

I approach all such trips with great intellectual humility and do not claim to have greater expertise than I actually have. I just report what I see, and try to put it in the context of my close, ongoing study of the war effort and of previous wars. I would not by any stretch claim that 10 days in-country tells me everything I need to know; I always leave humbled by the limits of my understanding.

But on the other hand, I also get a better overview of conditions than many soldiers/civilians who spend longer periods of time in-country because they tend to stay in one small area, thus developing deep knowledge of that area but remaining aware of what is happening elsewhere. (Some soldiers — known as “Fobbits” — never leave their Forward Operating Bases at all.) Also, those who are actually deployed don’t generally keep personal tabs on what is happening after they leave — unless/until they prepare for another deployment — whereas the advantage that think tankers have is that we can keep traveling fairly regularly to examine progress or lack thereof.

The notion that these are Potemkin tours designed to highlight only progress is ludicrous; in the past on a similar outing, I have been in a Humvee that was hit by a complex ambush in Mosul when it was the worst remaining area of Iraq. (Note: I am not claiming that the level of risk or discomfort I or others experience on such trips is remotely comparable to that of the average lance corporal; I always return in awe of the soldiers, Marines, and others who can endure such tough conditions and face such great risks for many months at a time — I realize how coddled we visitors are by comparison.)

To the critics of these fact-finding trips, I ask: What are they suggesting? That we would be better analysts if (like so many who write about Iraq and Afghanistan) we never visited at all? Or that there are analysts who are more deeply informed about events than we are?

I would agree that there are certainly people with deeper knowledge of the countries
in question than I possess, and I try to learn from them as much as possible. I would not dare to compare my country knowledge with theirs. But I think I can still make a useful contribution to the public debate by offering a broader view informed by my study of military history. If you want to disregard my analysis because I am not as deeply steeped in these areas as some others, be my guest. But keep in mind that even area experts are hardly infallible.

In general, I would suggest that commentators focus on the merits of the analysis provided by me, or by others, and stop slinging mud about our fact-gathering methods.

Read Less

Hamas-Run Gaza Gets More Food, Israel Gets More Rocket Fire

Today’s New York Times dispatch from Gaza leads with the fact that there is more food in the Hamas-ruled strip than the people there can eat. But if you thought the easing of the blockade might lesson the chances of violence, you were wrong. While terrorist attacks across the international border against towns and villages are rarely mentioned in the media, the Times does note that despite Israel’s efforts to make the lives of Gazans easier, “rockets and mortar shells fly daily from here into Israel. … Since September, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority started peace talks, there have been 20 to 30 rockets and mortar shells shot monthly into Israel, double the rate for the first part of the year.”

It has been obvious for some time that Palestinian propaganda about a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a flat-out lie, even though such charges continue to surface in the international media. Yet pressure from the United Nations and so-called human rights groups to completely lift the blockade, which aims to keep munitions and construction materials that could be used for military purposes by Hamas from entering Gaza, grows. But, as many supporters of Israel pointed out during the uproar over the Turkish aid flotilla last summer, those who support an end to the blockade are aiding Hamas while doing nothing for the people of Gaza.

While Israel’s critics like to say that the blockade helps Hamas, the opposite is closer to the truth. The Times quotes Ibrahim Abrach, a political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza, who points out the obvious: the easing of the Israeli siege was strengthening Hamas: “I fear that further lifting of the siege will lead to the loss of the West Bank. It is very hard to lift the siege and not boost Hamas.”

In other words, the end of the blockade will not only not hurt Hamas; it will seal the fate of the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, leaving Israel to face the Islamist terrorist group in that territory as well as in Gaza.

Just as ominous is the fact that the easing of the blockade has encouraged Hamas to be more active in its suppression of dissenting Palestinians:

Professor Abrach said that in recent months, as conditions here had eased, Hamas had grown bolder in its suppression of dissent. His apartment has been broken into and his computer taken, he said, and he has been called into the internal security office twice. Passports of Fatah activists have been confiscated.

Khalil al-Muzayen, a filmmaker, said a Swiss-financed drama he shot about the early days of the Israeli occupation here in the 1970s was banned because it depicted Israeli solders as not all monstrous. One or two were nice. “This was seen as pro-normalization,” he said.

For all the incessant chatter about how Netanyahu’s actions or Jewish settlements are an obstacle to peace, the real obstacle remains the intransigence of the Palestinians. Fatah and the PA can’t say yes to the Palestinian state that Israel has repeatedly offered it, because they know that doing so will ensure their rapid defeat at the hands of Hamas. And though credulous fools can always be found to assert that Hamas is showing signs of moderation, everything it does or says belies this claim.

In response to a question from the Times about reconciliation with Israel, Yusef Mansi, the Hamas minister of public works and housing, summed up the Islamists’ stand: “I would rather die a martyr like my son than shake the hand of my enemy.”

Today’s New York Times dispatch from Gaza leads with the fact that there is more food in the Hamas-ruled strip than the people there can eat. But if you thought the easing of the blockade might lesson the chances of violence, you were wrong. While terrorist attacks across the international border against towns and villages are rarely mentioned in the media, the Times does note that despite Israel’s efforts to make the lives of Gazans easier, “rockets and mortar shells fly daily from here into Israel. … Since September, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority started peace talks, there have been 20 to 30 rockets and mortar shells shot monthly into Israel, double the rate for the first part of the year.”

It has been obvious for some time that Palestinian propaganda about a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a flat-out lie, even though such charges continue to surface in the international media. Yet pressure from the United Nations and so-called human rights groups to completely lift the blockade, which aims to keep munitions and construction materials that could be used for military purposes by Hamas from entering Gaza, grows. But, as many supporters of Israel pointed out during the uproar over the Turkish aid flotilla last summer, those who support an end to the blockade are aiding Hamas while doing nothing for the people of Gaza.

While Israel’s critics like to say that the blockade helps Hamas, the opposite is closer to the truth. The Times quotes Ibrahim Abrach, a political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza, who points out the obvious: the easing of the Israeli siege was strengthening Hamas: “I fear that further lifting of the siege will lead to the loss of the West Bank. It is very hard to lift the siege and not boost Hamas.”

In other words, the end of the blockade will not only not hurt Hamas; it will seal the fate of the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, leaving Israel to face the Islamist terrorist group in that territory as well as in Gaza.

Just as ominous is the fact that the easing of the blockade has encouraged Hamas to be more active in its suppression of dissenting Palestinians:

Professor Abrach said that in recent months, as conditions here had eased, Hamas had grown bolder in its suppression of dissent. His apartment has been broken into and his computer taken, he said, and he has been called into the internal security office twice. Passports of Fatah activists have been confiscated.

Khalil al-Muzayen, a filmmaker, said a Swiss-financed drama he shot about the early days of the Israeli occupation here in the 1970s was banned because it depicted Israeli solders as not all monstrous. One or two were nice. “This was seen as pro-normalization,” he said.

For all the incessant chatter about how Netanyahu’s actions or Jewish settlements are an obstacle to peace, the real obstacle remains the intransigence of the Palestinians. Fatah and the PA can’t say yes to the Palestinian state that Israel has repeatedly offered it, because they know that doing so will ensure their rapid defeat at the hands of Hamas. And though credulous fools can always be found to assert that Hamas is showing signs of moderation, everything it does or says belies this claim.

In response to a question from the Times about reconciliation with Israel, Yusef Mansi, the Hamas minister of public works and housing, summed up the Islamists’ stand: “I would rather die a martyr like my son than shake the hand of my enemy.”

Read Less

Morning Commentary

Congress passed the extension of the Bush tax cuts last night, prompting Charles Krauthammer to dub President Obama “the comeback kid”: “Now, with his stunning tax deal, Obama is back. Holding no high cards, he nonetheless managed to resurface suddenly not just as a player but as orchestrator, dealmaker and central actor in a high $1 trillion drama.”

As Congress debates New START, the centerpiece of the “reset” strategy with Russia, Prime Minister Putin continues to defend the authority of the Russian security forces:  “These bodies of power carry out the state’s most important function,” Mr. Putin said. “Otherwise, our liberal intelligentsia will have to shave off their goatees and put on helmets themselves and go out to the square to fight radicals themselves.”

On the Senate floor yesterday, John McCain gave a stirring defense of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Putin’s jailed political opponent, who will face a trial Dec. 27. The Arizona senator was one of eight Senate Republicans to vote to open debate on New START and is a key swing vote on the treaty’s ratification: “Yesterday, the Senate voted to take up the New START Treaty. To be sure, this Treaty should be considered on its merits to our national security, but it is only reasonable to ask: If Russian officials demonstrate such a blatant disregard for the rights and legal obligations owed to one of their own citizens, how will they treat us — and the legal obligations, be it this Treaty or any other, that they owe to us?”

Former Israeli national security adviser Giora Eiland said on Thursday that Israel would currently be unable to defeat Hezbollah in a direct engagement. “Israel does not know how to beat Hezbollah. … Therefore a war waged only as Israel-versus-Hezbollah might yield better damage on Hezbollah, but Hezbollah would inflict far worse damage on the Israeli homefront than it did 4-1/2 years ago.”

Is it dangerous for Michele Obama to frame the fight against childhood obesity as a national security issue? Michael A. Walsh outlines the problems with the First Lady’s comments: “Forget private-property rights or the rumblings in your belly. In Obama’s America, you will no longer be allowed to freely make economic and nutritional decisions about how to feed yourself and your family. Somebody else — the city, the state, the first lady — will do that for you. After all, it’s a matter of national security.”

Congress passed the extension of the Bush tax cuts last night, prompting Charles Krauthammer to dub President Obama “the comeback kid”: “Now, with his stunning tax deal, Obama is back. Holding no high cards, he nonetheless managed to resurface suddenly not just as a player but as orchestrator, dealmaker and central actor in a high $1 trillion drama.”

As Congress debates New START, the centerpiece of the “reset” strategy with Russia, Prime Minister Putin continues to defend the authority of the Russian security forces:  “These bodies of power carry out the state’s most important function,” Mr. Putin said. “Otherwise, our liberal intelligentsia will have to shave off their goatees and put on helmets themselves and go out to the square to fight radicals themselves.”

On the Senate floor yesterday, John McCain gave a stirring defense of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Putin’s jailed political opponent, who will face a trial Dec. 27. The Arizona senator was one of eight Senate Republicans to vote to open debate on New START and is a key swing vote on the treaty’s ratification: “Yesterday, the Senate voted to take up the New START Treaty. To be sure, this Treaty should be considered on its merits to our national security, but it is only reasonable to ask: If Russian officials demonstrate such a blatant disregard for the rights and legal obligations owed to one of their own citizens, how will they treat us — and the legal obligations, be it this Treaty or any other, that they owe to us?”

Former Israeli national security adviser Giora Eiland said on Thursday that Israel would currently be unable to defeat Hezbollah in a direct engagement. “Israel does not know how to beat Hezbollah. … Therefore a war waged only as Israel-versus-Hezbollah might yield better damage on Hezbollah, but Hezbollah would inflict far worse damage on the Israeli homefront than it did 4-1/2 years ago.”

Is it dangerous for Michele Obama to frame the fight against childhood obesity as a national security issue? Michael A. Walsh outlines the problems with the First Lady’s comments: “Forget private-property rights or the rumblings in your belly. In Obama’s America, you will no longer be allowed to freely make economic and nutritional decisions about how to feed yourself and your family. Somebody else — the city, the state, the first lady — will do that for you. After all, it’s a matter of national security.”

Read Less

The Difference a Day Makes in American Politics

In his excellent essay in the Claremont Review of Books, titled “The Great Repudiation,” Professor James Ceaser wrote

The results of the 2010 election changed the landscape of American politics. … In fact, 2010 is the closest the nation has ever come to a national referendum on overall policy direction or “ideology.” … There is only one label that can describe the result: the Great Repudiation.

To understand just how much the landscape of American politics changed, consider (as John does) yesterday’s events — a day in which the Democratic majority in Congress averted across-the-board tax increases and enacted new tax breaks for individuals and businesses and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was forced to pull an almost $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, replacing it (presumably) with a Continuing Resolution.

These were major substantive achievements by Republicans — and enormous substantive concessions by President Obama and his party. We have the Great Repudiation to thank for them.

In his excellent essay in the Claremont Review of Books, titled “The Great Repudiation,” Professor James Ceaser wrote

The results of the 2010 election changed the landscape of American politics. … In fact, 2010 is the closest the nation has ever come to a national referendum on overall policy direction or “ideology.” … There is only one label that can describe the result: the Great Repudiation.

To understand just how much the landscape of American politics changed, consider (as John does) yesterday’s events — a day in which the Democratic majority in Congress averted across-the-board tax increases and enacted new tax breaks for individuals and businesses and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was forced to pull an almost $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, replacing it (presumably) with a Continuing Resolution.

These were major substantive achievements by Republicans — and enormous substantive concessions by President Obama and his party. We have the Great Repudiation to thank for them.

Read Less

If Obama Wins in 2012…

… he will do so because of what happened in Washington yesterday. The tax-cut deal passed. The $1 trillion omnibus spending bill died in the Senate because of united Republican opposition. The administration announced its strategy in Afghanistan was, with many caveats and warnings, working. If the economy grows consistently going forward; if Republicans hold the line on spending for Obama; and if the fight against the Taliban and to stabilize Afghanistan continues apace, Barack Obama may indeed win in 2012 because the second half of his first term will prove to be the third term of George W. Bush.

The great difference for the rest of this term is and will be, of course, cultural. Yesterday morning, President Obama also gave a speech to the Tribal Nations Conference in which he promised to support a ludicrous UN “Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” which the U.S. voted to oppose in 2007. So there’s that. And the kinds of judges he puts on the federal courts. And an Obama second term would revert its focus to the focus of the first half of the first term — to the implementation of the health-care bill. So this would be no Bill Clinton do-over.

… he will do so because of what happened in Washington yesterday. The tax-cut deal passed. The $1 trillion omnibus spending bill died in the Senate because of united Republican opposition. The administration announced its strategy in Afghanistan was, with many caveats and warnings, working. If the economy grows consistently going forward; if Republicans hold the line on spending for Obama; and if the fight against the Taliban and to stabilize Afghanistan continues apace, Barack Obama may indeed win in 2012 because the second half of his first term will prove to be the third term of George W. Bush.

The great difference for the rest of this term is and will be, of course, cultural. Yesterday morning, President Obama also gave a speech to the Tribal Nations Conference in which he promised to support a ludicrous UN “Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” which the U.S. voted to oppose in 2007. So there’s that. And the kinds of judges he puts on the federal courts. And an Obama second term would revert its focus to the focus of the first half of the first term — to the implementation of the health-care bill. So this would be no Bill Clinton do-over.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.