Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 2011

New Editorial Appointments at COMMENTARY

I’m pleased to announce that Jonathan S. Tobin, who has served as COMMENTARY Magazine’s executive editor since January 2009, is assuming new responsibilities at the institution. He is becoming both our Senior Online Editor and taking on expanded responsibilities as our chief blogger on politics as we head into the 2012 election. Before joining COMMENTARY, Tobin was the editor of Jewish newspapers in Philadelphia and Connecticut.

Working with Tobin, in the position of Online Editor, is D. G. Myers, also known as David. Myers is a literary critic and literary historian at the Melton Center for Jewish Studies at the Ohio State University, where he has alighted after a long stint as a professor of English at Texas A&M University. Myers has written frequently for COMMENTARY on matters literary and Jewish, and maintains his own website on such things, called A Commonplace Blog.

I’m pleased to announce that Jonathan S. Tobin, who has served as COMMENTARY Magazine’s executive editor since January 2009, is assuming new responsibilities at the institution. He is becoming both our Senior Online Editor and taking on expanded responsibilities as our chief blogger on politics as we head into the 2012 election. Before joining COMMENTARY, Tobin was the editor of Jewish newspapers in Philadelphia and Connecticut.

Working with Tobin, in the position of Online Editor, is D. G. Myers, also known as David. Myers is a literary critic and literary historian at the Melton Center for Jewish Studies at the Ohio State University, where he has alighted after a long stint as a professor of English at Texas A&M University. Myers has written frequently for COMMENTARY on matters literary and Jewish, and maintains his own website on such things, called A Commonplace Blog.

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In Reply to Rush

Rush Limbaugh took exception to my comments on Donald Trump earlier this week. Having read on the air what I wrote, Rush said, “So that’s the inside-the-Beltway view. Somebody from outside the Beltway has dared enter the scene and they don’t like it. They really don’t like it.” Trump is a threat to what Rush refers to as the “Ruling Class.” If you read the full transcript, you’ll find that Rush objects to those of us who consider Trump, at least in the realm of politics, to be “unserious.”

On this matter I have a few thoughts, the first of which is that Rush’s populist, outside-the-beltway figure isn’t from, say, Des Moines, Iowa, or Dixon, Illinois. He comes to us from Manhattan, which may be more out of touch and elitist in its views than perhaps any place in America, with perhaps the exception of Hollywood.

In any event, geography actually has nothing to do with what I said about Trump. If he lived in Georgetown my critique would have been identical to what it is. And if I lived in Richland, Washington; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Colorado Springs, Colorado; or Palm Beach, Florida, my words and sentiments would be same as they are. As it happens, most of the people I’m inclined to support for president are outside the Beltway figures (governors). And the figures inside the Beltway I most admire—including Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio—are people whom Rush himself has also praised.

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Rush Limbaugh took exception to my comments on Donald Trump earlier this week. Having read on the air what I wrote, Rush said, “So that’s the inside-the-Beltway view. Somebody from outside the Beltway has dared enter the scene and they don’t like it. They really don’t like it.” Trump is a threat to what Rush refers to as the “Ruling Class.” If you read the full transcript, you’ll find that Rush objects to those of us who consider Trump, at least in the realm of politics, to be “unserious.”

On this matter I have a few thoughts, the first of which is that Rush’s populist, outside-the-beltway figure isn’t from, say, Des Moines, Iowa, or Dixon, Illinois. He comes to us from Manhattan, which may be more out of touch and elitist in its views than perhaps any place in America, with perhaps the exception of Hollywood.

In any event, geography actually has nothing to do with what I said about Trump. If he lived in Georgetown my critique would have been identical to what it is. And if I lived in Richland, Washington; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Colorado Springs, Colorado; or Palm Beach, Florida, my words and sentiments would be same as they are. As it happens, most of the people I’m inclined to support for president are outside the Beltway figures (governors). And the figures inside the Beltway I most admire—including Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio—are people whom Rush himself has also praised.

No, my objections to Trump aren’t that he is an outsider intruding on my Inside-the-Beltway/Ruling Class turf. My objection is that he’s not serious. Now, Rush thinks it’s wrong for me (and others, like Charles Krauthammer) to make this claim. But is it really? After all, on a number of major issues, Trump has (until very recently) been as liberal, or perhaps even more liberal than, Barack Obama. He had advocated a single-payer health care system (which even ObamaCare doesn’t give us); he has called for massive tax increases; he has favored abortion rights; he has revealed himself to be hyper-protectionist. He has called George W. Bush “evil.” And Trump has donated more money to Democrats than Republicans in recent years and was a registered Democrat from 2001 to 2008, when the Democratic Party was dominated by liberals.

It’s not simply that these policies are, from a conservative perspective, misguided; it’s that Trump, having held them, now wants to win the nomination of the only major conservative party in America. And of course Trump’s advocacy for seizing Iraqi and Libyan oil wells is insane. So is Trump’s insistence that he could alter the policies of other countries by picking up the phone and treating their leaders like he treats people on The Apprentice.

Based on his record, Trump is worse than your run-of-the-mill RINO (Republican In Name Only); he’s been quite liberal in many of his views. And his explanation for his flip flops— the times are different now than they were when he championed liberal views—just is not credible. For one thing, Trump held many of his liberal views in recent years; and for another, exactly when is the right time to advocate massive tax increases, abortion on demand, protectionism, and a single-payer health care system?

Among the reasons I have been critical of Trump is to try to protect conservatism, the political/philosophical cause that Rush and I have in different ways devoted our adult lives to. Trump deserves to be treated respectfully because—well, why exactly? Because he obsessed for most of April on an utterly false claim, which is that Obama isn’t an American citizen? Because he forced the president to reveal a long-form birth certificate that merely confirms what his Certificate of Live Birth already did? By getting a reaction from the president he’s now supposed to be handed some kind of pass when it comes to substance, to his past policies, and to his head-snapping shifts? The criticisms of him must be both glancing and fleeting? And those of us who call him out on his record are doing so because we’re afraid Trump is intruding on our turf? Please.

As for the argument that Trump’s style is what makes him attractive, it’s worth pointing out that he is, in many ways, the antithesis of the great conservative icon, Ronald Reagan. Trump is vulgar, shallow, and dyspeptic where Reagan was dignified, philosophically well-grounded, and gracious in his tone and demeanor. Unlike Trump, Reagan was not given to rants or buffoonery or conspiracy theories. Reagan is the type of figure, in fact, who (like his close friend William F. Buckley, Jr.) would be inclined to detach conservatism and the GOP from those peddling paranoid theories.

In sum, then: it is my conservatism, not my zip code, that has led me to criticize Trump. And if I am wrong about Trump, I’m more than willing to hear that case. But as it now stands, I don’t see where my assessment is wrong.

Let me close on a personal word. Rush is a friend of some 20 years. I last saw him at his wedding to Kathryn Rogers, a lovely lady. And Rush has never been anything but personally kind to me (including those times when he has publicly disagreed with what I wrote). In terms of his influence and skill as a broadcaster, I’ve compared Rush to Johnny Carson. Both essentially defined a particular medium (Carson did it with late-night television while Rush did it with conservative talk radio). Rush is a hugely influential figure within conservatism and will be as long as he sits behind the golden EIB microphone. But on this question, I believe he is wide of the mark. And knowing Rush and how he relishes engaging in substantive debates, I rather doubt my saying so will bother him one bit.

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Nancy Pelosi, Are You Listening?

After Rep. Paul Ryan faced a handful of boos at a largely calm town hall meeting the other day, Rep. Nancy Pelosi released a statement crowing, “Chairman Ryan, the people, including your constituents, are talking. Are you listening?”

Pelosi might want to take her own advice and listen to the standing ovation Ryan received for his budget plan at a town hall in Greenfield, Wisconsin, earlier today. The Weekly Standard’s John McCormick caught the video:

“Ryan faced a larger number of hecklers at this event than previous ones,” McCormick says, “but they were just a sliver of the max capacity crowd. The vast majority of those present stood and applauded Ryan after one constituent rose to thank the congressman for producing his plan to rein in the federal budget.”

That there is opposition to Ryan’s budget at town hall meetings is hardly surprising—Americans aren’t politically monolithic. It would be suspicious if all of Ryan’s constituents supported his plan. But the media’s attempt to depict this mild opposition as a major news story shows to what extent reporters rely upon predetermined narratives. Comparing the current atmospheres at town hall meetings to the atmosphere in 2009 may be a great way to frame a news story, but it doesn’t mesh with reality.

After Rep. Paul Ryan faced a handful of boos at a largely calm town hall meeting the other day, Rep. Nancy Pelosi released a statement crowing, “Chairman Ryan, the people, including your constituents, are talking. Are you listening?”

Pelosi might want to take her own advice and listen to the standing ovation Ryan received for his budget plan at a town hall in Greenfield, Wisconsin, earlier today. The Weekly Standard’s John McCormick caught the video:

“Ryan faced a larger number of hecklers at this event than previous ones,” McCormick says, “but they were just a sliver of the max capacity crowd. The vast majority of those present stood and applauded Ryan after one constituent rose to thank the congressman for producing his plan to rein in the federal budget.”

That there is opposition to Ryan’s budget at town hall meetings is hardly surprising—Americans aren’t politically monolithic. It would be suspicious if all of Ryan’s constituents supported his plan. But the media’s attempt to depict this mild opposition as a major news story shows to what extent reporters rely upon predetermined narratives. Comparing the current atmospheres at town hall meetings to the atmosphere in 2009 may be a great way to frame a news story, but it doesn’t mesh with reality.

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Kirk: Aid to Fatah-Hamas Axis Would Be Illegal

Two days ago, Sen. Mark Kirk tweeted that the Fatah-Hamas unity government would put the Palestinian Authority’s U.S. aid at risk, and this morning his office followed up by emailing a memo outlining the legal implications of the deal.

Kirk, along with Rep. Nita Lowey, helped to author the restrictions on U.S. assistance to the PA, and he writes that under the Section 1107 provision of the 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act, no U.S. funds may be provided for:

1)   salaries of personnel of the Palestinian Authority located in Gaza;

2)   assistance to Hamas or any entity effectively controlled by Hamas; or

3)   any power-sharing government of which Hamas is a member, unless the President certifies to Congress that “such government, including all of its ministers or such equivalent, has publicly accepted and is complying with” the core requirements of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, which are:

a.   publicly acknowledging the Jewish state of Israel’s right to exist; and

b.   committing itself/themselves and adhering to all previous agreements and understandings with the United States Government, with the Government of Israel, and with the international community, including agreements and understandings pursuant to the Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (commonly referred to as the ‘Roadmap’)

Based on this language, Congress clearly would have no choice but to cut off aid to a Fatah-Hamas unity government. Moreover, Hamas has (unsurprisingly) shown that it has no plans to adhere to the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006. If there was any doubt about this, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called on Fatah today to renounce its recognition of the state of Israel.

Two days ago, Sen. Mark Kirk tweeted that the Fatah-Hamas unity government would put the Palestinian Authority’s U.S. aid at risk, and this morning his office followed up by emailing a memo outlining the legal implications of the deal.

Kirk, along with Rep. Nita Lowey, helped to author the restrictions on U.S. assistance to the PA, and he writes that under the Section 1107 provision of the 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act, no U.S. funds may be provided for:

1)   salaries of personnel of the Palestinian Authority located in Gaza;

2)   assistance to Hamas or any entity effectively controlled by Hamas; or

3)   any power-sharing government of which Hamas is a member, unless the President certifies to Congress that “such government, including all of its ministers or such equivalent, has publicly accepted and is complying with” the core requirements of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, which are:

a.   publicly acknowledging the Jewish state of Israel’s right to exist; and

b.   committing itself/themselves and adhering to all previous agreements and understandings with the United States Government, with the Government of Israel, and with the international community, including agreements and understandings pursuant to the Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (commonly referred to as the ‘Roadmap’)

Based on this language, Congress clearly would have no choice but to cut off aid to a Fatah-Hamas unity government. Moreover, Hamas has (unsurprisingly) shown that it has no plans to adhere to the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006. If there was any doubt about this, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called on Fatah today to renounce its recognition of the state of Israel.

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Obama Can’t Afford $5 Gas

New York Times political blogger Nate Silver is always interesting to read even when he is providing statistical support for liberal conventional wisdom. In today’s edition of his Five Thirty Eight blog, though, Silver attempts to debunk the idea that rising gas prices will doom Barack Obama’s chances for reelection. “[G]as prices had very little effect unto themselves,” he claims: “instead, the question is how they affected broader economic measures like inflation and G.D.P.”

True enough. But though Silver admits that “when energy prices are high, a number of other things are going wrong with the economy as well,” he goes on to say that “in the hypothetical world, where gas cost $5 per gallon but everything else was just fine, President Obama’s approval ratings would be better.” Silver’s point is that there is no “simple, one-to-one correspondence between gas prices and Mr. Obama’s approval.”

But this is the merest sophistry. If gas prices go through the roof, as they just might were unrest in the Middle East to start shaking the foundations of even seemingly stable countries such as Saudi Arabia, they would have far-reaching effects on virtually every sector of the economy. Prices of all goods would skyrocket and the impact on consumer behavior would be considerable. Just think back to the mood of the country in the summer of 2008 when gas prices last threatened to reach $5 per gallon. If gas costs that much then everything else cannot possibly be “just fine.”

The problem goes deeper than bad economic statistics. While there are other factors that play into the state of the economy, this is one that has the ability to alter everything else and hits home to the average voter in a way that even the rate of unemployment does not. While there will always be those whose environmental alarmism or fundamental hostility to capitalism will cause them to think reducing the ability of Americans to drive their vehicles is a good thing, most voters rightly see it as an intolerable infringement on their personal liberty. Barack Obama cannot afford a gasoline price of $5 or more a gallon.

New York Times political blogger Nate Silver is always interesting to read even when he is providing statistical support for liberal conventional wisdom. In today’s edition of his Five Thirty Eight blog, though, Silver attempts to debunk the idea that rising gas prices will doom Barack Obama’s chances for reelection. “[G]as prices had very little effect unto themselves,” he claims: “instead, the question is how they affected broader economic measures like inflation and G.D.P.”

True enough. But though Silver admits that “when energy prices are high, a number of other things are going wrong with the economy as well,” he goes on to say that “in the hypothetical world, where gas cost $5 per gallon but everything else was just fine, President Obama’s approval ratings would be better.” Silver’s point is that there is no “simple, one-to-one correspondence between gas prices and Mr. Obama’s approval.”

But this is the merest sophistry. If gas prices go through the roof, as they just might were unrest in the Middle East to start shaking the foundations of even seemingly stable countries such as Saudi Arabia, they would have far-reaching effects on virtually every sector of the economy. Prices of all goods would skyrocket and the impact on consumer behavior would be considerable. Just think back to the mood of the country in the summer of 2008 when gas prices last threatened to reach $5 per gallon. If gas costs that much then everything else cannot possibly be “just fine.”

The problem goes deeper than bad economic statistics. While there are other factors that play into the state of the economy, this is one that has the ability to alter everything else and hits home to the average voter in a way that even the rate of unemployment does not. While there will always be those whose environmental alarmism or fundamental hostility to capitalism will cause them to think reducing the ability of Americans to drive their vehicles is a good thing, most voters rightly see it as an intolerable infringement on their personal liberty. Barack Obama cannot afford a gasoline price of $5 or more a gallon.

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Krauthammer on the Obama Doctrine

Charles Krauthammer tackles President Obama’s “leading from behind” doctrine at the Washington Post today. He finds two reasons for the adminisration’s discomfort with American leadership. First, the White House believes “U.S. relative power is declining.” And second, they believe “we are reviled” internationally. As Krauthammer writes, this second concept is nothing new:

It is the fate of any assertive superpower to be envied, denounced and blamed for everything under the sun. Nothing has changed. Moreover, for a country so deeply reviled, why during the massive unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan and Syria have anti-American demonstrations been such a rarity?

We can go even further. Many of these opposition groups have actually called on the U.S. for assistance during their revolutions. And in too many of these situations, we’ve turned these groups down. The general Arab public is not railing against the U.S.; it is the “paper tiger” autocrats who have long used anti-Americanism as a tool to hold onto power.

And, as Krauthammer writes, the American liberal elites want to see U.S. power diminished, not the “international community”:

Who truly reviles America the hegemon? The world that Obama lived in and shaped him intellectually: the elite universities; his Hyde Park milieu. . . . It is the liberal elites who revile the American colossus and devoutly wish to see it cut down to size. Leading from behind—diminishing America’s global standing and assertiveness—is a reaction to their view of America, not the world’s.

This goes back to the administration’s idea that America’s power is declining, and we need to begin to accept as much by taking on a smaller international role. If anything, Libya proves how divorced from reality this view is. The “international community” has shown that it needs the U.S. to lead. France, Great Britain, and other countries that previously derided American hegemony are now practically begging the U.S. to take the reigns in Libya. Whether we like it or not, we are the world leader, and there’s simply no other nation that can take on this role.

Charles Krauthammer tackles President Obama’s “leading from behind” doctrine at the Washington Post today. He finds two reasons for the adminisration’s discomfort with American leadership. First, the White House believes “U.S. relative power is declining.” And second, they believe “we are reviled” internationally. As Krauthammer writes, this second concept is nothing new:

It is the fate of any assertive superpower to be envied, denounced and blamed for everything under the sun. Nothing has changed. Moreover, for a country so deeply reviled, why during the massive unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan and Syria have anti-American demonstrations been such a rarity?

We can go even further. Many of these opposition groups have actually called on the U.S. for assistance during their revolutions. And in too many of these situations, we’ve turned these groups down. The general Arab public is not railing against the U.S.; it is the “paper tiger” autocrats who have long used anti-Americanism as a tool to hold onto power.

And, as Krauthammer writes, the American liberal elites want to see U.S. power diminished, not the “international community”:

Who truly reviles America the hegemon? The world that Obama lived in and shaped him intellectually: the elite universities; his Hyde Park milieu. . . . It is the liberal elites who revile the American colossus and devoutly wish to see it cut down to size. Leading from behind—diminishing America’s global standing and assertiveness—is a reaction to their view of America, not the world’s.

This goes back to the administration’s idea that America’s power is declining, and we need to begin to accept as much by taking on a smaller international role. If anything, Libya proves how divorced from reality this view is. The “international community” has shown that it needs the U.S. to lead. France, Great Britain, and other countries that previously derided American hegemony are now practically begging the U.S. to take the reigns in Libya. Whether we like it or not, we are the world leader, and there’s simply no other nation that can take on this role.

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Reagan Recovery vs. Obama Recovery

Investor’s Business Daily ran an interesting editorial yesterday (h/t: Instapundit) comparing the recovery from the 1981–’82 recession with the recovery from the 2007–’09 recession. The comparison goes a long way toward explaining why Ronald Reagan won reelection, carrying 49 states, while Obama is well on his way to being a one-term president.

After the end of the ’81–’82 recession unemployment fell sharply as growth expanded dramatically. Twenty-seven months after the official end of that recession, unemployment had fallen to 7.5 percent from a peak of 10.8 percent. At the same point after the recent recession, unemployment had fallen not 3.3 percentage points, but only 1.4 percentage points. The reason is not hard to find. In the seven quarters following the ’81–’82 recession, GDP growth averaged 7.1 percent (on an annual basis). In the current post-recession span it has averaged only 2.8 percent. We need 2.5 percent growth just to absorb increases in the work force. The first quarter of 2011 had only a 1.8 percent increase in GDP.

The two economies are not exactly comparable, of course. Manufacturing jobs, to which workers can be quickly summoned back, make up a much smaller percentage of the total jobs today. Inflation fell sharply in and after the ’81–’82 recession, while it is increasing today. Housing prices had not suffered nearly the hit they have taken in recent years, adversely influencing people’s perception of their ability to spend money. The microprocessor revolution was much less advanced then than now, when firms contemplating expansion are more likely to look to investing in new technology than in new employees (although the new technology will create more jobs in the long run).

But Reagan’s low-tax-rates, less-regulation, America-is-the-hope-of-the-world philosophy also differs sharply from Obama’s, in which taxing the rich, turning always to the government for answers, and America-causes-the-world’s-problems are cherished principles.

If Obama sticks with that ideology, and it’s hard to see how he can abandon it now, he’s got a big reelection headache.

Investor’s Business Daily ran an interesting editorial yesterday (h/t: Instapundit) comparing the recovery from the 1981–’82 recession with the recovery from the 2007–’09 recession. The comparison goes a long way toward explaining why Ronald Reagan won reelection, carrying 49 states, while Obama is well on his way to being a one-term president.

After the end of the ’81–’82 recession unemployment fell sharply as growth expanded dramatically. Twenty-seven months after the official end of that recession, unemployment had fallen to 7.5 percent from a peak of 10.8 percent. At the same point after the recent recession, unemployment had fallen not 3.3 percentage points, but only 1.4 percentage points. The reason is not hard to find. In the seven quarters following the ’81–’82 recession, GDP growth averaged 7.1 percent (on an annual basis). In the current post-recession span it has averaged only 2.8 percent. We need 2.5 percent growth just to absorb increases in the work force. The first quarter of 2011 had only a 1.8 percent increase in GDP.

The two economies are not exactly comparable, of course. Manufacturing jobs, to which workers can be quickly summoned back, make up a much smaller percentage of the total jobs today. Inflation fell sharply in and after the ’81–’82 recession, while it is increasing today. Housing prices had not suffered nearly the hit they have taken in recent years, adversely influencing people’s perception of their ability to spend money. The microprocessor revolution was much less advanced then than now, when firms contemplating expansion are more likely to look to investing in new technology than in new employees (although the new technology will create more jobs in the long run).

But Reagan’s low-tax-rates, less-regulation, America-is-the-hope-of-the-world philosophy also differs sharply from Obama’s, in which taxing the rich, turning always to the government for answers, and America-causes-the-world’s-problems are cherished principles.

If Obama sticks with that ideology, and it’s hard to see how he can abandon it now, he’s got a big reelection headache.

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Superman: “Truth, Justice and the American Way Isn’t Enough Anymore”

If you were wondering about the decline of American exceptionalism, the news that Superman is renouncing his American citizenship is more proof of how far the worm has turned. According to the Huffington Post, in Action Comics #900 the Man of Steel says he’s giving up his U.S. passport.

Of course, Superman did come to this country as an illegal immigrant. The native of Krypton crash-landed in Kansas without a valid visa. Unlike Barack Obama, he would not be eligible for the presidency. Although I can’t claim to have read all of the Superman opus (at least, not recently), I imagine at some point in the saga a grateful nation naturalized him without forcing him to pay a fine and return to his home star system and await his turn for legal entry into the country.

However, in the latest Superman comic, the hero has decided that his American connection interferes with human-rights activism. You see, Superman recently visited Tehran to express his sympathy non-violently with demonstrators seeking to overthrow the Islamist tyranny in Iran. But on his return to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, he is chastised by the unnamed president’s national security adviser. The fictional NSC is infuriated by the superhero’s actions. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the mullahs see Superman as an American icon and view his peaceful protest as an act of war. In response, Superman says he will go to the United Nations to renounce his American citizenship the better to continue his superhero activism from a global rather than a parochial American perspective.

“ ‘Truth, Justice and the American Way’—it’s Not Enough anymore,” Superman declares.

A few things about this comic (or should I say “graphic novel”) are confusing.

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If you were wondering about the decline of American exceptionalism, the news that Superman is renouncing his American citizenship is more proof of how far the worm has turned. According to the Huffington Post, in Action Comics #900 the Man of Steel says he’s giving up his U.S. passport.

Of course, Superman did come to this country as an illegal immigrant. The native of Krypton crash-landed in Kansas without a valid visa. Unlike Barack Obama, he would not be eligible for the presidency. Although I can’t claim to have read all of the Superman opus (at least, not recently), I imagine at some point in the saga a grateful nation naturalized him without forcing him to pay a fine and return to his home star system and await his turn for legal entry into the country.

However, in the latest Superman comic, the hero has decided that his American connection interferes with human-rights activism. You see, Superman recently visited Tehran to express his sympathy non-violently with demonstrators seeking to overthrow the Islamist tyranny in Iran. But on his return to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, he is chastised by the unnamed president’s national security adviser. The fictional NSC is infuriated by the superhero’s actions. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the mullahs see Superman as an American icon and view his peaceful protest as an act of war. In response, Superman says he will go to the United Nations to renounce his American citizenship the better to continue his superhero activism from a global rather than a parochial American perspective.

“ ‘Truth, Justice and the American Way’—it’s Not Enough anymore,” Superman declares.

A few things about this comic (or should I say “graphic novel”) are confusing.

First, what’s the point of having superpowers if you are going to play Gandhi when the going gets rough? Did Superman look on impassively as Iranian demonstrators were beaten and arrested on the streets of Tehran? Why wouldn’t he use his bullet-like speed, his more-powerful-than-a-locomotive strength, his X-ray vision, his flying ability at least to break some of those dissidents out of the Iranian dungeons where they were being tortured?

Second, Superman’s understanding of the problem is uncharacteristically broken-backed. Of course, Ahmadinejad sees him as an instrument of American policy. Superman’s quest for “Truth, Justice and the American Way” isn’t an expression of jingoism but an affirmation of the civic faith that supports American-style democracy around the globe as an integral element of our national identity. Superman may be fictional but to many of our cultural elites, as well as our real-life president, “the American way isn’t enough anymore” because they are not comfortable with American exceptionalism. With so many in the chattering classes conceiving of the United States as the problem rather than the solution it is no surprise that Superman would renounce Americanism. With Obama “leading from behind” in Libya and Syria and equivocating on human rights in Iran, it appears that the immigrant from Krypton has thrown in with the culture elite and decided that the American century is truly over. Heaven help us and a bleeding planet that may look to the United States now and again for global leadership.

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“Assistance to the Palestinian Authority Will End”

A bipartisan congressional delegation has joined the growing chorus of lawmakers threatening to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority if it goes through with its plan to form a unity government with Hamas.

“This is a time for clarity. The Palestinian Authority has chosen an alliance with violence and extremism over the democratic values that Israel represents,” the delegation said in a press release. “The United States should not aid an entity whose members seek the destruction of the State of Israel and continue to fire rockets and mortars at innocent Israeli children. If the Palestinian Authority follows through on this decision, American law dictates that US assistance to the Palestinian Authority will end.”

The members of Congress issued the statement after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Thursday morning. The delegation was made up of Reps. Ted Deutch (D–Fla.), Dennis Cardoza (D–Calif.), Eliot Engel (D–N.Y.), Jack Kingston (R–Ga.), Allyson Schwartz (D–Pa.), John Barrow (D–Ga.), Tim Murphy (R–Pa.), Ben Chandler (D–Ky.), and Larry Kissell (D–N.Car.).

It’s promising that members of congress seem willing to take the necessary steps to oppose the Fatah-Hamas axis. The Obama administration has remained fairly quiet on this issue, but let’s hope that the outcry from Congress prompts a more robust response from them as well.

A bipartisan congressional delegation has joined the growing chorus of lawmakers threatening to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority if it goes through with its plan to form a unity government with Hamas.

“This is a time for clarity. The Palestinian Authority has chosen an alliance with violence and extremism over the democratic values that Israel represents,” the delegation said in a press release. “The United States should not aid an entity whose members seek the destruction of the State of Israel and continue to fire rockets and mortars at innocent Israeli children. If the Palestinian Authority follows through on this decision, American law dictates that US assistance to the Palestinian Authority will end.”

The members of Congress issued the statement after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Thursday morning. The delegation was made up of Reps. Ted Deutch (D–Fla.), Dennis Cardoza (D–Calif.), Eliot Engel (D–N.Y.), Jack Kingston (R–Ga.), Allyson Schwartz (D–Pa.), John Barrow (D–Ga.), Tim Murphy (R–Pa.), Ben Chandler (D–Ky.), and Larry Kissell (D–N.Car.).

It’s promising that members of congress seem willing to take the necessary steps to oppose the Fatah-Hamas axis. The Obama administration has remained fairly quiet on this issue, but let’s hope that the outcry from Congress prompts a more robust response from them as well.

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How the Smartest President Ever Becomes a One-Term President

The news for the nation and the president continues to get worse.

Today we learned that in the first quarter of this year total economic output for the country grew by an anemic 1.8 percent. This was a significant slowdown from the fourth quarter of 2010, when the growth was 3.1 percent, which was itself unimpressive, especially in the aftermath of a recession, when one would expect growth to be much more robust.

In addition, as Alana points out, the number of jobless claims increased by 25,000 to 429,000 last week (the third week in a row unemployment claims surpassed 400,000). Consumer prices were up 3.8 percent from last year (after increasing only 1.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010). The price of gas is 35 percent higher than a year ago. The dollar continues to decline, with the Dollar Index sliding to an almost three-year low. And real estate experts are predicting that home prices could decrease by between 10 to 25 percent before the market bottoms out.

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The news for the nation and the president continues to get worse.

Today we learned that in the first quarter of this year total economic output for the country grew by an anemic 1.8 percent. This was a significant slowdown from the fourth quarter of 2010, when the growth was 3.1 percent, which was itself unimpressive, especially in the aftermath of a recession, when one would expect growth to be much more robust.

In addition, as Alana points out, the number of jobless claims increased by 25,000 to 429,000 last week (the third week in a row unemployment claims surpassed 400,000). Consumer prices were up 3.8 percent from last year (after increasing only 1.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010). The price of gas is 35 percent higher than a year ago. The dollar continues to decline, with the Dollar Index sliding to an almost three-year low. And real estate experts are predicting that home prices could decrease by between 10 to 25 percent before the market bottoms out.

Not coincidentally, a new McClatchy-Marist poll shows that 57 percent of registered voters disapprove of President Obama’s economic management while only 40 percent approve, the lowest score of his presidency. Fifty-seven percent of Americans say the worst is yet to come for the U.S economy. And 71 percent said the nation is still in a recession (the recession officially ended in June 2009).

In a Gallup poll, 29 percent said the economy is in a depression while 26 percent said it is in a recession, with another 16 percent saying it is “slowing down.” The Gallup Economic Confidence Index is as low as it’s been since the height of the Great recession. According to the New York Times/CBS News poll, 70 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the nation is in decline. As David Brooks wrote earlier this week, “The country is anxious, pessimistic, ashamed, helpless and defensive.”

And in a Quinnipiac poll that must have sent shivers up and down the spines of Obama’s political advisers, in Pennsylvania—a state Obama carried by double digits not quite two-and-a-half years ago—the president’s approval rating is down to 42 percent.

Obama will not win reelection if he loses Pennsylvania.

What is happening is a series of interrelated developments. Many of the objective economic conditions of the country are getting worse. The country’s mood is darkening. And support for the president, and especially his policies, is dropping to dangerously low levels.

The president can hold as many town halls as he wants. He can attack Republicans to his heart’s content. He may be, as his supporters insist, hyper-rational, the very model of the complex, nuanced thinker, perhaps even “the smartest guy ever to become president.” He can be charming on Oprah. He can do lots of things. But one thing he cannot do is escape the consequences of his actions. And if the economy remains flat on its back—if things don’t pick up significantly between now and the summer of 2012—then the odds are quite high that we’re looking at a one-term president.

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Condescending to the People He Claims to Support

At the Washington Examiner, Phil Klein studies the guest list for President Obama’s highly-publicized immigration reform meeting with Hispanic leaders today:

Among the attendees highlighted by the White House as it works to address this serious national problem: actresses Eva Longoria, America Ferrera and Rosario Dawson; musician Emilio Estefan; model and television personality Lily Estefan; Univision hosts Maria Elena Salinas and Don Francisco; Telemundo anchors Vanessa Hauc and Jose Diaz-Balart; television host Barbara Bermudo and radio host Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo.

The White House has recently been playing lip service to immigration reform to woo back disillusioned Latino voters, but it’s shown little interest in actually getting policies passed. Ruben Navarrette Jr. tears down Obama’s strategy:

That Obama now says it is time to restart the battle for comprehensive immigration reform must only mean one thing: Someone is getting ready to run for re-election. . . . Obama may not be a good leader but he has good timing: ramp up immigration reform groups in the spring; work with congressional leaders to draft legislation in the summer; propose a bill in the fall. Then he can spend early winter watching Republicans tear apart the idea—and themselves—in time for the New Hampshire primary in February 2012. Obama can waltz through next year’s campaign with the confidence that he’ll do fairly well with Latinos who will show up to vote not for him but against the Republican candidate.

The fact that Obama spent the past two years practically ignoring this issue should tell you how much he actually cares about it. Bringing immigration reform up now that it has no shot—and for such a transparently political reason—is condescending and insulting to the same people the president claims to support.

At the Washington Examiner, Phil Klein studies the guest list for President Obama’s highly-publicized immigration reform meeting with Hispanic leaders today:

Among the attendees highlighted by the White House as it works to address this serious national problem: actresses Eva Longoria, America Ferrera and Rosario Dawson; musician Emilio Estefan; model and television personality Lily Estefan; Univision hosts Maria Elena Salinas and Don Francisco; Telemundo anchors Vanessa Hauc and Jose Diaz-Balart; television host Barbara Bermudo and radio host Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo.

The White House has recently been playing lip service to immigration reform to woo back disillusioned Latino voters, but it’s shown little interest in actually getting policies passed. Ruben Navarrette Jr. tears down Obama’s strategy:

That Obama now says it is time to restart the battle for comprehensive immigration reform must only mean one thing: Someone is getting ready to run for re-election. . . . Obama may not be a good leader but he has good timing: ramp up immigration reform groups in the spring; work with congressional leaders to draft legislation in the summer; propose a bill in the fall. Then he can spend early winter watching Republicans tear apart the idea—and themselves—in time for the New Hampshire primary in February 2012. Obama can waltz through next year’s campaign with the confidence that he’ll do fairly well with Latinos who will show up to vote not for him but against the Republican candidate.

The fact that Obama spent the past two years practically ignoring this issue should tell you how much he actually cares about it. Bringing immigration reform up now that it has no shot—and for such a transparently political reason—is condescending and insulting to the same people the president claims to support.

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A School at the Behest of an Authoritarian Government

The United Arab Emirates has been cracking down hard on dissent recently, arresting six democratic activists earlier this month and replacing the entire board of a leading civil rights group with government appointees. It is understandable, then, that students at Vanderbilt University are appalled that the school is considering opening a campus in Abu Dhabi.

David Pasch and Theodore Samets are the two Vanderbilt seniors reportedly leading the campaign again the administration’s proposal. “Establishing a school at the behest of an authoritarian government that suppresses free speech and violates human rights is not a good idea,” Pasch told Sohrab Ahmari at RFE/RL. “It doesn’t reflect any of the goals of this institution.”

And while the Vanderbilt administration has assured students that their free speech and internet access wouldn’t be restricted, Ahmari reports that other Western universities with campuses in the UAE have found themselves becoming government targets:

Pasch and Samets are right to be concerned. [University of Paris IV] Sorbonne and the Abu Dhabi regime presumably exchanged similar goodwill promises at the outset of their joint venture. But that didn’t stop U.A.E. officials from arresting Nasser bin Gaith, an economist and lecturer at Sorbonne’s Abu Dhabi campus, for advocating judicial reform. That move left Samer Muscatti, an U.A.E. researcher at HRW speaking to the Chronicle of Higher Education, wondering: “Are professors only protected in the 90 minutes when they are giving seminars, and after that they are fair game?”

In fact, the restrictions may be even worse for Vanderbilt, since its proposed UAE campus would display the Vanderbilt brand but would be run independently—which means that the university would have even less control over the campus governance.

More information on the campaign and information about getting involved can be found at the group’s Facebook page Students Against Vanderbilt in the Emirates.

The United Arab Emirates has been cracking down hard on dissent recently, arresting six democratic activists earlier this month and replacing the entire board of a leading civil rights group with government appointees. It is understandable, then, that students at Vanderbilt University are appalled that the school is considering opening a campus in Abu Dhabi.

David Pasch and Theodore Samets are the two Vanderbilt seniors reportedly leading the campaign again the administration’s proposal. “Establishing a school at the behest of an authoritarian government that suppresses free speech and violates human rights is not a good idea,” Pasch told Sohrab Ahmari at RFE/RL. “It doesn’t reflect any of the goals of this institution.”

And while the Vanderbilt administration has assured students that their free speech and internet access wouldn’t be restricted, Ahmari reports that other Western universities with campuses in the UAE have found themselves becoming government targets:

Pasch and Samets are right to be concerned. [University of Paris IV] Sorbonne and the Abu Dhabi regime presumably exchanged similar goodwill promises at the outset of their joint venture. But that didn’t stop U.A.E. officials from arresting Nasser bin Gaith, an economist and lecturer at Sorbonne’s Abu Dhabi campus, for advocating judicial reform. That move left Samer Muscatti, an U.A.E. researcher at HRW speaking to the Chronicle of Higher Education, wondering: “Are professors only protected in the 90 minutes when they are giving seminars, and after that they are fair game?”

In fact, the restrictions may be even worse for Vanderbilt, since its proposed UAE campus would display the Vanderbilt brand but would be run independently—which means that the university would have even less control over the campus governance.

More information on the campaign and information about getting involved can be found at the group’s Facebook page Students Against Vanderbilt in the Emirates.

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The Media Demand that Daniels Take Their Test

Gov. Mitch Daniels will decide today whether to sign a bill cutting off public funding from Planned Parenthood, which would make Indiana the first state in the union to do so. Some media outlets are dubbing his decision a test of Daniels’s proposed “truce” on social conservative issues.

Here’s how the media-administered test works. If Daniels signs the bill he will be “breaking” his so-called truce. But if he vetoes the bill he will face the wrath of social conservatives and widen the “divide” in the conservative movement. It’s a lose-lose situation, conveniently arranged by the same media that are always prepared to trip up conservative politicians.

“It’s a tough line to walk for Daniels, who, as a potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, needs to prove his conservative chops,” writes TPM Muckraker. “He’s faced heated criticism on the right for calling for a ‘truce’ on social issues and suggesting lawmakers focus on fiscal matters instead.”

Not to be a stickler or anything, but couldn’t public funding be characterized as a “fiscal matter”? The idea that this is a test for Daniels is more than slightly ridiculous, and he shouldn’t—he probably won’t—let it influence his decision. Defunding Planned Parenthood has been a goal of small-government conservatives for quite awhile, and they would be just as disappointed as values voters if Daniels vetoes the bill.

There is no reason for Daniels even to give the socially conservative argument for stripping Planned Parenthood’s funding. He need merely repeat what he told Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard last June: “I want citizens to understand,” he said. “When people start demanding we spend more money, they’re saying, ‘We want to raise your taxes.’ And the citizens should say, ‘Okay, tell me. Which one of my taxes do you want to raise?’ ” Liberals can then interpret his decision however they want.

Gov. Mitch Daniels will decide today whether to sign a bill cutting off public funding from Planned Parenthood, which would make Indiana the first state in the union to do so. Some media outlets are dubbing his decision a test of Daniels’s proposed “truce” on social conservative issues.

Here’s how the media-administered test works. If Daniels signs the bill he will be “breaking” his so-called truce. But if he vetoes the bill he will face the wrath of social conservatives and widen the “divide” in the conservative movement. It’s a lose-lose situation, conveniently arranged by the same media that are always prepared to trip up conservative politicians.

“It’s a tough line to walk for Daniels, who, as a potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, needs to prove his conservative chops,” writes TPM Muckraker. “He’s faced heated criticism on the right for calling for a ‘truce’ on social issues and suggesting lawmakers focus on fiscal matters instead.”

Not to be a stickler or anything, but couldn’t public funding be characterized as a “fiscal matter”? The idea that this is a test for Daniels is more than slightly ridiculous, and he shouldn’t—he probably won’t—let it influence his decision. Defunding Planned Parenthood has been a goal of small-government conservatives for quite awhile, and they would be just as disappointed as values voters if Daniels vetoes the bill.

There is no reason for Daniels even to give the socially conservative argument for stripping Planned Parenthood’s funding. He need merely repeat what he told Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard last June: “I want citizens to understand,” he said. “When people start demanding we spend more money, they’re saying, ‘We want to raise your taxes.’ And the citizens should say, ‘Okay, tell me. Which one of my taxes do you want to raise?’ ” Liberals can then interpret his decision however they want.

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Obama Laughs, Unemployment Climbs

“So today was a fun day,” President Obama laughed at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in New York City last night. “[N]obody checked my ID at the door.”

Maybe it was fun for him. But while President Obama was handling the crucial national business of releasing his birth certificate, holding dueling press conferences with reality star Donald Trump, and jetting to Chicago for The Oprah Winfrey Show yesterday, the Department of Labor was readying a new batch of demoralizing economic reports.

Economic growth slowed significantly in the first quarter, and the number of jobless claims shot up by 25,000 to 429,000 last week, according to the department. For three weeks in a row now, unemployment claims surpassed 400,000.

Taking trips to lavish, big-city fundraisers is fun. Sparring with a clownish reality-show host is fun. Lounging on Oprah’s set is fun. But if the jobless rate this week is anything like last week’s, then yesterday probably wasn’t fun for the more than 61,000 Americans who are filing for unemployment benefits for the first time. And it’s time for Obama to get serious.

“So today was a fun day,” President Obama laughed at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in New York City last night. “[N]obody checked my ID at the door.”

Maybe it was fun for him. But while President Obama was handling the crucial national business of releasing his birth certificate, holding dueling press conferences with reality star Donald Trump, and jetting to Chicago for The Oprah Winfrey Show yesterday, the Department of Labor was readying a new batch of demoralizing economic reports.

Economic growth slowed significantly in the first quarter, and the number of jobless claims shot up by 25,000 to 429,000 last week, according to the department. For three weeks in a row now, unemployment claims surpassed 400,000.

Taking trips to lavish, big-city fundraisers is fun. Sparring with a clownish reality-show host is fun. Lounging on Oprah’s set is fun. But if the jobless rate this week is anything like last week’s, then yesterday probably wasn’t fun for the more than 61,000 Americans who are filing for unemployment benefits for the first time. And it’s time for Obama to get serious.

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Democrats Take On Public Employee Unions

Massachusetts Democrats have now joined Republicans in Wisconsin, Ohio, and elsewhere in taking on public employee union benefits. Last night, the Democrat-controlled House voted 111 to 42 to strip teachers, police, and other municipal workers of their right to bargain over health care. The measure doesn’t go nearly as far as the GOP-sponsored efforts to limit public employee bargaining rights in other states, but it marks the first time Democrats have tackled the issue. And the unions are not happy. Robert J. Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, told the Boston Globe:

It’s pretty stunning. . . . These are the same Democrats that all these labor unions elected. The same Democrats who we contributed to in their campaigns. The same Democrats who tell us over and over again that they’re with us, that they believe in collective bargaining, that they believe in unions. . . . It’s a done deal for our relationship with the people inside that chamber.

The measure could still die in the Massachusetts Senate.  Nonetheless, such a move would have been unthinkable for Democrats anywhere even a year ago.

Massachusetts Democrats have now joined Republicans in Wisconsin, Ohio, and elsewhere in taking on public employee union benefits. Last night, the Democrat-controlled House voted 111 to 42 to strip teachers, police, and other municipal workers of their right to bargain over health care. The measure doesn’t go nearly as far as the GOP-sponsored efforts to limit public employee bargaining rights in other states, but it marks the first time Democrats have tackled the issue. And the unions are not happy. Robert J. Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, told the Boston Globe:

It’s pretty stunning. . . . These are the same Democrats that all these labor unions elected. The same Democrats who we contributed to in their campaigns. The same Democrats who tell us over and over again that they’re with us, that they believe in collective bargaining, that they believe in unions. . . . It’s a done deal for our relationship with the people inside that chamber.

The measure could still die in the Massachusetts Senate.  Nonetheless, such a move would have been unthinkable for Democrats anywhere even a year ago.

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Palestinian “Unity Government” Gets Bad Reviews

The Obama administration has issued subdued criticism of the “unity government” agreement between Fatah and Hamas, but so far the president hasn’t given much indication of what penalties (if any) the Palestinian Authority would face if it continues to pursue this route.

Cutting off aid would be a good start. Last night Sen. Mark Kirk tweeted his apparent support for this type of action: “Hamas+Fatah=probable suspension of US aid to Palestinian Authority…Hamas supports terror, killed 26 American citizens[.]”

Members of congress also issued calls for aid restrictions. “U.S. taxpayer funds should not and must not be used to support those who threaten U.S. security, our interests, and our vital ally, Israel,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement yesterday evening.

“A unity government with Hamas would put U.S. assistance and support at risk, based on restrictions I authored as Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations,” said Nita Lowey, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Aid Committee. Rep. Gary Ackerman issued a statement that the U.S. would be “compelled by both law and decency” to withhold aid.

Not only would a unity government with Hamas undercut peace efforts, the U.S. would be sending taxpayer money to a terrorist organization. These statements from lawmakers represent the minimum of what we should be doing to prevent this action from going forward. Expect more members of congress to join this call.

The Obama administration has issued subdued criticism of the “unity government” agreement between Fatah and Hamas, but so far the president hasn’t given much indication of what penalties (if any) the Palestinian Authority would face if it continues to pursue this route.

Cutting off aid would be a good start. Last night Sen. Mark Kirk tweeted his apparent support for this type of action: “Hamas+Fatah=probable suspension of US aid to Palestinian Authority…Hamas supports terror, killed 26 American citizens[.]”

Members of congress also issued calls for aid restrictions. “U.S. taxpayer funds should not and must not be used to support those who threaten U.S. security, our interests, and our vital ally, Israel,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement yesterday evening.

“A unity government with Hamas would put U.S. assistance and support at risk, based on restrictions I authored as Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations,” said Nita Lowey, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Aid Committee. Rep. Gary Ackerman issued a statement that the U.S. would be “compelled by both law and decency” to withhold aid.

Not only would a unity government with Hamas undercut peace efforts, the U.S. would be sending taxpayer money to a terrorist organization. These statements from lawmakers represent the minimum of what we should be doing to prevent this action from going forward. Expect more members of congress to join this call.

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The Israeli-Palestinian Streetlight

In a recent Financial Times op-ed, Brent Scowcroft writes, “The nature of the new Middle East cannot be known until the festering sore of the occupied territories is removed.”

This is an absurd claim. Whatever one thinks of the settlements, the Arab Spring has shown that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not—as people like Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, have been arguing for years now—at the core of the troubles plaguing the Arab Middle East. The so-called “occupation” is not the obstacle to free and flourishing Arab societies. It is not the irritant that is causing unrest within Arab societies. In fact, what is striking about the revolution sweeping the Arab world is how totally beside the point Israel is. The uprisings in Iran, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and elsewhere are driven not by animus toward Israeli or solidarity for the Palestinian cause; they are a reaction against Arab despotism. What is happening in the Middle East, in fact, utterly undermines Scowcroft’s thesis. But Scowcroft is wed to a theory he embraced long ago and has hermetically sealed off from evidence. Bad theories, like bad habits, die hard. Maybe harder.

I’m reminded of the joke about the police officer who finds a drunk man late at night crawling on his hands and knees on a sidewalk under a streetlight. When confronted by the police officer, the drunk tells him he’s looking for his wallet. When the police officer asks if he’s sure that he dropped the wallet under the streetlight, the man replies that he thinks he more likely dropped it across the street. The puzzled officer asks why the man is looking for the wallet under the streetlight. “Because the light’s better here,” the drunk man replies.

For Brent Scowcroft and those who think like him, the light is always better around the Israeli-Palestinian settlements streetlight, even if the truth lies elsewhere.

In a recent Financial Times op-ed, Brent Scowcroft writes, “The nature of the new Middle East cannot be known until the festering sore of the occupied territories is removed.”

This is an absurd claim. Whatever one thinks of the settlements, the Arab Spring has shown that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not—as people like Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, have been arguing for years now—at the core of the troubles plaguing the Arab Middle East. The so-called “occupation” is not the obstacle to free and flourishing Arab societies. It is not the irritant that is causing unrest within Arab societies. In fact, what is striking about the revolution sweeping the Arab world is how totally beside the point Israel is. The uprisings in Iran, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and elsewhere are driven not by animus toward Israeli or solidarity for the Palestinian cause; they are a reaction against Arab despotism. What is happening in the Middle East, in fact, utterly undermines Scowcroft’s thesis. But Scowcroft is wed to a theory he embraced long ago and has hermetically sealed off from evidence. Bad theories, like bad habits, die hard. Maybe harder.

I’m reminded of the joke about the police officer who finds a drunk man late at night crawling on his hands and knees on a sidewalk under a streetlight. When confronted by the police officer, the drunk tells him he’s looking for his wallet. When the police officer asks if he’s sure that he dropped the wallet under the streetlight, the man replies that he thinks he more likely dropped it across the street. The puzzled officer asks why the man is looking for the wallet under the streetlight. “Because the light’s better here,” the drunk man replies.

For Brent Scowcroft and those who think like him, the light is always better around the Israeli-Palestinian settlements streetlight, even if the truth lies elsewhere.

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Obama’s Birther Triumph

It is clear that Barack Obama’s strategic cunning in response to birther lunacy ranks among his most impressive political achievements. In facilitating this tour de force, Donald Trump handed Obama a much-needed first gift for the latter’s 2012 campaign.

Imagine it’s early 2009 and you’re the newly elected President Obama. A gaggle of sorry loudmouths are spreading intricate fictions about your parents and your country of origin. The loudmouths are fringy and creepy, as are the conspiracy theorists spawned by every presidency, and you’d be a fool to get into the mud with them. You determine rightly that entertaining that kind of thing is beneath your personal dignity and the dignity of the office.

Only, as time goes on, you notice something remarkable. The media is eager to take those loudmouths and present them as the representatives of all opposition to you and your policies. Without lifting a finger to respond to the lunacy, you enjoy a readymade security shield that takes the sting out of every legitimate charge against you and renders it the sad, baseless delusion of a massive unhinged right wing. (Recently, Leslie Gelb wrote that conservatives critical of Obama’s Libya policy are mere “foreign policy birthers.”) Your predecessor wasn’t provided this kind of service and his conspiracy theorists made millions on hit movies, best-selling books, and top-rated television shows.

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It is clear that Barack Obama’s strategic cunning in response to birther lunacy ranks among his most impressive political achievements. In facilitating this tour de force, Donald Trump handed Obama a much-needed first gift for the latter’s 2012 campaign.

Imagine it’s early 2009 and you’re the newly elected President Obama. A gaggle of sorry loudmouths are spreading intricate fictions about your parents and your country of origin. The loudmouths are fringy and creepy, as are the conspiracy theorists spawned by every presidency, and you’d be a fool to get into the mud with them. You determine rightly that entertaining that kind of thing is beneath your personal dignity and the dignity of the office.

Only, as time goes on, you notice something remarkable. The media is eager to take those loudmouths and present them as the representatives of all opposition to you and your policies. Without lifting a finger to respond to the lunacy, you enjoy a readymade security shield that takes the sting out of every legitimate charge against you and renders it the sad, baseless delusion of a massive unhinged right wing. (Recently, Leslie Gelb wrote that conservatives critical of Obama’s Libya policy are mere “foreign policy birthers.”) Your predecessor wasn’t provided this kind of service and his conspiracy theorists made millions on hit movies, best-selling books, and top-rated television shows.

Where once it was beneath your dignity to respond, it would now also compromise this stellar defense. More time goes on and birtherism takes over the news. There are provocative polls and late-night comedy monologues. There evolves a superstructure of conspiracy, including “reasonable” birthers who believe you were born in the U.S. but are hiding some detail of the document that proves it. There’s a conflation of birthers with Tea Partiers, your most formidable foes. It all seems too good to be true. Yet it’s happening. During your campaign you tried to get something like this going. You said Americans would fear your funny name and non-Founder appearance, but you were swiftly criticized—because, actually, it wasn’t true. But now, a few conspiracy theorists and a handful of media megaphones are doing it all for you. This leaves you free up to do big things. You’re remaking domestic and foreign policy at a rate this country has never seen while the birther narrative swallows up objections. You’re on a policy tear: an auto-industry takeover, a stimulus, health-care reform, financial reform, a shuffling of the international deck. Meanwhile, day and night, in print and on television, your supporters parade maniacs before America and call them the true face of your opposition.

What’s the one thing that could bring the free ride to an end? The birth certificate. Show that, kill the hysteria, and the opposition is seen as principled, sober, thoughtful. Better to sit back and play with the phenomenon. Let it grow and see where it heads. Use it as long as it serves you. Right now it’s a steady crutch, but in time it could be a secret weapon, your ace in the hole. If the question of your birth ever becomes as big as the media has been claiming, pull out the certificate, prove the whole crazy right wrong, and win all over again. You can use the force of birtherism against itself at every turn. It will eat its own until you decide you’ll come off best by exposing the whole thing.

Halfway into your first term, your approval ratings find a new cellar. You’re blindsided by a new foreign war you’re losing without actually fighting. You outline your budget vision and the next day Standard and Poor’s puts the U.S. on notice.

Enter Donald Trump. He thrives in a pop-culture paradigm where idiocy and genius are not opposite values but the twin assets of an electrifying brand. He may be running for leader of the free world, he may be promoting the most vulgar entertainment franchise in history. Who knows? But it’s all addictive national amusement. Trump is a billionaire success story who’s backing the fringy paranoids. He embraces birtherism and runs with it. In PT Barnum’s day, the showman fleeced the sucker; in the age of Donald Trump, Barnum and his sucker are fused into one and the showman still turns a profit. The denser Trump gets the bigger he gets. It’s a smash-hit spinoff. New polls show birtherism gaining serious ground. The news media exaggerated it but the reality TV star popularized it.

It’s time to release the birth certificate.  It takes a single phone call and you look simultaneously like victor and victim; because, in fact, you are both. You hold your best press conference in years and exit to leave everyone rethinking their criticism of you.

Would that Barack Obama were this successful in all his challenges, and all his adversaries as hapless as Donald Trump.

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Disarming while at War

Mark Helprin is masterful in his use of the English language. But he’s also good with numbers. In his column “The Common Defense” in the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books, he writes this:

From 1940 to 2000, average annual American defense expenditure was 8.5% of GDP; in war and mobilization years, 13.3%; under Democratic administrations, 9.4%; under Republican, 7.3%; and, most significantly, in the years of peace, 5.7%. Now we spend 4.6%, but, less purely operational war costs, 3.8% of GDP. That is, 66% of the traditional peacetime outlays. We have been, and we are, steadily disarming even as we are at war.

Those numbers are worth keeping in mind as we debate the federal budget and which programs deserve to be cut and which do not. So is the Number 3—as in Federalist No. 3, in which John Jay writes, “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention, that of providing for their safety seems to be the first” (emphasis in original). And having read that, there’s always the preamble to the Constitution, which the Federalist Papers were written to defend and which speaks about the need to “provide for the common defense.” Based on the data supplied by Helprin, the area that has the greatest claim on the federal dollar is the one that has been most neglected. As he writes, “What argument, what savings, what economy can possibly offset the costs and heartbreak of a war undeterred or a war lost?”

Mark Helprin is masterful in his use of the English language. But he’s also good with numbers. In his column “The Common Defense” in the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books, he writes this:

From 1940 to 2000, average annual American defense expenditure was 8.5% of GDP; in war and mobilization years, 13.3%; under Democratic administrations, 9.4%; under Republican, 7.3%; and, most significantly, in the years of peace, 5.7%. Now we spend 4.6%, but, less purely operational war costs, 3.8% of GDP. That is, 66% of the traditional peacetime outlays. We have been, and we are, steadily disarming even as we are at war.

Those numbers are worth keeping in mind as we debate the federal budget and which programs deserve to be cut and which do not. So is the Number 3—as in Federalist No. 3, in which John Jay writes, “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention, that of providing for their safety seems to be the first” (emphasis in original). And having read that, there’s always the preamble to the Constitution, which the Federalist Papers were written to defend and which speaks about the need to “provide for the common defense.” Based on the data supplied by Helprin, the area that has the greatest claim on the federal dollar is the one that has been most neglected. As he writes, “What argument, what savings, what economy can possibly offset the costs and heartbreak of a war undeterred or a war lost?”

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Cynically Sparring with Trump

It’s true that President Obama made Donald Trump look like even more of a fool than usual today. But by responding to his birther lunacy, is the president also intentionally trying to elevate Trump’s status in the Republican Party? That’s the conclusion some political consultants have reached, according to Politico’s Ben Smith:

Many members of both parties, though, saw a potential advantage to Obama in the move, which was timed, deliberately or not, to position Trump—whom two thirds of Americans told Gallup they will “definitely not” vote for—as the face of the GOP. “The birther game was always a sucker bet, and it always played to Obama’s political advantage,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican consultant who made some of the sharpest personal attacks on Obama in 2008 for an outside Republican group. “ Team Obama love[s] the way this kept up the ‘Logical Obama vs Nutty Birthers’ dynamic. They got the chance to smear all GOP candidates with the birther brush.”

If that’s actually the case, it wouldn’t be the first time Obama has tried this tactic. Remember back in 2009, the administration’s gleeful assertion that Rush Limbaugh was the “de facto” leader of the GOP? And at the moment, there is certainly nobody the Obama administration would love to paint as the head of the Republican Party more than Donald Trump, who is widely disliked on a national scale.

Whether or not this is the strategy, the Democrats seem oddly eager to directly engage Trump. “Donald Trump said he’d release his tax returns as soon as the president released his birth certificate, so the ball is in his court now and I know everybody is anxious to see his tax returns over the last 10 years,” Robert Gibbs said today, according to Politico.

And while there’s no indication that Republicans are willing to accept the idea that Trump is a serious candidate, Obama’s back-and-forth with him could further obscure the already-muddy waters of the GOP presidential field. While the other candidates are diligently campaigning, the administration is sucking the media attention away from them by sparring with someone who has almost no chance of winning a national election. As far as political strategies go, this is about as cynical as you can get—but it could be Obama’s intention.

It’s true that President Obama made Donald Trump look like even more of a fool than usual today. But by responding to his birther lunacy, is the president also intentionally trying to elevate Trump’s status in the Republican Party? That’s the conclusion some political consultants have reached, according to Politico’s Ben Smith:

Many members of both parties, though, saw a potential advantage to Obama in the move, which was timed, deliberately or not, to position Trump—whom two thirds of Americans told Gallup they will “definitely not” vote for—as the face of the GOP. “The birther game was always a sucker bet, and it always played to Obama’s political advantage,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican consultant who made some of the sharpest personal attacks on Obama in 2008 for an outside Republican group. “ Team Obama love[s] the way this kept up the ‘Logical Obama vs Nutty Birthers’ dynamic. They got the chance to smear all GOP candidates with the birther brush.”

If that’s actually the case, it wouldn’t be the first time Obama has tried this tactic. Remember back in 2009, the administration’s gleeful assertion that Rush Limbaugh was the “de facto” leader of the GOP? And at the moment, there is certainly nobody the Obama administration would love to paint as the head of the Republican Party more than Donald Trump, who is widely disliked on a national scale.

Whether or not this is the strategy, the Democrats seem oddly eager to directly engage Trump. “Donald Trump said he’d release his tax returns as soon as the president released his birth certificate, so the ball is in his court now and I know everybody is anxious to see his tax returns over the last 10 years,” Robert Gibbs said today, according to Politico.

And while there’s no indication that Republicans are willing to accept the idea that Trump is a serious candidate, Obama’s back-and-forth with him could further obscure the already-muddy waters of the GOP presidential field. While the other candidates are diligently campaigning, the administration is sucking the media attention away from them by sparring with someone who has almost no chance of winning a national election. As far as political strategies go, this is about as cynical as you can get—but it could be Obama’s intention.

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