Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 5, 2011

Summing Up the Debate: Open Tryouts

John compared tonight’s debate in Greenville, South Carolina, to the “first three days of pitchers and catchers [at spring training].” I don’t think that’s quite right. Tonight’s debate was more like the open tryouts that major league teams used to hold many decades ago. Anyone could show up and take a chance.

With the exception of former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, tonight’s crop of Republican candidates are those kids who did not have a prayer of signing with the team. Gary Johnson eliminated himself from the race with one whining complaint that he wasn’t being called on often enough. Rick Santorum claimed incredibly that he had an enviable record of beating Democratic incumbents, conveniently overlooking the fact that, as a Republican incumbent, he was soundly trashed by a Democratic nonentity. Herman Cain left me never wanting to order a pizza from Godfather’s. Ron Paul is the Harold Stassen of our time. His fans go nuts.

Perhaps if nothing else tonight’s dismal collective performance will convince accomplished Republican governors like Mitch Daniels, Rick Perry, Robert Riley, Bob McDonnell, Scott Walker, and Chris Christie to give the race a second or third look. If nothing else, the nomination race could use some men (and women) with a grain of seriousness, and perhaps more than a grain of a serious chance of winning.

John compared tonight’s debate in Greenville, South Carolina, to the “first three days of pitchers and catchers [at spring training].” I don’t think that’s quite right. Tonight’s debate was more like the open tryouts that major league teams used to hold many decades ago. Anyone could show up and take a chance.

With the exception of former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, tonight’s crop of Republican candidates are those kids who did not have a prayer of signing with the team. Gary Johnson eliminated himself from the race with one whining complaint that he wasn’t being called on often enough. Rick Santorum claimed incredibly that he had an enviable record of beating Democratic incumbents, conveniently overlooking the fact that, as a Republican incumbent, he was soundly trashed by a Democratic nonentity. Herman Cain left me never wanting to order a pizza from Godfather’s. Ron Paul is the Harold Stassen of our time. His fans go nuts.

Perhaps if nothing else tonight’s dismal collective performance will convince accomplished Republican governors like Mitch Daniels, Rick Perry, Robert Riley, Bob McDonnell, Scott Walker, and Chris Christie to give the race a second or third look. If nothing else, the nomination race could use some men (and women) with a grain of seriousness, and perhaps more than a grain of a serious chance of winning.

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Summing Up: Herman Cain’s Focus Group

Jonathan, the fact that the Luntz focus group went so wild for Herman Cain is really a sign of the disastrous quality of this debate tonight. Picking him is in essence like picking “none of the above”—as the least credible person on the stage, with no record of actually securing any public support in an election, Cain is a novelty act. The fact that the novelty act may have “won” gives one a sense of how unimpressive the session was. And how unimpressive the field is: This is no different from the fact that a significant number of Republicans was expressing support last week for Donald Trump.

The real question is whether Tim Pawlenty did well enough to interest the big-dollar givers and bundlers he needs to help his campaign start to build momentum. It’s possible he did, but far from certain.

Jonathan, the fact that the Luntz focus group went so wild for Herman Cain is really a sign of the disastrous quality of this debate tonight. Picking him is in essence like picking “none of the above”—as the least credible person on the stage, with no record of actually securing any public support in an election, Cain is a novelty act. The fact that the novelty act may have “won” gives one a sense of how unimpressive the session was. And how unimpressive the field is: This is no different from the fact that a significant number of Republicans was expressing support last week for Donald Trump.

The real question is whether Tim Pawlenty did well enough to interest the big-dollar givers and bundlers he needs to help his campaign start to build momentum. It’s possible he did, but far from certain.

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Live Blogging the Republican Debate

Editor’s note: All of the live-blog posts from the Republican debate in Greenville, South Carolina, are collected here for easier reading.

Luntz’s Focus Group Liked the Pizza Man

Frank Luntz’s focus group on FOX News is going nuts about Herman Cain. More proof that focus groups are ridiculous.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 10:37 PM

Tough Choices, but Doable

Gary Johnson says our country faces “tough choices that are doable.” What does that even mean? Can you do a choice?

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:30 PM

Herman Cain Announces that God Is Blessing America

Now I know who I’m voting for.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:28 PM

Palin

She might as well run.

John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 10:27 PM

Oh, Good—the Obligatory Reality TV Question

Gary Johnson says he would not crawl on his hands and knees like Sarah Palin. “I’ve run thirty marathons,” he boasts modestly. “What are you running away from?” Bret Baier asks him with a straight face.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:27 PM

Bachmann Eclipses Ron Paul Just by Not Showing Up

“Has Michelle Bachmann eclipsed you?” Shannon Bream asks Ron Paul. “She isn’t here tonight,” he quips. His fans go nuts.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:25 PM

The Missing Candidates

FOX is getting even with the candidates who didn’t show up by asking the losers who did to comment about them. That’ll teach ’em.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 10:23 PM

Regrets

I can’t believe I passed up the reruns of NCIS on USA for this.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:22 PM

The Winner of the Debate…

…is Fox News. The questions have been spectacularly good—quick, sharp, to the point, well-prepared. Bret Baier is a terrific moderator. The breakout is Shannon Bream, who gives the lie to the idea that the women of Fox News are dumb blondes.

John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 10:22 PM

Read More

Editor’s note: All of the live-blog posts from the Republican debate in Greenville, South Carolina, are collected here for easier reading.

Luntz’s Focus Group Liked the Pizza Man

Frank Luntz’s focus group on FOX News is going nuts about Herman Cain. More proof that focus groups are ridiculous.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 10:37 PM

Tough Choices, but Doable

Gary Johnson says our country faces “tough choices that are doable.” What does that even mean? Can you do a choice?

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:30 PM

Herman Cain Announces that God Is Blessing America

Now I know who I’m voting for.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:28 PM

Palin

She might as well run.

John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 10:27 PM

Oh, Good—the Obligatory Reality TV Question

Gary Johnson says he would not crawl on his hands and knees like Sarah Palin. “I’ve run thirty marathons,” he boasts modestly. “What are you running away from?” Bret Baier asks him with a straight face.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:27 PM

Bachmann Eclipses Ron Paul Just by Not Showing Up

“Has Michelle Bachmann eclipsed you?” Shannon Bream asks Ron Paul. “She isn’t here tonight,” he quips. His fans go nuts.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:25 PM

The Missing Candidates

FOX is getting even with the candidates who didn’t show up by asking the losers who did to comment about them. That’ll teach ’em.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 10:23 PM

Regrets

I can’t believe I passed up the reruns of NCIS on USA for this.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:22 PM

The Winner of the Debate…

…is Fox News. The questions have been spectacularly good—quick, sharp, to the point, well-prepared. Bret Baier is a terrific moderator. The breakout is Shannon Bream, who gives the lie to the idea that the women of Fox News are dumb blondes.

John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 10:22 PM

Unbeatable Obama?

The audience boos the idea that Obama might be unbeatable. If Obama or any Democrats are watching this debate, they have to be convinced that they can’t lose next year.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 10:18 PM

Some Women Like to Work Outside the Home

And others “feel a calling for them to be a wife and a mother,” said Santorum. He tried to save himself by saying he wants society to affirm women working both inside and outside the home, but totally bungled the argument.

Alana Goodman 05.05.2011 – 10:17 PM

Republicans for Heroin?

Ron Paul gets the biggest applause of the night with his rant about opposing drug laws. Alana’s right. The organizers of these debates need to bring in some normal Republicans to balance the libertarian extremists.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 10:14 PM

Ron Paul and Sascha Baron Cohen

I can’t help it; every time I see Ron Paul’s face I think of the scene in Sascha Baron Cohen’s Bruno when he comes to believe that Cohen’s character is making a sexual advance on him. “He tried to put a hit on me!” Paul rants on a cellphone as the scene ends (he didn’t know Bruno was a put-on).

John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 10:13 PM

Whaaaa?

Could anyone make heads or tails of Rick Santorum’s tongue-tied effort to disentagle radical feminists from working women?

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:10 PM

Rick Santorum, Friend of the Working Girl

Rick Santorum’s explanation of the line from his book taking a shot at working women is playing about as well as it did when he went down to a landslide defeat in 2006.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 10:09 PM

Cap and Trade Trap for Pawlenty

Pawlenty’s former support of cap and trade earns him some boos. His response is an attempt at sincere repentance. Good damage control even if it is not a small problem for him.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 10:08 PM

Pawlenty’s Problem

Pawlenty’s problem is not his previous views on “green energy” and “green jobs,” but the perception that he has flip-flopped to appeal to conservatives. He risks becoming the Mitt Romney-on-abortion of 2012.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:07 PM

Pro-Egg and Anti-Chicken

I have no idea what it means, but I like Tim Pawlenty’s farmyard metaphor.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:05 PM

Pawlenty on Intelligent Design

Pawlenty’s neutral position about teaching intelligent design will work in the primaries. Not in the general election.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 10:05 PM

A Speaking Gig

For Rick Santorum isn’t the presidential campaign merely another occasion to talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk [zzzzzzzzzzzzzz].

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:04 PM

Appalling Santorum

He basically said that to believe in a “truce on social issues” is to “give up on America.” Good Lord.

John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 10:02 PM

Santorum Deplores “The Truce”

Rick Santorum says anyone who would call for a truce on moral issues doesn’t know what America is about. Mitch Daniels probably thinks Santorum doesn’t know much about anything. But this is Santorum’s wheelhouse. If he can get social conservatives to look at him as their candidate he moves up to the first tier. That is, if he’s taken seriously enough to actually make it to the primaries.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 10:01 PM

Santorum on Daniels’s “Truce”

“Somebody who calls for a truce on the social issues doesn’t understand what America is all about,” Rick Santorum says when asked about Mitch Daniels’s proposed “truce.” Yes, America is all about the unbridgeable Red and Blue divide.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 10:01 PM

First Boos

It was predictable that the first boos of the night would be for Gary Johnson for stating that he isn’t against abortion. He admits that he’s not getting the pro-life vote. He’s not getting too many others either.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:58 PM

Libertarian Free Love

Ron Paul wants the government to get out of marriage. Okay, but his explanation that his support of the Defense of Marriage Act was about federalism was ridiculous.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:56 PM

On Gay Marriage, Ron Paul Hypes His Forthcoming Book

And says (wait for it) that the government should stay out. “One area where it’s totally unnecessary,” he says. His fans go nuts.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 9:55 PM

Re: Ron Paul and the Audience

Paul’s loud and loyal contingent usually follows him to the major conservative conferences to ensure that he does well in the straw polls straw polls. But are his followers going to flood all of the GOP debates from now on? His grassroots supporters have been organizing for awhile to bring strong numbers to South Carolina tonight, and we can probably expect them to do the same in the rest of the debates. The question is, should other candidates start urging their supporters to do the same?

Alana Goodman 05.05.2011 – 9:53 PM

A Short List of the Missing

A short list of the people I miss hearing tonight: Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Bob McDonnell, John Kasich, Tommy LaSorda, Chuckles the Clown. Someone with a personality if not a mind.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 9:52 PM

Is Ron Paul Pro-Israel?

Ron Paul says his proposal to cut all foreign aid will help Israel because we give a lot to the Arabs. True. But that would still leave the Jewish state with the odds stacked against it. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that the people applauding him on this were not pro-Israel.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:52 PM

Paul Avoids Israel, Blasts Foreign Aid

Juan Williams invites Ron Paul to bash Israel. “I think they’ve become too dependent on us,” he says—while allowing that Israel doesn’t need to ask American permission to defend itself. The Arab nations receive twice the foreign aid of the Jewish State, he observes. The bell rings. His fans go nuts.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 9:49 PM

Santorum’s on Both Sides With Pakistan

Pakistan is a complicated issue. But Rick Santorum’s attempt to be both for and against aid didn’t fly.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:48 PM

Pawlenty on Libya and Reagan

Pawlenty’s answer about Libya shows he’s actually read something about the topic. He also gets the prize for the first mention of Ronald Reagan. Scores points with both.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:47 PM

Real Clear National Security Strategy

Bret Baier asks Herman Cain about Syria. “We need a real clear national security strategy,” he replies, before intervening anywhere on earth—including Libya and Syria. Tim Pawlenty correctly observed that Gaddafi has American blood on his hands.

John is right. The loser of this debate—assuming, of course, that Gary Johnson and Ron Paul are irrelevant—is Herman Cain. The winner (so far) is Tim Pawlenty. “If the president says Gaddafi must go,” Pawlenty says, “he must go.” Admirably direct.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 9:46 PM

Cain’s Foreign Policy

Herman Cain should have just said that he didn’t know anything about Syria and Libya the way he did about Afghanistan.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:44 PM

A Comparison

Watching this debate, one is inclined to compare an early session like this to the minor leagues, or spring training, or something like that. It’s neither. It’s like the first three days of pitchers and catchers.

John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 9:44 PM

Sense on Immigration

Gary Johnson’s making sense on immigration. But nothing he says after his whining session will be listened to.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:43 PM

The Loser

I think the only real loser of this debate is Herman Cain. He had a chance, with a great performance, to take the place of Donald Trump as the businessman populist outsider candidate—which wouldn’t be enough to win but would be enough to give him standing and momentum to go through the race. Instead, Cain is dull and uncompelling.

John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 9:42 PM

Bye, Bye, Gary

The moderators are now openly laughing at Gary Johnson.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 9:41 PM

American What’s-the-Opposite-of-Idol

None of these guys is ready for prime time. Tim Pawlenty gets wonkish about school payments in Minnesota. Gary Johnson, in a whiny voice, complains about Medicare mandates. By now, Barack Obama has turned off the TV, giggling comfortably.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 9:39 PM

Ignoring Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson whined about being ignored. He should use the down time practicing not waving his hands around like he’s conducting an orchestra.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:39 PM

Pawlenty’s Budget

Chris Wallace sounded like he had Pawlenty cornered on leaving his state with an unbalanced budget. But his answer, that the projection of debt is based on spending that he opposes, sounds convincing.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:37 PM

Hey, What About Me?

Gary Johnson complains he’s not getting enough questions. As if this debate could get any more pointless.

John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 9:36 PM

Please Call on Me, Please

Gary Johnson pathetically pleads with Chris Wallace to ask him a question. Very presidential, sir.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 9:35 PM

The Drug of Government

Rick Santorum’s line about America being addicted to the drug of government is on target. But the way he says it makes it sound more extreme than it actually is.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:35 PM

Ron Paul and the Audience

It appears that the entire national audience for the film version of Atlas Shrugged is there in the auditorium screaming wildly as Ron Paul goes into his incoherent ravings about debt and money and the Federal Reserve.

John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 9:34 PM

Cheering Paul, No Matter What

If Ron Paul said, “Boomalacka! Boomalacka!” his fans would cheer wildly.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 9:34 PM

Militarism and the Debt

Ron Paul is off on another libertarian tangent about the debt. His attack on U.S. militarism would play better to a left-wing audience.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:34 PM

Pawlenty Is Not Breaking Out

. . . but he is slowly pulling away. Except for Ron Paul (who can’t be chased away), he is probably the only one on tonight’s stage who will still be in the running six months from now.

D. G. Myers 05.05.2011 – 9:30 PM

The Grown-Up

Tim Pawlenty is a successful, self-disciplined politician. Rick Santorum, who began by making a relatively recondite joke about being a Catholic and yet wanting a “reformation,” is giving signs of the undisciplined ruminator who helped bring down his own Senate career through foot-in-mouth disease. Pawlenty is positioning himself as the grown-up. It’s not the most exciting place to be, but it’s a place to be.

John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 9:27 PM

Paul Makes Sense about Tort Reform

Okay, Ron Paul doesn’t make sense on foreign policy but he’s right about tort reform. It is a state issue rather than a federal one.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:26 PM

Regrets About Free Drugs

Rick Santorum gets asked about his vote for Bush’s free prescription plan for seniors. He was never happy about that vote. But it still isn’t easy explaining how you end it.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:25 PM

Everybody Jump on Mitt

You can almost see the candidates salivating when the first mention of Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan was made.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:23 PM

This Debate So Far

Oy. Not good.

John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 9:21 PM

Pawlenty’s Mini Stump Speech

Tim Pawlenty is using a question about his jobs ideas to go into a snippet from his stump speech. Only idea is attack on Obama interference in local business. Good applause line.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:21 PM

The Eternal Return

And so here we are, debating waterboarding, with Ron Paul and Gary Johnson sounding like the Center for Constitutional Rights. I had a moment when I thought I was watching a Democratic party debate from 2003.

John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 9:18 PM

First Israel Mention Goes to the Pizza Man

Herman Cain wins the prize for the first mention of Israel, quoting Bibi Netanyahu on what the terrorists want: to kill all of us.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:18 PM

Pawlenty Pivots on Waterboarding

Pawlenty is coming across like the most professional politician on the stage. Not entirely a good thing. He’s filibustering before he gets to his answer to each question. It took him a full minute to answer whether he supports waterboarding but never said why he changed his mind.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:17 PM

Rick Santorum, Muslim Reformer

Rick Santorum is right that Islam needs a reformation. But does anyone think Muslims are interested in his opinions about what they should believe?

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:13 PM

The Balance

What’s interesting about this debate lineup is that it’s two libertarian isolationists (Ron Paul and former New Mexico Gov. Ron Johnson) against two hawks (Pawlenty and Rick Santorum) and a gadfly businessman who says he doesn’t have enough information yet.

John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 9:12 PM

Cain Is Clueless on Afghanistan

Herman Cain says he has no idea what he would do in Afghanistan as president, “because it’s not clear what the mission is.”

“It’s not real clear to the American people what our mission is,” he said. “Before I make a decision to send men or women into battle I want to know what our objective is clearly.” OK—but as Commander-in-Chief, wouldn’t the objective of the mission largely be his call? Cain’s able to avoid making a decision on whether to withdraw, but it was an embarrassingly obvious dodge.

Alana Goodman 05.05.2011 – 9:12 PM

Herman Cain, Confused CEO

Herman Cain’s explanation of why he doesn’t know anything about Afghanistan wouldn’t have gotten him anywhere in the pizza business.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:12 PM

Gary Johnson, Junior Isolationist

If Gary Johnson thinks he’s going to get anywhere being a faint echo of Ron Paul, he’s kidding himself. Real isolationists and radical libertarians will always go with the original.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:10 PM

Ron Paul’s Isolationism

Ron Paul’s answer about whether his isolationist policies would have dealt with bin Laden got applause but was utterly incoherent. Opposition to our invasion of Afghanistan is incompatible with a willingness to pursue bin Laden.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:09 PM

Pawlenty’s Maiden Moment

Jon, Tim Pawlenty handled his maiden moment on the national stage very well. Bret Baier asked him to account for a quote he’d given calling Obama “weak,” and he simultaneously congratulated Obama and said the killing of bin Laden “is not the sum total of American foreign policy.” It was elegantly done.

John Podhoretz 05.05.2011 – 9:07 PM

Four Out of Five Would Have Released the Picture

Only Herman Cain said he wouldn’t have released the picture of the dead bin Laden. Like to hear why.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:07 PM

Pawlenty on Obama Criticism

Tim Pawlenty leads off the GOP debate making an important point about Obama using the same techniques to catch terrorist that he criticized when George W. Bush used them.

Jonathan S. Tobin 05.05.2011 – 9:05 PM

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Summing Up the Debate: The GOP Problem

The South Carolina debate was not a good show for the Republicans. The only one of the candidates that came across as credible was Tim Pawlenty. But even he seems as if he’s a work in progress. The bottom line here is that the Republican candidates who weren’t there have to be encouraged. Unfortunately for the GOP, so are the Democrats.

The South Carolina debate was not a good show for the Republicans. The only one of the candidates that came across as credible was Tim Pawlenty. But even he seems as if he’s a work in progress. The bottom line here is that the Republican candidates who weren’t there have to be encouraged. Unfortunately for the GOP, so are the Democrats.

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Live Blogging the GOP Debate Tonight

Senior Online Editor Jonathan S. Tobin and other members of the Contentions team will be live blogging the Republican presidential debate in South Carolina. So join us at 9 pm Eastern time as we break down the first formal debate between some of the GOP contenders.

Senior Online Editor Jonathan S. Tobin and other members of the Contentions team will be live blogging the Republican presidential debate in South Carolina. So join us at 9 pm Eastern time as we break down the first formal debate between some of the GOP contenders.

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It Doesn’t Take Columbo to Figure This Out

Alana, the State Department has released a transcript of Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks earlier today in Italy. She was asked whether the Fatah-Hamas agreement closes the door on peace talks with Israel and at what point the U.S. reconsiders aid to the Palestinian Authority. Here is the text of her response:

[W]e are waiting to see the details. We obviously are aware of the announcement in Cairo yesterday. There are many steps that have yet to be undertaken in order to implement the agreement. And we are going to be carefully assessing what this actually means, because there are a number of different potential meanings to it, both on paper and in practice.

We’ve made it very clear that we cannot support any government that consists of Hamas unless and until Hamas adopts the Quartet principles. And the Quartet principles have been well known to everyone for a number of years. So we’re going to wait and make our assessment as we actually see what unfolds from this moment on. [Emphasis added].

Earlier today, New York Times reporter Ethan Bronner held a 30-minute interview with Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader. Bronner’s report may assist Secretary Clinton in her assessment: 

“The whole world knows what Hamas thinks and what our principles are,” Mr. Meshal said in an interview in his Cairo hotel suite.” . . .  

He defined [the common national agenda] as “a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital, without any settlements or settlers, not an inch of land swaps and respecting the right of return” of Palestinian refugees to Israel itself.

Asked if a deal honoring those principles would produce an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr. Meshal said, “I don’t want to talk about that.”

If she needs more information to complete her assessment, Clinton might ask for a copy of the annexes to the Fatah-Hamas agreement. According to Bronner’s report: 

Asked what had changed in recent months that allowed the long-delayed pact to go through, he said that both Fatah and the new Egyptian government had agreed, for the first time, to Hamas’s adding annexes to the agreement reflecting its views. He declined to elaborate on the contents of those additional items.

Perhaps the famously “transparent” Palestinian Authority should publish the annex, so we can determine for ourselves if there are a number of different meanings to it.

Alana, the State Department has released a transcript of Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks earlier today in Italy. She was asked whether the Fatah-Hamas agreement closes the door on peace talks with Israel and at what point the U.S. reconsiders aid to the Palestinian Authority. Here is the text of her response:

[W]e are waiting to see the details. We obviously are aware of the announcement in Cairo yesterday. There are many steps that have yet to be undertaken in order to implement the agreement. And we are going to be carefully assessing what this actually means, because there are a number of different potential meanings to it, both on paper and in practice.

We’ve made it very clear that we cannot support any government that consists of Hamas unless and until Hamas adopts the Quartet principles. And the Quartet principles have been well known to everyone for a number of years. So we’re going to wait and make our assessment as we actually see what unfolds from this moment on. [Emphasis added].

Earlier today, New York Times reporter Ethan Bronner held a 30-minute interview with Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader. Bronner’s report may assist Secretary Clinton in her assessment: 

“The whole world knows what Hamas thinks and what our principles are,” Mr. Meshal said in an interview in his Cairo hotel suite.” . . .  

He defined [the common national agenda] as “a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital, without any settlements or settlers, not an inch of land swaps and respecting the right of return” of Palestinian refugees to Israel itself.

Asked if a deal honoring those principles would produce an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr. Meshal said, “I don’t want to talk about that.”

If she needs more information to complete her assessment, Clinton might ask for a copy of the annexes to the Fatah-Hamas agreement. According to Bronner’s report: 

Asked what had changed in recent months that allowed the long-delayed pact to go through, he said that both Fatah and the new Egyptian government had agreed, for the first time, to Hamas’s adding annexes to the agreement reflecting its views. He declined to elaborate on the contents of those additional items.

Perhaps the famously “transparent” Palestinian Authority should publish the annex, so we can determine for ourselves if there are a number of different meanings to it.

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Conservatives Should Look to the Founders to See How to Fight for their Ideas

The policy differences among the likely candidates for the GOP presidential nomination will be, I think, relatively narrow (the exceptions are among the marginal candidates like Ron Paul). There will be differences in emphasis, of course, but the philosophical differences will mostly be marginal. Which means that there may be more emphasis than usual on style and approach.

Some potential candidates, like Michele Bachmann, believe they stand out from the rest of the field because they are, in Bachmann’s words, “fighters.” What we need, some prominent conservatives argue, is “combativeness” — and in making their case they cite the founders.

Countenance and style, then, will be a big issue in the forthcoming campaign – and we can in fact learn quite a lot by using the founders, and particularly the debate about the Constitution, as a reference point. Read More

The policy differences among the likely candidates for the GOP presidential nomination will be, I think, relatively narrow (the exceptions are among the marginal candidates like Ron Paul). There will be differences in emphasis, of course, but the philosophical differences will mostly be marginal. Which means that there may be more emphasis than usual on style and approach.

Some potential candidates, like Michele Bachmann, believe they stand out from the rest of the field because they are, in Bachmann’s words, “fighters.” What we need, some prominent conservatives argue, is “combativeness” — and in making their case they cite the founders.

Countenance and style, then, will be a big issue in the forthcoming campaign – and we can in fact learn quite a lot by using the founders, and particularly the debate about the Constitution, as a reference point.

The debate about the Constitution was not, as Isaac Kramnick points out in his introduction to the Federalist Papers, a model of decorous and genteel discourse. The stakes were exceedingly high. A “torrent of angry and malignant passions” were let loose in the “great national discussion,” according to Alexander Hamilton, who wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers. The Federalist Papers, Hamilton hoped, would rise above the “loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invective.” And so they did. Those 85 essays in defense of the Constitution – written over the course of 10 months, consisting of some 175,000 words – are classics in political theory.

But reading the Federalist Papers, as valuable as they are, doesn’t give you the full flavor for what one commentary called the “fierce storm of argument” that broke out.

Several years ago the Library of America published a two-volume set, The Debate on the Constitution, which provided hundreds of newspaper articles, pamphlets, speeches, and private letters written or delivered by dozens of people from September 1787 to August 1788. It’s an amazing collection, really; it includes the arguments of both Federalists and Anti-Federalists as they debate how best to balance public order and personal liberty.

If you take these exchanges in total, several things stand out. One is the energy and eloquence that characterized those debates. Another is how intelligent and well-informed the combatants were. And yet another is how precise and meticulous the debates were; they devoted great time and attention to matters ranging from concurrent taxation to religion and the state, from the possible abuses of the federal judiciary to what a republic is.

But for present purposes, it’s worth highlighting James Madison’s reply to Patrick Henry on June 6, 1788. “I shall not attempt to make impressions by any ardent professions of zeal for the public welfare,” Madison said as he arose.

We know the principles of every man will, and ought to be judged, not by his professions and declarations, but by his conduct … We ought, Sir, to examine the Constitution on its own merits solely: We are to enquire whether it will promote the public happiness; — its aptitude to produce this desirable object ought to be the exclusive subject of our present researches. In this pursuit, we ought not to address our arguments to the feelings and passions, but to those understandings and judgment which were selected by the people of this country, to decide this great question, by a calm and rational investigation.

Madison then dilated on why Henry’s concern that the Constitution would endanger the public liberty was unmerited. By the time the Federalist Papers were completed George Washington was able to say to Hamilton, “When the transient circumstances and fugitive performances which attended this Crisis shall have disappeared, that work will merit the notice of posterity; because in it are candidly and ably discussed the principles of freedom and the topics of government, which will be always interesting to mankind so long as they shall be connected to civil society.”

Which brings me to the here and now. The proper conservative response to Barack Obama is combativeness, but combativeness of a particular kind, by which I mean intellectual combativeness. But it needs to express itself through the power and persuasiveness of ideas and political ideals.

The founders, being human, weren’t always paragons of virtue in public discourse. And Hamilton, of course, died in a duel with Aaron Burr. But what our founders are venerated for is not simply their wisdom but the quality of their arguments, their capacity to persuade people who in the aftermath of the convention in Philadelphia were concerned that the new Constitution would end in tyranny. The founders were, to an extraordinary degree, able to rise above the “torrent of angry and malignant passions” that characterized their age, just as it characterizes politics in our age.

For conservatism to prevail, it needs public figures, including presidential figures, who are willing to fight for the right ideas but who are also blessed with the right temperament. They need to be tough-minded and irenic, in possession of powerful intellects and attractive personalities. Even, and maybe especially, in the internet era, a touch of winsomeness can’t hurt. And it might even help

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Backlash against Bin Laden Celebrations Says More about Europe than America

While Americans spontaneously erupted with applause and expressions of glee when the news of Osama bin Laden’s death was announced, Europeans are more than indifferent. They are downright appalled at the unabashed patriotism of Americans and their desire to see their country triumph over its deadly foes. That’s the sense one gets from a lengthy report by the New York Times’s Steven Erlanger.

The piece is filled with Euro self-righteousness, especially from journalists and politicians. But perhaps the most honest evaluation of this lamentable trend comes from Nichole Bacharan, a scholar of the United States at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, who believes the hit on bin Laden will lead to a revival of the sort of anti-Americanism that Barack Obama’s election was supposed to quash. Bacharan told Erlanger:

“Whatever happens, we need to prove we are different or better, that we are so much more refined and delicate and have such a respect for the law,” she said, characterizing the European stance. “It’s very silly.”

It’s true that European snobbery is silly. But the factors underlying the Euro unwillingness to treat the battle with Islamist terrorism as a fight to the death are anything but a laughing matter. As Erlanger notes, the Europeans are genuinely afraid of the Islamic world, something that may have a great deal to do with the growing and increasingly assertive Muslim populations in Western European countries.

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While Americans spontaneously erupted with applause and expressions of glee when the news of Osama bin Laden’s death was announced, Europeans are more than indifferent. They are downright appalled at the unabashed patriotism of Americans and their desire to see their country triumph over its deadly foes. That’s the sense one gets from a lengthy report by the New York Times’s Steven Erlanger.

The piece is filled with Euro self-righteousness, especially from journalists and politicians. But perhaps the most honest evaluation of this lamentable trend comes from Nichole Bacharan, a scholar of the United States at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, who believes the hit on bin Laden will lead to a revival of the sort of anti-Americanism that Barack Obama’s election was supposed to quash. Bacharan told Erlanger:

“Whatever happens, we need to prove we are different or better, that we are so much more refined and delicate and have such a respect for the law,” she said, characterizing the European stance. “It’s very silly.”

It’s true that European snobbery is silly. But the factors underlying the Euro unwillingness to treat the battle with Islamist terrorism as a fight to the death are anything but a laughing matter. As Erlanger notes, the Europeans are genuinely afraid of the Islamic world, something that may have a great deal to do with the growing and increasingly assertive Muslim populations in Western European countries.

But the disdain for American joy about bin Laden’s death goes deeper than mere snobbery or concerns about local Muslims. It’s not just that Western European intellectuals don’t like the United States—they never have—but their unwillingness to countenance aggressive Western self-defense against Islamist terror is a function of their loss of belief in Western civilization itself. Many on the continent seem to have lost any sense that their countries and way of life as well as their faith is something worth defending. When it comes down to it that, and not the faux sophistication of Euro elites, is the difference between America and Europe these days.

For all of our problems and divisions, most Americans still believe in their country. All too many of our friends across the pond have lost faith in theirs. And that crisis in confidence, not good taste, is why Americans and not Europeans are celebrating the death of bin Laden.

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Did Obama “Snub” 9/11 Families?

He placed a wreath at Ground Zero, met with 9/11 firefighters, and vowed that “when we say ‘we will never forget,’ we mean what we say.” But it seems like the president did overlook one detail—putting names on the invitations to 9/11 families.

The administration apparently sent out form-letter invitations to 50 hand-picked relatives of 9/11 victims, which began “Dear 9/11 family member.” At least one family has turned down the request, saying that they felt the letter was impersonal.

“If this form letter was the invitation, it was kinda lame,” said John Vigiano, who lost two heroic sons—one a firefighter and the other a police officer—in the attack. “I’m honored the president of the United States is coming to New York,” he said. “[But] to me it’s just going to be a photo op.”

The form-letter does seem a bit lame, especially since the family members were chosen beforehand. It shouldn’t have been difficult for the White House to type out 50 names on stationary. This isn’t something that will dampen the good-will New Yorkers have toward Obama, but it is an unfortunate mistake. It’s the first time Obama has been to pay his respects at Ground Zero since taking office, and this flub does make him come off as detached.

He placed a wreath at Ground Zero, met with 9/11 firefighters, and vowed that “when we say ‘we will never forget,’ we mean what we say.” But it seems like the president did overlook one detail—putting names on the invitations to 9/11 families.

The administration apparently sent out form-letter invitations to 50 hand-picked relatives of 9/11 victims, which began “Dear 9/11 family member.” At least one family has turned down the request, saying that they felt the letter was impersonal.

“If this form letter was the invitation, it was kinda lame,” said John Vigiano, who lost two heroic sons—one a firefighter and the other a police officer—in the attack. “I’m honored the president of the United States is coming to New York,” he said. “[But] to me it’s just going to be a photo op.”

The form-letter does seem a bit lame, especially since the family members were chosen beforehand. It shouldn’t have been difficult for the White House to type out 50 names on stationary. This isn’t something that will dampen the good-will New Yorkers have toward Obama, but it is an unfortunate mistake. It’s the first time Obama has been to pay his respects at Ground Zero since taking office, and this flub does make him come off as detached.

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J Street Stand on Hamas Pact Follows Administration Lead

Sometimes it’s easy to forget what the left-wing lobby J Street is all about. The group likes to pose as the most ardent advocate of peace in the Middle East. But J Street doesn’t have a greater desire for peace than the overwhelming majority of Israel’s voters who have rejected the policies the group advocates. J Street’s true purpose remains being the Obama administration’s loyal Jewish lapdog.

Interviewed in today’s Jerusalem Post, J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami seems to be reading out of the administration playbook when he says we should not condemn the new Hamas-Fatah coalition out of hand but should wait and see what will happen. This is, of course, more or less, the same line being followed by the White House and the State Department as they struggle to find a way to salvage their relationship with the Palestinian Authority.

But the idea that there is really much of a mystery about the nature of the new Palestinian Authority is absurd. Hamas remains what it has always been, an Islamist terrorist organization whose goal is to destroy the state of Israel and kill its Jewish population. Rather than make it easier for Fatah to make peace with Israel as some hopelessly delusional observers contend, Palestinian unity means there is no chance that the PA will give up demands for the right of return or make any other compromise that is a prerequisite for peace.

Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are hoping the Palestinians will give them some sort of an excuse to keep funneling the U.S. aid that keeps the PA afloat in patronage money. The problem is that it is a clear violation of U.S. law for any funds to go to any entity that engages in terrorism. So J Street’s role in the coming weeks, like that of the equally feckless National Jewish Democratic Council, will be to lobby Congress to keep the money flowing to the PA even though it is fatally compromised by the presence of Hamas in its ranks. This won’t promote peace but it will serve the administration’s interests as it seeks room to maneuver around both the law and the irate demands of members of Congress of both parties who are rightly demanding that Obama put the PA on notice that the pact with Hamas is a deal breaker.

Rationalizing indirect aid for a group that began the week in mourning for Osama bin Laden is not exactly what comes to mind when you think of an organization that calls itself “pro-Israel and pro-peace.” But if serves the interests of the administration, then you can bet that’s what J Street will be doing.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget what the left-wing lobby J Street is all about. The group likes to pose as the most ardent advocate of peace in the Middle East. But J Street doesn’t have a greater desire for peace than the overwhelming majority of Israel’s voters who have rejected the policies the group advocates. J Street’s true purpose remains being the Obama administration’s loyal Jewish lapdog.

Interviewed in today’s Jerusalem Post, J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami seems to be reading out of the administration playbook when he says we should not condemn the new Hamas-Fatah coalition out of hand but should wait and see what will happen. This is, of course, more or less, the same line being followed by the White House and the State Department as they struggle to find a way to salvage their relationship with the Palestinian Authority.

But the idea that there is really much of a mystery about the nature of the new Palestinian Authority is absurd. Hamas remains what it has always been, an Islamist terrorist organization whose goal is to destroy the state of Israel and kill its Jewish population. Rather than make it easier for Fatah to make peace with Israel as some hopelessly delusional observers contend, Palestinian unity means there is no chance that the PA will give up demands for the right of return or make any other compromise that is a prerequisite for peace.

Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are hoping the Palestinians will give them some sort of an excuse to keep funneling the U.S. aid that keeps the PA afloat in patronage money. The problem is that it is a clear violation of U.S. law for any funds to go to any entity that engages in terrorism. So J Street’s role in the coming weeks, like that of the equally feckless National Jewish Democratic Council, will be to lobby Congress to keep the money flowing to the PA even though it is fatally compromised by the presence of Hamas in its ranks. This won’t promote peace but it will serve the administration’s interests as it seeks room to maneuver around both the law and the irate demands of members of Congress of both parties who are rightly demanding that Obama put the PA on notice that the pact with Hamas is a deal breaker.

Rationalizing indirect aid for a group that began the week in mourning for Osama bin Laden is not exactly what comes to mind when you think of an organization that calls itself “pro-Israel and pro-peace.” But if serves the interests of the administration, then you can bet that’s what J Street will be doing.

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Daniels Auditions for the Chattering Classes

While some of the declared candidates are getting ready for their first close-up in South Carolina tonight, one of the principal undeclared candidates is getting plenty of attention on his own. As we noted yesterday, Mitch Daniels was at the American Enterprise Institute displaying his wonkishness in a speech about education reform. He then went to the left-leaning Arab-American Institute’s annual dinner to pick up an award in recognition of his Syrian heritage. The day before he toddled up to New York to have lunch, among other things, with a gathering of pundits including some liberals.

While at times it has been it difficult to get a fix on whether Daniels is serious about running, that lunch would appear to be something of a tipoff that he is ready to take the plunge. It’s hard to believe that a Republican governor of Indiana with no interest in the presidency would bother breaking bread with a group consisting of conservatives like Peggy Noonan and Ramesh Ponnuru and liberals like George Stephanapoulos, Michael Kinsley, and Josh Marshall. Hendrik Hertzberg wrote about the meeting in the New Yorker, and the upshot is that Daniels came across as a liberal’s idea of a conservative. Judging Daniels on the basis of anything Hertzberg would say is obviously unfair. Every conservative statement that Daniels uttered was interpreted as being said unenthusiastically. That the personable Daniels came across well is not surprising, but the assertion that he is the only Republican candidate who isn’t crazy says more about Hertzberg than the governor.

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While some of the declared candidates are getting ready for their first close-up in South Carolina tonight, one of the principal undeclared candidates is getting plenty of attention on his own. As we noted yesterday, Mitch Daniels was at the American Enterprise Institute displaying his wonkishness in a speech about education reform. He then went to the left-leaning Arab-American Institute’s annual dinner to pick up an award in recognition of his Syrian heritage. The day before he toddled up to New York to have lunch, among other things, with a gathering of pundits including some liberals.

While at times it has been it difficult to get a fix on whether Daniels is serious about running, that lunch would appear to be something of a tipoff that he is ready to take the plunge. It’s hard to believe that a Republican governor of Indiana with no interest in the presidency would bother breaking bread with a group consisting of conservatives like Peggy Noonan and Ramesh Ponnuru and liberals like George Stephanapoulos, Michael Kinsley, and Josh Marshall. Hendrik Hertzberg wrote about the meeting in the New Yorker, and the upshot is that Daniels came across as a liberal’s idea of a conservative. Judging Daniels on the basis of anything Hertzberg would say is obviously unfair. Every conservative statement that Daniels uttered was interpreted as being said unenthusiastically. That the personable Daniels came across well is not surprising, but the assertion that he is the only Republican candidate who isn’t crazy says more about Hertzberg than the governor.

But the glittering minds at the lunch weren’t able to pull out of Daniels some clear answers about foreign policy, the one topic that the Hoosier governor has tended to avoid. Daniels played his cards close to his vest on that topic, and he left an impression that would be no comfort at all to Republicans looking for a leader who might appear better suited than Barack Obama to be commander-in-chief. Indeed, as Ponnuru noted in his account of the lunch at National Review Online, Daniels also acknowledged that he’s not ready to debate Obama on foreign policy.

That’s not an unimportant point. Daniels may be among the Americans best qualified to deal with the budget and issues relating to taxes and spending as well his hobbyhorse of education. But while a president is only part of the equation of determining domestic policy, questions of war and peace are primarily the responsibility of the commander-in-chief. Perhaps the main question Daniels must answer is not so much whether he will run but why we should trust someone who acknowledges he is unprepared to discuss these issues with the presidency.

As for his evening with the Arab-American Institute, a group that is hostile to Israel, Daniels’s speech seems to have provided no fodder for either his supporters or detractors. Ironically, Daniels struck something of a neoconservative tone when, in recalling his Syrian grandparents, he expressed hope that the people of that tortured country would step forward to demand freedom as the people of Egypt and Tunisia have done. If Daniels were to develop a message supporting the expansion of democracy abroad (which would fit nicely with his belief in economic freedom at home) that might be the start of a foreign policy. In the mean time, Daniels’s candidacy is clearly a work in progress.

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The Security Risks of a Helicopter Tail

Fox News reported yesterday that U.S. officials are worried tail remnants of the downed top-secret stealth helicopter at Osama bin Laden’s compound could become a security risk, especially if certain parts fall into the hands of China. But the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Buck McKeon (R–Calif.) said today that the military hasn’t expressed concern over the abandoned parts, nor is he aware of any efforts to retrieve the tail.

“My understanding is from the admiral that briefed us, was that there wasn’t much left of it,” McKeon said today at the Heritage Foundation. The SEALs who raided the compound “blew it up,” he added. “I don’t know that there are any efforts to retrieve any of it.”

If the Pakistani government decided to voluntarily return it “that would be great,” McKeon said. But he added that he “got no sense from the military that they had any concern about it. They felt that they blew it up. They didn’t seem concerned about what was left.”

Some bloggers have also pointed out the potential risks of leaving the tail at the compound. But if the Navy SEALs used up precious minutes during the raid to destroy the copter, are we really supposed to believe they’d make the error of leaving parts intact that could be a security risk? It was obviously of utmost importance to demolish the aircraft, and it sounds as if they finished the job.

While it would be a great gesture for the Pakistani government to return the abandoned tail voluntarily, that scenario seems wildly far-fetched based on the events of the last few days. And from McKeon’s statements, it doesn’t seem that the government is going to push hard to retrieve them—we have more pressing issues to deal with in regards to Pakistan, anyway.

Fox News reported yesterday that U.S. officials are worried tail remnants of the downed top-secret stealth helicopter at Osama bin Laden’s compound could become a security risk, especially if certain parts fall into the hands of China. But the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Buck McKeon (R–Calif.) said today that the military hasn’t expressed concern over the abandoned parts, nor is he aware of any efforts to retrieve the tail.

“My understanding is from the admiral that briefed us, was that there wasn’t much left of it,” McKeon said today at the Heritage Foundation. The SEALs who raided the compound “blew it up,” he added. “I don’t know that there are any efforts to retrieve any of it.”

If the Pakistani government decided to voluntarily return it “that would be great,” McKeon said. But he added that he “got no sense from the military that they had any concern about it. They felt that they blew it up. They didn’t seem concerned about what was left.”

Some bloggers have also pointed out the potential risks of leaving the tail at the compound. But if the Navy SEALs used up precious minutes during the raid to destroy the copter, are we really supposed to believe they’d make the error of leaving parts intact that could be a security risk? It was obviously of utmost importance to demolish the aircraft, and it sounds as if they finished the job.

While it would be a great gesture for the Pakistani government to return the abandoned tail voluntarily, that scenario seems wildly far-fetched based on the events of the last few days. And from McKeon’s statements, it doesn’t seem that the government is going to push hard to retrieve them—we have more pressing issues to deal with in regards to Pakistan, anyway.

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A Must-Read: Washington Post Profile of Bradley Manning

The Washington Post has just posted a riveting, detailed, infuriating, and heartbreaking account of the life and crimes of Bradley Manning, accused of having stolen 250,000 confidential U.S. cables and given them to Wikileaks. Ellen Nakashima is the author, and it reminds one of the glory days of newspaper profiles. What I took away from it is this: Youthful self-righteousness can be one of the most dangerous and nihilistic forces on earth.

The Washington Post has just posted a riveting, detailed, infuriating, and heartbreaking account of the life and crimes of Bradley Manning, accused of having stolen 250,000 confidential U.S. cables and given them to Wikileaks. Ellen Nakashima is the author, and it reminds one of the glory days of newspaper profiles. What I took away from it is this: Youthful self-righteousness can be one of the most dangerous and nihilistic forces on earth.

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Bush’s First-Class Move

There has been some disappointment after President George W. Bush turned down President Obama’s invitation to join him at Ground Zero today, but at the Washington Post, Jen Rubin believes Bush made the right choice:

Well, sometimes history needs some help and stories need to be told by those who were there. But in not appearing at Ground Zero, Bush shows uncommon grace. . . . And he also shows supreme confidence that his decisions were the right ones and that fair-minded people in the future will appreciate this. Grace and confidence. Are there any other qualities that better define the 43rd president?

I couldn’t agree more. The New York Daily News is reporting that Bush was “rubbed the wrong way” because President Obama has “withheld credit from people Bush believes deserved it.” Perhaps so, but there may be more to the story. Leaders sometimes have a difficult time knowing when to step out of the spotlight (see: Bush’s predecessor). Bush’s presence at Ground Zero could have helped bring closure for the country, but there was also a possibility that it could have ended up overshadowing the significance of the moment. Or maybe he was concerned that his attendance would bring back memories of the bitter divisiveness over counterterrorism policy that marked the end of his time in office. Or maybe he just wanted to leave all of the glory to Obama.

Whatever Bush’s reason, the killing of Osama bin Laden couldn’t have taken place without the policies put in place while Bush was in office. Bush played his role in the war on terror, and now he’s content to let Obama play his. Declining the invitation was a first-class move, and as Jen writes, it’s a real illustration of 43’s confidence and grace.

There has been some disappointment after President George W. Bush turned down President Obama’s invitation to join him at Ground Zero today, but at the Washington Post, Jen Rubin believes Bush made the right choice:

Well, sometimes history needs some help and stories need to be told by those who were there. But in not appearing at Ground Zero, Bush shows uncommon grace. . . . And he also shows supreme confidence that his decisions were the right ones and that fair-minded people in the future will appreciate this. Grace and confidence. Are there any other qualities that better define the 43rd president?

I couldn’t agree more. The New York Daily News is reporting that Bush was “rubbed the wrong way” because President Obama has “withheld credit from people Bush believes deserved it.” Perhaps so, but there may be more to the story. Leaders sometimes have a difficult time knowing when to step out of the spotlight (see: Bush’s predecessor). Bush’s presence at Ground Zero could have helped bring closure for the country, but there was also a possibility that it could have ended up overshadowing the significance of the moment. Or maybe he was concerned that his attendance would bring back memories of the bitter divisiveness over counterterrorism policy that marked the end of his time in office. Or maybe he just wanted to leave all of the glory to Obama.

Whatever Bush’s reason, the killing of Osama bin Laden couldn’t have taken place without the policies put in place while Bush was in office. Bush played his role in the war on terror, and now he’s content to let Obama play his. Declining the invitation was a first-class move, and as Jen writes, it’s a real illustration of 43’s confidence and grace.

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Kushner Fight May Not Be Over

As Jonathan wrote, the City University of New York board of trustees has voted to block an honorary degree for anti-Israel playwright Tony Kushner at John Jay College. The decision is sparking a major backlash, with Kushner issuing a ranting letter and calling the incident “incredibly ugly.”

But the fight doesn’t look like it’s ending anytime soon. The faculty senate, which originally nominated Kushner for the honor, has just sent out a letter calling on the executive committee of the board of trustees to go around the vote and basically approve the degree by fiat:

I ask you to please consider the values of our University and its reputation as well as your relationship to the faculty of CUNY and especially to its students, who are being denied the signal honor of having Mr. Tony Kushner join them as a member of John Jay’s graduating class of 2011.

The letter is signed by Karen Kaplowitz, an English professor and president of the John Jay faculty senate. Because the CUNY trustees executive committee acts on behalf of the entire board between meetings, and the next meeting isn’t scheduled until after commencement in June, the committee would be able to override the vote if it so chooses.

This is obviously a last-ditch effort by the faculty senate, since the board reportedly voted unanimously to table the honorary degree. Kushner has also declared that he wouldn’t accept the degree now even if it were offered. But the fact that the faculty senate is still attempting to push the issue indicates that they’re going to keep beating this drum for awhile.

As Jonathan wrote, the City University of New York board of trustees has voted to block an honorary degree for anti-Israel playwright Tony Kushner at John Jay College. The decision is sparking a major backlash, with Kushner issuing a ranting letter and calling the incident “incredibly ugly.”

But the fight doesn’t look like it’s ending anytime soon. The faculty senate, which originally nominated Kushner for the honor, has just sent out a letter calling on the executive committee of the board of trustees to go around the vote and basically approve the degree by fiat:

I ask you to please consider the values of our University and its reputation as well as your relationship to the faculty of CUNY and especially to its students, who are being denied the signal honor of having Mr. Tony Kushner join them as a member of John Jay’s graduating class of 2011.

The letter is signed by Karen Kaplowitz, an English professor and president of the John Jay faculty senate. Because the CUNY trustees executive committee acts on behalf of the entire board between meetings, and the next meeting isn’t scheduled until after commencement in June, the committee would be able to override the vote if it so chooses.

This is obviously a last-ditch effort by the faculty senate, since the board reportedly voted unanimously to table the honorary degree. Kushner has also declared that he wouldn’t accept the degree now even if it were offered. But the fact that the faculty senate is still attempting to push the issue indicates that they’re going to keep beating this drum for awhile.

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Live Blogging the GOP Debate Tonight

Senior Online Editor Jonathan S. Tobin and other members of the Contentions team will be live blogging the Republican presidential debate in South Carolina. So join us at 9 pm as we break down the first formal debate between some of the GOP contenders.

Senior Online Editor Jonathan S. Tobin and other members of the Contentions team will be live blogging the Republican presidential debate in South Carolina. So join us at 9 pm as we break down the first formal debate between some of the GOP contenders.

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Huckabee’s “Holocaust Gaffe”

When he delivered the keynote address at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Pittsburgh last Saturday, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee committed a “revealing Holocaust gaffe.” Or so, at least, says Michelle Goldberg of The Daily Beast. Huckabee apparently stumbled in “likening the United States’ fiscal future to the Nazi genocide.”

The Anti-Defamation League immediately demanded an apology. In a prepared statement, Abraham Foxman said:

It is highly inappropriate to use America’s mounting debt crisis as another occasion to invoke Nazis and the Holocaust, particularly on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, a time dedicated to memorializing, not trivializing, the six million Jews and millions of others who perished at the hands of the Nazis.

Huckabee’s analogy was “casual and wildly inappropriate,” M. J. Rosenberg agreed at the TPM Café.

A Southern Baptist preacher like Huckabee ought never to be permitted to speak about the Holocaust, I suppose—except that in Pittsburgh he said nothing like what he is accused of saying. Rather than watching the full-length video of the speech, his critics may have depended upon the Associated Press report of Huckabee’s speech, reprinted in several daily newspapers, which left the mistaken impression that the former governor and political commentator had somehow compared the failure to reduce our national debt to the nothing that was done by the nations of the world to prevent or stop the Holocaust.

Huckabee said nothing of the sort.

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When he delivered the keynote address at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Pittsburgh last Saturday, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee committed a “revealing Holocaust gaffe.” Or so, at least, says Michelle Goldberg of The Daily Beast. Huckabee apparently stumbled in “likening the United States’ fiscal future to the Nazi genocide.”

The Anti-Defamation League immediately demanded an apology. In a prepared statement, Abraham Foxman said:

It is highly inappropriate to use America’s mounting debt crisis as another occasion to invoke Nazis and the Holocaust, particularly on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, a time dedicated to memorializing, not trivializing, the six million Jews and millions of others who perished at the hands of the Nazis.

Huckabee’s analogy was “casual and wildly inappropriate,” M. J. Rosenberg agreed at the TPM Café.

A Southern Baptist preacher like Huckabee ought never to be permitted to speak about the Holocaust, I suppose—except that in Pittsburgh he said nothing like what he is accused of saying. Rather than watching the full-length video of the speech, his critics may have depended upon the Associated Press report of Huckabee’s speech, reprinted in several daily newspapers, which left the mistaken impression that the former governor and political commentator had somehow compared the failure to reduce our national debt to the nothing that was done by the nations of the world to prevent or stop the Holocaust.

Huckabee said nothing of the sort.

After spending much of his speech discussing the assault upon American values, Huckabee turned suddenly and without warning to Israel, a country that he has visited 15 times since 1973:

There’s something about Israel that is always magnetic to me, in part because I recognize it is one nation on earth most like us—created by people who escaped the galloping tyranny, hoping to find a sense of freedom and security for their families and their faith, and have been willing to put everything on the line to be free. I do not understand why our president today is more concerned about the Israelis’ building bedrooms for their own kids than he is about the Iranians’ building bombs that would be aimed at both the Israelis and at us, but it seems he is. (Applause.)

He introduced the next section of his speech by observing that “There are lessons to be learned.” Then Huckabee told a moving story about taking his daughter to Yad Vashem for the first time. The story was so long—over five minutes—that it assumed a life of its own, separating itself from the rest of the speech. What came through clearly was Huckabee’s deep love for the Jewish people and for his daughter. At the end of the tour, he said, his daughter wrote in the museum’s guest book: “Why didn’t somebody do something?”

This is not a question that can be asked only about the Holocaust, and only by Jews. Huckabee returned to it in the peroration of his speech:

Let there never be a time in this country where some father has to look over his daughter’s shoulder and see her ask this haunting question, “Why didn’t somebody do something?” because in this room we’re the somebodies and we commit we will do something to preserve this great American heritage.

To compare the Holocaust to our fiscal crisis would not only be inappropriate, but absurd. Huckabee is not making such a comparison, although he left himself open to criticism by even mentioning the two events in the same speech. Moreover, the sloppiness of his phrasing and thinking may have encouraged his critics to complete a connection that was more obvious to them than to him. Even so, what Huckabee is explicitly comparing is the reaction to the events by those who were not alive or too young to do anything about them at the time. And he is exactly right to worry that later generations may be dumbfounded by our failure to address the twin challenges of our time (“a huge debt and a very erosion of our values,” as he described them). Nor is it somehow to “invoke Nazis and the Holocaust” to worry so.

Huckabee’s conception of Israel sometimes seems to owe more to the New Testament than to political reality, but he is a tireless and unwavering defender of the Jewish State. Would that some of his critics could say as much. It is they and not he who trivialize the Holocaust.

Update: At Salon, Steve Kornacki unembarrassedly relies upon a second-hand Washington Post summary of the speech to conclude that Huckabee was telling a “Holocaust anecdote” simply to “make a point about the debt ceiling. . . .” Why invest the time in listening to the whole speech when your preconceptions are so much easier to consult?

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Clinton Won’t Rule Out Negotiations with Hamas “Unity” Regime

In Paris earlier today Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally weighed in on the unity deal between Hamas and Fatah, which was officially signed in Cairo yesterday. And not only did she refuse to say whether the Obama administration would support congressional efforts to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority, she also refused to rule out future negotiations with a Palestinian government that embraces the Islamist terrorist organization:

A day after the main Palestinian factions signed a unity agreement in Cairo, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton strikingly refused on Thursday to rule out further negotiations with a Palestinian side that included Hamas, the militant Islamic group that runs Gaza and is defined by many in the West as a terrorist organization. But she reiterated the Obama administration’s call for Hamas to accept basic conditions that included renouncing violence and recognizing Israel’s right to exist.

Yeah, about that “recognizing Israel’s right to exist” thing—that’s been going pretty well lately, right?

So now the U.S. isn’t ruling out negotiating with terrorists. To do so, however, would not only grant legitimacy to Hamas, but also undermine the peace efforts between Israel and the PA. This is the same Obama administration that demanded an Israeli settlement freeze as a prerequisite for negotiations, but now seems willing to consider collaborating with the same terror organization that recently fired a heat-guided missile at an Israeli school bus.

But who knows? The administration also seemed poised to allow a UN resolution condemning Israel to pass, before stepping in and vetoing it at the last minute—while also using the occasion to rail against “the folly and illegitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity.” So maybe this is just part of a similar act.

In Paris earlier today Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally weighed in on the unity deal between Hamas and Fatah, which was officially signed in Cairo yesterday. And not only did she refuse to say whether the Obama administration would support congressional efforts to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority, she also refused to rule out future negotiations with a Palestinian government that embraces the Islamist terrorist organization:

A day after the main Palestinian factions signed a unity agreement in Cairo, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton strikingly refused on Thursday to rule out further negotiations with a Palestinian side that included Hamas, the militant Islamic group that runs Gaza and is defined by many in the West as a terrorist organization. But she reiterated the Obama administration’s call for Hamas to accept basic conditions that included renouncing violence and recognizing Israel’s right to exist.

Yeah, about that “recognizing Israel’s right to exist” thing—that’s been going pretty well lately, right?

So now the U.S. isn’t ruling out negotiating with terrorists. To do so, however, would not only grant legitimacy to Hamas, but also undermine the peace efforts between Israel and the PA. This is the same Obama administration that demanded an Israeli settlement freeze as a prerequisite for negotiations, but now seems willing to consider collaborating with the same terror organization that recently fired a heat-guided missile at an Israeli school bus.

But who knows? The administration also seemed poised to allow a UN resolution condemning Israel to pass, before stepping in and vetoing it at the last minute—while also using the occasion to rail against “the folly and illegitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity.” So maybe this is just part of a similar act.

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CUNY Tells Tony Kushner There’s No Honor for Israel-Bashers

There has probably been no artist in the last generation that has been has feted, praised, and petted as the playwright Tony Kushner. Over the course of the last two decades, Kushner has been honored in every possible venue. His Angels in America may not be the most overrated play in the history of the modern American theater. But replete with visions of Communist spy Ethel Rosenberg, whose innocence is falsely proclaimed in the piece, Angels was the perfect play for the liberal chattering classes of the 1980s and 1990s. Ever since then Kushner has assumed the role of a latter-day Eugene O’Neill.

Yesterday, however, Kushner found out that there is at least one group in New York impervious to his dubious charms: the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York. CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Law was set to hand over to Kushner another honorary degree to add to his impressive collection of such honors. But after an impassioned presentation by trustee Jeffrey S. Weisenfeld at a public meeting on May 2, the board voted to rescind the honor and a shocked Kushner is crying foul.

Why did CUNY choose to back away from Kushner? To anyone who had followed his career of anti-Israel activism the answer was easy. The university of the largest Jewish city in the world rightly considered it inappropriate to honor a man who was a declared enemy of Zionism and the State of Israel.

The curious thing about this controversy is that rather than merely answer his CUNY critics with the contempt he generally uses to address pro-Israel and Zionist foes, Kushner is pretending that he has been wrongly accused. In a three-page letter to the CUNY board, he complained that he had been slandered and viciously attacked. He was not a “marginal extremist,” he protested. Why, he has enjoyed a “long and happy affiliation with such organizations as the 92nd Street Y, The Jewish Museum and the Upper West Side JCC.” And he has been honored with fifteen honorary degrees, including one from Brandeis University!

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There has probably been no artist in the last generation that has been has feted, praised, and petted as the playwright Tony Kushner. Over the course of the last two decades, Kushner has been honored in every possible venue. His Angels in America may not be the most overrated play in the history of the modern American theater. But replete with visions of Communist spy Ethel Rosenberg, whose innocence is falsely proclaimed in the piece, Angels was the perfect play for the liberal chattering classes of the 1980s and 1990s. Ever since then Kushner has assumed the role of a latter-day Eugene O’Neill.

Yesterday, however, Kushner found out that there is at least one group in New York impervious to his dubious charms: the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York. CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Law was set to hand over to Kushner another honorary degree to add to his impressive collection of such honors. But after an impassioned presentation by trustee Jeffrey S. Weisenfeld at a public meeting on May 2, the board voted to rescind the honor and a shocked Kushner is crying foul.

Why did CUNY choose to back away from Kushner? To anyone who had followed his career of anti-Israel activism the answer was easy. The university of the largest Jewish city in the world rightly considered it inappropriate to honor a man who was a declared enemy of Zionism and the State of Israel.

The curious thing about this controversy is that rather than merely answer his CUNY critics with the contempt he generally uses to address pro-Israel and Zionist foes, Kushner is pretending that he has been wrongly accused. In a three-page letter to the CUNY board, he complained that he had been slandered and viciously attacked. He was not a “marginal extremist,” he protested. Why, he has enjoyed a “long and happy affiliation with such organizations as the 92nd Street Y, The Jewish Museum and the Upper West Side JCC.” And he has been honored with fifteen honorary degrees, including one from Brandeis University!

The facts here are fairly straightforward. Kushner is a supporter and board member of Jewish Voices for Peace, a far left anti-Zionist organization that actively supports the effort to boycott, divest from and isolate (BDS) Israel. He has written that Israel’s creation was a mistake and an example of “ethnic cleansing”—a charge that he repeated in his letter to the CUNY board. Kushner bitterly criticized those Jews who stood up for Israel’s right to defend itself at the height of the second intifada when hundreds of Jews were slaughtered in Palestinian suicide bombings. He even devoted his literary talents to editing a book of essays, the 2003 Wrestling With Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which criticized every aspect of Israel life including the Law of Return and treated the Jewish state as the moral equivalent of Palestinian terrorists. (For Kushner, the anti-Zionist tenor of the volume is equalized by the inclusion of “many rabbis, two US Poet Laureates and two recipients of the Jerusalem Prize.”)

In short, Kushner is no “liberal Zionist.” He makes even a loathsome Israel-basher like Peter Beinart look like a stalwart supporter of Zion.

Kushner has every right to parade his hostility to Israel every chance he gets and to assist those who propagandize against the Jewish State if that is how he wishes to demonstrate (in his phrase) that he is “very proud of being Jewish.” But no one else is obligated to treat his perfidious behavior as praiseworthy. It is particularly courageous on the part of the CUNY board to treat this pampered scribbler with the contempt he deserves rather than to join the chorus of his acolytes.

We should expect that Kushner and other leftist Israel-bashers to react as if the writer has been lynched. He will play the victim for all it is worth, as if being deprived of an honor from a public-funded university is a violation of his civil rights. It is not. All that has happened here is that Kushner has been reminded that there are still some Jews in Gotham who are prepared to stand up for Israel against one of the intellectual bullies who have unfairly abused it. Seen in that light, Jeffrey Weisenfeld may have proven Kushner right in one respect: there really are a few angels running around loose in America these days.

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God is Her Co-Pilot—and Political Strategist

Most pundits don’t give Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann much of a chance to win the Republican presidential nomination. The Tea Party favorite and critic of Gore Vidal is seen by the party establishment as too flaky and far populist to win over mainstream GOP voters next year. But those who are dismissing her as a possible president shouldn’t scoff too loudly. Rather than communing with Beltway experts to ponder her strategy, Bachmann’s is looking to a higher power to help her put together a campaign team.

In an interview with Dan Cella of Financial Issues Stewardship Ministries, a Christian group whose goal is to help people to “be responsible stewards of God’s money,” Bachmann asked the viewers of the show to pray for her and “Ask that the Lord will give us a special anointing on how to put our team together, who those team people will be, that he would bring those people to us.”

The clip was picked up by Politico (you can view it on YouTube here), and posted on the Internet by a liberal group called “Right Wing Watch.” One atheist commenter about the video—clearly not a Bachmann fan—wrote that since he believed God didn’t exist, the candidate’s prayers meant that Bachmann campaign would also fail to materialize. But that seems like a poor bet for any atheist looking to disprove the existence of the Almighty. After all, if Bachmann does actually run, will that qualify as tangible proof of a living God?

But the snickers of intellectuals or the party establishment about this kind of talk should not blind us to her appeal. Whatever they might think of Bachmann, most Americans see nothing wrong with a candidate who is open about their religiosity. Moreover Bachmann’s comments illustrate the tack that she might take in the coming campaign. If one discounts the possibility that Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee will run, Bachmann is perfectly positioned to be the Christian conservative candidate as well as the favorite of the Tea Party’s populist insurgents. Given the impressive track record of Christian conservatives in the Iowa caucuses—Huckabee won them in 2008—and given her standing as a native of the state, Bachmann’s chances there should not be discounted. Especially if the LORD puts together a good team for her.

Most pundits don’t give Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann much of a chance to win the Republican presidential nomination. The Tea Party favorite and critic of Gore Vidal is seen by the party establishment as too flaky and far populist to win over mainstream GOP voters next year. But those who are dismissing her as a possible president shouldn’t scoff too loudly. Rather than communing with Beltway experts to ponder her strategy, Bachmann’s is looking to a higher power to help her put together a campaign team.

In an interview with Dan Cella of Financial Issues Stewardship Ministries, a Christian group whose goal is to help people to “be responsible stewards of God’s money,” Bachmann asked the viewers of the show to pray for her and “Ask that the Lord will give us a special anointing on how to put our team together, who those team people will be, that he would bring those people to us.”

The clip was picked up by Politico (you can view it on YouTube here), and posted on the Internet by a liberal group called “Right Wing Watch.” One atheist commenter about the video—clearly not a Bachmann fan—wrote that since he believed God didn’t exist, the candidate’s prayers meant that Bachmann campaign would also fail to materialize. But that seems like a poor bet for any atheist looking to disprove the existence of the Almighty. After all, if Bachmann does actually run, will that qualify as tangible proof of a living God?

But the snickers of intellectuals or the party establishment about this kind of talk should not blind us to her appeal. Whatever they might think of Bachmann, most Americans see nothing wrong with a candidate who is open about their religiosity. Moreover Bachmann’s comments illustrate the tack that she might take in the coming campaign. If one discounts the possibility that Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee will run, Bachmann is perfectly positioned to be the Christian conservative candidate as well as the favorite of the Tea Party’s populist insurgents. Given the impressive track record of Christian conservatives in the Iowa caucuses—Huckabee won them in 2008—and given her standing as a native of the state, Bachmann’s chances there should not be discounted. Especially if the LORD puts together a good team for her.

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