In a post today on the Tony Kushner debate, Andrew Sullivan attributes highly offensive simile to former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. The problem is, the Israeli leader never actually said it. JTA’s Ron Kampeas thought the quotation looked suspicious and checked into its citation, a Reuters story first published by the New York Times in 1988.
Here’s the statement Sullivan attributed to Shamir: “’The Palestinians’ would be crushed like grasshoppers . . . heads smashed against the boulders and walls.”
And here’s the actual Shamir quote from the original Reuters story:
Mr. Shamir, standing atop an ancient West Bank castle, told reporters: “Anybody who wants to damage this fortress and other fortresses we are establishing will have his head smashed against the boulders and walls.”
[Later in the article]
In remarks aimed at Arab rioters, the Prime Minister said: “We say to them from the heights of this mountain and from the perspective of thousands of years of history that they are like grasshoppers compared to us.”
The statement on Sullivan’s blog is clearly fabricated—it has almost no resemblance to what Shamir actually said.
Sullivan didn’t invent the phony quote. His source is an anti-Semitic website called “The Real History of Israel,” which he links to. The website is a treasure-trove of fake and misrepresented “Zionist-supremacy” quotations from Israeli leaders. It’s also a great resource for anti-Semitic cartoons and music videos.
I highly doubt Sullivan was aware of the website’s racist content, but he should have been double-checked before citing such a salacious quote that could potentially smear Shamir’s reputation. If he’s willing to accept the veracity of that sort of remark without question, what other information is he credulously accepting about Israel?
A few weeks ago I made sport of the New York Times for anointing Mitt Romney as the front-runner of the GOP presidential sweepstakes. The Grey Lady’s opinion is as worthless as anyone else’s might be in a race that is still many months away from the first vote’s being cast. The same applies to the Washington Post, whose Chris Cilliza issued his post-first-debate rankings with Romney in the lead for the nomination.
Cilliza gives Romney credit for running a better campaign than he did in 2008. While this might be true, given that his last run was something of a disaster, it is to damn him with faint praise. Romney is smart to concentrate on the economy rather than jabbering about how he was set up for victory as he did four years ago. But the look on the faces of the candidates who participated in last night’s debate in South Carolina when Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan was mentioned—they all but openly salivated—verifies that he is operating with an impossible handicap in a year when most Republicans are most angry about Obamacare.
All the no-shows last night looked good by not associating themselves with such a sad spectacle. But Romney had another reason for staying away. His non-appearance spared him a skewering on Obamacare that he can’t talk his way out of. That it didn’t happen last night merely postpones the inevitable. Romney may come across better than even the most plausible of the South Carolina debaters, but this is not the same thing as Pawlenty’s backtracking on cap and trade. The Minnesotan did the right thing last night and simply fessed up to making a mistake on an issue that is not as important as health care to most voters. Romney’s doubletalking explanations of his state-run health-care plan just makes things worse. The former Massachusetts governor is more phantom than front-runner.
David Brooks has written an intelligent column based, in large part, on a fantastic essay Irving Kristol wrote in 1974, “Republican Virtue versus Servile Institutions.” (I wrote about the Kristol essay here.)
Within Brooks’s column, though, is this odd paragraph:
Over the past months, there has been some progress in getting Americans to accept the need for self-restraint. With their various budget approaches, the Simpson-Bowles commission, Paul Ryan and President Obama have sent the message that politics can no longer be about satisfying voters’ immediate needs. The public hasn’t bought it yet, but progress is being made.
I say “odd” not because David mentions the Simpson-Bowles commission or Paul Ryan, both of whom deserve the credit Brooks accords to them. But what exactly has President Obama done to send the message that politics can no longer be about satisfying voters’ immediate needs? After all, he has spent money we don’t have in order to avoid reforming an entitlement programs we must reform—and he’s avoided asking the middle class to pay for his record spending binge.
The Obama administration is reaping the benefits at home of the successful mission to kill Osama bin Laden. The plaudits for this feat are deserved, even if it is the result of policies set in place by the president’s predecessor. But however much the president’s standings in the polls may have improved, the mess that is American policy on the Middle East isn’t going away
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Rome yesterday to discuss the stalemate in Libya, which was brought about by the president’s unwillingness to act as decisively toward the Qadaffi regime as he did toward Laden. But most of the questions around her visit revolved around the administration’s equally confused stance on the Hamas-Fatah peace pact.
As the New York Times reports today, Obama has abandoned, at least for the moment, his idea of a major speech detailing his plan to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Although Obama was not deterred by the certainty that his plan would have as little chance of success as the previous American efforts, it appears that even he realized the decision of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to conclude a peace deal with his Hamas rivals rather than with Israel rendered a U.S. scheme irrelevant.
I wanted to add to Alana’s post. According to a Quinnipiac University poll, voters American voters approve of the job President Obama that is doing by 52 to 40 percent, his highest score in almost two years. That’s the good news for the president.
Now the bad news. Obama’s 20-point negative score for handling the economy (37 to 57 percent) is unchanged and voter attitudes on whether he deserves reelection are only slightly improved. Voters surveyed after the bin Laden announcement say by 46 to 42 percent that the president deserves to be reelected, compared to a negative 45-to-48-percent split before bin Laden’s killing.
“The killing of Osama bin Laden has helped President Barack Obama’s popularity but not massively,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Voters have upped their opinion of the president’s handling of national security matters. But they have not changed their minds about his stewardship of the economy. The number of people opposed to his reelection has dropped, although they seem to have moved to ‘undecided,’ rather than to the pro-Obama column,” Brown added.
The news today that unemployment increased to 9 percent from 8.8 percent is not going to help the president, despite the fact that nonfarm payroll employment rose by 244,000 in April. As a reference point, the highest post-Great Depression unemployment rate for which an incumbent president won reelection was 7.2 percent in 1984 (h/t: Ed Morrissey). And arguably the most alarming number in recent months is 1.8, which is the percentage of economic growth in the first quarter of this year.
The president therefore remains quite vulnerable—and there’s no reason to believe the economy is going to get substantially better between now and 2012.
No two ways around it: these remain difficult times for the country, and consequently these are difficult political times for the president. What happened in Abbottabad last Sunday doesn’t change any of that.
While most of us here at Contentions believed last night’s GOP presidential debate didn’t do any of the candidates much good, some of our brethren on the web are spreading encouragement to the hopefuls.
Over at RealClearPolitics, Scott Conroy gives a glowing review to Tim Pawlenty. He said the former Minnesota governor was “poised and well rehearsed as he spoke authoritatively on subjects.”
Disagreeing strongly with Conroy was the Washington Examiner’s Byron York, who termed Pawlenty’s performance “lackluster.” For him, part of the problem was the Pawlenty “Minnesota Nice” demeanor.
Surprisingly, both writers agreed about Rick Santorum. Both believed he did well for himself. Conroy gave high marks to Santorum for “a well-received first-debate performance, as he showed off his socially conservative bona fides.” York said Santorum had won the expectations game (could they have been lower?) and by making a strong impression on foreign policy issues.
Reviews like this (Santorum’s campaign was tweeting York’s article to the world this morning) do have the potential to breathe a little life in Santorum’s campaign but as our friend and former colleague Jennifer Rubin pointed out in the Washington Post, the former senator’s boast about beating Democratic incumbents fails to take into account the fact that a Democratic challenger beat him like a drum in his last race.
I think Santorum did score points when he explained the rationale for a foreign-policy critique of President Obama even in the wake of the bin Laden killing. And while it may not endear him to many general election voters, his attempt to position himself as the hardest of the hard-core social conservatives was politically smart (even if it was also abrasive and arrogant), and could serve to keep his candidacy alive. To dive back into the baseball metaphors that we were debating last night on Contentions, Santorum’s few good moments (and he had a few along with some genuinely bad ones as when he tried to explain his vote on free prescriptions or his attack on working women) are about as meaningful as a base hit in a spring training game. It may be exhilarating for the candidate, but it doesn’t mean anything in the long run.
As for Pawlenty, I’ve got to come down on the side of those who are less than sanguine about the way he came across. He was, as I noted during the debate, the one with the most polished answers and sounded the most knowledgeable on foreign policy. But his attitude seemed phony, if not sanctimonious. I think it was more than the bad makeup job that Jen Rubin and others have pointed out. If this was his first chance to breakout from the pack, he missed it.
Now that Osama bin Laden is safely dead, Peter Beinart has declared an end to the war on terror: “[W]e have more to be grateful for than this one villain’s demise. We must give thanks for something broader: The war on terror is over,” he writes at the Daily Beast.
According to Beinart, bin Laden’s death is largely a symbolic victory. The main benefit, he writes, is that we can now cast aside all of those clunky Bush-era war on terror policies that have been “a mistake from the start.”
But as Charles Krauthammer points out at the Washington Post today, this so-called “mistake” was exactly what led to bin Laden in the first place:
The bin Laden operation is the perfect vindication of the war on terror. It was made possible precisely by the vast, warlike infrastructure that the Bush administration created post-9/11, a fierce regime of capture and interrogation, of dropped bombs and commando strikes.
We found bin Laden precisely because of the back-site prisons, the enhanced interrogation techniques, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that people like Beinart have spent years opposing. Bin Laden’s death isn’t just a symbolic victory; it will save lives. The trove of data recovered from his home computers has already helped officials uncover one potential terrorist attack—and that’s just the information that’s been leaked to the media. Possible al Qaeda collaborators in the Pakistani intelligence agency are also being sought out. It’s clear that the war on terror is far from over. And it’s a testament to the success of our counterterrorism policies that Beinart appears to believe it’s no longer a top concern.
President Obama’s overall approval ratings have spiked since the killing of Osama bin Laden, but approval of his handling of the economy has not. And the new unemployment numbers out today may be a problem for the president as he tries to hold onto his bounce in the polls. While job creation was higher than expected in April, the unemployment rate rose from 8.8 percent to 9 percent—the highest increase in a year and a half.
Investor’s Business Daily looked into the poll numbers, and found that Obama’s economic approval rating has actually declined since the killing of bin Laden:
None of the polls showed an Obama bump rubbing off on opinions of his economic stewardship. In fact, his handling of the economy received lower post-bin Laden grades in both the IBD/TIPP and Times/CBS surveys. The Times/CBS poll showed just 34% approving of how Obama is grappling with the nation’s high jobless rate, debt crisis and rising gas prices. Last month, 38% approved. The drop in the IBD/TIPP poll was two points to 30%.
The major daily tracking polls are still showing overall gains for Obama, but as news coverage of the bin Laden raid starts to fade, the president’s approval ratings will likely fade as well. Some commentators have said that the bin Laden killing locked up a 2012 reelection for Obama. But unless he begins to see better news about the economic recovery, the president won’t be able to keep the momentum going for much longer.
I am hesitant to waste any more time on the outrage over Tony Kushner’s being denied an honorary degree from CUNY. But it is worth a moment to ponder the intellectual dishonesty of one particularly outraged voice. Tablet’s Liel Liebovitz has expressed support for boycotts of Israel and opposes the blockade of Hamas in Gaza. Like the Jewish Voices for Peace whom Kushner serves as a board member, Liebovitz is hardly in a position to vouch for anyone’s Zionist fides. Not that that stops him from ranting about CUNY’s decision today.
What’s really crazy is the nature of his attack on the university. To show how preposterous he thinks it is to rescind the degree for Kushner, he cites some others who have received such honors. Now, I’m sure the roster of miscreants who have been awarded honorary degrees from CUNY and many other schools is quite long. After all, many such degrees are, more or less, payment for charitable donations. A lot of people who have that kind of money to spend aren’t always that admirable.
But whom does Liebovitz cite as scandalous honorees? The Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz and the lawyer Alan Dershowitz.
Like Kushner, Rabinowitz is a Pulitzer Prize winner; unlike Kushner, she actually deserved the prize. Her long journalistic crusade against the unjust prosecution of the Amirault family in Massachusetts on clearly false charges of child molestation is an act of enduring intellectual courage. To Liebovitz, however, the fact that Rabinowitz supported the allegations of a woman who claimed that Bill Clinton sexually abused her is sufficient to disqualify her from honor.
Dershowitz’s sin in Liebovitz’s eyes is pretty much the opposite of Kushner’s. He is too supportive of Israel and too critical of Hamas for the Tablet writer’s taste. According to Liebovitz’s political calculus, Dershowitz is as far out of the mainstream on Israel as Kushner, even if he is a loyal Democrat and down-the-line political liberal. Which is true, I guess, if you are gauging what passes for mainstream opinion in Gaza.
Liebovitz and Tablet (which published a less insane defense of Kushner a day earlier by Marc Tracy) are entitled to their opinion. But this piece, like others by Liebovitz, once again calls into question Tablet’s pose as a reasonable participant in the national Jewish conversation.
Tim Pawlenty didn’t need to hit a gram slam last night. He needed only to come off as more credible than everyone else onstage. In that regard, he was a roaring success.
But his performance did leave something to be desired. His one consistent problem, long before this debate, has been his stiffness. While he handled himself well through most of it, his monologue at the end was far too canned. Don’t try to be sincere—just be sincere. That’s one thing he could learn from the other candidates he was onstage with, who are all clearly very passionate and free-spoken about their beliefs. Since Pawlenty was the frontrunner of the night, it would have been nice to see him loosen up a little and act a bit more confident and at-ease. His decision to not beat up on Romney during the RomneyCare question was a classy move, but his effusive apology about cap-and-trade was slightly awkward (never grovel during a debate!).
His errors were minimal, and can probably be chalked up to nerves over the first debate. But we’ll see how he handles pressure once other serious candidates step into the picture.
The international response to the Fatah-Hamas unity deal provides yet another example of a troubling development. Alone among the nations, Israel is increasingly denied the protections of the laws of war.
Thus, for instance, the West denounces Israel’s targeted killings of Hamas leaders even as it correctly deems America’s targeted killing of Al-Qaida’s leader perfectly legitimate (a double standard skewered by Alan Dershowitz this week).
Now the same double standard is being applied to Israel’s suspension of fund transfers to the Palestinian Authority. The U.S. and Europe have both demanded that Israel resume the transfers. Even the usually sensible Tony Blair, the Quartet’s Middle East envoy, echoed this demand. “The money is Palestinian money so it must be transferred,” Blair told Haaretz. “That is a Quartet position. Hillary Clinton made the same point.”
The money is indeed Palestinian: customs duties that, under a 1994 agreement, Israel collects on the PA’s behalf at its ports to spare importers the hassle of dealing with two separate customs offices. But under the laws of war, this fact is totally irrelevant.
When the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York voted not to give an honorary degree to playwright Tony Kushner, they violated the prime directive of Gotham’s cultural elites: Thou shalt not hold any liberal icon accountable for anything they do. The penalty for violating this unwritten but clearly inviolable rule is the ultimate disgrace: multiple articles in the New York Times on the same day, denouncing your decision.
On page A23 of the today’s Times, there’s a 1,000-word article headlined “Outrage on CUNY Vote to Shelve Playwright’s Award.” Various and sundry New York figures are allowed to vent their anger at the “disrespect” shown to Kushner. Among them were members of the faculty of John Jay College of Criminal Law (the CUNY affiliate that was to honor Kushner), a former honoree who teaches at Yeshiva University, and former mayor Ed Koch, who is also to get an honorary degree from CUNY this year. The only person quoted who agreed with Kushner’s critic on the CUNY board was the man himself: financier Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld.
Because of a previous commitment, I wasn’t able to watch live coverage of the first GOP presidential debate in Greenville, South Carolina. I did watch the replay on Fox News at midnight.
I should have gone to bed.
I agree with Jonathan, John, and David; the debate was not a good one for the Republican Party, for all the reasons they stated. The political moment we’re in is an unusually serious one; last night’s debate, on the other hands, seemed unserious—an idea that sounded like a good one a long time ago but, as we got closer to the event, became increasingly beside the point.
If there was one moment that underscored for me how unfortunate the whole thing was for the GOP, it was when Representative Ron Paul was asked about his support of legalization for drugs like cocaine and heroin. In the exchange with one of the moderators, Chris Wallace, Paul was asked, “Are you suggesting that heroin and prostitution are an exercise of liberty?” To which Paul eventually replied, “Yes.” He proceeded to try to defend his stance and asked, “If we legalize heroin tomorrow, is everyone is going use heroin? How many people here would use heroin if it were legal?” Paul’s answer was greeted with wild applause and cheers, to which Wallace replied, “I never thought heroin would get applause here in South Carolina.”
Neither did I.
Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson then chimed in on behalf of drug legalization as well. So 40 percent of the participants in the first GOP presidential debate this year were aggressive advocates for drug legalization—including (in the case of Paul) hard drugs. At last the GOP has a political blueprint for defeating President Obama in 2012.
I suppose if there was one virtue of last night’s debate, then perhaps it was to expose the absurdity of libertarianism, at least in the undiluted Ron Paul version. If there were any other upsides, I’d be eager to hear what they were.
Asked for his reaction to the Palestinian “reconciliation” agreement, State Department spokesman Mark Toner responded that the Quartet requirements (renouncing violence, recognizing Israel, abiding by prior Israeli-Palestinian agreements) are “red lines” and “core principles” to which any Palestinian government must adhere:
QUESTION: But one of the pillars of the agreement is to form a unity government that will necessarily include Hamas, which you consider to be a terrorist organization. . . .
MR. TONER: But until we actually see what the details of this agreement look like, it’s hard for me to speculate beyond what I’ve already said, which is that any Hamas role, any Hamas participation, will have to be predicated on an acceptance of those Quartet principles.
QUESTION: But in principle, if there is a government, a Palestinian government, that includes Hamas, a terrorist organization according to your classification, would then the Palestinian cease to be a partner for peace under your auspices?
MR. TONER: Again, I really got to say we just need to watch and see how this develops. . . .
The New York Times reports the administration has “pointedly” not rejected the Fatah-Hamas pact outright:
The senior administration official said that the United States, unlike in the past, did not want to preclude a genuine shift by Hamas, or force the Palestinians into a corner by denouncing any alliance that would include a group the United States and others designate as terrorists. “There is a calculated element to this,” the official said.
The “outstretched hand” is one of the staples of smart power: Iran got one; Syria got one; now Hamas is getting one too. Surely someone can think of a descriptive name for a diplomatic strategy in which we suspend the application of our core principles to watch and see how others react, calculating it may bring peace.