Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 6, 2011

Sullivan Trolls Anti-Semitic Sites for Anti-Israel Quotes

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?

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?

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Romney the Phantom Frontrunner

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.

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.

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Obama: Teaching Americans the Opposite of Self-Restraint

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.

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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.

In addition, the president gave a dishonest, hyper-partisan speech responding to the Ryan budget after having proposed a completely irresponsible budget of his own. Obama has also added to the dishonesty of the debate by pretending that raising taxes on the wealthy will generate the revenues we need.

Jennifer Rubin zeroes in on this point in her blog, insisting:

Democrats are perpetuating a fundamental untruth: If we tax only the rich more, we can keep entitlement programs just the way they are. But of course, the numbers don’t work that way. In rebutting the president’s speech Ryan . . . was asked whether Obama’s plan could keep the debt stable without raising taxes on the middle class. He answered. . . . “It’s literally inconceivable. . . . It’s mathematically impossible, if you agree with [Obama’s proposed] spending, to not tax everybody.

So Mr. Obama has (a) contributed to record deficits and debt; (b) enacted into law a deeply flawed, open-ended health care entitlement program; (c) slandered serious proposals that are attempting to deal with our entitlement crisis; (d) refused to offer a serious proposal of his own; and (e) perpetrated a myth about how much revenue taxing the rich will generate.

Remind me again why Obama deserves praise for helping Americans accept the need for self-restraint? What he had done, in fact, is precisely the opposite.

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Obama Foreign Policy Is Still a Mess

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.

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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.

But even though U.S. law states that the United States may not deal with a terrorist entity—as a Hamas-Fatah coalition government would have to be termed, since it includes a terrorist partner—Clinton refused to foreclose the possibility that she will engage with it. The administration, as the proverbial “senior administration official” who spoke to the Times said, “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.”

The idea that a “genuine shift by Hamas” toward peace with Israel is possible is ludicrous. Indeed, it is so ludicrous that surely even Obama and Clinton understand they would be fools to act as if it were even a possibility. Washington’s fear of pushing the Palestinians into corner is equally absurd. It is Washington and its European allies who have the whip hand on the Palestinians, not the other way around. If the West halts the flow of aid to it, the PA will go broke in short order and the many Palestinians who depend on that money for make-work and no-work patronage jobs will be out of luck.

But the problem is that the Hamas Islamists and their new Fatah partners believe Obama is either too antagonistic to Israel or too timorous to call their bluff. They may assume that the applicable example is not the hunt for bin Laden but rather Obama’s futile Iran policy. Hamas’s faithful ally in Tehran has spent all of Obama’s term in office mocking the president for his weakness in their confrontation with him over Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Rather than act decisively to cut off the new terrorist alliance, Obama and Clinton are reduced to playing for time simply because they have no viable strategy for the peace process other than to pressure Israel—something that won’t make any difference to Hamas.

While the president takes his victory lap for bin Laden, American foreign policy remains what it has been for most of the last two years: a confused mess.

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What Happened in Abbottabad Doesn’t Change Obama’s Difficulties

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.

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.

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Did Santorum Win the Debate? No, But Neither Did Pawlenty

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.

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.

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Not Just a Symbolic Victory

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.

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.

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Unemployment and the Obama Bounce

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.

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.

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Mainstream in Gaza

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.

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.

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Pawlenty’s Performance

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.

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.

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The Laws of War Must Not Apply to Israel

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.

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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.

The laws of war permit a country at war to freeze enemy assets in its territory lest they be used to finance the enemy’s campaign. And all countries do so. For instance, the U.S. and other NATO countries now bombing Libya have all frozen Libyan government assets.

No reasonable person would deny that Israel is at war with Hamas. Missiles are routinely fired at Israel from Hamas-controlled Gaza, and the Islamist organization still refuses to recognize Israel’s existence. Contrary to Washington’s wishful thinking, the Hamas-Fatah accord hasn’t softened this position, as senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar made clear on the very day it was signed. According to the Jerusalem Post, he told Al Jazeera that his organization “will never recognize Israel,” as Palestinians reject “the rule of Poles and Ethiopians in their land.”

Nor can Hamas be part of a new PA government without benefiting from PA funds. No matter what mechanisms are created to prevent direct transfers from the PA to Hamas, money is fungible. The very fact that the PA will now finance governmental outlays in Gaza for which Hamas previously had to foot the bill frees up funds for Hamas’s war on Israel.

Thus the moment the deal was signed to bring Hamas into the PA government, Israel was entirely justified under the laws of war in freezing fund transfers to the PA. Indeed, none of the Western countries now sanctimoniously protesting the freeze would hesitate a moment to freeze the assets of any government that included a terrorist organization committed to their own destruction.

As far as the West is concerned, though, the laws of war don’t apply to Israel. Unlike other nations, it has no right to take reasonable, legal steps in its own defense. The West may preach equality before the law, but it falls back Orwell’s definition of equality: Some countries are clearly more equal than others.

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The New York Times Piles on Kushner’s Critic

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.

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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.

Koch’s point of view is interesting because he is a stalwart friend of Israel. But the former mayor, who seems to spend most of his time being honored around town (he had the chutzpah to think there was nothing inappropriate about changing the name of the venerable Queensboro Bridge to the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge), thinks Wiesenfeld abused his power and should resign from the CUNY board. But why exactly is a trustee speaking up against honoring a man who is a foe of Israel an abuse of power? As Wiesenfeld admitted in the article, he didn’t think other board members would listen. That they did so testifies to Wiesenfeld’s passion, the strength of his arguments, and the justice of his case.

A veteran of both politics and the New York culture wars, Koch knows that treating a liberal cultural icon as anything but an object of veneration is against the rules, especially if it might endanger his own chances of accumulating more honors. “What does Kushner receiving an award have to do with criticism of the State of Israel?” Koch asked the Times. “What if I were denied an honorary degree because of my strong support for that state?”

Well, the answer Mr. Mayor is that: (a) Support for the existence of the only Jewish state in the world, which also happens to be the Middle East’s only genuine democracy, is not the moral equivalent of opposing it. And (b) given the leftist domination of academia, there is little doubt that being a supporter of Israel is a handicap not only in gaining meaningless trinkets like honorary degrees but in the ability of pro-Israel faculty to gain tenure. Indeed, there is hardly a Middle East Studies program in the country that is not dominated by Israel-haters. That is a genuine outrage, and the willingness of the CUNY board to refuse to honor someone who sympathizes with the Israel-haters is a step (albeit a tiny one) toward correcting this imbalance.

Besides, there is no constitutional right to an honorary degree. The fact that the CUNY board doesn’t much like Tony Kushner is more than ample reason to reject him—just as any governing board of any university may choose not to honor anyone.

But the one-sided piece on A23 was just part of the Times’s assault on Wiesenfeld. Two pages earlier—on A21—is a column by Jim Dwyer centered on an interview with the CUNY trustee. Dwyer treats Wiesenfeld’s views as incomprehensible, but to his credit, Wiesenfeld himself clearly declined to accept the intended premise of Dwyer’s piece. Rather than meekly accept the idea that, as Dwyer put it, he had done “damage” by a one-sided presentation at the board meeting, Wiesenfeld said Dwyer didn’t know what he was talking about. Since talking back to the Times is no more allowed than dissing Kushner, however, the result was a piece that was every bit as one-sided as we are instructed that Wiesenfeld’s speech to the CUNY board was.

When Wiesenfeld attempted to explain to Dwyer that there is no moral equivalence between Israel and those who wish to destroy it, he was portrayed as saying that Palestinians weren’t human—obviously was not what he was saying. When Wiesenfeld recalled his unsuccessful effort to prevent a similar honor from being given to former Irish President and United Nations apparatchik Mary Robinson, who has a long history of opposition to Israel and playing ball with those who promote anti-Semitism, Dwyer selectively quoted Robinson to make it appear as if she was a friend of Israel, which she is not.

After that, Dwyer attempted to corner Wiesenfeld by citing the fact that at one point in the 1990s, when he worked for former New York governor George Pataki, he had been falsely accused of involvement in a scheme to sell paroles. Didn’t Wiesenfeld think this was what he was doing to Kushner, Dwyer asked? Wiesenfeld rightly dismissed this comparison as absurd. Wiesenfeld was innocent of the crime of which he was accused. Despite the fact that he has many fans who are angry about the criticisms of his published record, Kushner has a paper trail a mile long detailing his hostility to Israel.

The tributes to Kushner did not end there. His “long awaited” new play, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures, was adoringly reviewed in today’s Times on the front page of the Arts section. Apparently about the coming together of the family of an aging socialist, the new play isn’t relevant to the CUNY controversy, but drama critic Ben Brantley still felt compelled to weigh in on Kushner’s Jewish identity and “empathy” in a separate tribute published this morning on the Times website. Its conceit is that Kushner, whose relentless left-wing politics dominates much of his work, is a “morally righteous” writer who, in his dramatic writing, is nonetheless scrupulously fair to all points of view—a supposed contrast to the unfair and unrighteous Wiesenfeld.

A New York arts world that considers a hard-core leftist theatrical polemicist like Tony Kushner to be “compassionate” and fair-minded must find it hard to accept the fact that there are people in the world who deem his anti-Zionism so hard to stomach they refuse to remain silent when asked to honor him. The belief that Kushner is a “writer of rare intellectual scope” with an “extraordinary, active empathy that pervades every one of his plays” is clearly the dominant viewpoint among the city’s chattering classes, and it is hardly surprising that dissenters like Wiesenfeld will be treated harshly as a consequence. The drumbeat of incitement against Wiesenfeld, in which Kushner is falsely portrayed as a victim, will accelerate in the days to come. By the time this nonsense is played out, Kushner may be in line for a Nobel Peace Prize.

That is the way the cultural elites play hardball. Wiesenfeld must understand that he will not be forgiven for his act of lese majeste against a leading cultural liberal. But in standing up against a man whose opposition to Israel has always brought him honor rather than the shame it deserved, Wiesenfeld has restored a little bit of balance to New York’s cockeyed world of high culture.

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A Blueprint for Defeating Obama

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.

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.

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Call It “Diplomacy from Behind”

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.

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.

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