Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 10, 2011

Can Rove Ride to the Rescue in NY 26?

While the Democrats hope that demogoging Medicare will change the momentum of national politics, Republicans have awakened to the possibility that there is more at stake in the suburban Buffalo district than filling the seat of the resigned Rep. Christopher Lee. On Monday, according to Politico, the Democrat-leaning Public Policy Polling released a new poll showing Democratic candidate Kathy Hochul taking a a 35 percent to 31 percent lead over Republican Jane Corwin. That reverses the margin that Corwin led by in the only previously released poll in late April.

The Democrats are crowing about their ability to hang Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan around Corwin’s neck and those of every other Republican in the future. The foresee victory in this district as proof that the GOP has overreached with its proposals to cut the deficit. But the Republicans’ real problem in NY26 may not be the public’s willingness to be frightened by accusations that Ryan is being mean to seniors. The swing in NY26 is not so much the Democrat’s gains but the fact that Tea Party candidate Jack Davis is also on the ballot. With Davis polling at better than 20 percent, a district with a huge Republican registration advantage has not only been put in play but in jeopardy of falling to the Democrats.

But the Republicans are not taking this lying down. Former Bush administration political guru Karl Rove’s American Crossroads group is entering the fray in the special district in a big way. The conservative 527 group is making a huge television buy to support Corwin. The New York Times says that Crossroads will buy $350 thousand worth of advertising in the Buffalo media market. Politico pegs the number at $650 thousand.

What will be interesting is whether Crossroad’s main target is the Democrat Hochul or Tea Partier Davis. When House Speaker John Boehner flew into Buffalo yesterday to campaign for Corwin he made a point of saying that he was there to support the “only conservative” in the race, an allusion to the fact that Davis was a Democrat until recently switching parties.

Three-party race or not, Democrats will use a win in NY26 in order to jump-start a national comeback after their debacle in last November’s midterm elections. In the two weeks until the May 24 special election, we’ll have a chance to see whether American Crossroads can ride to the rescue of the Republicans.

While the Democrats hope that demogoging Medicare will change the momentum of national politics, Republicans have awakened to the possibility that there is more at stake in the suburban Buffalo district than filling the seat of the resigned Rep. Christopher Lee. On Monday, according to Politico, the Democrat-leaning Public Policy Polling released a new poll showing Democratic candidate Kathy Hochul taking a a 35 percent to 31 percent lead over Republican Jane Corwin. That reverses the margin that Corwin led by in the only previously released poll in late April.

The Democrats are crowing about their ability to hang Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan around Corwin’s neck and those of every other Republican in the future. The foresee victory in this district as proof that the GOP has overreached with its proposals to cut the deficit. But the Republicans’ real problem in NY26 may not be the public’s willingness to be frightened by accusations that Ryan is being mean to seniors. The swing in NY26 is not so much the Democrat’s gains but the fact that Tea Party candidate Jack Davis is also on the ballot. With Davis polling at better than 20 percent, a district with a huge Republican registration advantage has not only been put in play but in jeopardy of falling to the Democrats.

But the Republicans are not taking this lying down. Former Bush administration political guru Karl Rove’s American Crossroads group is entering the fray in the special district in a big way. The conservative 527 group is making a huge television buy to support Corwin. The New York Times says that Crossroads will buy $350 thousand worth of advertising in the Buffalo media market. Politico pegs the number at $650 thousand.

What will be interesting is whether Crossroad’s main target is the Democrat Hochul or Tea Partier Davis. When House Speaker John Boehner flew into Buffalo yesterday to campaign for Corwin he made a point of saying that he was there to support the “only conservative” in the race, an allusion to the fact that Davis was a Democrat until recently switching parties.

Three-party race or not, Democrats will use a win in NY26 in order to jump-start a national comeback after their debacle in last November’s midterm elections. In the two weeks until the May 24 special election, we’ll have a chance to see whether American Crossroads can ride to the rescue of the Republicans.

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Chinese Tyrants Can’t Stand the Smell of Jasmine

In what must be considered one of the strangest and most perverse efforts by a tyrannical government to repress dissent, China’s Communist regime has mounted a full-scale effort to ban the sale of jasmine. Even the mention of the flower anywhere on the Internet is forbidden.

The reason for this bizarre ruling reported by the New York Times is that the revolt in Tunisia earlier this year became known as the “Jasmine Revolution.” The successful effort to oust an authoritarian government has so scared the Chinese leadership that they have gone so far as to censor videos of President Hu Jintao singing “Mo Li Qua”—a song that is a traditional tribute to jasmine that was played at every medal ceremony at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Chinese characters for jasmine have been blocked on cell-phone texts, and the China International Jasmine Festival scheduled for this summer has been abruptly canceled.

Calls for China’s own jasmine revolt were scattered and few. Beijing has so thoroughly intimidated its internal critics with brutal repression that few democracy advocates were foolish enough to invite the regime’s revenge for any acts of defiance. As with every other measure intended to stifle dissent against the Communist regime, the government counts on a population that is rightly fearful of the consequences of revolt and an international community that is apathetic about the fate of the inmates of the world’s largest tyranny.

But the Times brings home the inanity and cruelty of the regime when it writes about the fate of the poor flower growers and sellers who are the principal victims of this bit of Communist caprice. Most have never heard of Tunisia. Nor have they any notion of why a simple flower must be banished from the streets in order to comfort their masters. Those who wish to understand the basic nature of tyranny could do no better than to read this story. And those who argue, as many here do to their shame, that the Chinese neither want nor need freedom should read it as well.

In what must be considered one of the strangest and most perverse efforts by a tyrannical government to repress dissent, China’s Communist regime has mounted a full-scale effort to ban the sale of jasmine. Even the mention of the flower anywhere on the Internet is forbidden.

The reason for this bizarre ruling reported by the New York Times is that the revolt in Tunisia earlier this year became known as the “Jasmine Revolution.” The successful effort to oust an authoritarian government has so scared the Chinese leadership that they have gone so far as to censor videos of President Hu Jintao singing “Mo Li Qua”—a song that is a traditional tribute to jasmine that was played at every medal ceremony at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Chinese characters for jasmine have been blocked on cell-phone texts, and the China International Jasmine Festival scheduled for this summer has been abruptly canceled.

Calls for China’s own jasmine revolt were scattered and few. Beijing has so thoroughly intimidated its internal critics with brutal repression that few democracy advocates were foolish enough to invite the regime’s revenge for any acts of defiance. As with every other measure intended to stifle dissent against the Communist regime, the government counts on a population that is rightly fearful of the consequences of revolt and an international community that is apathetic about the fate of the inmates of the world’s largest tyranny.

But the Times brings home the inanity and cruelty of the regime when it writes about the fate of the poor flower growers and sellers who are the principal victims of this bit of Communist caprice. Most have never heard of Tunisia. Nor have they any notion of why a simple flower must be banished from the streets in order to comfort their masters. Those who wish to understand the basic nature of tyranny could do no better than to read this story. And those who argue, as many here do to their shame, that the Chinese neither want nor need freedom should read it as well.

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Reaching the Nadir

Here’s yet another poll—this one from NBC News—which shows President Obama receiving a marginal boost in his approval ratings aftermath Osama bin Laden was killed. The president’s overall approval rating is now at 52 percent—a gain of only three points since last month—while his disapproval rating dropped four points to 41 percent. But his approval/disapproval spilt on the economy is terrible (37 percent as against 58 percent), the lowest of his presidency.

The same pattern is playing itself out in other polls.

The president has some 15 months to reverse, in a significant way, these numbers. Why? Because an incumbent president who has anything like a 21-point negative gap on the economy as he heads into the stretch run of the campaign means he will, absent extraordinary intervening events, lose.

Fifteen months may seem a long time. But bear this in mind: Obama has been president for 28 months—and during that time public confidence is his economic stewardship has gone down, not up. To have reached the nadir (so far) well into his third year in office cannot be reassuring. And that the economic recovery continues to be anemic, with so few bright spots to point to, should be downright alarming to Obama supporters.


Here’s yet another poll—this one from NBC News—which shows President Obama receiving a marginal boost in his approval ratings aftermath Osama bin Laden was killed. The president’s overall approval rating is now at 52 percent—a gain of only three points since last month—while his disapproval rating dropped four points to 41 percent. But his approval/disapproval spilt on the economy is terrible (37 percent as against 58 percent), the lowest of his presidency.

The same pattern is playing itself out in other polls.

The president has some 15 months to reverse, in a significant way, these numbers. Why? Because an incumbent president who has anything like a 21-point negative gap on the economy as he heads into the stretch run of the campaign means he will, absent extraordinary intervening events, lose.

Fifteen months may seem a long time. But bear this in mind: Obama has been president for 28 months—and during that time public confidence is his economic stewardship has gone down, not up. To have reached the nadir (so far) well into his third year in office cannot be reassuring. And that the economic recovery continues to be anemic, with so few bright spots to point to, should be downright alarming to Obama supporters.


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Not Even Inspiring Speeches Will Change Hispanic Apathy

President Obama’s speech on immigration reform in El Paso was high on patriotism and politics, but low on practical means to achieve immigration reform. His story about attending a graduation ceremony in Florida in which 181 different flags were paraded to honor graduates from as many countries ended fittingly when he noted that the American flag drew the loudest, most sustained applause.

Obama has always been at his best when talking about what unites us a people and a nation—and he invoked once again the notion of e pluribus unum. He even gave a nod to GOP efforts on immigration reform, citing former Sen. Mel Martinez, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, even News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch.

Nonetheless, the speech failed to offer anything new that might give any hope that reform legislation might stand a chance of passing. He can blame politics all he wants for reform’s failure, but this speech was nothing more than politics. He spoke before a largely Hispanic audience in one of the most Hispanic cities in America—El Paso (which, as he observed, also happens to be one of the safest big cities in the U.S. despite being only a few miles from one of the most dangerous places in the hemisphere).

But Jonathan is right, Hispanics are less than enthusiastic about his accomplishments on immigration reform to date. As I’ve written elsewhere, the Democrats face a real problem in the next election: Hispanic voter apathy—and speeches, even inspiring ones, won’t change that.

President Obama’s speech on immigration reform in El Paso was high on patriotism and politics, but low on practical means to achieve immigration reform. His story about attending a graduation ceremony in Florida in which 181 different flags were paraded to honor graduates from as many countries ended fittingly when he noted that the American flag drew the loudest, most sustained applause.

Obama has always been at his best when talking about what unites us a people and a nation—and he invoked once again the notion of e pluribus unum. He even gave a nod to GOP efforts on immigration reform, citing former Sen. Mel Martinez, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, even News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch.

Nonetheless, the speech failed to offer anything new that might give any hope that reform legislation might stand a chance of passing. He can blame politics all he wants for reform’s failure, but this speech was nothing more than politics. He spoke before a largely Hispanic audience in one of the most Hispanic cities in America—El Paso (which, as he observed, also happens to be one of the safest big cities in the U.S. despite being only a few miles from one of the most dangerous places in the hemisphere).

But Jonathan is right, Hispanics are less than enthusiastic about his accomplishments on immigration reform to date. As I’ve written elsewhere, the Democrats face a real problem in the next election: Hispanic voter apathy—and speeches, even inspiring ones, won’t change that.

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That Sure Didn’t Take Long

According to Public Policy Polling’s latest survey, “Donald Trump has had one of the quickest rises and falls in the history of Presidential politics. Last month we found him leading the Republican field with 26%. In the space of just four weeks he’s dropped all the way down to 8%, putting him in a tie for fifth place with Ron Paul.”

The poll went on to report that “As Trump got more and more exposure over the last month Republicans didn’t just decide they weren’t interested in having him as their nominee—they also decided they flat don’t like him. Only 34% of GOP voters now have a favorable opinion of Trump to 53% who view him in a negative light.”

This wasn’t the hardest prediction in the world to make. As some people here at COMMENTARY said when Trump was enjoying his 15 minutes of fame weeks ago, it was simply a matter of time—and not much time at that—before Trump’s support would evaporate like the morning mist.

The sun is up, the mist is gone. That Trump’s support evaporated is not surprising, but it is encouraging.

According to Public Policy Polling’s latest survey, “Donald Trump has had one of the quickest rises and falls in the history of Presidential politics. Last month we found him leading the Republican field with 26%. In the space of just four weeks he’s dropped all the way down to 8%, putting him in a tie for fifth place with Ron Paul.”

The poll went on to report that “As Trump got more and more exposure over the last month Republicans didn’t just decide they weren’t interested in having him as their nominee—they also decided they flat don’t like him. Only 34% of GOP voters now have a favorable opinion of Trump to 53% who view him in a negative light.”

This wasn’t the hardest prediction in the world to make. As some people here at COMMENTARY said when Trump was enjoying his 15 minutes of fame weeks ago, it was simply a matter of time—and not much time at that—before Trump’s support would evaporate like the morning mist.

The sun is up, the mist is gone. That Trump’s support evaporated is not surprising, but it is encouraging.

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Frustrated with Obama, Hispanic Voters Might Stay Home in 2012

As Jonathan wrote a little earlier today, Obama continues to profess immigration reform, but many Hispanic leaders are growing frustrated at his lack of action, and more notably, his lack of a viable plan for action. They are also understandably wary that he’s only now turned his attention to immigration reform—now that the 2012 campaign season is starting, and now that congressional legislation on this issue seems highly unlikely.

The question is whether his belated push on immigration will solve the president’s problems with the Hispanic community. Obama promised to outline his overall vision on immigration issues shortly after he took office, and the fact that he hasn’t has become a source of disappointment for some Hispanic leaders. The Hispanic community’s economic concerns may also make it difficult for the president to win their support in 2012.

“I believe that if the economy was better, and Hispanics were not suffering economically, immigration would not have the kind of drag, the kind of impact that it has on Obama’s reelection,” Arnoldo Torres, a political consultant on Latino issues, told me. “I have never ever heard as much disenchantment—as much frustration, as much disappointment—as I hear from Hispanic voters about Obama this time around.”

Torres went on to say that Hispanic voters are highly unlikely to support Republicans. But unless the president takes the time to formulate a viable plan on immigration with lawmakers from both parties, Hispanic voters may just well stay home.

“I believe many Hispanic voters for the first time in the history of the U.S. might make a phenomenal decision, a conscious decision, to not vote for Obama for reelection,” Torres said. “I do believe very strongly that right now, based on what I hear, there is going to be a measurable percentage of Latino voters who will not vote for any candidate for the presidency unless Obama changes how he engages with Latinos.”

As Jonathan wrote a little earlier today, Obama continues to profess immigration reform, but many Hispanic leaders are growing frustrated at his lack of action, and more notably, his lack of a viable plan for action. They are also understandably wary that he’s only now turned his attention to immigration reform—now that the 2012 campaign season is starting, and now that congressional legislation on this issue seems highly unlikely.

The question is whether his belated push on immigration will solve the president’s problems with the Hispanic community. Obama promised to outline his overall vision on immigration issues shortly after he took office, and the fact that he hasn’t has become a source of disappointment for some Hispanic leaders. The Hispanic community’s economic concerns may also make it difficult for the president to win their support in 2012.

“I believe that if the economy was better, and Hispanics were not suffering economically, immigration would not have the kind of drag, the kind of impact that it has on Obama’s reelection,” Arnoldo Torres, a political consultant on Latino issues, told me. “I have never ever heard as much disenchantment—as much frustration, as much disappointment—as I hear from Hispanic voters about Obama this time around.”

Torres went on to say that Hispanic voters are highly unlikely to support Republicans. But unless the president takes the time to formulate a viable plan on immigration with lawmakers from both parties, Hispanic voters may just well stay home.

“I believe many Hispanic voters for the first time in the history of the U.S. might make a phenomenal decision, a conscious decision, to not vote for Obama for reelection,” Torres said. “I do believe very strongly that right now, based on what I hear, there is going to be a measurable percentage of Latino voters who will not vote for any candidate for the presidency unless Obama changes how he engages with Latinos.”

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Democrats Put Off Their Budget—Again

Senate Democrats were expected to present a budget resolution for markup this week, but delayed it yet again after the White House decided to call two budget summits on Wednesday and Thursday. It’s not clear why yet another meeting is necessary, but it does enable the Democrats to put off their budget’s release date and allow them to continue attacking the GOP proposal. Now it looks as if this political game will continue for at least another week.

“In its rhetoric the White House calls for a responsible budget but refuses to present one,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions in a press statement. “No amount of closed-door meetings, commissions, or summits will change the basic fact that in order to move forward the White House and the Democrat Senate must put forward an honest plan that ends the Washington spending spree instead of raising taxes to pay for it.”

Whether or not you agree with the Republican proposals, the foot-dragging by Democrats at every turn has been unhelpful to the debate. If they truly believe that the GOP budget is as bad as they claim, then why won’t they release their own? The fact that they keep procrastinating indicates that they’re worried about the reaction from both fellow Democrats and voters.

“That Senate Democrats still have not released a budget suggests that either there’s a large division in the caucus or they are uncomfortable sharing their tax-and-spending agenda with the American people—perhaps because they rightly fear the public would reject them,” a Republican congressional aide close to the issue told me.

If this is the case, Senate Democrats can only dodge that outcome for so long. Dragging it out might seem politically expedient at the moment, but they’re only going to end up angering the vast majority of Americans who want to get this issue resolved.

Senate Democrats were expected to present a budget resolution for markup this week, but delayed it yet again after the White House decided to call two budget summits on Wednesday and Thursday. It’s not clear why yet another meeting is necessary, but it does enable the Democrats to put off their budget’s release date and allow them to continue attacking the GOP proposal. Now it looks as if this political game will continue for at least another week.

“In its rhetoric the White House calls for a responsible budget but refuses to present one,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions in a press statement. “No amount of closed-door meetings, commissions, or summits will change the basic fact that in order to move forward the White House and the Democrat Senate must put forward an honest plan that ends the Washington spending spree instead of raising taxes to pay for it.”

Whether or not you agree with the Republican proposals, the foot-dragging by Democrats at every turn has been unhelpful to the debate. If they truly believe that the GOP budget is as bad as they claim, then why won’t they release their own? The fact that they keep procrastinating indicates that they’re worried about the reaction from both fellow Democrats and voters.

“That Senate Democrats still have not released a budget suggests that either there’s a large division in the caucus or they are uncomfortable sharing their tax-and-spending agenda with the American people—perhaps because they rightly fear the public would reject them,” a Republican congressional aide close to the issue told me.

If this is the case, Senate Democrats can only dodge that outcome for so long. Dragging it out might seem politically expedient at the moment, but they’re only going to end up angering the vast majority of Americans who want to get this issue resolved.

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Look Who’s Silent on Bin Laden’s Death

Talk about a fair weather friend! More than a week after an American operation killed Osama Bin Laden, a man responsible for thousands of deaths, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan can’t bring himself to congratulate the United States. Erdogan’s silence, which was brought to my attention by some Turkish friends, is all the more troubling given how an American team tracked Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party terrorist group [PKK] and the most wanted man in Turkey, basically handing him to a Turkish team on a silver platter.

Then again, just five years ago, Erdogan personally vouched for Yasin al-Qadi, a Saudi businessman identified by both the U.S. government and UN agencies as an al-Qaeda financier, after the Turkish press revealed that Cuneyd Zapsu, a top Erdogan advisor, had donated money to al-Qadi’s charity. Turkey no longer has a free press, but an enterprising American reporter might want to ask Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador in Washington, to explain Erdogan’s silence.

And, once again, President Obama and members of the Turkish caucus in the U.S. Congress may want to explain why they embrace Turkey as a friend when the fiercely anti-American prime minister does everything in his power to embrace American enemies, encourages terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, accepts an award from Libyan dictator Qaddafi, and can’t even muster an approving word on the death of a master terrorist who killed not only Americans, but several dozen Turks as well.

Talk about a fair weather friend! More than a week after an American operation killed Osama Bin Laden, a man responsible for thousands of deaths, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan can’t bring himself to congratulate the United States. Erdogan’s silence, which was brought to my attention by some Turkish friends, is all the more troubling given how an American team tracked Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party terrorist group [PKK] and the most wanted man in Turkey, basically handing him to a Turkish team on a silver platter.

Then again, just five years ago, Erdogan personally vouched for Yasin al-Qadi, a Saudi businessman identified by both the U.S. government and UN agencies as an al-Qaeda financier, after the Turkish press revealed that Cuneyd Zapsu, a top Erdogan advisor, had donated money to al-Qadi’s charity. Turkey no longer has a free press, but an enterprising American reporter might want to ask Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador in Washington, to explain Erdogan’s silence.

And, once again, President Obama and members of the Turkish caucus in the U.S. Congress may want to explain why they embrace Turkey as a friend when the fiercely anti-American prime minister does everything in his power to embrace American enemies, encourages terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, accepts an award from Libyan dictator Qaddafi, and can’t even muster an approving word on the death of a master terrorist who killed not only Americans, but several dozen Turks as well.

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Romney Can’t Talk His Way Out of Health Care Dilemma

The news that Mitt Romney is going to make a major speech on health care at the University of Michigan on Thursday suggests that the former Massachusetts governor is coming to grips at last with his presidential candidacy’s greatest problem. But if, as Mark Helprin claims in Time magazine, the GOP contender intends to repeat his argument that the government health-care bill he passed in Massachusetts is really, really different from Obamacare, he’s wasting his time. Even worse, if Romney thinks he can square this circle by presenting a detailed plan for a new health-care program that will replace Obama’s legislation, he is utterly deluded.

The reasoning behind Romney’s decision to address this issue now is sound. Romney’s history on health care is dooming his presidential bid. No Republican who has already pushed through a government program like his is going to be nominated, let alone elected president. So Romney must somehow put it behind him if he is to move on and use his money, personality and mainstream credibility on other issues to ride to the nomination.

But it’s far from clear that this is possible. And so long as Romney stands by his record in Massachusetts, it is absolutely impossible.

As for Romney’s new plan, it might be amazing, brilliant, incredible, astonishing—but no one will be listening. The only thing that counts in this conversation is whether Romney is going to stick with the lame excuses he has been mouthing so far to talk his way out of the rhetorical dead end he finds himself in. If he says now that he was wrong when he was governor to push for such a plan, it will be seen as another Romney flip-flop like his on-again, off-again opposition to abortion. If, as planned, he tries to assert that he was right then and right again now, no one will believe him.

Mitt Romney may make sense on Thursday and might even be eloquent in defense of his past stands and his future plans for health care in this country. But given the impossible hand he has been dealt on the issue, it isn’t likely that anything he says will do his candidacy much good.

The news that Mitt Romney is going to make a major speech on health care at the University of Michigan on Thursday suggests that the former Massachusetts governor is coming to grips at last with his presidential candidacy’s greatest problem. But if, as Mark Helprin claims in Time magazine, the GOP contender intends to repeat his argument that the government health-care bill he passed in Massachusetts is really, really different from Obamacare, he’s wasting his time. Even worse, if Romney thinks he can square this circle by presenting a detailed plan for a new health-care program that will replace Obama’s legislation, he is utterly deluded.

The reasoning behind Romney’s decision to address this issue now is sound. Romney’s history on health care is dooming his presidential bid. No Republican who has already pushed through a government program like his is going to be nominated, let alone elected president. So Romney must somehow put it behind him if he is to move on and use his money, personality and mainstream credibility on other issues to ride to the nomination.

But it’s far from clear that this is possible. And so long as Romney stands by his record in Massachusetts, it is absolutely impossible.

As for Romney’s new plan, it might be amazing, brilliant, incredible, astonishing—but no one will be listening. The only thing that counts in this conversation is whether Romney is going to stick with the lame excuses he has been mouthing so far to talk his way out of the rhetorical dead end he finds himself in. If he says now that he was wrong when he was governor to push for such a plan, it will be seen as another Romney flip-flop like his on-again, off-again opposition to abortion. If, as planned, he tries to assert that he was right then and right again now, no one will believe him.

Mitt Romney may make sense on Thursday and might even be eloquent in defense of his past stands and his future plans for health care in this country. But given the impossible hand he has been dealt on the issue, it isn’t likely that anything he says will do his candidacy much good.

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Hispanics Not Fooled by Obama’s Immigration Feint

President Obama’s trip to Texas, where he will give a speech on the need for immigration reform in El Paso, has been crafted for maximum political advantage. The point is to remind Hispanics that the president supports their goal of providing a path to legality and citizenship for illegals and Republicans do not. If the president proposes another go at immigration reform and is turned down by Congress, part of which is now controlled by the GOP, that should ensure maximum loyalty for Obama’s reelection bid on the part of most Hispanics.

In theory, it ought to work. Many in the Republican caucus in Congress are hostile to anything that smacks of “amnesty” for illegals and most Hispanics deeply resent GOP-backed legislation aimed at enforcing existing immigration laws in places like Arizona.

But Hispanic leaders are not buying what Obama is selling. The blatant insincerity of this gambit is turning off the intended objects of his appeal. As Politico reports today, Hispanics understand that the president is merely playing them.

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President Obama’s trip to Texas, where he will give a speech on the need for immigration reform in El Paso, has been crafted for maximum political advantage. The point is to remind Hispanics that the president supports their goal of providing a path to legality and citizenship for illegals and Republicans do not. If the president proposes another go at immigration reform and is turned down by Congress, part of which is now controlled by the GOP, that should ensure maximum loyalty for Obama’s reelection bid on the part of most Hispanics.

In theory, it ought to work. Many in the Republican caucus in Congress are hostile to anything that smacks of “amnesty” for illegals and most Hispanics deeply resent GOP-backed legislation aimed at enforcing existing immigration laws in places like Arizona.

But Hispanic leaders are not buying what Obama is selling. The blatant insincerity of this gambit is turning off the intended objects of his appeal. As Politico reports today, Hispanics understand that the president is merely playing them.

First, if immigration reform had truly been a priority for Obama then he might have spent some time working on it during his first two years in office when his party controlled both houses of Congress. The fact that he didn’t lift a finger on this issue until the Republican victory last November made passage of reform an impossibility makes it hard for even the most partisan of Hispanic Democrats to take Obama at face value on immigration.

Second, even the president’s current efforts are completely for show rather than a genuine attempt to pass a bill. The White House has made no effort to reach out to Congress to pave the way for legislation, a sure tipoff that nothing serious is planned.

Even more damaging, as far as Hispanic Democrats are concerned, is the president’s point-blank refusal to use his executive power to halt the deportations of illegal aliens, especially those students who might have benefitted from the Dream Act, the bill to legalize students and military personnel who were brought to the United States by their parents. It fell just short of passage in the Congress last year. The Hispanic Caucus is also urging the White House to expand waivers for illegal immigrants who are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. But Obama continues to refuse to do any of this.

The reasoning for his refusal is similarly political. Obama knows that while speeches about amnesty might help him among Hispanics, they won’t do him much harm with other groups that might vote for him. If he used his executive power to erode the government’s efforts to deport illegals, however, the chances are he would undermine his standing with independents.

So while the national press corps is dutifully following Obama to Texas to assist his efforts to embarrass Republicans, it may be that the sector of the population least impressed with him on this issue is Hispanics. While Republicans have harmed themselves with these voters by allowing demagogues to be the loudest voices heard on immigration, most Hispanics know that it was George W. Bush who made immigration reform a priority in his second term, but failed to get a bill passed in no small measure because Democrats and liberals refused to help him get around members of his own party. They also know that more deportations have taken place in Obama’s two years in office than occurred during the Bush presidency.

Barack Obama is right when he says America needs immigration reform, but he’s wrong if he thinks his attempt to use this issue for political advantage will convince anyone of his sincerity.

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Obama’s Bait and Switch

President Obama is in Texas today to give an immigration speech in El Paso before raising money in Austin for his reelection.

According to a White House statement:

In recent weeks the President has met with and heard from leaders and stakeholders from diverse sectors including faith, business, law enforcement officials, current and former elected officials and others about the need to fix the broken immigration system, and why it matters to the American economy and will allow us to better use our national security and law enforcement resources. The President wants to have a civil and constructive debate on this issue.

There he goes again, reassuring us that he, the president, wants to have a “civil and constructive debate” on yet another issue. Of course he does. Obama would have us believe he is always and forever in search of a civil and constructive debate on the issues.

Except when he’s not.

For example, in his George Washington University budget speech a few weeks ago, Obama’s civility took the form of accusing Republicans of wanting the elderly, autistic children, and Down Syndrome children to fend for themselves. It was a presidential speech that was uncommonly ugly and dishonest, even by today’s standards. On that occasion civility was set aside—but for a perfectly justified reason, of course. The president needed to score cheap partisan points.

And just last week Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, testified before Congress and claimed that the GOP’s Medicare reform would cause people with cancer to “die sooner.” The Washington Post, in fact-checking this claim, put it bluntly: “She should be ashamed.”

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President Obama is in Texas today to give an immigration speech in El Paso before raising money in Austin for his reelection.

According to a White House statement:

In recent weeks the President has met with and heard from leaders and stakeholders from diverse sectors including faith, business, law enforcement officials, current and former elected officials and others about the need to fix the broken immigration system, and why it matters to the American economy and will allow us to better use our national security and law enforcement resources. The President wants to have a civil and constructive debate on this issue.

There he goes again, reassuring us that he, the president, wants to have a “civil and constructive debate” on yet another issue. Of course he does. Obama would have us believe he is always and forever in search of a civil and constructive debate on the issues.

Except when he’s not.

For example, in his George Washington University budget speech a few weeks ago, Obama’s civility took the form of accusing Republicans of wanting the elderly, autistic children, and Down Syndrome children to fend for themselves. It was a presidential speech that was uncommonly ugly and dishonest, even by today’s standards. On that occasion civility was set aside—but for a perfectly justified reason, of course. The president needed to score cheap partisan points.

And just last week Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, testified before Congress and claimed that the GOP’s Medicare reform would cause people with cancer to “die sooner.” The Washington Post, in fact-checking this claim, put it bluntly: “She should be ashamed.”

Secretary Sebelius should be ashamed—and so should her boss, the president. Yet he seems quite untroubled by it all. Once again a “civil and constructive debate” on the issues is getting in the way of Obama’s political ambitions. Which is the more likely to prevail when the two are in conflict? And which is the more likely to be tossed aside like used tissue? Obama is set in his ways.

The game that the president is playing is almost comical at this point. Portraying himself as the American Socrates—the only responsible and thoughtful adult in a country full of rancorous children—Obama incessantly lectures us about the quality of our public discourse, even as he, his administration and political aides, and members of his own party routinely employ arguments that are dishonest and language that is sulfurous.

The president believes he can get away with this bait-and-switch. It is the job of the opposition party to make sure he doesn’t.

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Boehner Wants More Candidates, Less Debt

If you were under the impression that bored journalists were the only ones who thought the Republicans need more presidential candidates, you were wrong. House Speaker John Boehner told the Today Show this morning that he’d like to see New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as well as Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels jump into the race.

Boehner wasn’t taking sides in the GOP presidential sweepstakes, and he was careful not to speak ill of any of the candidates, including his predecessor Newt Gingrich, although he pointedly declined to say whether he would support Donald Trump if he won the GOP nomination. When asked by Matt Lauer to comment on the possibility of Chris Christie’s becoming a candidate, Boehner praised the New Jersey governor and encouraged him to run. In particular, Boehner liked the fact that, as he put it, Christie “speaks English, which the American people like, in plain talk.” Speaking English is, of course, a great asset when running for president. In fact, Rick Santorum thinks it should be made the official language of the country.

But Boehner wasn’t content with throwing a bouquet to Christie and the language of Shakespeare. Without prompting, he went on to praise Mitch Daniels even more extravagantly, calling him a “person with a track record of reform in his state, the kind of reforms we need in Washington, D.C.”

Of course, Boehner has bigger fish to fry these days. Yesterday, he told an audience in New York that he would demand “trillions, not billions,” in cuts in spending and entitlements before he would support raising the country’s debt ceiling. But the speaker’s sympathy for tax-averse, budget-cutting governors is yet another indication that the party establishment is eager to expand the field of candidates.

If you were under the impression that bored journalists were the only ones who thought the Republicans need more presidential candidates, you were wrong. House Speaker John Boehner told the Today Show this morning that he’d like to see New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as well as Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels jump into the race.

Boehner wasn’t taking sides in the GOP presidential sweepstakes, and he was careful not to speak ill of any of the candidates, including his predecessor Newt Gingrich, although he pointedly declined to say whether he would support Donald Trump if he won the GOP nomination. When asked by Matt Lauer to comment on the possibility of Chris Christie’s becoming a candidate, Boehner praised the New Jersey governor and encouraged him to run. In particular, Boehner liked the fact that, as he put it, Christie “speaks English, which the American people like, in plain talk.” Speaking English is, of course, a great asset when running for president. In fact, Rick Santorum thinks it should be made the official language of the country.

But Boehner wasn’t content with throwing a bouquet to Christie and the language of Shakespeare. Without prompting, he went on to praise Mitch Daniels even more extravagantly, calling him a “person with a track record of reform in his state, the kind of reforms we need in Washington, D.C.”

Of course, Boehner has bigger fish to fry these days. Yesterday, he told an audience in New York that he would demand “trillions, not billions,” in cuts in spending and entitlements before he would support raising the country’s debt ceiling. But the speaker’s sympathy for tax-averse, budget-cutting governors is yet another indication that the party establishment is eager to expand the field of candidates.

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Assad Declares Victory, Calls Obama and Clinton “Not Too Bad”

For weeks, the United States has stood by while Syria’s dictatorial regime brutally repressed those calling for reform and change. The forces of Bashar Assad have slaughtered hundreds, if not thousands, as Washington reacted with only an occasional meek request for the Syrian ruler to meet demands for change.

After the latest round of atrocities committed by Assad’s forces as they swept through cities with tanks and armed troops, the regime’s spokesperson, Bouthaina Shaaban, told the New York Times that she and her boss believe the dust is about to settle. Her comments to a Times reporter who, according to the story, was permitted into Syria for a few hours to conduct the interview, indicate that Assad thinks he has crushed the Arab Spring protests that many hoped would bring an end to his family’s 40-year-old reign of terror in Damascus.

Events in Syria once again prove that such regimes tend to fall only when their elites lose their taste for violent repression or lose the support of their military or security forces. In Egypt, the military decided it would rather jettison Hosni Mubarak than fire on the crowds protesting in Cairo. But in Syria, where fellow members of the minority Alawite religious sect run the armed forces, Assad had no such worries. His regime is incapable of reforming itself simply because its grip on the country is predicated on the mafia family-style manner in which the extended Assad clan and other Alawites maintain control of all sources of power and influence.

Assad’s victory is bad news for the Syrian people. But it is also a problem for the Obama administration. When asked about the weak response of the United States to events in Syria, Shaaban dismissed it as insignificant. The statements from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about Syria were, she said, “Not too bad.” Nor was she concerned about the sanctions imposed on her country by the United States.

In the last year, the Obama foreign policy team tried and failed to woo Assad to join the peace process with Israel and abandon his alliance with Iran. The result was complete failure as Assad reasserted Syrian control of Lebanon and reinforced his Hezbollah terrorist allies there. Now after the failure of protests in Syria seeking freedom, Assad must be feeling even more confident about his decision to stick with Tehran.

Though in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden Americans are feeling good about their president as a decisive leader, the disdain that both Syria and Iran and their newly empowered Hamas allies feel for Obama cannot be ignored and may have severe consequences for America’s hopes for peace in the region. Bin Laden’s death gave Obama a boost in his polling numbers at home, but in the Middle East, his stock is crashing.

For weeks, the United States has stood by while Syria’s dictatorial regime brutally repressed those calling for reform and change. The forces of Bashar Assad have slaughtered hundreds, if not thousands, as Washington reacted with only an occasional meek request for the Syrian ruler to meet demands for change.

After the latest round of atrocities committed by Assad’s forces as they swept through cities with tanks and armed troops, the regime’s spokesperson, Bouthaina Shaaban, told the New York Times that she and her boss believe the dust is about to settle. Her comments to a Times reporter who, according to the story, was permitted into Syria for a few hours to conduct the interview, indicate that Assad thinks he has crushed the Arab Spring protests that many hoped would bring an end to his family’s 40-year-old reign of terror in Damascus.

Events in Syria once again prove that such regimes tend to fall only when their elites lose their taste for violent repression or lose the support of their military or security forces. In Egypt, the military decided it would rather jettison Hosni Mubarak than fire on the crowds protesting in Cairo. But in Syria, where fellow members of the minority Alawite religious sect run the armed forces, Assad had no such worries. His regime is incapable of reforming itself simply because its grip on the country is predicated on the mafia family-style manner in which the extended Assad clan and other Alawites maintain control of all sources of power and influence.

Assad’s victory is bad news for the Syrian people. But it is also a problem for the Obama administration. When asked about the weak response of the United States to events in Syria, Shaaban dismissed it as insignificant. The statements from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about Syria were, she said, “Not too bad.” Nor was she concerned about the sanctions imposed on her country by the United States.

In the last year, the Obama foreign policy team tried and failed to woo Assad to join the peace process with Israel and abandon his alliance with Iran. The result was complete failure as Assad reasserted Syrian control of Lebanon and reinforced his Hezbollah terrorist allies there. Now after the failure of protests in Syria seeking freedom, Assad must be feeling even more confident about his decision to stick with Tehran.

Though in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden Americans are feeling good about their president as a decisive leader, the disdain that both Syria and Iran and their newly empowered Hamas allies feel for Obama cannot be ignored and may have severe consequences for America’s hopes for peace in the region. Bin Laden’s death gave Obama a boost in his polling numbers at home, but in the Middle East, his stock is crashing.

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Americans Want to Stay the Course in Afghanistan

Many liberal commentators have said that the death of bin Laden means that the war on terror is now over. But it doesn’t appear the vast majority of Americans are buying this. Over at Hot Air, Allahpundit notes that 72 percent believe that Al Qaeda remains a continuing threat in Afghanistan, according to the latest MSNBC poll. They also say it’s necessary for the U.S. to keep our troops there to deal with the problem. Here are the findings:

Which statement comes closest to what you think about Osama bin Laden’s death:

Statement A: The Unites States should remove our troops from Afghanistan because bin Laden’s death indicates the Taliban and Al Qaeda are less of a threat and our presence there is no longer necessary.

Statement B: The United States should keep our troops in Afghanistan because bin Laden’s death does not change the overall mission of securing Afghanistan and the Taliban and Al Qaeda still remain a continuing threat.

Statement A/US Remove Troops . . . . . . . . . 20
StatementB/US Keep Troops . . . . . . . . . . . .  72
Depends (VOL) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Not sure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5

So while killing bin Laden was major victory, there isn’t a widespread belief that our task is over in Afghanistan. Could this be an indicator that confidence in America’s ability to win the war in Afghanistan is on the rise? After the success of the bin Laden operation, it may appear more likely that we can defeat terrorism in the entire region.

Many liberal commentators have said that the death of bin Laden means that the war on terror is now over. But it doesn’t appear the vast majority of Americans are buying this. Over at Hot Air, Allahpundit notes that 72 percent believe that Al Qaeda remains a continuing threat in Afghanistan, according to the latest MSNBC poll. They also say it’s necessary for the U.S. to keep our troops there to deal with the problem. Here are the findings:

Which statement comes closest to what you think about Osama bin Laden’s death:

Statement A: The Unites States should remove our troops from Afghanistan because bin Laden’s death indicates the Taliban and Al Qaeda are less of a threat and our presence there is no longer necessary.

Statement B: The United States should keep our troops in Afghanistan because bin Laden’s death does not change the overall mission of securing Afghanistan and the Taliban and Al Qaeda still remain a continuing threat.

Statement A/US Remove Troops . . . . . . . . . 20
StatementB/US Keep Troops . . . . . . . . . . . .  72
Depends (VOL) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Not sure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5

So while killing bin Laden was major victory, there isn’t a widespread belief that our task is over in Afghanistan. Could this be an indicator that confidence in America’s ability to win the war in Afghanistan is on the rise? After the success of the bin Laden operation, it may appear more likely that we can defeat terrorism in the entire region.

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Cheering the University’s Collapse

The current issue of New York magazine includes a lengthy article that effectively summarizes much of the current criticism against higher education:

Over the past several months, the same sharp and distressing arguments have been popping up in the Times, cable news, the blogosphere, even The Chronicle of Higher Education. The cost of college, as these arguments typically go, has grown far too high, the return far too uncertain, the education far too lax.

Entitled “The University Has No Clothes,” Daniel B. Smith’s article reviews the exploding cost of higher education and the widening percentage of the population that achieves or begins a four-year degree.  Smith strangely avoids the growth of for-profit universities and regrettably focuses his article on efforts by successful venture capitalists—bogeymen for a leftist publications like New York. But when even the unrepentant left acknowledges that there is a problem in the universities, something big is happening.

What seems to be happening is a fundamental shift in the goals and capabilities of the American university itself, which may just ultimately spell the demise of the current system of higher education as we know it.

While the collapse of a system that remains the envy of the world is not something to be cheered, too much of it may have rotted through to salvage the rest. For too long much of the university system has been hijacked by ideologues who use their classes, research, and university facilities to promote radical agendas. As a consequence, the American university has become the country’s chief venue for the promotion of anti-Israelism and a powerful force in the delegitimization campaign.

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The current issue of New York magazine includes a lengthy article that effectively summarizes much of the current criticism against higher education:

Over the past several months, the same sharp and distressing arguments have been popping up in the Times, cable news, the blogosphere, even The Chronicle of Higher Education. The cost of college, as these arguments typically go, has grown far too high, the return far too uncertain, the education far too lax.

Entitled “The University Has No Clothes,” Daniel B. Smith’s article reviews the exploding cost of higher education and the widening percentage of the population that achieves or begins a four-year degree.  Smith strangely avoids the growth of for-profit universities and regrettably focuses his article on efforts by successful venture capitalists—bogeymen for a leftist publications like New York. But when even the unrepentant left acknowledges that there is a problem in the universities, something big is happening.

What seems to be happening is a fundamental shift in the goals and capabilities of the American university itself, which may just ultimately spell the demise of the current system of higher education as we know it.

While the collapse of a system that remains the envy of the world is not something to be cheered, too much of it may have rotted through to salvage the rest. For too long much of the university system has been hijacked by ideologues who use their classes, research, and university facilities to promote radical agendas. As a consequence, the American university has become the country’s chief venue for the promotion of anti-Israelism and a powerful force in the delegitimization campaign.

With increased competition for fewer slots in plum fields like finance, the consequences of “not demonstrat[ing] any significant improvement in learning” are worsening, and the number of undergraduate business majors is rising starkly as a result. Representing 20% of undergraduate majors, business has been the country’s most popular subject of study for years now. And with business programs predisposed to a pro-Israel point of view, along with the Israel-focused curricula that are ubiquitous at top MBA programs, perhaps that shift alone will turn the campus conversation on Israel. Radical professors will continue to have their apologists, but it’s getting ever tougher to pretend there isn’t a problem in the English and sociology departments.

Still, it’s hard to see the demise of a classic liberal arts education as a good thing.

Fat endowments and soaring applications at top schools continue to largely shield them from these pressures. But with the pace of change accelerating rapidly at universities as everywhere else, the chance to recapture the true spirit of the university may be closer now than it has been in a long time.

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Palin and the Curse of a Thin Skin

In the June Atlantic, Joshua Green has a terrific piece called “The Tragedy of Sarah Palin” that gets at the maddening aspect of Palin’s gifts and strengths as a politician better than any single article has with the exception of Yuval Levin’s COMMENTARY piece two years ago. What really excited John McCain about Palin, and what made her a potentially major political figure, is the exceptional talent she displayed as an insurgent politician in Alaska and in her first two years as governor. Coming out of nowhere, she showed a kind of fearlessness against entrenched interests and a gift for rallying support in pursuit of rather starkly non-ideological governance goals. Of course, what made her an immediate sensation and then a lightning rod was the astonishing poise and rhetorical power she showed in that maiden appearance as McCain’s running mate in that gym in Ohio in August 2008—maybe the most impressive debut on the national stage in American history.

Alas, as Levin suggested might happen and as Green says has happened, Palin came almost immediately to inhabit a different role in the American body politic—not the “maverick” she was chosen to be by the self-proclaimed maverick McCain, but rather as a populist villain-victim (depending on which side you were on). The fault here lay not with her attackers but within her. She embarrassed herself in two interviews, and decided the blame lay not with her own ill-preparedness but with the media that had come after her. Understandably enraged by the misogynistic and practically psychotic attacks on her, she came to embrace her status as a kind of martyr for the social-conservative views that had not been the truly distinguishing features of her meteoric political career up to that moment. She found herself in Harry Truman’s kitchen, and she couldn’t take the heat.

In some ways, the story of Palin is a story of temptation. Rather than sticking to her guns and deepening her political credentials and her knowledge base, she embraced her celebrity instead. And in doing so, she didn’t defeat her critics and enemies; she capitulated to them. Listen, it’s her life and her fortune and she is free to do what she wishes with it. And there’s no telling what the future holds for anyone in America. But she had and has more raw political talent than anyone I’ve ever seen, and, alas, as phenoms go, it looks like she is headed for a Darryl Strawberry-like playing career.

In the June Atlantic, Joshua Green has a terrific piece called “The Tragedy of Sarah Palin” that gets at the maddening aspect of Palin’s gifts and strengths as a politician better than any single article has with the exception of Yuval Levin’s COMMENTARY piece two years ago. What really excited John McCain about Palin, and what made her a potentially major political figure, is the exceptional talent she displayed as an insurgent politician in Alaska and in her first two years as governor. Coming out of nowhere, she showed a kind of fearlessness against entrenched interests and a gift for rallying support in pursuit of rather starkly non-ideological governance goals. Of course, what made her an immediate sensation and then a lightning rod was the astonishing poise and rhetorical power she showed in that maiden appearance as McCain’s running mate in that gym in Ohio in August 2008—maybe the most impressive debut on the national stage in American history.

Alas, as Levin suggested might happen and as Green says has happened, Palin came almost immediately to inhabit a different role in the American body politic—not the “maverick” she was chosen to be by the self-proclaimed maverick McCain, but rather as a populist villain-victim (depending on which side you were on). The fault here lay not with her attackers but within her. She embarrassed herself in two interviews, and decided the blame lay not with her own ill-preparedness but with the media that had come after her. Understandably enraged by the misogynistic and practically psychotic attacks on her, she came to embrace her status as a kind of martyr for the social-conservative views that had not been the truly distinguishing features of her meteoric political career up to that moment. She found herself in Harry Truman’s kitchen, and she couldn’t take the heat.

In some ways, the story of Palin is a story of temptation. Rather than sticking to her guns and deepening her political credentials and her knowledge base, she embraced her celebrity instead. And in doing so, she didn’t defeat her critics and enemies; she capitulated to them. Listen, it’s her life and her fortune and she is free to do what she wishes with it. And there’s no telling what the future holds for anyone in America. But she had and has more raw political talent than anyone I’ve ever seen, and, alas, as phenoms go, it looks like she is headed for a Darryl Strawberry-like playing career.

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New York Times Magazine Relies upon Faked Research to Smear Military

On the day that Osama bin Laden was finally tracked down and killed, the New York Times Sunday Magazine published a cover story detailing the murder of Afghan civilians by American troops. The point of the piece was not to break the news of these crimes, since the incidents had already been uncovered and prosecuted by the military. Rather, they served as the jumping off point for a smear job, portraying the U.S. military as a bloodthirsty band of savage war criminals.

Entitled “A Beast in the Heart of Every Fighting Man,” Luke Mogelson’s story described the murder of an Afghan elder in Kandahar province as well as two other civilians by five members of one army platoon. Since the news had already been reported elsewhere, Mogelson had a broader point to make. As his title made clear, he saw the activities of one small group of soldiers led by a sociopathic sergeant as representative of the U.S. military—not only the spirit of the American effort in Afghanistan, but the governing ethos of the U.S. military as a whole. Although the number of U.S. war crimes has been relatively small, Mogelson believes it is wrong to view them as exceptional. The fault is not so much “the exceptional few” who commit atrocities, but the “institutional failures” of the military and the nature of the wars that we are fighting. To buttress this assertion he claims:

Over the course of military history, American soldiers have become increasingly willing to kill. In World War II, just 15–20 percent of infantrymen fired their rifles at the enemy during battles; in Korea that number increased to 55 percent; in Vietnam it reached 90.

The source of these statistics was General S. L. A. Marshall, a military historian who included it in his 1947 book Men Against Fire. Mogelson pulled them from a more recent book by retired military psychiatrist Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, whom Mogelson quotes as accusing the military of “programming” soldiers to kill indiscriminately.

But what Mogelson fails to disclose in his article is that, more than 20 years ago, the New York Times itself published an article debunking the numbers upon which his entire argument rests.

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On the day that Osama bin Laden was finally tracked down and killed, the New York Times Sunday Magazine published a cover story detailing the murder of Afghan civilians by American troops. The point of the piece was not to break the news of these crimes, since the incidents had already been uncovered and prosecuted by the military. Rather, they served as the jumping off point for a smear job, portraying the U.S. military as a bloodthirsty band of savage war criminals.

Entitled “A Beast in the Heart of Every Fighting Man,” Luke Mogelson’s story described the murder of an Afghan elder in Kandahar province as well as two other civilians by five members of one army platoon. Since the news had already been reported elsewhere, Mogelson had a broader point to make. As his title made clear, he saw the activities of one small group of soldiers led by a sociopathic sergeant as representative of the U.S. military—not only the spirit of the American effort in Afghanistan, but the governing ethos of the U.S. military as a whole. Although the number of U.S. war crimes has been relatively small, Mogelson believes it is wrong to view them as exceptional. The fault is not so much “the exceptional few” who commit atrocities, but the “institutional failures” of the military and the nature of the wars that we are fighting. To buttress this assertion he claims:

Over the course of military history, American soldiers have become increasingly willing to kill. In World War II, just 15–20 percent of infantrymen fired their rifles at the enemy during battles; in Korea that number increased to 55 percent; in Vietnam it reached 90.

The source of these statistics was General S. L. A. Marshall, a military historian who included it in his 1947 book Men Against Fire. Mogelson pulled them from a more recent book by retired military psychiatrist Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, whom Mogelson quotes as accusing the military of “programming” soldiers to kill indiscriminately.

But what Mogelson fails to disclose in his article is that, more than 20 years ago, the New York Times itself published an article debunking the numbers upon which his entire argument rests.

On February 19, 1989, the Times published a front-page story by Richard Halloran detailing the findings of historians who had probed Marshall’s research and discovered it was completely fabricated. Even his defenders were forced to admit that Marshall’s “argument is not very important, in a historical sense. . . .”

The problem for Mogelson and the Times is that if you take away the pseudo-historical research he cites, all you have is a lengthy exposé of a crime that had already been prosecuted by the army. The conceit of the article—namely, that the crimes in Kandahar are indicative of the spirit of the U.S. military—is predicated on fake research that the Times itself discredited many years ago.

The Times owes its readers an apology for faulty fact-checking and sloppy editing. Even more, it owes an apology to the brave fighting men and women of the armed forces of the United States.

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Putting Mrs. Gingrich Under the Microscope

With former House Speaker set to announce his candidacy for the presidency tomorrow much of the media seems just as interested (if not more interested) in his wife as in the candidate himself. Callista Gingrich was the subject of a lengthy front-page feature in today’s New York Times that did its best to get underneath the skin of both the spouse and the marriage of the presidential hopeful.

The good news for the Gingriches was that the piece produced nothing unflattering about their marriage. The portrait that emerged from the piece is that they are basically inseparable and work closely together on the projects that have occupied the politician since he left Congress 12 years ago. The bad news is that the only reason the article was written is the one detail about them that everybody already knows: they met while she was Congressional staffer and he was a married member of the GOP leadership and dated for years while Gingrich was among those leading the charge to impeach President Bill Clinton for charges relating to his infidelity.

That puts Mrs. Gingrich and her husband in a rather unique position in this campaign. No other candidate’s spouse is even on the radar of the political press at this point. Unless they are already public figures, that sort of scrutiny doesn’t usually start until a candidate has been nominated. Leaving aside the obvious difficulties of explaining the start of their relationship—however much they might be in love, that sort of story doesn’t qualify as “meeting cute”—Callista Gingrich must now expect that so long as her husband is in the race, her every appearance and utterance will be deemed newsworthy. That means that she must not only break her silence about the past but must actually start talking to the press (neither of the Gingriches consented to be interviewed by the Times).

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With former House Speaker set to announce his candidacy for the presidency tomorrow much of the media seems just as interested (if not more interested) in his wife as in the candidate himself. Callista Gingrich was the subject of a lengthy front-page feature in today’s New York Times that did its best to get underneath the skin of both the spouse and the marriage of the presidential hopeful.

The good news for the Gingriches was that the piece produced nothing unflattering about their marriage. The portrait that emerged from the piece is that they are basically inseparable and work closely together on the projects that have occupied the politician since he left Congress 12 years ago. The bad news is that the only reason the article was written is the one detail about them that everybody already knows: they met while she was Congressional staffer and he was a married member of the GOP leadership and dated for years while Gingrich was among those leading the charge to impeach President Bill Clinton for charges relating to his infidelity.

That puts Mrs. Gingrich and her husband in a rather unique position in this campaign. No other candidate’s spouse is even on the radar of the political press at this point. Unless they are already public figures, that sort of scrutiny doesn’t usually start until a candidate has been nominated. Leaving aside the obvious difficulties of explaining the start of their relationship—however much they might be in love, that sort of story doesn’t qualify as “meeting cute”—Callista Gingrich must now expect that so long as her husband is in the race, her every appearance and utterance will be deemed newsworthy. That means that she must not only break her silence about the past but must actually start talking to the press (neither of the Gingriches consented to be interviewed by the Times).

Once she gets over the first obstacle by opening up about their courtship while the former speaker was married to his second wife, Callista Gingrich could help her husband’s campaign. To the extent that GOP voters regard it as immoral or unseemly her past behavior will present an obvious problem. But if she can handle the scrutiny and present herself as the deeply religious woman that friends who were interviewed by the Times claim her to be, the Gingrich marriage can become a redemption story of sorts. The Gingrich story is messier than most and involves a degree of public hypocrisy. Yet most Americans, even Republicans, love sinners who have been redeemed.

Unlike most of his competitors, Newt Gingrich has no name recognition problems. If anything, he is too well known, with negative associations from his time in the spotlight in the 1990’s still lingering in the public mind. But as a newly minted celebrity, Callista Gingrich has the opportunity to help create a new image for him in some ways. Indeed, even the Times piece, which portrayed him as docilely carrying his wife’s French Horn to her band performances, could help transform the arrogant and petulant Newt that most Americans learned to dislike when he was last in the spotlight into someone a bit more acceptable.

One suspects that this exactly what his campaign strategists are hoping will happen once the country gets to know the third Mrs. Gingrich better. Her husband’s candidacy has more problems than nasty memories of his infidelity. Yet if Callista Gingrich can survive the ordeal of intense media scrutiny that she is about to undergo it’s just possible that she can turn one of her husband’s greatest problems into something of an asset.

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The Constitution, Passports, and Sovereignty

Let me add a footnote to the coverage by Seth Lipsky (see here and here) and others of the Zivotofsky case, in which the Supreme Court will decide whether the Executive Branch must comply with a 2002 statute directing the Secretary of State to put “Jerusalem, Israel” on the passports of citizens born there who request the country be added. The State Department’s long-standing policy puts only “Jerusalem” on such passports.

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, refused to comply with the law on grounds it infringes on the President’s exclusive authority under the Constitution to recognize foreign governments. The administration argues the law would require the President to change the U.S. policy of neutrality on the issue of sovereignty over Jerusalem.

The lower court noted that one of Zivotofsky’s arguments was that passport designations have a “negligible impact on American foreign policy.” The administration responded by pointing to the international reaction to the law in 2002:  

According to the State Department, “Palestinians from across the political spectrum strongly condemned the Jerusalem provisions of the [Act], interpreting those provisions as a reversal of longstanding U.S. policy that Jerusalem’s status should be determined by Israel and the Palestinians in final status talks.”  

In September, the Palestinians are planning to ask the UN to award them sovereignty over the historic part of Jerusalem. Given the longstanding U.S. policy that Jerusalem’s status should be determined by Israel and the Palestinians in final status talks, the administration will presumably oppose the Palestinian effort at least as resolutely as it has opposed Menachem Zivotofsky’s desire to put “Jerusalem, Israel” on his passport.

Let me add a footnote to the coverage by Seth Lipsky (see here and here) and others of the Zivotofsky case, in which the Supreme Court will decide whether the Executive Branch must comply with a 2002 statute directing the Secretary of State to put “Jerusalem, Israel” on the passports of citizens born there who request the country be added. The State Department’s long-standing policy puts only “Jerusalem” on such passports.

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, refused to comply with the law on grounds it infringes on the President’s exclusive authority under the Constitution to recognize foreign governments. The administration argues the law would require the President to change the U.S. policy of neutrality on the issue of sovereignty over Jerusalem.

The lower court noted that one of Zivotofsky’s arguments was that passport designations have a “negligible impact on American foreign policy.” The administration responded by pointing to the international reaction to the law in 2002:  

According to the State Department, “Palestinians from across the political spectrum strongly condemned the Jerusalem provisions of the [Act], interpreting those provisions as a reversal of longstanding U.S. policy that Jerusalem’s status should be determined by Israel and the Palestinians in final status talks.”  

In September, the Palestinians are planning to ask the UN to award them sovereignty over the historic part of Jerusalem. Given the longstanding U.S. policy that Jerusalem’s status should be determined by Israel and the Palestinians in final status talks, the administration will presumably oppose the Palestinian effort at least as resolutely as it has opposed Menachem Zivotofsky’s desire to put “Jerusalem, Israel” on his passport.

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Pakistan May Have Cooperated, but May Not in Future

The Guardian is reporting that Pakistan gave the U.S. approval to conduct operations like the Osama bin Laden mission nearly a decade ago. The deal was reportedly negotiated between President George W. Bush and former Pakistan leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf, but it was renewed during Pakistan’s transition to a civilian government.

“There was an agreement between Bush and Musharraf that if we knew where Osama was, we were going to come and get him,” a former senior U.S. official told the Guardian. “The Pakistanis would put up a hue and cry, but they wouldn’t stop us.”

The Guardian story leans heavily on anonymous sources, but if accurate, it reflects the schizophrenic nature of the Pakistani government. Prime Minister Gilani harshly criticized the U.S. mission today, warning that Pakistan would retaliate against any similar operations in the future. But Gilani’s tough speech was jeered by opposition members, who claim that he’s a puppet of the U.S. One opposition leader derided Gilani for speaking in English, saying that it was “to appease his [U.S.] masters.”

Polls have shown that the vast majority of Pakistanis opposed the U.S. operation, and said that it put the country’s national security at risk. It is difficult to tell, then, whether Gilani’s speech today was just him trying to save his own neck, or whether he actually meant was he said. If he meant it, then it could make a U.S. investigation of the ISI much more difficult.

The Guardian is reporting that Pakistan gave the U.S. approval to conduct operations like the Osama bin Laden mission nearly a decade ago. The deal was reportedly negotiated between President George W. Bush and former Pakistan leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf, but it was renewed during Pakistan’s transition to a civilian government.

“There was an agreement between Bush and Musharraf that if we knew where Osama was, we were going to come and get him,” a former senior U.S. official told the Guardian. “The Pakistanis would put up a hue and cry, but they wouldn’t stop us.”

The Guardian story leans heavily on anonymous sources, but if accurate, it reflects the schizophrenic nature of the Pakistani government. Prime Minister Gilani harshly criticized the U.S. mission today, warning that Pakistan would retaliate against any similar operations in the future. But Gilani’s tough speech was jeered by opposition members, who claim that he’s a puppet of the U.S. One opposition leader derided Gilani for speaking in English, saying that it was “to appease his [U.S.] masters.”

Polls have shown that the vast majority of Pakistanis opposed the U.S. operation, and said that it put the country’s national security at risk. It is difficult to tell, then, whether Gilani’s speech today was just him trying to save his own neck, or whether he actually meant was he said. If he meant it, then it could make a U.S. investigation of the ISI much more difficult.

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