Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 13, 2011

The Only Part of Christian Theology Everyone Really Needs

After writing my earlier post on adultery and double standards, I did an interview and heard from some intelligent people who pressed me on some of the matters I raised. I now want to deal with the major concerns they have:

1. Should Newt Gingrich’s adultery disqualify him from running for president? No. Some voters will factor it in, and that is as it should be. But I don’t think his acts of marital infidelity are by themselves dispositive. Most of us are on a moral continuum. We can envision circumstances in which adultery would be a virtual non-factor (say, an indiscretion decades ago, one time, in which genuine repentance was demonstrated). We can also envision circumstances in which adultery would be a larger factor (say, the conduct of John Edwards and John Ensign). Another thing to take into account is whether the act of marital infidelity seems anomalous and isolated or whether it is a manifestation of a more widespread, and alarming, lack of discipline and recklessness. For reasons I’ve discussed, Gingrich’s actions are, in my estimation, problematic. But are they by themselves disqualifying? I don’t believe so.

2. Isn’t the Gingrich comparison to Bill Clinton unfair? After all, Bill Clinton was impeached for a violation of law rather than a violation of his marital vows—and it was Democrats, not Republicans, who wanted to focus on sex during the impeachment trials. As one reader put it to me, “My big concern is helping liberals mis-remember impeachment. The point was never Clinton’s abuse of Hillary. It was his abuse of the presidency, and the legal process.” Absolutely true, and I should have been clearer on this matter.

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After writing my earlier post on adultery and double standards, I did an interview and heard from some intelligent people who pressed me on some of the matters I raised. I now want to deal with the major concerns they have:

1. Should Newt Gingrich’s adultery disqualify him from running for president? No. Some voters will factor it in, and that is as it should be. But I don’t think his acts of marital infidelity are by themselves dispositive. Most of us are on a moral continuum. We can envision circumstances in which adultery would be a virtual non-factor (say, an indiscretion decades ago, one time, in which genuine repentance was demonstrated). We can also envision circumstances in which adultery would be a larger factor (say, the conduct of John Edwards and John Ensign). Another thing to take into account is whether the act of marital infidelity seems anomalous and isolated or whether it is a manifestation of a more widespread, and alarming, lack of discipline and recklessness. For reasons I’ve discussed, Gingrich’s actions are, in my estimation, problematic. But are they by themselves disqualifying? I don’t believe so.

2. Isn’t the Gingrich comparison to Bill Clinton unfair? After all, Bill Clinton was impeached for a violation of law rather than a violation of his marital vows—and it was Democrats, not Republicans, who wanted to focus on sex during the impeachment trials. As one reader put it to me, “My big concern is helping liberals mis-remember impeachment. The point was never Clinton’s abuse of Hillary. It was his abuse of the presidency, and the legal process.” Absolutely true, and I should have been clearer on this matter.

However, Bill Clinton’s personal life was an issue for many conservatives long before the Lewinsky scandal (Gennifer Flowers, Dolly Kyle Browning, “bimbo eruptions,” etc.). The conservative argument went something like this. Character matters in a president—Americans have believed that since the days of George Washington—and serial infidelity (along with dodging the draft) reflected badly on Clinton’s character. It was one factor—not the most important factor, perhaps, but not an insignificant factor, either—in arriving at a judgment on the merits of a Clinton presidency. My point was that we all struggle to apply the same standard to those we support as distinguished from those we oppose. A liberal is much more inclined to be forgiving of Bill Clinton’s sexual indiscretions while a conservative is much more inclined to be forgiving of Newt Gingrich’s sexual indiscretions.

Bill Clinton’s actions, then, were more troubling than Newt Gingrich’s because they (a) eventually led to perjury and (b) there was testimony that he had forced himself upon unwilling women. Even taking those differences into account, however, I think it is entirely fair to say that if a liberal Democrat had acted as Newt Gingrich has done, there would be less of an inclination to excuse his behavior by those on the right—and, again, vice versa).

3. Shouldn’t grace and forgiveness shape our views toward those who commit marital infidelity? This is a question that needs to be treated in far more depth than I can possibly manage in a single post. But in broad strokes, the response to it is that grace and forgiveness are appropriate human responses—but too often, especially in politics, they’re invoked casually and trivially. The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned against what he called “cheap grace,” which he described as “grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares.”

Grace and forgiveness don’t mean ethical infractions are completely forgotten and never taken into account. And those believing Christians who sometimes hint that forgiveness should inoculate a person from moral criticism, and that rendering moral judgments is “intolerant,” need to be made aware of the dangers of superficial prooftexting. God is not neutral between righteousness and wickedness (to use two words that often appear in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament). In the wrong hands, the argument for grace can easily slide into antinomianism (“against the law”), which rejects the moral law as a relevant part of the Christian experience.

Even so, it’s worth remembering G. K. Chesterton’s aphorism that original sin is “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” On grace and forgiveness there is a corollary, less provable but no less important. They may be the only part of Christian theology which all of us really need. Something like that is probably worth keeping in mind, not only when it comes to sexual missteps but other kinds of ethical lapses as well. As a rule, we are pretty quick to take delight in the failures of others, to jump on those who stumble and fall. Schadenfreude is a very common, and not very admirable, human emotion.

There should be a price for failure. But there should be a chance for redemption, too. How to balance these two things is a terribly complicated matter which all of us, myself included, deal with in a terribly imperfect way.

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The American Public Uniformly Opposes a Debt-Ceiling Hike

The results of a new Gallup Poll will cause heartburn for the Obama administration. By a margin of 47 percent to 19 percent, Americans say they would want their member of Congress to vote against raising the U.S. debt ceiling (34 percent don’t know enough to say).

By party affiliation, Republicans oppose raising the debt ceiling by 70 percent to 8 percent. Independents oppose it by 46 percent to 15 percent. And by only 33 percent to 26 percent do Democrats favor raising the ceiling .

In addition, Gallup reports, Americans are more likely to oppose than favor raising the debt ceiling, regardless of how closely they are following the news about the issue. Among the 23 percent who are following the debt-ceiling discussion very closely, 62 percent are opposed and 25 percent are in favor of raising the current ceiling. Among those who are following the issue less closely, opposition outnumbers support by at least a 2-to-1 margin.

Earlier this year The Hill reported that only 27 percent of Americans want to raise the debt ceiling while 62 percent oppose it.

When all is said and done, the debt ceiling will be raised because it must be raised. But the public is in no mood to raise it. And if it is raised, the polling data shows that by overwhelming numbers (on the order of nine-to-one) the American people want substantial spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. Which means Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell have extraordinary leverage over the president, who will suffer more than anyone if the debt ceiling isn’t raised.

For years votes raising the debt ceiling went virtually unnoticed. This year it may reshape America’s fiscal situation. It’s going to be fascinating to see how all this unfolds—and how much President Obama bends to the will of the GOP. My guess is it will be quite a lot.

The results of a new Gallup Poll will cause heartburn for the Obama administration. By a margin of 47 percent to 19 percent, Americans say they would want their member of Congress to vote against raising the U.S. debt ceiling (34 percent don’t know enough to say).

By party affiliation, Republicans oppose raising the debt ceiling by 70 percent to 8 percent. Independents oppose it by 46 percent to 15 percent. And by only 33 percent to 26 percent do Democrats favor raising the ceiling .

In addition, Gallup reports, Americans are more likely to oppose than favor raising the debt ceiling, regardless of how closely they are following the news about the issue. Among the 23 percent who are following the debt-ceiling discussion very closely, 62 percent are opposed and 25 percent are in favor of raising the current ceiling. Among those who are following the issue less closely, opposition outnumbers support by at least a 2-to-1 margin.

Earlier this year The Hill reported that only 27 percent of Americans want to raise the debt ceiling while 62 percent oppose it.

When all is said and done, the debt ceiling will be raised because it must be raised. But the public is in no mood to raise it. And if it is raised, the polling data shows that by overwhelming numbers (on the order of nine-to-one) the American people want substantial spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. Which means Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell have extraordinary leverage over the president, who will suffer more than anyone if the debt ceiling isn’t raised.

For years votes raising the debt ceiling went virtually unnoticed. This year it may reshape America’s fiscal situation. It’s going to be fascinating to see how all this unfolds—and how much President Obama bends to the will of the GOP. My guess is it will be quite a lot.

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Daniels-Rice in 2012?

If the complaint about Mitch Daniels is that he’s not ready for prime time on foreign affairs then tapping someone like Condoleezza Rice as a vice-presidential nominee would be a canny way to bolster his credibility in that arena. According to The Daily Beast, Daniels floated the possibility during drinks with a group of students recently:

Daniels accepted an invitation from those 55 students to meet at a spacious bar several blocks away after the event; he sipped Woodford Reserve bourbon as he asked them about their own lives and families. In return, they asked him who he might like to tap as his vice presidential nominee if he runs. Hypothetically, he told them, he’d like to pick Condoleezza Rice.

Rice’s personal history, race, and gender also make her a prime choice for the slot. She’s also well-respected. Even when the Bush administration’s approval ratings were at their worst, Rice’s never dipped to the lows of Bush’s or Cheney’s. And even though there’s a good argument that Rice is too much of a “realist,” she’s still a strong voice on human rights and hardly an opponent of military intervention.

If the complaint about Mitch Daniels is that he’s not ready for prime time on foreign affairs then tapping someone like Condoleezza Rice as a vice-presidential nominee would be a canny way to bolster his credibility in that arena. According to The Daily Beast, Daniels floated the possibility during drinks with a group of students recently:

Daniels accepted an invitation from those 55 students to meet at a spacious bar several blocks away after the event; he sipped Woodford Reserve bourbon as he asked them about their own lives and families. In return, they asked him who he might like to tap as his vice presidential nominee if he runs. Hypothetically, he told them, he’d like to pick Condoleezza Rice.

Rice’s personal history, race, and gender also make her a prime choice for the slot. She’s also well-respected. Even when the Bush administration’s approval ratings were at their worst, Rice’s never dipped to the lows of Bush’s or Cheney’s. And even though there’s a good argument that Rice is too much of a “realist,” she’s still a strong voice on human rights and hardly an opponent of military intervention.

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Obama’s Opponents Are Bigots, Naturally

President Obama’s immigration demagoguery continued during his speech at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast yesterday. According to the president, his opponents on immigration aren’t driven by economic or security concerns—they’re driven by “fears of change” and discomfort about those who are different:

As it is written in the Book of Deuteronomy, “Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” To me, that verse is a call to show empathy to our brothers and our sisters; to try and recognize ourselves in one another. And it’s especially important that we try to do that when it comes to immigration—because this is a subject that can expose raw feelings and feed our fears of change. It can be tempting to think that those coming to America today are somehow different from us. And we need to not have amnesia about how we populated this country.

By “recogniz[ing] ourselves in one another” we will ultimately solve the immigration debate in the country, according to Obama. Does he realize this is complete nonsense, or does he actually believe these banalities? Imagine how simple life must seem to him if this is how he really thinks. It would mean that his opponents don’t have actual legitimate arguments—they’re simply bigots afraid of those who are “somehow different from us.” How nice for the president that he’s able to resist the “temptation” to think this way.

President Obama’s immigration demagoguery continued during his speech at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast yesterday. According to the president, his opponents on immigration aren’t driven by economic or security concerns—they’re driven by “fears of change” and discomfort about those who are different:

As it is written in the Book of Deuteronomy, “Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” To me, that verse is a call to show empathy to our brothers and our sisters; to try and recognize ourselves in one another. And it’s especially important that we try to do that when it comes to immigration—because this is a subject that can expose raw feelings and feed our fears of change. It can be tempting to think that those coming to America today are somehow different from us. And we need to not have amnesia about how we populated this country.

By “recogniz[ing] ourselves in one another” we will ultimately solve the immigration debate in the country, according to Obama. Does he realize this is complete nonsense, or does he actually believe these banalities? Imagine how simple life must seem to him if this is how he really thinks. It would mean that his opponents don’t have actual legitimate arguments—they’re simply bigots afraid of those who are “somehow different from us.” How nice for the president that he’s able to resist the “temptation” to think this way.

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The Tea Party Doesn’t Make Ron Paul a Mainstream Candidate

For some in the mainstream media, critics of government are all alike. That’s why some are treating Congressman Ron Paul, the Harold Stassen of the screwball libertarian crowd, as if he were the incarnation of the Tea Party movement that swept the nation last year. Or so, at least, Michael Shear suggests in the New York Times. “The rise of the Tea Party movement,” Shear says, “offers Mr. Paul an opportunity to be embraced as a kind of mainstream candidate that he never was while running last time around [2008].”

In a word, nonsense. Paul’s beliefs about the role government do overlap to some extent with Tea Party principles. But anyone who cared to listen to him during last week’s first Republican presidential debate in South Carolina quickly understood that the Texas congressman, and his fans, aren’t exactly in sync with the Republican Party or any other party, including the one named Tea.

Paul isn’t just an opponent of taxes and of federal spending and entitlements, issues that drive the Tea Party. He is an ideological extremist, combining fiscal conservatism with isolationism on foreign affairs and amoral stands on drugs and prostitution and other social issues that leave him with little in common with even the wackiest of Tea Partiers, let alone the rest of the country. Paul has his libertarian fans and they tend to show up in droves at his speeches and straw polls, cheering wildly. But as was the case in 2008, once the votes started being counted he will be seen as a marginal candidate. Paul can and will raise a lot of money and be a vocal participant in the primaries. But that doesn’t mean he has crossed the threshold into mainstream acceptance.

The Tea Party vote is up for grabs in the Republican race. A fiscal conservative like Mitch Daniels will have an argument to make that he most effectively represents their views. But an outsider such as Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who combines Tea Party principles on government with social conservatism, could also compete for their support. In a race with a genuine conservative, even an outlier like Bachmann, Paul doesn’t stand a chance.

But don’t expect liberal journalists to understand the difference. To them, all right-wingers look alike.

For some in the mainstream media, critics of government are all alike. That’s why some are treating Congressman Ron Paul, the Harold Stassen of the screwball libertarian crowd, as if he were the incarnation of the Tea Party movement that swept the nation last year. Or so, at least, Michael Shear suggests in the New York Times. “The rise of the Tea Party movement,” Shear says, “offers Mr. Paul an opportunity to be embraced as a kind of mainstream candidate that he never was while running last time around [2008].”

In a word, nonsense. Paul’s beliefs about the role government do overlap to some extent with Tea Party principles. But anyone who cared to listen to him during last week’s first Republican presidential debate in South Carolina quickly understood that the Texas congressman, and his fans, aren’t exactly in sync with the Republican Party or any other party, including the one named Tea.

Paul isn’t just an opponent of taxes and of federal spending and entitlements, issues that drive the Tea Party. He is an ideological extremist, combining fiscal conservatism with isolationism on foreign affairs and amoral stands on drugs and prostitution and other social issues that leave him with little in common with even the wackiest of Tea Partiers, let alone the rest of the country. Paul has his libertarian fans and they tend to show up in droves at his speeches and straw polls, cheering wildly. But as was the case in 2008, once the votes started being counted he will be seen as a marginal candidate. Paul can and will raise a lot of money and be a vocal participant in the primaries. But that doesn’t mean he has crossed the threshold into mainstream acceptance.

The Tea Party vote is up for grabs in the Republican race. A fiscal conservative like Mitch Daniels will have an argument to make that he most effectively represents their views. But an outsider such as Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who combines Tea Party principles on government with social conservatism, could also compete for their support. In a race with a genuine conservative, even an outlier like Bachmann, Paul doesn’t stand a chance.

But don’t expect liberal journalists to understand the difference. To them, all right-wingers look alike.

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U.S. to Interrogate Bin Laden’s Wives

After initially blocking access to bin Laden’s three wives, the Pakistani intelligence agency finally allowed U.S. officials to interview them earlier this week. The terror leader’s wives, daughters, and grandchildren are believed to be the top sources of critical intelligence on bin Laden’s terror operation.

The wives were hostile during the interview, officials close to the investigation told the Guardian. This is only to be expected at the beginning, but as long as Pakistani intelligence continues to grant access this will likely be the first of many interviews.

Investigators are focused on gathering information on bin Laden’s major donors, some of whom are believed to be wealthy Saudi Arabians and Kuwaitis. If the money is coming from high-profile figures in allied countries, then it obviously has the potential to cause some diplomatic problems down the road. But pinpointing and cutting off these wealthy terrorism-financers is one of the most crucial elements of winning the war on terror.

With any luck, bin Laden’s wives and children will useful in leading investigators to these major funders. Pakistan should also allow the U.S. access to bin Laden’s compound, if it hasn’t already, because there could potentially still be some key information there that the SEALs weren’t able to seize during their mission.

After initially blocking access to bin Laden’s three wives, the Pakistani intelligence agency finally allowed U.S. officials to interview them earlier this week. The terror leader’s wives, daughters, and grandchildren are believed to be the top sources of critical intelligence on bin Laden’s terror operation.

The wives were hostile during the interview, officials close to the investigation told the Guardian. This is only to be expected at the beginning, but as long as Pakistani intelligence continues to grant access this will likely be the first of many interviews.

Investigators are focused on gathering information on bin Laden’s major donors, some of whom are believed to be wealthy Saudi Arabians and Kuwaitis. If the money is coming from high-profile figures in allied countries, then it obviously has the potential to cause some diplomatic problems down the road. But pinpointing and cutting off these wealthy terrorism-financers is one of the most crucial elements of winning the war on terror.

With any luck, bin Laden’s wives and children will useful in leading investigators to these major funders. Pakistan should also allow the U.S. access to bin Laden’s compound, if it hasn’t already, because there could potentially still be some key information there that the SEALs weren’t able to seize during their mission.

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Will Ryan Seek Kohl’s Senate Seat?

Another Senate Democrat will announce that he is packing it in today. Four-term incumbent Herb Kohl of Wisconsin won’t run for reelection next year, making him the sixth member of the Senate’s Democratic caucus to say he won’t be back in 2013. Two Republicans are also retiring in a year in which far more Democratic seats are already up for grabs.

Kohl, a retail store mogul and the longtime owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, was first sent to Washington in 1988 and won landslide reelection bids in 1994, 2000, and 2006. At the very least, this moves what was a safe Democratic seat into the tossup category. Wisconsin has become a battleground state in the last year as a Republican tide swept over the state. Democratic Senate stalwart Russ Feingold was defeated in November at the same time that the GOP also won both the governor’s office and control of both legislative chambers. Democrats hope that a backlash against Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to restrain the power of the unions to prevent him from balancing the budget will lead them back to power. But it isn’t yet clear whether the public thinks Walker or the unions and their Democratic allies overreached.

Among those likely to run for the Democratic nomination to replace Kohl will be Feingold, a liberal stalwart who went down to an unexpected defeat to Ron Johnson, a darling of the Tea Party movement last year. Congressman Ron Kind is another possible challenger.

But the big question this morning is whether the brightest star in Wisconsin’s Republican Congressional delegation will think about moving up to the Senate. House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan poured cold water on those who have sought to entice him to run for president. He is embroiled in the battle over the budget and his plans for Medicare reform and is not eager to give up his position as the party’s point man on fiscal affairs. But a senate run might be a different matter, especially since it is hard to argue that that office would take him away from his family—one of his stated reasons against a White House run—any more than a congressional seat. While there are other Wisconsin Republicans who would be eager to run for Kohl’s old seat, there might be pressure from the party to get their most well known name to take up the challenge.

Another Senate Democrat will announce that he is packing it in today. Four-term incumbent Herb Kohl of Wisconsin won’t run for reelection next year, making him the sixth member of the Senate’s Democratic caucus to say he won’t be back in 2013. Two Republicans are also retiring in a year in which far more Democratic seats are already up for grabs.

Kohl, a retail store mogul and the longtime owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, was first sent to Washington in 1988 and won landslide reelection bids in 1994, 2000, and 2006. At the very least, this moves what was a safe Democratic seat into the tossup category. Wisconsin has become a battleground state in the last year as a Republican tide swept over the state. Democratic Senate stalwart Russ Feingold was defeated in November at the same time that the GOP also won both the governor’s office and control of both legislative chambers. Democrats hope that a backlash against Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to restrain the power of the unions to prevent him from balancing the budget will lead them back to power. But it isn’t yet clear whether the public thinks Walker or the unions and their Democratic allies overreached.

Among those likely to run for the Democratic nomination to replace Kohl will be Feingold, a liberal stalwart who went down to an unexpected defeat to Ron Johnson, a darling of the Tea Party movement last year. Congressman Ron Kind is another possible challenger.

But the big question this morning is whether the brightest star in Wisconsin’s Republican Congressional delegation will think about moving up to the Senate. House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan poured cold water on those who have sought to entice him to run for president. He is embroiled in the battle over the budget and his plans for Medicare reform and is not eager to give up his position as the party’s point man on fiscal affairs. But a senate run might be a different matter, especially since it is hard to argue that that office would take him away from his family—one of his stated reasons against a White House run—any more than a congressional seat. While there are other Wisconsin Republicans who would be eager to run for Kohl’s old seat, there might be pressure from the party to get their most well known name to take up the challenge.

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Two Tonys Point the Way For Israel-Bashers

At first, the Tony Kushner controversy at the City University of New York was a matter of the cultural establishment going bonkers about a refusal to honor the playwright because of his anti-Israel politics. Then it became an effort to turn Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, the board member who stood up against Kushner, into a pariah. The next step is the way the anti-Israel crowd will use it as a crowbar to pry American Jews from Israel.

That’s the goal of New York Times columnist Roger Cohen’s latest effort. Cohen not only lauds the ideologically driven playwright, but also puts him on the same pedestal as the late Tony Judt, the historian and writer who sought to bring anti-Zionism out from the margins of American intellectual life and into the mainstream. Cohen compares the recent brouhaha over Kushner to the general opprobrium to which Judt was subjected for his 2003 essay “Israel: The Alternative” in the New York Review of Books, where he called for the end of the Jewish state.

Although this comparison doesn’t quite fit with the arguments that Kushner and his defenders have advanced in the last week, falsely claiming that Wiesenfeld’s allegations were false, Cohen is right to link the two. Both Kushner and Judt are prominent Jewish intellectual opponents of the pro-Israel community who have questioned not only the justice of Israel’s creation but sought to delegitimize it altogether.

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At first, the Tony Kushner controversy at the City University of New York was a matter of the cultural establishment going bonkers about a refusal to honor the playwright because of his anti-Israel politics. Then it became an effort to turn Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, the board member who stood up against Kushner, into a pariah. The next step is the way the anti-Israel crowd will use it as a crowbar to pry American Jews from Israel.

That’s the goal of New York Times columnist Roger Cohen’s latest effort. Cohen not only lauds the ideologically driven playwright, but also puts him on the same pedestal as the late Tony Judt, the historian and writer who sought to bring anti-Zionism out from the margins of American intellectual life and into the mainstream. Cohen compares the recent brouhaha over Kushner to the general opprobrium to which Judt was subjected for his 2003 essay “Israel: The Alternative” in the New York Review of Books, where he called for the end of the Jewish state.

Although this comparison doesn’t quite fit with the arguments that Kushner and his defenders have advanced in the last week, falsely claiming that Wiesenfeld’s allegations were false, Cohen is right to link the two. Both Kushner and Judt are prominent Jewish intellectual opponents of the pro-Israel community who have questioned not only the justice of Israel’s creation but sought to delegitimize it altogether.

Cohen is hoping that Kushner’s victory at CUNY will be the signal for Israel’s critics to seize the initiative in the debate about the Middle East. He quotes Kushner as agreeing with him that. “There is a very significant change underway,” Kushner says. Americans are realizing there is “a terrible need for a dose of debate” on Israel and that “silent acquiescence” to those “whose politics are based substantially on fantasy and theological wishes” is dangerous.

Yet what is it exactly that Kushner wants to debate about Israel? Israel has repeatedly offered the Palestinians a two-state solution, but the Palestinians keep turning down the offer. Cohen seems to want even more concessions to a Palestinian Authority which has now entered into a formal alliance with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas. He speaks ominously of a change in the air and the “growing impatience” in the White House about Israel. Like Judt, however, Kushner goes to the bottom with his criticism. He has always been more interested in disputing Israel’s legitimacy than in the peace process.

Kushner will receive his undeserved award from CUNY, but Cohen is mistaken if he thinks this heralds the transformation of American Jewish politics. Although reliably liberal, and thus predisposed to treat leftist artists like Kushner with respect out of proportion with their achievement, most Jews remain steadfast in their support for Israel. As Ted Lapkin of the Institute for Public Affairs observed yesterday at The Drum, “[T]he theory of Jewish detachment from Israel” has been thrown “into serious intellectual disrepute” by recent academic research surveys, which suggest that attachment to Israel is deepening among American Jews—especially among younger American Jews.

Roger Cohen may be on the wrong side of history, but he is right to see the Kushner controversy in the context of efforts to undermine solidarity with Israel. By crowing over Kushner’s victory, he is demonstrating all too clearly why Wiesenfeld was right in the first place.

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The Real Backlash: Homegrown Terrorists Just Wanted to Kill Jews

If you happened to listen to National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation show this past Wednesday, you were enlightened about an aspect of the killing of Osama bin Laden that perhaps you hadn’t thought about. According to Wajahat Ali of the Center for American Progress, bin Laden’s death was feeding one of the country’s most serious problems: Islamophobia. From the perspective of those whose job it is to feed the media’s obsession with the existence of a mythical backlash against Americans Muslims since 9/11, the end of Al Qaeda’s leader was just another source of prejudice that, in this telling, would be focused on Pakistani-Americans.

The problem with this argument is that violence against Muslims in this country, though deplorable, is rare. As national statistics have shown for a decade, hate crimes against Muslims have remained few and are actually dwarfed by the number of instances of violence against Jews. The notion of a post 9/11 backlash against Muslims, though promoted constantly in the national media, is still more myth than reality.

But homegrown Islamist terrorism is no myth. Congressman Peter King’s hearings last month on the subject were condemned as an outbreak of prejudice with no basis in fact. But the number of terror plots by extremist Muslims uncovered by the authorities continues to grow. This week another was added to that list when two New York City Muslims were charged yesterday with conspiring to blow up synagogues in the city. While they may not have been connected to a terror organization, their goal was clear: they just wanted to kill as many Jews as possible.

What drove these two to the crime? They were convinced Muslims were being mistreated around the world and believed Jews were responsible. Fortunately, they were stopped before they were able to commit an act of mass murder. But we need to ask where such people are getting their ideas and who is fomenting this sense of violent grievance. Unfortunately, the mainstream media and even most of our political class are spooked that even asking these questions will lead to charges of Islamophobia. Cases like these as dismissed as insignificant. They are forgetten until the next instance of homegrown Muslim terrorism.

While people like Wajahat Ali are not supporting terrorism, the false narrative about an anti-Muslim backlash that he and others, such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), have successful promoted causes Americans to turn their heads away from the real problem: the rise of Islamist ideology among a minority of American Muslims. Until we stop worrying about a mythical wave of anti-Muslim prejudice and start focusing on stopping the Islamists, instances of homegrown terror plots will increase. So will the chances that one of them will succeed.

If you happened to listen to National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation show this past Wednesday, you were enlightened about an aspect of the killing of Osama bin Laden that perhaps you hadn’t thought about. According to Wajahat Ali of the Center for American Progress, bin Laden’s death was feeding one of the country’s most serious problems: Islamophobia. From the perspective of those whose job it is to feed the media’s obsession with the existence of a mythical backlash against Americans Muslims since 9/11, the end of Al Qaeda’s leader was just another source of prejudice that, in this telling, would be focused on Pakistani-Americans.

The problem with this argument is that violence against Muslims in this country, though deplorable, is rare. As national statistics have shown for a decade, hate crimes against Muslims have remained few and are actually dwarfed by the number of instances of violence against Jews. The notion of a post 9/11 backlash against Muslims, though promoted constantly in the national media, is still more myth than reality.

But homegrown Islamist terrorism is no myth. Congressman Peter King’s hearings last month on the subject were condemned as an outbreak of prejudice with no basis in fact. But the number of terror plots by extremist Muslims uncovered by the authorities continues to grow. This week another was added to that list when two New York City Muslims were charged yesterday with conspiring to blow up synagogues in the city. While they may not have been connected to a terror organization, their goal was clear: they just wanted to kill as many Jews as possible.

What drove these two to the crime? They were convinced Muslims were being mistreated around the world and believed Jews were responsible. Fortunately, they were stopped before they were able to commit an act of mass murder. But we need to ask where such people are getting their ideas and who is fomenting this sense of violent grievance. Unfortunately, the mainstream media and even most of our political class are spooked that even asking these questions will lead to charges of Islamophobia. Cases like these as dismissed as insignificant. They are forgetten until the next instance of homegrown Muslim terrorism.

While people like Wajahat Ali are not supporting terrorism, the false narrative about an anti-Muslim backlash that he and others, such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), have successful promoted causes Americans to turn their heads away from the real problem: the rise of Islamist ideology among a minority of American Muslims. Until we stop worrying about a mythical wave of anti-Muslim prejudice and start focusing on stopping the Islamists, instances of homegrown terror plots will increase. So will the chances that one of them will succeed.

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Tale of Two Candidates: Less Said, the Better

Yesterday two of the nation’s most prominent Republicans were on display for the public. The net result illustrates the current state of the GOP presidential race.

Former Massachusetts governor and current GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney went to the University of Michigan to give a major address on health care. Which is to say his purpose was to explain why the government run health care program he pushed through in Massachusetts is different from the federal Obamacare program that Republicans despise. But rather than overcome this obstacle to his candidacy by confronting it head-on, all Romney accomplished was to remind Republicans why he can’t win the nomination.

Later in the day, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and his wife Cheri spoke at the annual dinner of his state’s Republican party. Although neither Daniels nor his wife gave any firm indication as to whether he would run for president, his refusal to say that he won’t is making it increasingly clear that he will.  The showcasing of his politics-averse wife was one clear signal that he is inching closer to running. His self-deprecating jokes about his height and his desire for obscurity, while vintage Daniels, also indicate that unlike some politicians who falter when suddenly confronted with the obsessive attention of the national press, he isn’t changing his style.

Romney, who seems to have been running for president non-stop for the last five years, has his strong points. But the information overload he has been dumping on the public is starting to wear thin. On the other hand, Daniels seems to have figured out that the longer he keeps us guessing about his presidential ambitions, the better is it for him. While he can’t keep this up indefinitely, a long, slow rollout of a Daniels candidacy will only maximize the impact once he does declare. The lesson of yesterday’s two events is that despite the normal instinct of politicians to tell us what they think we should know, sometimes the less said, the better.

Yesterday two of the nation’s most prominent Republicans were on display for the public. The net result illustrates the current state of the GOP presidential race.

Former Massachusetts governor and current GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney went to the University of Michigan to give a major address on health care. Which is to say his purpose was to explain why the government run health care program he pushed through in Massachusetts is different from the federal Obamacare program that Republicans despise. But rather than overcome this obstacle to his candidacy by confronting it head-on, all Romney accomplished was to remind Republicans why he can’t win the nomination.

Later in the day, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and his wife Cheri spoke at the annual dinner of his state’s Republican party. Although neither Daniels nor his wife gave any firm indication as to whether he would run for president, his refusal to say that he won’t is making it increasingly clear that he will.  The showcasing of his politics-averse wife was one clear signal that he is inching closer to running. His self-deprecating jokes about his height and his desire for obscurity, while vintage Daniels, also indicate that unlike some politicians who falter when suddenly confronted with the obsessive attention of the national press, he isn’t changing his style.

Romney, who seems to have been running for president non-stop for the last five years, has his strong points. But the information overload he has been dumping on the public is starting to wear thin. On the other hand, Daniels seems to have figured out that the longer he keeps us guessing about his presidential ambitions, the better is it for him. While he can’t keep this up indefinitely, a long, slow rollout of a Daniels candidacy will only maximize the impact once he does declare. The lesson of yesterday’s two events is that despite the normal instinct of politicians to tell us what they think we should know, sometimes the less said, the better.

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“Artists Who Boycott Israel Are Wimps”

I don’t know if I’ve ever heard any of their songs, but I’ve just become a Deep Purple fan. You have to respect any rock band that can achieve such moral clarity on the anti-Israel cultural boycott. Artists who boycott Israel, declared drummer Ian Paice this week, are “real wimps.”

Paice, who was speaking ahead of the group’s third Israel tour, is exactly right. None of the artists who have canceled performances in Israel in recent years in response to pressure from pro-Palestinian activists actually thinks the boycott is justified as a matter of principle. If they did, they wouldn’t have booked engagements in Israel to begin with. They simply couldn’t withstand the pressure from their left-wing cultural milieu.

Rather, it’s the artists who don’t cancel Israel engagements who actually have the courage of their convictions. Often, these convictions have nothing to do with Israel: Deep Purple, for instance, simply believes strongly that “artists should not take sides in political conflicts.” But that makes them no less valid.

So perhaps it’s time for pro-Israel activists to try a new tack in combating the cultural boycott. Arguments about why Israel doesn’t deserve to be boycotted—its thriving democracy, its decades of striving for peace—are perfectly valid, but are likely of little interest to the average Israel-bound performer besieged by pro-Palestinian activists. Most such performers are far more concerned with their art (and their revenues) than with the rights and wrongs of the conflict.

Moreover, conducting the argument on those terms allows both the boycotting artist and the Palestinians to claim the moral high ground: The artist has concluded that boycotting Israel is the “right thing to do.”

Thus it might be more effective to simply confront such artists with the Deep Purple test: Do you actually have the courage of your convictions about the artist’s proper role in the world—the convictions that led you to book your Israel engagement in the first place? Or do you want to be just another “real wimp”?

For a wimp who lacks the courage of his convictions can’t claim anything but the moral low ground. And that is exactly where Israel boycotters belong.

I don’t know if I’ve ever heard any of their songs, but I’ve just become a Deep Purple fan. You have to respect any rock band that can achieve such moral clarity on the anti-Israel cultural boycott. Artists who boycott Israel, declared drummer Ian Paice this week, are “real wimps.”

Paice, who was speaking ahead of the group’s third Israel tour, is exactly right. None of the artists who have canceled performances in Israel in recent years in response to pressure from pro-Palestinian activists actually thinks the boycott is justified as a matter of principle. If they did, they wouldn’t have booked engagements in Israel to begin with. They simply couldn’t withstand the pressure from their left-wing cultural milieu.

Rather, it’s the artists who don’t cancel Israel engagements who actually have the courage of their convictions. Often, these convictions have nothing to do with Israel: Deep Purple, for instance, simply believes strongly that “artists should not take sides in political conflicts.” But that makes them no less valid.

So perhaps it’s time for pro-Israel activists to try a new tack in combating the cultural boycott. Arguments about why Israel doesn’t deserve to be boycotted—its thriving democracy, its decades of striving for peace—are perfectly valid, but are likely of little interest to the average Israel-bound performer besieged by pro-Palestinian activists. Most such performers are far more concerned with their art (and their revenues) than with the rights and wrongs of the conflict.

Moreover, conducting the argument on those terms allows both the boycotting artist and the Palestinians to claim the moral high ground: The artist has concluded that boycotting Israel is the “right thing to do.”

Thus it might be more effective to simply confront such artists with the Deep Purple test: Do you actually have the courage of your convictions about the artist’s proper role in the world—the convictions that led you to book your Israel engagement in the first place? Or do you want to be just another “real wimp”?

For a wimp who lacks the courage of his convictions can’t claim anything but the moral low ground. And that is exactly where Israel boycotters belong.

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Taliban Loses Battle, but Could Still Win the War of Perception

“Broad Taliban Attack Paralyzes Kandahar.” So read the New York Times article last Sunday reporting on a series of Taliban assaults utilizing gunmen and suicide bombers in southern Afghanistan’s largest city. Sounds like more evidence that recent coalition gains against the Taliban are illusory, doesn’t it? Not so fast.

In fact, the NATO military command views the attack as a sign of progress—not because it occurred, but because of the way in which Afghan forces responded. The Afghan security forces handled the attack almost entirely on their own, with little assistance from the U.S. Their quick-reaction forces were particularly effective. In all the Afghan army and police managed to kill more than a dozen attackers and  detain nearly two dozen more while only a handful of their own personnel were killed (a larger number were  wounded). Moreover, despite this high-profile attack, violence in Kandahar has not gone up noticeably from years past.

There is little doubt that from a purely military standpoint the Kandahar attack was a flop. More serious was the breakout of more than 400 Taliban detainees from  Sarposa prison in Kandahar. But did the Kandahar assault in fact succeed in the Taliban’s objective—to spread the impression that the largest city in the south, which has been secured at great cost to the coalition, remains unsafe?

Hard to say. The Kandahar attack didn’t get that much play in the West. But this assault is only part of a series of terrorist attacks that the Taliban are carrying out to distract public attention from the fact that, judging from a military standpoint, the insurgents have suffered major setbacks during the past year.

Given that wars like the one in Afghanistan are, above all, a battle of perception, the insurgents’ tactic is not to be sneered at. The Taliban understand the power of images and do their best to create an illusion of power, even if the reality is otherwise. The challenge for the NATO side is to counter their propaganda and instill confidence both in the people of Afghanistan and the people of the West that the Taliban’s day is done. That is no easy task.

“Broad Taliban Attack Paralyzes Kandahar.” So read the New York Times article last Sunday reporting on a series of Taliban assaults utilizing gunmen and suicide bombers in southern Afghanistan’s largest city. Sounds like more evidence that recent coalition gains against the Taliban are illusory, doesn’t it? Not so fast.

In fact, the NATO military command views the attack as a sign of progress—not because it occurred, but because of the way in which Afghan forces responded. The Afghan security forces handled the attack almost entirely on their own, with little assistance from the U.S. Their quick-reaction forces were particularly effective. In all the Afghan army and police managed to kill more than a dozen attackers and  detain nearly two dozen more while only a handful of their own personnel were killed (a larger number were  wounded). Moreover, despite this high-profile attack, violence in Kandahar has not gone up noticeably from years past.

There is little doubt that from a purely military standpoint the Kandahar attack was a flop. More serious was the breakout of more than 400 Taliban detainees from  Sarposa prison in Kandahar. But did the Kandahar assault in fact succeed in the Taliban’s objective—to spread the impression that the largest city in the south, which has been secured at great cost to the coalition, remains unsafe?

Hard to say. The Kandahar attack didn’t get that much play in the West. But this assault is only part of a series of terrorist attacks that the Taliban are carrying out to distract public attention from the fact that, judging from a military standpoint, the insurgents have suffered major setbacks during the past year.

Given that wars like the one in Afghanistan are, above all, a battle of perception, the insurgents’ tactic is not to be sneered at. The Taliban understand the power of images and do their best to create an illusion of power, even if the reality is otherwise. The challenge for the NATO side is to counter their propaganda and instill confidence both in the people of Afghanistan and the people of the West that the Taliban’s day is done. That is no easy task.

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