Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 18, 2011

Re: All the Makings of a Failed Presidential Bid

Maybe there’s another explanation for the statement by Rick Tyler, Newt Gingrich’s press secretary Rick Tyler, which Peter quoted earlier, but I doubt it—unless Gingrich’s new campaign strategy is to insult the bloggers and journalists who report on it

Ignoring the weirdness of Tyler’s statement (why does Gingrich’s spokesperson talk like a grouchy gnome from a fantasy fiction movie?), the publications and pundits who picked up on Gingrich’s comments weren’t only liberal and mainstream ones. In fact some of the first ones to write about it were conservative blogs and publications like the National Review Online, the Daily Caller, and Hot Air. And many of them were critical.

Some of Gingrich’s most outspoken critics have been conservatives who are concerned about the damage his comments might have done to the deficit debate. If the Gingrich campaign honestly thinks this is because these bloggers and commentators are worried about getting invited to cocktail parties, then he is completely clueless.

Insulting the very people his campaign needs to get his message out is a terrible tactic, and if he thinks this will help him look like a Washington “outsider,” he’s mistaken. The conservative base gets its news from many of the radio hosts and bloggers that the Gingrich campaign just appeared to take a broad swipe at. Maybe his spokesperson’s comments were taken out of context—and if that’s the case, Gingrich should clarify this as soon as possible. Whether conservative bloggers and journalists will still be listening is an open question.

Maybe there’s another explanation for the statement by Rick Tyler, Newt Gingrich’s press secretary Rick Tyler, which Peter quoted earlier, but I doubt it—unless Gingrich’s new campaign strategy is to insult the bloggers and journalists who report on it

Ignoring the weirdness of Tyler’s statement (why does Gingrich’s spokesperson talk like a grouchy gnome from a fantasy fiction movie?), the publications and pundits who picked up on Gingrich’s comments weren’t only liberal and mainstream ones. In fact some of the first ones to write about it were conservative blogs and publications like the National Review Online, the Daily Caller, and Hot Air. And many of them were critical.

Some of Gingrich’s most outspoken critics have been conservatives who are concerned about the damage his comments might have done to the deficit debate. If the Gingrich campaign honestly thinks this is because these bloggers and commentators are worried about getting invited to cocktail parties, then he is completely clueless.

Insulting the very people his campaign needs to get his message out is a terrible tactic, and if he thinks this will help him look like a Washington “outsider,” he’s mistaken. The conservative base gets its news from many of the radio hosts and bloggers that the Gingrich campaign just appeared to take a broad swipe at. Maybe his spokesperson’s comments were taken out of context—and if that’s the case, Gingrich should clarify this as soon as possible. Whether conservative bloggers and journalists will still be listening is an open question.

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The Incumbent’s Difficulties

In an article in Politico, entitled “Can Obama Recapture ’08?” Julie Mason writes this:

Obama faces a reelection dynamic familiar to all modern incumbent presidents, said John Kenneth White, a political scientist at The Catholic University of America. “Newly elected presidents are Rorschach figures. We can project anything on to them about how the country will be,” White said. “Two, three, four years later, they are not Rorschach figures anymore, and there is that certain sense of disappointment.”

This is a rather odd assessment by a political scientist. Since 1968, four incumbent presidents have been reelected—Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. And each of them improved their margin of victory running as an incumbent. In fact, Nixon and Reagan won 49 states each in their reelection bid.

The truth is that incumbency brings with it all sorts of advantages in a presidential race. But what it also brings with it something else: a record of governing. For some, that’s a distinct advantage. For others—like Jimmy Carter and, I suspect, for Barack Obama—it will be quite a disadvantage. But trying to explain the difficulties Obama faces by some inevitably reelection dynamic is simply wrong.

In an article in Politico, entitled “Can Obama Recapture ’08?” Julie Mason writes this:

Obama faces a reelection dynamic familiar to all modern incumbent presidents, said John Kenneth White, a political scientist at The Catholic University of America. “Newly elected presidents are Rorschach figures. We can project anything on to them about how the country will be,” White said. “Two, three, four years later, they are not Rorschach figures anymore, and there is that certain sense of disappointment.”

This is a rather odd assessment by a political scientist. Since 1968, four incumbent presidents have been reelected—Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. And each of them improved their margin of victory running as an incumbent. In fact, Nixon and Reagan won 49 states each in their reelection bid.

The truth is that incumbency brings with it all sorts of advantages in a presidential race. But what it also brings with it something else: a record of governing. For some, that’s a distinct advantage. For others—like Jimmy Carter and, I suspect, for Barack Obama—it will be quite a disadvantage. But trying to explain the difficulties Obama faces by some inevitably reelection dynamic is simply wrong.

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Is the Administration Using the I.R.S. to Restrict Political Speech?

Last week, the New York Times broke a story about the Internal Revenue System that shocked the philanthropic and political worlds. According to the Times, the IRS had sent letters to five unidentified donors to non-profit advocacy groups that their contributions may be subject to taxes. The IRS move, which is a reversal of a policy of non-enforcement of limits on the size of such gifts that goes back decades, was a shot fired over the bows of 501(c)(4) groups that have had an outsize impact of politics in recent years. That’s especially true since last year’s Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court, which swept away some federal restrictions on political speech that were promulgated by groups in the name of campaign finance reform.

A decision to tax such gifts would obviously have an impact on the amount of money donated to advocacy groups whose activities are not restricted by campaign finance laws. Moreover, this could have a deleterious impact on big givers such as George Soros and the Koch brothers meaning that both left- and right-wing groups would be hurt by such a policy.

What’s the motivation for this sudden decision on the part of the IRS to try and tax donations to non-profit advocacy organizations? Given the Obama administration’s hysterical reaction to the Citizens United case, it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that somebody in the White House has been advocating for the use of the federal government’s most feared agency to try and act to limit the impact of that decision.  The routine use of the IRS as a political weapon in the hands of any incumbent has been severely curtailed since the backlash from Watergate exposed Richard Nixon’s excesses. But given the abrupt nature of this about-face on an issue that is directly linked to political speech, it’s only natural that questions are going to be asked about this decision.

So it’s little surprise to learn that, as Ben Smith reports on Politico, five senators have sent a letter to the IRS doing just that. The five, all Republicans, want to know what is the reasoning behind the decision. Even more to the point, they are demanding to see every scrap of correspondence and analysis conducted by the IRS about this issue. The implication of that request is not exactly a mystery. If anybody in the White House or administration officials in other departments sought to either inspire or influence the crackdown on advocacy, they’re going to have a lot of explaining to do.

While this is not quite the same thing as a president ordering the agency to audit his political enemies, efforts to hinder contributions to groups that the administration doesn’t like is just as questionable. If the IRS follow through on their threat, this story has the potential to blow up into a serious scandal that may badly burn the White House.

Last week, the New York Times broke a story about the Internal Revenue System that shocked the philanthropic and political worlds. According to the Times, the IRS had sent letters to five unidentified donors to non-profit advocacy groups that their contributions may be subject to taxes. The IRS move, which is a reversal of a policy of non-enforcement of limits on the size of such gifts that goes back decades, was a shot fired over the bows of 501(c)(4) groups that have had an outsize impact of politics in recent years. That’s especially true since last year’s Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court, which swept away some federal restrictions on political speech that were promulgated by groups in the name of campaign finance reform.

A decision to tax such gifts would obviously have an impact on the amount of money donated to advocacy groups whose activities are not restricted by campaign finance laws. Moreover, this could have a deleterious impact on big givers such as George Soros and the Koch brothers meaning that both left- and right-wing groups would be hurt by such a policy.

What’s the motivation for this sudden decision on the part of the IRS to try and tax donations to non-profit advocacy organizations? Given the Obama administration’s hysterical reaction to the Citizens United case, it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that somebody in the White House has been advocating for the use of the federal government’s most feared agency to try and act to limit the impact of that decision.  The routine use of the IRS as a political weapon in the hands of any incumbent has been severely curtailed since the backlash from Watergate exposed Richard Nixon’s excesses. But given the abrupt nature of this about-face on an issue that is directly linked to political speech, it’s only natural that questions are going to be asked about this decision.

So it’s little surprise to learn that, as Ben Smith reports on Politico, five senators have sent a letter to the IRS doing just that. The five, all Republicans, want to know what is the reasoning behind the decision. Even more to the point, they are demanding to see every scrap of correspondence and analysis conducted by the IRS about this issue. The implication of that request is not exactly a mystery. If anybody in the White House or administration officials in other departments sought to either inspire or influence the crackdown on advocacy, they’re going to have a lot of explaining to do.

While this is not quite the same thing as a president ordering the agency to audit his political enemies, efforts to hinder contributions to groups that the administration doesn’t like is just as questionable. If the IRS follow through on their threat, this story has the potential to blow up into a serious scandal that may badly burn the White House.

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All the Makings of a Failed Presidential Bid

Michael Calderone, writing in the Huffington Post, asked Newt Gingrich’s press secretary Rick Tyler about media coverage of Gingrich this past week. He received a response that was measured, balanced, precise in its argumentation, and winsome. Here is Tyler’s reply:

The literati sent out their minions to do their bidding. Washington cannot tolerate threats from outsiders who might disrupt their comfortable world. The firefight started when the cowardly sensed weakness. They fired timidly at first, then the sheep not wanting to be dropped from the establishment’s cocktail party invite list unloaded their entire clip, firing without taking aim their distortions and falsehoods. Now they are left exposed by their bylines and handles. But surely they had killed him off. This is the way it always worked. A lesser person could not have survived the first few minutes of the onslaught. But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich, once again ready to lead those who won’t be intimated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces.

So Newt Gingrich isn’t a presidential candidate after all; it turns out he’s really a modern-day Prince Valiant, emerging from billowing smoke and the dust of tweets and trivia wielding his Singing Sword, ready to lead the intrepid masses against cowardly Georgetown cocktail partiers. It has the makings of an epic, world-historic, never-before-seen clash. But it also has the makings of a failed presidential bid.

Michael Calderone, writing in the Huffington Post, asked Newt Gingrich’s press secretary Rick Tyler about media coverage of Gingrich this past week. He received a response that was measured, balanced, precise in its argumentation, and winsome. Here is Tyler’s reply:

The literati sent out their minions to do their bidding. Washington cannot tolerate threats from outsiders who might disrupt their comfortable world. The firefight started when the cowardly sensed weakness. They fired timidly at first, then the sheep not wanting to be dropped from the establishment’s cocktail party invite list unloaded their entire clip, firing without taking aim their distortions and falsehoods. Now they are left exposed by their bylines and handles. But surely they had killed him off. This is the way it always worked. A lesser person could not have survived the first few minutes of the onslaught. But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich, once again ready to lead those who won’t be intimated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces.

So Newt Gingrich isn’t a presidential candidate after all; it turns out he’s really a modern-day Prince Valiant, emerging from billowing smoke and the dust of tweets and trivia wielding his Singing Sword, ready to lead the intrepid masses against cowardly Georgetown cocktail partiers. It has the makings of an epic, world-historic, never-before-seen clash. But it also has the makings of a failed presidential bid.

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No Compromise with the Blood-Stained Dictator of Damascus

“America will always do the right thing, but only after exhausting all other options.” So said Winston Churchill. That’s a great description not only of the United States in general but also of President Obama’s foreign policy in particular. Obama usually winds up in the right place—though not always—but even when he does it is only after a long period of hesitation and study.

Thus he finally dumped Hosni Mubarak. He finally intervened in Libya. He finally gave up on negotiating with the mullahs in Tehran. He finally supported the surge in Afghanistan. In all those cases his actions would probably have been more effective if he had acted earlier. But that’s not Obama’s way. He is the commander-in-chief as professor, always eager to immerse himself in the details, to study every option, to avoid action until it is absolutely unavoidable.

That’s what happened in the case of Syria. The news today is that the administration is finally applying sanctions against Bashar al-Assad and six other senior members of the criminal clique that rules in Damascus. The Alawite regime has been slaughtering protesters for weeks even as the U.S. issued nothing more than weak condemnations. Obama, it seemed, was hesitant to give up on his earlier dreams of engaging Assad as a “peace partner.” This too is part of a pattern. Many of Obama’s hesitations have come because the press of events has forced him to shed the ultra-liberal illusions that he came into office with.

So congratulations to him for finally waking up and realizing that Assad is no “partner” in the quest for Middle East peace. Instead, Assad is one of the most dangerous and obdurate obstacles faced by the U.S. and the West. There can be no compromise with the blood-stained dictator of Damascus. Rather, the U.S. and its allies must throw their weight behind the Syrian opposition and do whatever can be done to help them achieve peaceful regime change.

Obama’s education has been painful and costly—it has already consumed half of his first term in office. It would have been better if he had come into office with fewer illusions. But at least it has not taken him as long as Jimmy Carter, who only saw the light after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

On the other hand, Obama’s education is still incomplete. Now the key test will be his speech tomorrow at the State Department. Will he give up one of his major remaining illusions—that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is of central importance in the region and can only be solved by American pressure on Israel?

“America will always do the right thing, but only after exhausting all other options.” So said Winston Churchill. That’s a great description not only of the United States in general but also of President Obama’s foreign policy in particular. Obama usually winds up in the right place—though not always—but even when he does it is only after a long period of hesitation and study.

Thus he finally dumped Hosni Mubarak. He finally intervened in Libya. He finally gave up on negotiating with the mullahs in Tehran. He finally supported the surge in Afghanistan. In all those cases his actions would probably have been more effective if he had acted earlier. But that’s not Obama’s way. He is the commander-in-chief as professor, always eager to immerse himself in the details, to study every option, to avoid action until it is absolutely unavoidable.

That’s what happened in the case of Syria. The news today is that the administration is finally applying sanctions against Bashar al-Assad and six other senior members of the criminal clique that rules in Damascus. The Alawite regime has been slaughtering protesters for weeks even as the U.S. issued nothing more than weak condemnations. Obama, it seemed, was hesitant to give up on his earlier dreams of engaging Assad as a “peace partner.” This too is part of a pattern. Many of Obama’s hesitations have come because the press of events has forced him to shed the ultra-liberal illusions that he came into office with.

So congratulations to him for finally waking up and realizing that Assad is no “partner” in the quest for Middle East peace. Instead, Assad is one of the most dangerous and obdurate obstacles faced by the U.S. and the West. There can be no compromise with the blood-stained dictator of Damascus. Rather, the U.S. and its allies must throw their weight behind the Syrian opposition and do whatever can be done to help them achieve peaceful regime change.

Obama’s education has been painful and costly—it has already consumed half of his first term in office. It would have been better if he had come into office with fewer illusions. But at least it has not taken him as long as Jimmy Carter, who only saw the light after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

On the other hand, Obama’s education is still incomplete. Now the key test will be his speech tomorrow at the State Department. Will he give up one of his major remaining illusions—that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is of central importance in the region and can only be solved by American pressure on Israel?

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Misunderstanding AIPAC and Booing

Politico’s Ben Smith attempted to have a little fun at the expense of AIPAC today when he posted the text of an e-mail from the group’s president urging those who attend its annual conference to behave with civility toward guest speakers. Smith jibed that since no one at AIPAC could be worried about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu being heckled, this must have been a special alert in order to head off potential booing of President Obama when he speaks there on Sunday. Smith had to backtrack a little bit on this when he subsequently learned that the sending of such warnings to AIPAC conference attendees is an annual rite and not something that had to be ginned up in order to specifically protect Obama.

However, Smith’s little joke betrays a common misunderstanding of what AIPAC is and who belongs to it. Far from being a Likudnik and right-wing tool, it is a genuine wall-to-wall coalition of supporters of Israel. Like the “Israel Lobby” that Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer rage about, it is so broad-based that it is at times difficult to pin down. For decades, AIPAC conferences have been the venue for both Democrats and Republicans to illustrate their support for Israel as well as for Likud, Labor and Kadima prime ministers of Israel to explain their country’s positions to its American friends.

It may well be true that there will be a great many people at the conference who will remember Barack Obama’s warm support for a united Jerusalem at their 2008 gathering and how he backtracked on that pledge within 24 hours. Others will also remember the way Obama distanced himself from Israel and picked unnecessary and ultimately counter-productive fights with Netanyahu on the status of Jerusalem. But anyone who thinks the activists who show up at the conference are all people who will vote against Obama next year knows nothing about AIPAC which remains an organization where you are as likely to bump into a Democrat as a Republican.

Politico’s Ben Smith attempted to have a little fun at the expense of AIPAC today when he posted the text of an e-mail from the group’s president urging those who attend its annual conference to behave with civility toward guest speakers. Smith jibed that since no one at AIPAC could be worried about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu being heckled, this must have been a special alert in order to head off potential booing of President Obama when he speaks there on Sunday. Smith had to backtrack a little bit on this when he subsequently learned that the sending of such warnings to AIPAC conference attendees is an annual rite and not something that had to be ginned up in order to specifically protect Obama.

However, Smith’s little joke betrays a common misunderstanding of what AIPAC is and who belongs to it. Far from being a Likudnik and right-wing tool, it is a genuine wall-to-wall coalition of supporters of Israel. Like the “Israel Lobby” that Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer rage about, it is so broad-based that it is at times difficult to pin down. For decades, AIPAC conferences have been the venue for both Democrats and Republicans to illustrate their support for Israel as well as for Likud, Labor and Kadima prime ministers of Israel to explain their country’s positions to its American friends.

It may well be true that there will be a great many people at the conference who will remember Barack Obama’s warm support for a united Jerusalem at their 2008 gathering and how he backtracked on that pledge within 24 hours. Others will also remember the way Obama distanced himself from Israel and picked unnecessary and ultimately counter-productive fights with Netanyahu on the status of Jerusalem. But anyone who thinks the activists who show up at the conference are all people who will vote against Obama next year knows nothing about AIPAC which remains an organization where you are as likely to bump into a Democrat as a Republican.

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Leftists Support Gay-Bashing Palestinians in Effort to Eradicate Gay-Friendly Israel

One of the differences between Israel and its Arab foes is the contrast between the way minorities are treated by the two societies. Israel is not utopia, but it is a liberal democracy in the best sense of the word. And one of the measures of the open nature of Israeli society is its treatment of women and gays. In marked contrast to the way homosexuals are oppressed in Arab societies, and in particular the gruesome treatment meted out to gays by the Islamists of Hamas in Gaza and even by the secular nationalists of Fatah in the West Bank, gays have full and equal rights protection in Israel, including the right to serve openly—and proudly—in the Israel Defense Forces.

But for some gay leftists, it is somehow wrong for friends of the Jewish state to speak of its exemplary record on this issue. That’s the conceit of David Kaufman’s bizarre and confused article in Time magazine that focuses on “pink washing”—the term used by leftists to describe the discussion of Israel’s stance on gay rights. As far as they are concerned, it’s all just a cover to stop people from denouncing Israel for its alleged abuse of the Palestinians. Any reluctance on the part of Jewish gays to join in the “progressive” smears of Israel as an apartheid state would be wrong since gays and Palestinians are fellow victims. In that view, Jews who identify themselves with the LGBT community must put aside the question of gay rights to promote the more important issue of isolating Israel.

The cognitive dissonance displayed by Kaufman and others who speak of “pink washing” is so intense that after reading this piece you feel like the proper response is not so much rebuttal but to send him an aspirin. The reason why Israel’s gay rights record is relevant to the broader discussion about the conflict in the Middle East is not a matter of mere public relations. The point here is one of understanding the difference between an open society and a culture rooted in fundamentalist Islam and irredentist nationalism, which sees all minorities as objects of hate. The drive to isolate and eradicate the one non-Muslim majority country in the Middle East is rooted in the intolerance that is at the core of the culture of Israel’s foes. The equal rights enjoyed by gays in Israel and the oppression and violence they face in Palestinian society as well as in much of the Arab world is a perfect example of the difference between liberal democracy and intolerant Islam.

Confronting that reality is difficult for some on the left who have been trained to wrongly view Israel as a vestige of evil Western imperialism. The notion that those who view gay rights as the most important issue here in the West would, at the same time, support gay-bashing Palestinian Islamists in their campaign to eradicate gay friendly Israel is a caricature of the psychosis of the left.

One of the differences between Israel and its Arab foes is the contrast between the way minorities are treated by the two societies. Israel is not utopia, but it is a liberal democracy in the best sense of the word. And one of the measures of the open nature of Israeli society is its treatment of women and gays. In marked contrast to the way homosexuals are oppressed in Arab societies, and in particular the gruesome treatment meted out to gays by the Islamists of Hamas in Gaza and even by the secular nationalists of Fatah in the West Bank, gays have full and equal rights protection in Israel, including the right to serve openly—and proudly—in the Israel Defense Forces.

But for some gay leftists, it is somehow wrong for friends of the Jewish state to speak of its exemplary record on this issue. That’s the conceit of David Kaufman’s bizarre and confused article in Time magazine that focuses on “pink washing”—the term used by leftists to describe the discussion of Israel’s stance on gay rights. As far as they are concerned, it’s all just a cover to stop people from denouncing Israel for its alleged abuse of the Palestinians. Any reluctance on the part of Jewish gays to join in the “progressive” smears of Israel as an apartheid state would be wrong since gays and Palestinians are fellow victims. In that view, Jews who identify themselves with the LGBT community must put aside the question of gay rights to promote the more important issue of isolating Israel.

The cognitive dissonance displayed by Kaufman and others who speak of “pink washing” is so intense that after reading this piece you feel like the proper response is not so much rebuttal but to send him an aspirin. The reason why Israel’s gay rights record is relevant to the broader discussion about the conflict in the Middle East is not a matter of mere public relations. The point here is one of understanding the difference between an open society and a culture rooted in fundamentalist Islam and irredentist nationalism, which sees all minorities as objects of hate. The drive to isolate and eradicate the one non-Muslim majority country in the Middle East is rooted in the intolerance that is at the core of the culture of Israel’s foes. The equal rights enjoyed by gays in Israel and the oppression and violence they face in Palestinian society as well as in much of the Arab world is a perfect example of the difference between liberal democracy and intolerant Islam.

Confronting that reality is difficult for some on the left who have been trained to wrongly view Israel as a vestige of evil Western imperialism. The notion that those who view gay rights as the most important issue here in the West would, at the same time, support gay-bashing Palestinian Islamists in their campaign to eradicate gay friendly Israel is a caricature of the psychosis of the left.

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Standing against Sclerosis (Intellectual or Otherwise)

Ross Douthat has posted a piece that juxtaposes comments by me and my former White House colleague David Frum about the lessons of Newt Gingrich versus Paul Ryan.

Douthat’s conclusion—gently directed mainly at me, I think—goes like this:

But some of Gingrich’s more enthusiastic critics are failing the test as well, by behaving as if the Ryan budget represents some kind of sacred right-wing writ. Unless American politics changes beyond recognition, Ryan’s plan cannot and will not become the law of the land in its current form. And while it has many virtues, it has many flaws as well. Its example should call Republican presidential candidates to a greater seriousness about Medicare reform than most conservative politicians have manifested to date. But it cannot, and must not, become a rigid litmus test: That way lies intellectual sclerosis, and political disaster.

I agree with much of what Ross said, and in fact I think he said it quite well. There are no sacred texts—and certainly no sacred budgets—in contemporary American politics. All of us, regardless of our political philosophy, should welcome a rigorous debate about the merits of various plans. And I myself have argued against purity tests.

As a matter of clarification, then, I don’t believe Gingrich deserved to be harshly rebuked simply because he had the temerity to challenge Ryan’s plan. In fact I have said explicitly, “It would be one thing for Gingrich to say that he disagrees with the Ryan plan; that would, in my judgment, be wrong but not particularly outrageous.” What I went on to say is this: “But to use words like radical and social engineering to describe it is irresponsible, even for Gingrich.” And I went on to argue that the lesson of what happened to the former Speaker is that “reckless attacks” against what Ryan has proposed will be met by powerful criticism from a spectrum of influential figures within conservatism.

Nothing anyone has written or said has convinced me that Gingrich’s attacks on the Ryan plan weren’t anything but irresponsible and intellectually incoherent. And I say that as one who stands foursquare against rigid litmus tests, intellectual sclerosis, and in fact sclerosis of any kind.

Ross Douthat has posted a piece that juxtaposes comments by me and my former White House colleague David Frum about the lessons of Newt Gingrich versus Paul Ryan.

Douthat’s conclusion—gently directed mainly at me, I think—goes like this:

But some of Gingrich’s more enthusiastic critics are failing the test as well, by behaving as if the Ryan budget represents some kind of sacred right-wing writ. Unless American politics changes beyond recognition, Ryan’s plan cannot and will not become the law of the land in its current form. And while it has many virtues, it has many flaws as well. Its example should call Republican presidential candidates to a greater seriousness about Medicare reform than most conservative politicians have manifested to date. But it cannot, and must not, become a rigid litmus test: That way lies intellectual sclerosis, and political disaster.

I agree with much of what Ross said, and in fact I think he said it quite well. There are no sacred texts—and certainly no sacred budgets—in contemporary American politics. All of us, regardless of our political philosophy, should welcome a rigorous debate about the merits of various plans. And I myself have argued against purity tests.

As a matter of clarification, then, I don’t believe Gingrich deserved to be harshly rebuked simply because he had the temerity to challenge Ryan’s plan. In fact I have said explicitly, “It would be one thing for Gingrich to say that he disagrees with the Ryan plan; that would, in my judgment, be wrong but not particularly outrageous.” What I went on to say is this: “But to use words like radical and social engineering to describe it is irresponsible, even for Gingrich.” And I went on to argue that the lesson of what happened to the former Speaker is that “reckless attacks” against what Ryan has proposed will be met by powerful criticism from a spectrum of influential figures within conservatism.

Nothing anyone has written or said has convinced me that Gingrich’s attacks on the Ryan plan weren’t anything but irresponsible and intellectually incoherent. And I say that as one who stands foursquare against rigid litmus tests, intellectual sclerosis, and in fact sclerosis of any kind.

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749 Days and Counting

That’s how long it’s been since the Democratic-led Senate passed a budget. And with no clear plan in sight, this delay is starting to get some attention.

“Do you know it’s been almost two years since the senate has passed a budget?” Byron York asked on Fox News this morning. “And it appears to be no closer than it was a month ago.”

The implosion of the Gang of Six budget talks this morning was yet another setback in what has seemed like a never-ending process. There is a chance that the discussions may not recover from Senator Tom Coburn’s decision to temporarily drop out. And there isn’t much optimism that the Joe Biden panel on the deficit will speed things up, with reports indicating that it’s still in the early stages of talks.

The Democrats are eager to keep engaging in these backroom discussions because they know they will face serious problems if they take a plan to the public. Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson has already flat-out said that he won’t support any tax hikes. And without tax increases, the Democrats will risk losing the support of party liberals like Bernie Sanders.

“[T]hey cannot bring forth a budget their members support that the American people will support, and they understand that, they know that, and they’ve got a big problem,” Republican Jeff Sessions said in a statement yesterday.

Maybe the Democrats believe that if they delay long enough, then lawmakers will be forced to put the long-term problems on the backburner in order to deal with the debt ceiling. This is the worst type of cynical politics. These issues shouldn’t be pushed to the side any longer, and it’s time for the Democrats to face them regardless of the political risk.

That’s how long it’s been since the Democratic-led Senate passed a budget. And with no clear plan in sight, this delay is starting to get some attention.

“Do you know it’s been almost two years since the senate has passed a budget?” Byron York asked on Fox News this morning. “And it appears to be no closer than it was a month ago.”

The implosion of the Gang of Six budget talks this morning was yet another setback in what has seemed like a never-ending process. There is a chance that the discussions may not recover from Senator Tom Coburn’s decision to temporarily drop out. And there isn’t much optimism that the Joe Biden panel on the deficit will speed things up, with reports indicating that it’s still in the early stages of talks.

The Democrats are eager to keep engaging in these backroom discussions because they know they will face serious problems if they take a plan to the public. Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson has already flat-out said that he won’t support any tax hikes. And without tax increases, the Democrats will risk losing the support of party liberals like Bernie Sanders.

“[T]hey cannot bring forth a budget their members support that the American people will support, and they understand that, they know that, and they’ve got a big problem,” Republican Jeff Sessions said in a statement yesterday.

Maybe the Democrats believe that if they delay long enough, then lawmakers will be forced to put the long-term problems on the backburner in order to deal with the debt ceiling. This is the worst type of cynical politics. These issues shouldn’t be pushed to the side any longer, and it’s time for the Democrats to face them regardless of the political risk.

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The Daniels Waiting Game

So the GOP race in the past three months has been dominated by Donald Trump and now the missteps of Newt Gingrich—which missteps have covered some of the missteps of others, like Rick Santorum telling Hugh Hewitt yesterday that John McCain doesn’t understand the purpose of using enhanced interrogation techniques to break prisoners. A debate in South Carolina was singularly uninspired and at times embarrassing. This all suggests that it might have been a brilliant tactical decision by Mitch Daniels, the Governor of Indiana, to wait out the winter and spring and enter the race on the late-ish side, in June. He will have avoided the silliest of the silly season and emerge with the thanks of a grateful party. The same, by the way, was true in 2007 when Fred Thompson, the former senator, entered the race in August to great excitement and great expectations—only it became clear that his heart really wasn’t in it and except for one stunning debate performance his candidacy was stillborn. As long as Daniels is not Thompson in spirit, he can be Thompson in strategy and that would actually be a very good thing for him.

So the GOP race in the past three months has been dominated by Donald Trump and now the missteps of Newt Gingrich—which missteps have covered some of the missteps of others, like Rick Santorum telling Hugh Hewitt yesterday that John McCain doesn’t understand the purpose of using enhanced interrogation techniques to break prisoners. A debate in South Carolina was singularly uninspired and at times embarrassing. This all suggests that it might have been a brilliant tactical decision by Mitch Daniels, the Governor of Indiana, to wait out the winter and spring and enter the race on the late-ish side, in June. He will have avoided the silliest of the silly season and emerge with the thanks of a grateful party. The same, by the way, was true in 2007 when Fred Thompson, the former senator, entered the race in August to great excitement and great expectations—only it became clear that his heart really wasn’t in it and except for one stunning debate performance his candidacy was stillborn. As long as Daniels is not Thompson in spirit, he can be Thompson in strategy and that would actually be a very good thing for him.

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You Can Tell a Writer by the Readers He Angers

The American novelist Philip Roth has won the Man Booker International Prize, a British award handed out every other year for a writer’s entire body of work. Now, literary prizes are nothing more than a means to sell books; only fools confuse them with the recognition of literary merit. There is no shortage of fools in the Republic of Letters, however.

Plans are under way in Australia, for example, to engender a down-under version of Britain’s Orange Prize for fiction by women. Not that the prize itself should be sneered at. The Orange Prize has done what it was intended to do, bringing attention to terrific novels like Anne Michaels’s Fugitive Pieces, Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, Marilynne Robinson’s Home, and Linda Grant’s When I Lived in Modern Times. Perhaps the Australian prize will have similar good luck.

No, what is foolish are the reasons given for the prize. “What we are concerned with is the systemic exclusion of women writers over several decades,” the novelist Sophie Cunningham told the Guardian. The very idea that the literary marketplace is capable of a system of any kind is crack-brained. Nor is it immediately obvious why publishers would tolerate the “systemic exclusion” of books that appeal to at least half the reading public (and probably, given women’s reading habits, far more than half). Nevertheless, Cunningham went on to say that the new Australian women’s prize would not be needed “if writing by women was rewarded and valued on its own terms, with equal merit to the way that work written by men is.”

All the women’s prizes in the world will not change the fact that literary merit is not equal, nor is it assigned by sex. Those who seem to be calling for a Title IX regime in literature, where praise and prizes and even book recommendations must be split 50-50 between men and women, are not really interested in literature. For them, literature is merely the jurisdiction in which they happen to seek power and privilege.

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The American novelist Philip Roth has won the Man Booker International Prize, a British award handed out every other year for a writer’s entire body of work. Now, literary prizes are nothing more than a means to sell books; only fools confuse them with the recognition of literary merit. There is no shortage of fools in the Republic of Letters, however.

Plans are under way in Australia, for example, to engender a down-under version of Britain’s Orange Prize for fiction by women. Not that the prize itself should be sneered at. The Orange Prize has done what it was intended to do, bringing attention to terrific novels like Anne Michaels’s Fugitive Pieces, Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, Marilynne Robinson’s Home, and Linda Grant’s When I Lived in Modern Times. Perhaps the Australian prize will have similar good luck.

No, what is foolish are the reasons given for the prize. “What we are concerned with is the systemic exclusion of women writers over several decades,” the novelist Sophie Cunningham told the Guardian. The very idea that the literary marketplace is capable of a system of any kind is crack-brained. Nor is it immediately obvious why publishers would tolerate the “systemic exclusion” of books that appeal to at least half the reading public (and probably, given women’s reading habits, far more than half). Nevertheless, Cunningham went on to say that the new Australian women’s prize would not be needed “if writing by women was rewarded and valued on its own terms, with equal merit to the way that work written by men is.”

All the women’s prizes in the world will not change the fact that literary merit is not equal, nor is it assigned by sex. Those who seem to be calling for a Title IX regime in literature, where praise and prizes and even book recommendations must be split 50-50 between men and women, are not really interested in literature. For them, literature is merely the jurisdiction in which they happen to seek power and privilege.

Such a person is Carmen Callil, the British publisher who founded Virago Press in 1973. Declaring that she does not “rate him as a writer at all,” Callil quit the Man Booker International Prize jury in a huff when it became clear that the other two judges would not bend to her will and award the prize to someone else than Philip Roth. “Emperor’s clothes,” she sniffed. “In 20 years’ time will anyone read him?”

Whether anyone reads Roth in 20 years will not be decided by a literary prize. Perhaps what will decide the question—and perhaps what her colleagues wished to honor Roth for—is the very commitment to literature that Callil rejects so bitterly. In a career that began 53-and-a-half years ago with the story “You Can’t Tell a Man by the Song He Sings” in COMMENTARY, Roth has exemplified the double obligation—both to truth and to beauty, for lack of better words—that distinguishes the great writer. He lives by the insistence, not upon rewards and claims of equal merit, but upon getting things exactly right, no matter what the consequences, in graceful uncompromising language.

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Re: The Queen Visits Michael Collins’s Ireland

I agree with Max regarding the symbolic importance of the Queen’s visit to Ireland, and share his admiration for Michael Collins.

But his Irish history is a little off. Ireland was not a British colony in 1911, but an integral part of the United Kingdom, no different, at least in principle, than Scotland or Wales. Nor did it become fully independent in 1922. Instead it achieved dominion status, fully self-governing but with King George V as head of state and members of the new Irish Parliament were required to swear allegiance to him. In 1927, George V was formally invested with the title of King of Ireland, last held by George III before the Act of Union of 1801. So at this point Ireland’s status was the same as the other self-governing dominions of the British Empire, such as Canada and Australia. It was only in 1949, when the Irish Parliament passed the Republic of Ireland Act and the Parliament at Westminster passed the Ireland Act that stated that “the Republic of Ireland had ceased to be part of His Majesty’s dominions” that Ireland became fully independent.

At that time any member of the British Commonwealth which became a republic automatically ceased to be a member but could reapply, as India did when it became a republic in 1950 (it had been independent since 1947). Ireland chose not to reapply. Thus the first country to sever all ties to the British Crown since the Treaty of Paris acknowledged American independence in 1783 (not 1782) was actually Burma, which became independent and left the Commonwealth in 1948.

It is, I think, a testament to the British “fair play,” that Max refers to that so few countries have severed all ties to the British Crown. Besides Ireland, Burma, and the United States, I believe only Zimbabwe (likely to be readmitted once a democratic government is reestablished) and Hong Kong (which probably had no choice in the matter) make the list. Indeed one country, Mozambique, which was never a British possession, joined the Commonwealth in 1995.

I agree with Max regarding the symbolic importance of the Queen’s visit to Ireland, and share his admiration for Michael Collins.

But his Irish history is a little off. Ireland was not a British colony in 1911, but an integral part of the United Kingdom, no different, at least in principle, than Scotland or Wales. Nor did it become fully independent in 1922. Instead it achieved dominion status, fully self-governing but with King George V as head of state and members of the new Irish Parliament were required to swear allegiance to him. In 1927, George V was formally invested with the title of King of Ireland, last held by George III before the Act of Union of 1801. So at this point Ireland’s status was the same as the other self-governing dominions of the British Empire, such as Canada and Australia. It was only in 1949, when the Irish Parliament passed the Republic of Ireland Act and the Parliament at Westminster passed the Ireland Act that stated that “the Republic of Ireland had ceased to be part of His Majesty’s dominions” that Ireland became fully independent.

At that time any member of the British Commonwealth which became a republic automatically ceased to be a member but could reapply, as India did when it became a republic in 1950 (it had been independent since 1947). Ireland chose not to reapply. Thus the first country to sever all ties to the British Crown since the Treaty of Paris acknowledged American independence in 1783 (not 1782) was actually Burma, which became independent and left the Commonwealth in 1948.

It is, I think, a testament to the British “fair play,” that Max refers to that so few countries have severed all ties to the British Crown. Besides Ireland, Burma, and the United States, I believe only Zimbabwe (likely to be readmitted once a democratic government is reestablished) and Hong Kong (which probably had no choice in the matter) make the list. Indeed one country, Mozambique, which was never a British possession, joined the Commonwealth in 1995.

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What’s the Point of Passing Iran Sanctions Obama Won’t Enforce?

Last Friday, Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Howard Berman, its ranking Democrat, joined forces to introduce a bill that would go a long way toward tightening sanctions on Iran. The legislation would effectively prevent American firms from doing business with any entity that does $1 million in a single trade with Iran’s energy sector, or $5 million over one year. The bill would broaden existing sanctions against alleged human rights violators as well as with financial institutions that deal with Iran.

That ought to mean that the tyrants of Tehran will be squeezed even more in the months to come making it harder for them to continue their policies of exporting terror to the Middle East via their Hamas and Hezbollah allies as well as impacting their dangerous plans for nuclear capability. Except that it won’t. As even Ros-Lehtinen and Berman admitted after introducing their bill, sanctions passed by Congress that are not enforced by the executive branch are basically meaningless.

This is not the first Iran sanctions bill passed by Congress. Last year, another, less stringent sanctions law was passed. But the problem with that bill was not so much that it was weaker than the new bill but that the Obama administration wouldn’t enforce it. As the New York Times reported last December, the Treasury Department has granted over 10,000 exemptions from Iran sanctions in the last decade. The waivers that each sanctions bill includes, give the administration the power to allow companies to ignore our policy on Iran. This process has escalated during the Obama administration. The administration’s willingness to grant waivers has made a mockery of even the mild sanctions that are already in place. That renders the expected passage of the new sanctions bill a mere act of symbolism that will once again impress upon the Iranians America’s lack of seriousness.

Meanwhile, the Iranians continue their terrorism export business in the Middle East while expanding their horizons into South America. On the same day that the new Iran sanctions bill was introduced in the House, the German newspaper Die Welt reported that Iran was building missile-launching sites in Venezuela for their ally Hugo Chavez. The purpose of the rockets will be to present a deterrent to American or Israeli strikes on Iranian targets. Though this is a clear violation of the Monroe Doctrine, it’s unlikely that the Obama administration will take action about this new Iranian threat.

Tehran’s provocations and threats continue to pose a danger not only to the Middle East but also to the world. But there’s no sign that the Obama administration is prepared to act as if it took those threats seriously.

Last Friday, Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Howard Berman, its ranking Democrat, joined forces to introduce a bill that would go a long way toward tightening sanctions on Iran. The legislation would effectively prevent American firms from doing business with any entity that does $1 million in a single trade with Iran’s energy sector, or $5 million over one year. The bill would broaden existing sanctions against alleged human rights violators as well as with financial institutions that deal with Iran.

That ought to mean that the tyrants of Tehran will be squeezed even more in the months to come making it harder for them to continue their policies of exporting terror to the Middle East via their Hamas and Hezbollah allies as well as impacting their dangerous plans for nuclear capability. Except that it won’t. As even Ros-Lehtinen and Berman admitted after introducing their bill, sanctions passed by Congress that are not enforced by the executive branch are basically meaningless.

This is not the first Iran sanctions bill passed by Congress. Last year, another, less stringent sanctions law was passed. But the problem with that bill was not so much that it was weaker than the new bill but that the Obama administration wouldn’t enforce it. As the New York Times reported last December, the Treasury Department has granted over 10,000 exemptions from Iran sanctions in the last decade. The waivers that each sanctions bill includes, give the administration the power to allow companies to ignore our policy on Iran. This process has escalated during the Obama administration. The administration’s willingness to grant waivers has made a mockery of even the mild sanctions that are already in place. That renders the expected passage of the new sanctions bill a mere act of symbolism that will once again impress upon the Iranians America’s lack of seriousness.

Meanwhile, the Iranians continue their terrorism export business in the Middle East while expanding their horizons into South America. On the same day that the new Iran sanctions bill was introduced in the House, the German newspaper Die Welt reported that Iran was building missile-launching sites in Venezuela for their ally Hugo Chavez. The purpose of the rockets will be to present a deterrent to American or Israeli strikes on Iranian targets. Though this is a clear violation of the Monroe Doctrine, it’s unlikely that the Obama administration will take action about this new Iranian threat.

Tehran’s provocations and threats continue to pose a danger not only to the Middle East but also to the world. But there’s no sign that the Obama administration is prepared to act as if it took those threats seriously.

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White House Bans Boston Herald from Fundraiser

Late last month, the White House banished a San Francisco Chronicle reporter from pool coverage for the “infraction” of filming a group of activists protesting an Obama fundraiser. But the administration’s heavy-handedness with reporters reached a new level today. A Boston Herald writer has reportedly been kicked out of the pool coverage for an Obama fundraiser, because the White House feels the newspaper is too conservative. The Herald itself broke the story:

The White House Press Office has refused to give the Boston Herald full access to President Obama’s Boston fund-raiser today, in e-mails objecting to the newspaper’s front page placement of a Mitt Romney op-ed, saying pool reporters are chosen based on whether they cover the news “fairly.”

The White House was clueless enough to email its complaints to the Herald , which promptly printed them on today’s front page.

“I tend to consider the degree to which papers have demonstrated to covering the White House regularly and fairly in determining local pool reporters,” White House spokesman Matt Lehrich wrote in response to the Herald’s request for access to the president’s fundraiser. Lehrich claimed that the Herald was biased because it recently ran an op-ed about Mitt Romney on its front page, instead of giving more attention to Obama’s Boston visit.

“My point about the op-ed was not that you ran it but that it was the full front page, which excluded any coverage of the visit of a sitting US President to Boston. I think that raises a fair question about whether the paper is unbiased in its coverage of the President’s visits,” Lehrich wrote.

Apparently the White House isn’t aware that publishing editorials on the front page is a long-standing tradition in tabloid journalism. And apparently it believes that it has the power to tell newspapers what they can and can’t be printing. The White House’s media bullying is becoming a pattern, and it’s one that could begin having a chilling effect on coverage. News organizations need to start speaking out about his, because any one of them could become the next victim.

Late last month, the White House banished a San Francisco Chronicle reporter from pool coverage for the “infraction” of filming a group of activists protesting an Obama fundraiser. But the administration’s heavy-handedness with reporters reached a new level today. A Boston Herald writer has reportedly been kicked out of the pool coverage for an Obama fundraiser, because the White House feels the newspaper is too conservative. The Herald itself broke the story:

The White House Press Office has refused to give the Boston Herald full access to President Obama’s Boston fund-raiser today, in e-mails objecting to the newspaper’s front page placement of a Mitt Romney op-ed, saying pool reporters are chosen based on whether they cover the news “fairly.”

The White House was clueless enough to email its complaints to the Herald , which promptly printed them on today’s front page.

“I tend to consider the degree to which papers have demonstrated to covering the White House regularly and fairly in determining local pool reporters,” White House spokesman Matt Lehrich wrote in response to the Herald’s request for access to the president’s fundraiser. Lehrich claimed that the Herald was biased because it recently ran an op-ed about Mitt Romney on its front page, instead of giving more attention to Obama’s Boston visit.

“My point about the op-ed was not that you ran it but that it was the full front page, which excluded any coverage of the visit of a sitting US President to Boston. I think that raises a fair question about whether the paper is unbiased in its coverage of the President’s visits,” Lehrich wrote.

Apparently the White House isn’t aware that publishing editorials on the front page is a long-standing tradition in tabloid journalism. And apparently it believes that it has the power to tell newspapers what they can and can’t be printing. The White House’s media bullying is becoming a pattern, and it’s one that could begin having a chilling effect on coverage. News organizations need to start speaking out about his, because any one of them could become the next victim.

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Poll Numbers Are Politically Lethal for Obama

Two recent polls have come out measuring the mood of the nation, and the results should give David Axelrod nightmares.

One poll, sponsored by The Hill newspaper, found that almost half of American voters (46 percent) say they feel worse off than they did a year ago. That’s almost three times as many as the 16 percent who feel more affluent today than a year ago. (Around one-third of voters—36 percent—say their economic situation has remained essentially unchanged from 12 months ago.) “Almost two years after the recession officially ended, pronounced pessimism about the economy lingers,” according to the accompanying Hill story: “It’s worrying for President Obama that voters are especially bleak when asked about their personal circumstances.”

Then there’s a new Fox News poll, which found that by wide margins Republicans (82 percent) and independents (71 percent) think the country is weaker now than it was five years ago. Only 4 percent of Republicans and 9 percent of Democrats say America is stronger today than it was five years ago. Among Democrats, 47 percent say weaker, only 27 percent say stronger, and 25 percent say the same as before. Now to be fair, five years ago was 2006, before the Great Recession hit. (It was also before the Obama presidency hit.)

Taken together, the two polls reinforce what others have said: the American people, by large numbers, are pessimistic, anxious, and believe the trajectory of the nation is downward rather than upward. We are in the midst of what they perceive to be an American decline. And that is the kind of thing that can be politically lethal for an incumbent president.

Two recent polls have come out measuring the mood of the nation, and the results should give David Axelrod nightmares.

One poll, sponsored by The Hill newspaper, found that almost half of American voters (46 percent) say they feel worse off than they did a year ago. That’s almost three times as many as the 16 percent who feel more affluent today than a year ago. (Around one-third of voters—36 percent—say their economic situation has remained essentially unchanged from 12 months ago.) “Almost two years after the recession officially ended, pronounced pessimism about the economy lingers,” according to the accompanying Hill story: “It’s worrying for President Obama that voters are especially bleak when asked about their personal circumstances.”

Then there’s a new Fox News poll, which found that by wide margins Republicans (82 percent) and independents (71 percent) think the country is weaker now than it was five years ago. Only 4 percent of Republicans and 9 percent of Democrats say America is stronger today than it was five years ago. Among Democrats, 47 percent say weaker, only 27 percent say stronger, and 25 percent say the same as before. Now to be fair, five years ago was 2006, before the Great Recession hit. (It was also before the Obama presidency hit.)

Taken together, the two polls reinforce what others have said: the American people, by large numbers, are pessimistic, anxious, and believe the trajectory of the nation is downward rather than upward. We are in the midst of what they perceive to be an American decline. And that is the kind of thing that can be politically lethal for an incumbent president.

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Lessons from Gingrich’s Self-Immolation

The self-immolation of Newt Gingrich is a cautionary tale about presidential candidates. Earlier this month Dick Morris wrote, “All agree that he would be the best opponent to Obama in a debate.” Gingrich was, according to Morris, “the brightest, best candidate” the GOP could field. Yet less than a week into his campaign Gingrich was asked a fairly straightforward question by NBC’s David Gregory, which Gingrich bollixed up so badly that he has probably done himself irreparable harm.

The truth is that candidates who look good on paper and make for interesting political analysts on cable news can turn out to be deeply flawed presidential candidates. The opposite is true as well; people who are generally thought to be weak candidates might acquit themselves very well and strike a chord with voters. The point is that it’s often difficult to know in advance. That’s what primaries are for—to test the candidates, to put them through their paces, to allow voters to see how they will react in different settings. A presidential campaign is unlike anything one can imagine; it’s grueling, intense, and the scrutiny can be unforgiving. Many impressive people simply melt in the spotlight.

It’s worth recalling that in 1980 the GOP candidate Jimmy Carter and his team were most eager to face was a fellow named Ronald Reagan, whom they considered to be a gaffe-prone, outside-the-mainstream, aging ex-actor. The candidate the Carter team most feared was Howard Baker, a smooth, accomplished, reasonable and reassuring senator from Tennessee.

Howard Baker ended up being the chief of staff in the second term of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

The self-immolation of Newt Gingrich is a cautionary tale about presidential candidates. Earlier this month Dick Morris wrote, “All agree that he would be the best opponent to Obama in a debate.” Gingrich was, according to Morris, “the brightest, best candidate” the GOP could field. Yet less than a week into his campaign Gingrich was asked a fairly straightforward question by NBC’s David Gregory, which Gingrich bollixed up so badly that he has probably done himself irreparable harm.

The truth is that candidates who look good on paper and make for interesting political analysts on cable news can turn out to be deeply flawed presidential candidates. The opposite is true as well; people who are generally thought to be weak candidates might acquit themselves very well and strike a chord with voters. The point is that it’s often difficult to know in advance. That’s what primaries are for—to test the candidates, to put them through their paces, to allow voters to see how they will react in different settings. A presidential campaign is unlike anything one can imagine; it’s grueling, intense, and the scrutiny can be unforgiving. Many impressive people simply melt in the spotlight.

It’s worth recalling that in 1980 the GOP candidate Jimmy Carter and his team were most eager to face was a fellow named Ronald Reagan, whom they considered to be a gaffe-prone, outside-the-mainstream, aging ex-actor. The candidate the Carter team most feared was Howard Baker, a smooth, accomplished, reasonable and reassuring senator from Tennessee.

Howard Baker ended up being the chief of staff in the second term of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

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Global Warming Activists Bully Scholastic Into Submission

For weeks, one of the Scholastic publishing company’s energy curriculum programs has been under attack by environmental zealots, like the Sierra Club, and liberal publications like the New York Times. Scholastic’s infraction was producing a 4th grade lesson packet with the American Coal Foundation, which gave a broad view of U.S. energy production, including coal, wind power, solar power, nuclear power, and natural gas.

Now it looks as if these environmentalists have successfully bullied Scholastic into dropping the original lesson plan, and replacing it with a “Celebrate Earth Day” online lesson, based on the book The Down-to-Earth-Guide to Global Warming. The guide was written by the co-producer of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, Laurie David.

The lesson is filled with alarmism and environmental propaganda, hinting to kids that polar bears and walruses will die if their parents don’t buy hybrid cars or promote ethanol-based fuel. It even pushes elementary school students to become tiny global warming activists. One section of the website asks kids to send this letter to their mayor:

Dear Mayor _____________________________________,

Global warming is real and its here to stay – unless we do something to stop it. There’s an amazing agreement that more than 400 of your fellow mayors have signed. It’s called the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. It’s a 12-step program that sets reasonable goals for you city to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to below what the levels were in 1990. Please join these other mayors in being leads in the fight to stop global warming.

The kids of the world are depending on you.

Sincerely,

__________________________________, Age _______

It’s one thing to learn about climate change theory in school. It’s quite another to use children as political pawns in a partisan fight to establish carbon-cap programs. Was it unwise for Scholastic to team up with the American Coal Foundation to create an energy lesson plan? Maybe. But at least that plan wasn’t aimed at building an army of elementary-aged lobbyists. Such a politicized lesson—especially one created by a co-producer of the widely discredited film An Inconvenient Truth—is inappropriate for the classroom.

For weeks, one of the Scholastic publishing company’s energy curriculum programs has been under attack by environmental zealots, like the Sierra Club, and liberal publications like the New York Times. Scholastic’s infraction was producing a 4th grade lesson packet with the American Coal Foundation, which gave a broad view of U.S. energy production, including coal, wind power, solar power, nuclear power, and natural gas.

Now it looks as if these environmentalists have successfully bullied Scholastic into dropping the original lesson plan, and replacing it with a “Celebrate Earth Day” online lesson, based on the book The Down-to-Earth-Guide to Global Warming. The guide was written by the co-producer of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, Laurie David.

The lesson is filled with alarmism and environmental propaganda, hinting to kids that polar bears and walruses will die if their parents don’t buy hybrid cars or promote ethanol-based fuel. It even pushes elementary school students to become tiny global warming activists. One section of the website asks kids to send this letter to their mayor:

Dear Mayor _____________________________________,

Global warming is real and its here to stay – unless we do something to stop it. There’s an amazing agreement that more than 400 of your fellow mayors have signed. It’s called the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. It’s a 12-step program that sets reasonable goals for you city to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to below what the levels were in 1990. Please join these other mayors in being leads in the fight to stop global warming.

The kids of the world are depending on you.

Sincerely,

__________________________________, Age _______

It’s one thing to learn about climate change theory in school. It’s quite another to use children as political pawns in a partisan fight to establish carbon-cap programs. Was it unwise for Scholastic to team up with the American Coal Foundation to create an energy lesson plan? Maybe. But at least that plan wasn’t aimed at building an army of elementary-aged lobbyists. Such a politicized lesson—especially one created by a co-producer of the widely discredited film An Inconvenient Truth—is inappropriate for the classroom.

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Newt Gingrich: The Tiffany’s Candidate

Those who thought the rollout of Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign hit bottom with his astonishing attack on Congressman Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan underestimated the former speaker’s capacity for blundering. Yesterday, after Gingrich had backtracked and then apologized for calling Ryan a radical, Politico reported that records showed he owed the Tiffany’s jewelry company a jaw-dropping $500,000 in 2005 and 2006.

It turns out that that until she quit her job with the House Agriculture Committee in 2007, the third Mrs. Gingrich had to file financial disclosure forms that revealed her spouse’s debts, thus revealing to reporters the extent of Newt’s debts. This tidbit does not come out of a vacuum. Those who have followed Gingrich’s career know that he has a reputation for high living and that, until the last decade when he was able to capitalize on his fame to some extent, he suffered from a chronic lack of funds.

It should be stipulated that while Newt’s Tiffany’s bill may strike most ordinary Americans as excessive, there is nothing wrong or illegal with buying a lot of jewelry on credit. But what is fishy is the sullen refusal of the candidate or his camp to either explain the debt or to say whether it has been settled. Who would have thought ill of Gingrich if, when Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren questioned him about it last night, he had merely said that it was the result of some overenthusiastic Christmas, birthday and anniversary shopping for his wife Callista? Indeed, if that’s all it amounts to, it actually helps soften Gingrich’s image since it makes him look more like a lovesick puppy than the arrogant politician the country learned to dislike back in the 1990s.

But just as he rejected the idea that he be subjected to the same scrutiny he demanded of others when he was speaker, Gingrich stonewalled van Susteren and anyone else who asked about his debts yesterday. While the Tiffany’s bill is probably nothing for him to apologize for, it is telling that he still can’t be honest and simply put the issue to rest.

As the Ryan fiasco and his various other unprincipled flip-flops have illustrated, Gingrich’s character problem is not limited to his affairs and failed marriages.

Those who thought the rollout of Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign hit bottom with his astonishing attack on Congressman Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan underestimated the former speaker’s capacity for blundering. Yesterday, after Gingrich had backtracked and then apologized for calling Ryan a radical, Politico reported that records showed he owed the Tiffany’s jewelry company a jaw-dropping $500,000 in 2005 and 2006.

It turns out that that until she quit her job with the House Agriculture Committee in 2007, the third Mrs. Gingrich had to file financial disclosure forms that revealed her spouse’s debts, thus revealing to reporters the extent of Newt’s debts. This tidbit does not come out of a vacuum. Those who have followed Gingrich’s career know that he has a reputation for high living and that, until the last decade when he was able to capitalize on his fame to some extent, he suffered from a chronic lack of funds.

It should be stipulated that while Newt’s Tiffany’s bill may strike most ordinary Americans as excessive, there is nothing wrong or illegal with buying a lot of jewelry on credit. But what is fishy is the sullen refusal of the candidate or his camp to either explain the debt or to say whether it has been settled. Who would have thought ill of Gingrich if, when Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren questioned him about it last night, he had merely said that it was the result of some overenthusiastic Christmas, birthday and anniversary shopping for his wife Callista? Indeed, if that’s all it amounts to, it actually helps soften Gingrich’s image since it makes him look more like a lovesick puppy than the arrogant politician the country learned to dislike back in the 1990s.

But just as he rejected the idea that he be subjected to the same scrutiny he demanded of others when he was speaker, Gingrich stonewalled van Susteren and anyone else who asked about his debts yesterday. While the Tiffany’s bill is probably nothing for him to apologize for, it is telling that he still can’t be honest and simply put the issue to rest.

As the Ryan fiasco and his various other unprincipled flip-flops have illustrated, Gingrich’s character problem is not limited to his affairs and failed marriages.

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Annals of State Department Ad Hocery

In his interview of Secretary State Clinton last month, Jeffrey Goldberg had the following colloquy regarding Syria:

QUESTION: Would you be sad if [Assad’s] regime disappeared?

CLINTON: It depends upon what replaces it.

QUESTION: Nicely put.

It is not much of a standard (“it depends”), and it is not a standard applied consistently. In Egypt, the U.S. called for the removal of an ally without knowing what regime would replace it. In Libya, the U.S. started a kinetic military operation against the regime, without knowing who the rebels were. In Syria, the U.S. adopted something like the 2009 policy in Iran (remaining silent out of concern that overthrow of the regime would interrupt the American efforts to outstretch a hand to it).

There must be a coherent foreign policy in there somewhere.

Yesterday the topic came up again at the State Department press conference:

QUESTION: The Secretary in an interview not so long ago . . . was asked would you be happy if Assad were gone, and she said it depends on what comes next. Do you – does she – does the State Department have any idea of what would come after?

MR. TONER: Well, I think what we would like to see is some sort of—you’re asking me to speculate wildly here.

QUESTION: Yes. (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: . . . we’d like to see some sort of credible democratic process that attempts to address the aspirations of the Syrian people. We talked at the beginning of this issue or this situation, crisis, that we wanted to see Assad address the aspirations with a meaningful reform. As I said, that—as we’ve gone down this path of increased abuses of what appears to be targeting civilian populations and going after and rounding up innocent civilians, that becomes increasingly unlikely. And so that—as that—as we go down that path, those options for real reform decrease, and we—but we still need to see, at some point, the Syrian people’s aspirations addressed.

So no calls for removal of Assad, as in Egypt. No kinetic military action, as in Libya. No standing silent, as in Iran. In Syria, the U.S. would like some sort of credible democratic process, attempting to address the aspirations of the people, with meaningful reform, and as that becomes increasingly unlikely, we still need to see, at some point, the people’s aspirations addressed.

Nicely put, or rather put as nicely as a non-strategy can be put.

In his interview of Secretary State Clinton last month, Jeffrey Goldberg had the following colloquy regarding Syria:

QUESTION: Would you be sad if [Assad’s] regime disappeared?

CLINTON: It depends upon what replaces it.

QUESTION: Nicely put.

It is not much of a standard (“it depends”), and it is not a standard applied consistently. In Egypt, the U.S. called for the removal of an ally without knowing what regime would replace it. In Libya, the U.S. started a kinetic military operation against the regime, without knowing who the rebels were. In Syria, the U.S. adopted something like the 2009 policy in Iran (remaining silent out of concern that overthrow of the regime would interrupt the American efforts to outstretch a hand to it).

There must be a coherent foreign policy in there somewhere.

Yesterday the topic came up again at the State Department press conference:

QUESTION: The Secretary in an interview not so long ago . . . was asked would you be happy if Assad were gone, and she said it depends on what comes next. Do you – does she – does the State Department have any idea of what would come after?

MR. TONER: Well, I think what we would like to see is some sort of—you’re asking me to speculate wildly here.

QUESTION: Yes. (Laughter.)

MR. TONER: . . . we’d like to see some sort of credible democratic process that attempts to address the aspirations of the Syrian people. We talked at the beginning of this issue or this situation, crisis, that we wanted to see Assad address the aspirations with a meaningful reform. As I said, that—as we’ve gone down this path of increased abuses of what appears to be targeting civilian populations and going after and rounding up innocent civilians, that becomes increasingly unlikely. And so that—as that—as we go down that path, those options for real reform decrease, and we—but we still need to see, at some point, the Syrian people’s aspirations addressed.

So no calls for removal of Assad, as in Egypt. No kinetic military action, as in Libya. No standing silent, as in Iran. In Syria, the U.S. would like some sort of credible democratic process, attempting to address the aspirations of the people, with meaningful reform, and as that becomes increasingly unlikely, we still need to see, at some point, the people’s aspirations addressed.

Nicely put, or rather put as nicely as a non-strategy can be put.

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Pressure on Israel Won’t Make Obama Relevant to Arab Protests

President Obama’s speech about the Middle East, scheduled for Thursday at the State Department, has been the subject of constant speculation fueled by leaks from administration sources. Most of the speculation is over whether he will take the opportunity to spell out his ideas for a revival of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, improbably linking it to the Arab Spring protests that have inflamed the region. There have been leaks intended to make us think he was sensibly dropping the idea of promoting some sort of U.S. dictat and others that made it appear as if he would squeeze Israel.

The latest spin about the speech is in an article in today’s New York Times that quotes officials as saying:

Obama was weighing whether to formally endorse Israel’s pre-1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations over a Palestinian state — a move that would be less a policy shift than a signal by the United States that it expected Israel to make concessions in pursuit of an agreement.

While the Times claims such a stand is not a “policy shift,” the notion of a U.S. endorsement for the 1967 lines is a clear statement that the United States is prepared to pressure the Jewish state to start making concessions even before peace talks restart. While the Times goes on to say that Obama will not present a “blueprint” for negotiations, the only plan he seems to be interested in is one that aims at leaning on the Israelis who, as Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated in a speech to the Knesset earlier this week, are ready to talk.

While Obama pledged America’s undying support for Israel’s existence yesterday while hosting a “Jewish Heritage” day at the White House at which the Marine Band played klezmer music, the debate over whether or not to heighten pressure on the Jewish state illustrates the double game the administration is playing on the Middle East. With the Palestinian Authority having embraced an alliance with Hamas and making it clearer than ever that their goal of an independent state is merely a way station on the road to future conflict with Israel (as PA head Mahmoud Abbas’s op-ed article in yesterday’s New York Times illustrated), the notion that more U.S. pressure will pave the way to peace makes no sense.

What Obama seems most interested in is a statement that will buttress his attempts at outreach to the Arab world. But what the president fails to understand is that his attempt to link the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians to the Arab Spring won’t increase his influence in the region. Israel and the United States are both irrelevant to the protests. And nothing Barack Obama does will change that.

President Obama’s speech about the Middle East, scheduled for Thursday at the State Department, has been the subject of constant speculation fueled by leaks from administration sources. Most of the speculation is over whether he will take the opportunity to spell out his ideas for a revival of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, improbably linking it to the Arab Spring protests that have inflamed the region. There have been leaks intended to make us think he was sensibly dropping the idea of promoting some sort of U.S. dictat and others that made it appear as if he would squeeze Israel.

The latest spin about the speech is in an article in today’s New York Times that quotes officials as saying:

Obama was weighing whether to formally endorse Israel’s pre-1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations over a Palestinian state — a move that would be less a policy shift than a signal by the United States that it expected Israel to make concessions in pursuit of an agreement.

While the Times claims such a stand is not a “policy shift,” the notion of a U.S. endorsement for the 1967 lines is a clear statement that the United States is prepared to pressure the Jewish state to start making concessions even before peace talks restart. While the Times goes on to say that Obama will not present a “blueprint” for negotiations, the only plan he seems to be interested in is one that aims at leaning on the Israelis who, as Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated in a speech to the Knesset earlier this week, are ready to talk.

While Obama pledged America’s undying support for Israel’s existence yesterday while hosting a “Jewish Heritage” day at the White House at which the Marine Band played klezmer music, the debate over whether or not to heighten pressure on the Jewish state illustrates the double game the administration is playing on the Middle East. With the Palestinian Authority having embraced an alliance with Hamas and making it clearer than ever that their goal of an independent state is merely a way station on the road to future conflict with Israel (as PA head Mahmoud Abbas’s op-ed article in yesterday’s New York Times illustrated), the notion that more U.S. pressure will pave the way to peace makes no sense.

What Obama seems most interested in is a statement that will buttress his attempts at outreach to the Arab world. But what the president fails to understand is that his attempt to link the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians to the Arab Spring won’t increase his influence in the region. Israel and the United States are both irrelevant to the protests. And nothing Barack Obama does will change that.

Read Less




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