It’s not often that the New York Times’s editorial board sides with the Senate Republicans on an issue, but apparently the Democrats’ budget dereliction has become too problematic to ignore. In an editorial today, the Times called out Senate Democrats for failing to produce a budget plan of their own:
But there will be no vote on a budget by the Democratic majority of the Senate, the traditional method for stating the majority’s priorities in black and white dollar signs. That’s because the Budget Committee has not agreed on one. And that’s because a good plan by the committee chairman, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, was deferred by Senate leaders, who feared that the plan’s tax increase on millionaires would make Democratic senators ripe targets for Tea Party attacks.
The Times also admonished Democrats for choosing the “safe political path,” adding that this tactic “will let down those who sent them to Washington.” Senate Republicans have been saying as much for weeks, but the fact that the Times is now jumping on board shows that the narrative of slacker Democrats is gaining traction and could become increasingly problematic for them. The left seems to be growing tired of the party’s passivity, and wants it to launch a robust defense of liberal economic policy. Of course, the American public won’t be as thrilled about the massive tax hikes that would naturally be included in any Democratic budget plan, so that scenario is exactly what Republicans are hoping for.
Matthew Yglesias of Think Progress unwisely waded into Israeli politics once again last week, writing about a phenomenon that he terms “post-Jewish Zionism.” This is his theory that Christians and conservatives are becoming increasingly pro-Israel, a concept that isn’t exactly groundbreaking.
But according to Yglesias, the impact of this is that American Jews—who are typically politically liberal—are becoming “decreasingly relevant to the politics of Israel.”
“The existence of Christian Zionists is, of course, not new,” Yglesias wrote. “But what is new is that Israeli politics has drifted toward the hawkish right over the past ten years even as Jewish Americans remain on the progressive left.”
The insinuation is that American Jews have a more “progressive” perspective on how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than either Christian Zionists or Israelis themselves, and that these conservatives may hijack the issue and push solutions that don’t mesh with the values of typical American Jews.
It’s true that some (though not all) Christian Zionists don’t support a two-state solution, which puts them out of sync with the politics of most of the American Jewish community. However, while American Jews are progressive on social issues, they take a far more pragmatic and conservative stance on Israel.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, as Jonathan noted, single-handedly prevented last week’s G-8 summit from explicitly endorsing the 1967 lines as a starting point for Israeli-Palestinian talks. What made this remarkable, however, was not merely that Harper once again provided the lone pro-Israel voice in an international forum. It’s that Harper, rather than the U.S. president, was the one Israel’s prime minister telephoned for help — because Barack Obama has blatantly abandoned a longstanding American tradition of insisting that international forums meet minimal standards of even-handedness.
It’s hard to overstate the significance of this shift. For decades, when Israel wanted help defending its case in an international forum, it dialed Washington. It didn’t matter whether Democrats or Republicans occupied the White House; Washington was always the address.
That’s because successive U.S. presidents all adopted a simple policy: You can’t target Israel while giving the Palestinians a free pass. You can’t condemn Israeli military operations without also condemning the rocket fire or suicide bombings that prompted them; you can’t demand Israeli concessions at the negotiating table without also demanding Palestinian concessions. As then-UN Ambassador John Danforth explained in a masterful exposition of this policy in 2004, that is how America defines “even-handedness,” and it won’t accept anything less.
But it’s precisely this policy that Obama has abandoned – and that Harper has stepped in to defend. As the latter told reporters after the summit, he doesn’t share Israel’s opposition to mentioning the 1967 lines in principle. What he objected to was the G-8’s attempt to make demands of Israel without also mentioning the concessions Palestinians will have to make for a two-state solution.
“You can’t cherry pick elements of that speech,” Harper said, referring to Obama’s May 19 Middle East policy address. “I think if you’re going to get into other elements, obviously I would like to see reference to elements that were also in President Obama’s speech. Such as, for instance, the fact that one of the states must be a Jewish state. The fact that the Palestinian state must be demilitarized.”
Not so long ago, it would have been the U.S. president insisting on that basic modicum of even-handedness. It’s a measure of how far Obama has undercut the American-Israeli alliance that Jerusalem is now forced to dial Ottawa instead.
President Obama said today that Poland’s transformation from a corrupt and oppressive Soviet satellite state into a free country ought to be a model for those Arab nations seeking to rise above their own historical experiences. He asserted that Poland, the country that suffered cruelly under the Tsars, the Nazis and the Communists only to become a functioning democracy when it finally regained its independence ought to provide inspiration for Arab and Islamic societies that seek freedom.
Obama has been at pains to praise his hosts during his visit to Poland. He has good reason to do so. Obama betrayed both Poland and the Czech Republic in his first year in office by revoking America’s commitment to provide those countries with missile defense in a vain attempt to appease Russia. The goal of this presidential European tour is to re-establish the close ties with our oldest allies and friends (such as Britain) that Obama did so much to downgrade since taking office.
But his bouquet to the Poles is also yet another instance of the president adopting the rhetoric and the arguments of neoconservatives, the ideological group that liberals like Obama used to love to hate. It was the neo-cons who spent the first decade of the 21st century arguing that America had a duty and a need to promote democracy around the world, especially in those areas like the Middle East, where democracy was virtually unknown (outside of Israel, that is). Liberals derided this belief as either a cynical cover for American imperialism or a hopelessly naïve expression of ignorance about Arabs and Muslims who, were told, did not share our values.
But, as with the first part of his Middle East policy speech last week (the part before he attempted to tilt the diplomatic playing field in favor of the Palestinians and against Israel), that promoted a freedom agenda that sounded perilously similar to the words of the despised George W. Bush, Barack Obama has yet again set forth his neocon profession of faith.
In truth, America’s freedom agenda is a much easier sell in Poland, which has always seen itself as part of the West despite its location next to Russia, than in the Arab Middle East. The Poles needed help ridding themselves of their oppressors, not in formulating a democracy. The problems faced by those who wish to establish democracies in the Arab world are far greater.
Nevertheless, it is nice to see Obama agree with the neoconservative formulation that freedom is for everybody not just those lucky enough to live in the West. The world will be a better place if he, and the liberals who elected him, follow up on those sentiments.
Mitt Romney wants us to believe that he is a man of principle, a paragon of political decency and common sense whose business acumen and personal integrity will help him lead the country back to greatness. But even though he looks the part of a man with steel in his spine, the former Massachusetts governor proved once again this week that he is merely a garden-variety politician who wants to be all things to all people.
The latest example of this character trait came on Thursday when he told Iowans, “I support the subsidy of ethanol. I believe ethanol is an important part of our energy solution in this country.”
The ethanol boondoggle is good for Iowans who grow corn but bad for America. The federal subsidy for the fuel additive is a long-running scandal that even those who benefit from it know must come to an end in an era of budget crises. Yet for decades, it has been an article of faith that those who wish to win the Iowa caucuses must pledge allegiance to ethanol.
Tim Pawlenty is betting that a refusal to play that game will help, not hurt his presidential candidacy. Pawlenty’s statement of opposition to the ethanol subsidy when he formally declared his intention to run earlier this week was a daring step but one that might prove to be good politics. Opposing ethanol allows the former Minnesota governor to establish himself as the mainstream candidate whose concern for the country’s future is such that he won’t go along with business as usual corruption even if it means discomfiting some Iowa farmers. It also allowed him to outflank Michelle Bachmann, a potent rival in the state for Pawlenty, who will have some explaining to do to Tea Party activists who believe all such government handouts are wrong if she waffles on the issue.
Romney’s backing for ethanol calls into question his pose as the guy who can make the tough decisions to balance budgets and eliminate waste and fraud. Though he’d like to be the man he speaks about when he puff his presidential qualifications, he just can’t help being who he is: a weathervane who goes back and forth on the issues depending on where he is and whose votes he wants. Even in Iowa, a state that he may not even actively contest next winter, Romney can’t stop pandering.
For nearly a century and a half—ever since President U. S. Grant declared “Let us have peace” in officially proclaiming a national day to commemorate all who had been killed in the Civil War—we the people of the United States have set aside a day to remember American soldiers, the best among us, who have fallen in battle. Originally called Decoration Day, the holiday was a sectional observance for several decades—the Southern states held a separate Confederate Memorial Day. Not until the Spanish-American War, when Northern and Southern soldiers together came under fire again for the first time in thirty years, did Memorial Day became a national day of remembrance. (This is a history that I have sketched in before. In a moving post at the Weekly Standard this morning, Leon and Amy Kass place the date of the expanded national holiday after World War I.)
American culture has become a victim culture, more comfortable with commemorating slaughter than heroism. The shift can be traced by comparing Allen Tate’s famous “Ode to the Confederate Dead,” first published in 1927, to Robert Lowell’s reply, “For the Union Dead,” read aloud at the Boston Arts Festival in 1960. A native of Kentucky who contributed to the Southern Agrarian manifesto I’ll Take My Stand, Tate acts as a guide to a Confederate cemetery, where the “wind whirrs without recollection.” He urges the visitor:
Turn your eyes to the immoderate past,
Turn to the inscrutable infantry rising
Demons out of the earth—they will not last.
Stonewall, Stonewall, and the sunken fields of hemp,
Shiloh, Antietam, Malvern Hill, Bull Run.
Lost in that orient of the thick-and-fast
You will curse the setting sun.
The front page of today’s Sunday New York Times leads with a story about the move in several state legislatures to require citizens to produce a photo ID when voting. The conceit of the piece is that this is a Republican plot aimed at suppressing the minority vote via “Jim Crow” laws that will make it difficult for the poor and the elderly to participate.
Republicans answer quite reasonably by pointing out, as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said when signing one such bill into law that, “If you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed, if you have to show a picture ID to get on an airplane, you should show a picture ID when you vote.”
The attempt to paint voter ID laws as racist is clearly a political tactic aimed at delegitimizing any effort to halt voter fraud. Democrats who oppose such laws claim that there is no evidence of attempts to steal elections via the votes of those who ineligible to vote (such as persons who are not citizens or illegal aliens) or who have already voted in another district.
But the problem with this argument is that stuffing ballot boxes with ineligible, fictitious or multiple votes by the same person is as American as apple pie. Such practices date back as far as colonial days and have been pursued with vigor in big cities and small towns and in every region and state of the union. The stakes involved in democratic elections are high and not just in terms of policy. Government patronage of one form or another has always been a standing temptation to cheat on the local, state and federal levels.
So are Democrats and liberals who oppose voter ID trying to tell us that we have reached an age of such political righteousness that we no longer should fear the possibility of stolen elections? This is, of course, a preposterous suggestion. It is even more preposterous when you consider that there are millions of illegal immigrants within our borders. Though I don’t subscribe to the fear mongering about the impact of the record number of illegals since most come here to work in the jobs that Americans don’t want and actually contribute to our society far more than they hurt it. But it is another thing entirely to say that we shouldn’t care whether non-citizens vote.
The working presumption on election security should be the same as that of airline security. We should presume that fraud is being planned at all times and act accordingly. It takes little or no effort to get a picture ID in this country especially since it is now a requirement in virtually every aspect of economic activity and travel. Voter ID laws are simply common sense. They are not racist or unnecessary and those who make such arguments are either deluded or grinding their own political axes.
On November 11, 2010, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Secretary of State Clinton issued a Joint Statement, following a “friendly and productive exchange of views.” Andrew Sullivan, Jeffrey Goldberg, Fareed Zakaria, and Joe Klein have asserted that the November statement is a smoking gun, proving Netanyahu manufactured a confrontation with President Obama over his May 19 Middle East speech.
At Time magazine, Klein wrote that Obama’s speech had employed the “exact formulation” from the November statement. Zakaria wrote in the Washington Post that the November statement shows “Netanyahu’s quarrel, it appears, is with himself.” In his Atlantic blog, Goldberg wrote it “fairly definitively proves that the whole contretemps over Obama’s radical new analysis of the Middle East crisis was ridiculous.” And Sullivan overtopped his Atlantic colleague, writing the statement confirms that Netanyahu is a “liar.”
The key portion of the November statement consisted of two sentences: (1) a U.S. description of the competing Palestinian and Israeli goals, and (2) a commitment about Israeli security requirements in any future agreement: