Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 1, 2011

The Temptation of Christie: Entitlements for Politicians

As Alana noted, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is taking a pasting from Democrats and the press over his use of a state helicopter to attend his son’ baseball game. But I think this is more than a case of bad optics. Christie, a politician who has rightly earned the admiration of much of the nation for his tough talk about curbing spending on entitlements has come down with a bad case of a different sort of entitlement problem: an addiction to entitlements for politicians.

We’ve all seen it happen before. A man of the people who is elevated to a high political office often starts out humble and down to earth, just as Christie has been. But it takes a lot of discipline and self-denial for anyone in such a position not to start thinking that they are entitled to be treating as a visiting potentate wherever they go. The State Trooper escort, the big car and yes, even the private air transport available to governors starts to seem normal and even ordinary. The temptation to take advantage of these perks even when it isn’t necessary or work-related is great. The tendency to think that one is indispensable and worthy of special treatment becomes second nature.

This is not the first instance when Christie acted as if the normal rules of political life didn’t apply to him. Last December, he chose to go ahead and fly to Disneyworld rather than to stay at his post as a huge winter storm was about to hit his state. While it could have been argued that there was little he could have done in Trenton about the weather, the symbolism of his high tailing it down to Florida while his constituents dug out their homes was not good. Moreover, Christie’s attitude was far from contrite, even arrogant about the controversy. It was clear that he felt he was entitled to do what he wanted even if it rubbed many voters the wrong way.

But Christie got lucky that week. During the same storm Michael Bloomberg took a similarly high-handed attitude toward snow removal in New York City and the resulting disaster overshadowed any dissatisfaction with Christie on the other side of the Hudson River. But it appears that Christie didn’t learn anything from that incident. If he had, he would have been more careful about playing the great man with his helicopter.

Considering the sacrifices that he rightly asked state employees and teachers to make, Christie may never quite live this down but it is a sufficiently minor offense that he can certainly survive it. Christie needs to take this incident to heart and rethink his attitude toward the trappings of power.

It would probably be  just as well if Christie sticks to his decision not to run for president. It appears that he has a lot to learn about the behavior Americans expect from their leaders. If he expects to go on campaigning, as he should, against the unchecked growth of entitlements, he is going to have to learn to curb his own appetite for the perks that politicians come to believe they are entitled to.

As Alana noted, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is taking a pasting from Democrats and the press over his use of a state helicopter to attend his son’ baseball game. But I think this is more than a case of bad optics. Christie, a politician who has rightly earned the admiration of much of the nation for his tough talk about curbing spending on entitlements has come down with a bad case of a different sort of entitlement problem: an addiction to entitlements for politicians.

We’ve all seen it happen before. A man of the people who is elevated to a high political office often starts out humble and down to earth, just as Christie has been. But it takes a lot of discipline and self-denial for anyone in such a position not to start thinking that they are entitled to be treating as a visiting potentate wherever they go. The State Trooper escort, the big car and yes, even the private air transport available to governors starts to seem normal and even ordinary. The temptation to take advantage of these perks even when it isn’t necessary or work-related is great. The tendency to think that one is indispensable and worthy of special treatment becomes second nature.

This is not the first instance when Christie acted as if the normal rules of political life didn’t apply to him. Last December, he chose to go ahead and fly to Disneyworld rather than to stay at his post as a huge winter storm was about to hit his state. While it could have been argued that there was little he could have done in Trenton about the weather, the symbolism of his high tailing it down to Florida while his constituents dug out their homes was not good. Moreover, Christie’s attitude was far from contrite, even arrogant about the controversy. It was clear that he felt he was entitled to do what he wanted even if it rubbed many voters the wrong way.

But Christie got lucky that week. During the same storm Michael Bloomberg took a similarly high-handed attitude toward snow removal in New York City and the resulting disaster overshadowed any dissatisfaction with Christie on the other side of the Hudson River. But it appears that Christie didn’t learn anything from that incident. If he had, he would have been more careful about playing the great man with his helicopter.

Considering the sacrifices that he rightly asked state employees and teachers to make, Christie may never quite live this down but it is a sufficiently minor offense that he can certainly survive it. Christie needs to take this incident to heart and rethink his attitude toward the trappings of power.

It would probably be  just as well if Christie sticks to his decision not to run for president. It appears that he has a lot to learn about the behavior Americans expect from their leaders. If he expects to go on campaigning, as he should, against the unchecked growth of entitlements, he is going to have to learn to curb his own appetite for the perks that politicians come to believe they are entitled to.

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Weiner Story May Have Hit a Wall

Rep. Anthony Weiner finally sat down for interviews with the cable news networks today, and he seemed to be just as evasive and nervous as he was during his catastrophic press conference yesterday.

But maybe Weiner isn’t interested in convincing the public that he’s telling the truth. Maybe he’s just interested in political survival. If that’s the case, doing the shows could have an upside for Weiner. Now he can insist that he’s done long interviews with each of the networks, answered all of their questions, and is moving on.

Honestly—where can reporters go from here? They’ve asked if he sent the lewd photo to the woman, and Weiner said no. They’ve asked why he didn’t call for an official investigation, and he replied that he didn’t want to waste the taxpayers’ money. They’ve asked whether it was a photo of him, and he said he “couldn’t say with certitude” but had hired a private firm to investigate.

Weiner isn’t suspected of doing anything illegal. The woman who received the photo doesn’t seem interested in discussing the issue. And without an official investigation—which only Weiner can call—there’s no way to find out for certain who sent the message.

That’s not to say that Weiner’s evasiveness isn’t repugnant. Clearly he’s completely indifferent to the concerns of the public. But unless more details emerge, the story may have just hit a wall.

Rep. Anthony Weiner finally sat down for interviews with the cable news networks today, and he seemed to be just as evasive and nervous as he was during his catastrophic press conference yesterday.

But maybe Weiner isn’t interested in convincing the public that he’s telling the truth. Maybe he’s just interested in political survival. If that’s the case, doing the shows could have an upside for Weiner. Now he can insist that he’s done long interviews with each of the networks, answered all of their questions, and is moving on.

Honestly—where can reporters go from here? They’ve asked if he sent the lewd photo to the woman, and Weiner said no. They’ve asked why he didn’t call for an official investigation, and he replied that he didn’t want to waste the taxpayers’ money. They’ve asked whether it was a photo of him, and he said he “couldn’t say with certitude” but had hired a private firm to investigate.

Weiner isn’t suspected of doing anything illegal. The woman who received the photo doesn’t seem interested in discussing the issue. And without an official investigation—which only Weiner can call—there’s no way to find out for certain who sent the message.

That’s not to say that Weiner’s evasiveness isn’t repugnant. Clearly he’s completely indifferent to the concerns of the public. But unless more details emerge, the story may have just hit a wall.

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Christie Should Know Better

Gov. Chris Christie may have an explanation for why he took a state-owned helicopter to his son’s baseball game yesterday.  And the scandal may have been blown out of proportion. But there’s no denying that the optics are terrible, and Christie’s opponents now have enormous ammunition to brand him a hypocrite on fiscal issues.

It’s the image that matters. After Christie and his wife landed at the game, they only stayed for 5 innings before jetting off to a dinner with a contingent of Iowa donors who were in town to woo Christie into joining the presidential race.

New Jersey Democrats argue that Christie has asked state workers to make financial sacrifices, but his use of the state helicopters for non-governmental business shows that he’s not willing to take the same hits.

“It’s an outrage, quite frankly,” Wisniewski, an assemblyman from Sayreville, said in a telephone interview today. “This is a governor who made a career out of criticizing other people for breaking the rules and here he is, breaking the same rules in a cavalier fashion.”

The Democrats now have a populist message to attack Christie with, which is something that he could have easily prevented. It’s really not unreasonable for taxpayers to expect elected officials to only use state-owned helicopters while conducting state business. There’s not much Christie can do right now but wait out the controversy, but this will likely to do some damage to his image on both a state and a national level.

Gov. Chris Christie may have an explanation for why he took a state-owned helicopter to his son’s baseball game yesterday.  And the scandal may have been blown out of proportion. But there’s no denying that the optics are terrible, and Christie’s opponents now have enormous ammunition to brand him a hypocrite on fiscal issues.

It’s the image that matters. After Christie and his wife landed at the game, they only stayed for 5 innings before jetting off to a dinner with a contingent of Iowa donors who were in town to woo Christie into joining the presidential race.

New Jersey Democrats argue that Christie has asked state workers to make financial sacrifices, but his use of the state helicopters for non-governmental business shows that he’s not willing to take the same hits.

“It’s an outrage, quite frankly,” Wisniewski, an assemblyman from Sayreville, said in a telephone interview today. “This is a governor who made a career out of criticizing other people for breaking the rules and here he is, breaking the same rules in a cavalier fashion.”

The Democrats now have a populist message to attack Christie with, which is something that he could have easily prevented. It’s really not unreasonable for taxpayers to expect elected officials to only use state-owned helicopters while conducting state business. There’s not much Christie can do right now but wait out the controversy, but this will likely to do some damage to his image on both a state and a national level.

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Ryan Confronts Obama Over “Mediscare” Tactics

By most accounts, President Obama’s meeting with the House GOP on the deficit today sounds as if it were a colossal waste of time. “We really didn’t hear anything new from the president,” Michele Bachmann told reporters after the meeting. According to Eric Cantor, Obama made the argument for more Washington spending, which isn’t exactly a surprise.

But the one positive part of the meeting was that it gave Rep. Paul Ryan a chance to confront Obama on the Democratic Party’s demagoguery of the House GOP budget plan.

“I said we’ve got to take on this debt and if we demagogue each other at the leadership level then we’re never going to take on our debt,” Ryan told reporters after the meeting. “I simply explained what our plan is—how it works. . . . It’s been mis-described by the president and many others. So we simply described to him what it is we’ve been proposing so that he hears from us how our proposal works.”

Ryan’s remarks to the president were very smart. Obama ran his 2008 campaign on the promise of moving beyond partisan “politics-as-usual,” and he hasn’t lived up to this vow. So not only did Ryan challenge the president on his misrepresentation of the House GOP budget plan, he also highlighted Obama’s failure to make good on his own campaign rhetoric.

Ryan’s willingness to confront the president so directly will also win him points with conservative voters, who want to see more of that aggressiveness from the GOP presidential candidates. The congressman is positioning himself well for a 2012 run, if he decides to enter the race.

By most accounts, President Obama’s meeting with the House GOP on the deficit today sounds as if it were a colossal waste of time. “We really didn’t hear anything new from the president,” Michele Bachmann told reporters after the meeting. According to Eric Cantor, Obama made the argument for more Washington spending, which isn’t exactly a surprise.

But the one positive part of the meeting was that it gave Rep. Paul Ryan a chance to confront Obama on the Democratic Party’s demagoguery of the House GOP budget plan.

“I said we’ve got to take on this debt and if we demagogue each other at the leadership level then we’re never going to take on our debt,” Ryan told reporters after the meeting. “I simply explained what our plan is—how it works. . . . It’s been mis-described by the president and many others. So we simply described to him what it is we’ve been proposing so that he hears from us how our proposal works.”

Ryan’s remarks to the president were very smart. Obama ran his 2008 campaign on the promise of moving beyond partisan “politics-as-usual,” and he hasn’t lived up to this vow. So not only did Ryan challenge the president on his misrepresentation of the House GOP budget plan, he also highlighted Obama’s failure to make good on his own campaign rhetoric.

Ryan’s willingness to confront the president so directly will also win him points with conservative voters, who want to see more of that aggressiveness from the GOP presidential candidates. The congressman is positioning himself well for a 2012 run, if he decides to enter the race.

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Why the Lid Blew Off in Egypt

Mona Charen has written a fine and fair column warning about what is happening in Egypt.

In the course of it she quotes President Bush’s words from 2003: “In the past, [we] have been willing to make a bargain to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. . . . Yet this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold.” Charen adds, “In that spirit, many former Bush administration officials cheered the uprisings in the Arab world. They argued, not without some plausibility, that the Freedom Agenda advanced by President Bush was bearing fruit and that the U.S. must, at all costs, associate itself with the people’s thirst for freedom and dignity and not with the repressive, discredited regimes.”

Charen goes on to make several points: (a) to be a conservative is to resist romanticism; (b) the rule of law, property rights, respect for the rights of minorities, and an independent judiciary do not spring fully formed from popular uprisings; (c) not all repressive regimes are created equal (Syria, Iran, and Libya are worse than Egypt under Mubarak and Tunisia under Ben Ali); and (d) post-Mubarak Egypt is a reminder of the dangers of chaos. On the latter point, she cites violence against Coptic Christians, intra-Muslim violence, improved relations with Iran, and a worsening economy in Egypt.

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Mona Charen has written a fine and fair column warning about what is happening in Egypt.

In the course of it she quotes President Bush’s words from 2003: “In the past, [we] have been willing to make a bargain to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. . . . Yet this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold.” Charen adds, “In that spirit, many former Bush administration officials cheered the uprisings in the Arab world. They argued, not without some plausibility, that the Freedom Agenda advanced by President Bush was bearing fruit and that the U.S. must, at all costs, associate itself with the people’s thirst for freedom and dignity and not with the repressive, discredited regimes.”

Charen goes on to make several points: (a) to be a conservative is to resist romanticism; (b) the rule of law, property rights, respect for the rights of minorities, and an independent judiciary do not spring fully formed from popular uprisings; (c) not all repressive regimes are created equal (Syria, Iran, and Libya are worse than Egypt under Mubarak and Tunisia under Ben Ali); and (d) post-Mubarak Egypt is a reminder of the dangers of chaos. On the latter point, she cites violence against Coptic Christians, intra-Muslim violence, improved relations with Iran, and a worsening economy in Egypt.

In response, there are several points that need to be made, beginning with this one: Most of the advocates of the Freedom Agenda are not romantic when it comes to revolutions, including the one in Egypt. Paul Wolfowitz, for example, was explicit in saying, “The possibility of a bad outcome is very real.” And some of us, in quoting Edmund Burke about the dangers of revolutions and warning that the Muslim Brotherhood could hijack the Egyptian revolution, wrote, “Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of history knows that movements claiming to stand for liberty, equality, and fraternity can end in a Reign of Terror.” There was explicit recognition that a healthy political culture is crucial if liberty is to succeed. And distinctions were made regarding the malevolence of various regimes (autocratic versus totalitarian).

Recall that when it came to Egypt, the issue wasn’t whether the U.S. should work to overthrow the Mubarak regime. It was the degree to which, once the indigenous uprising began, America could best influence the direction of events. The concern was that the U.S. would side with Mubarak, who was at that point destined to fall, and therefore lose credibility with those who followed him. That’s precisely what happened.

If Mubarak had implemented genuine political reform earlier, the political convulsions might have been less sudden and less severe. He didn’t, and the revolution came. The question critics of the Freedom Agenda need to ask themselves is whether, in the case of nations like Egypt, they were in favor of more repression in order to exert even greater control within Arab societies. Do they wish that Mubarak had begun to kill his own people in the manner that the Iranian and Syrian regimes have done? If not, what exactly was the alternative? To continue to support Mubarak and his sons, who themselves proved incapable of putting an end to the unrest?

Don’t get me wrong; many of us were moved by what was, at least in part, a driving force of the revolution in Egypt—the desire for liberty and an end to political corruption and oppression. That wasn’t the only factor propelling events, but it would be silly to deny that it wasn’t an animating issue. It’s worth adding that Iraq is evidence that Arab culture is not in every instance inimical to self-government. That journey has not been an easy one for Iraq, and its achievements remain imperfect and fragile. But certainly what is unfolding in Iraq is better than what preceded it.

Mona is quite right that prudence is an indispensible virtue. The question is whether it’s prudent to draw very many sweeping judgments about Egypt less than four months after Mubarak was overthrown. Things are still very much in a transition phase, and could well get worse before they get better. After all, it took the United States almost a century and a brutal, bloody civil war before it put an end to chattel slavery. Even in relatively good circumstances the road to self-government can be difficult. Nations will encounter significant setbacks along the way.

It’s impossible to know at this juncture what Egypt will eventually become. It may be that the pathologies there (and elsewhere) run so deep that self-government is simply hopeless. It may be that Islamist forces take control, as happened in Iran, and that Egypt a decade from now is more repressive, more anti-Semitic and anti-Christian, and more aggressive than it was under Mubarak. Conservatives should always open to the possibility that things could be worse.

But the lid blew in Egypt, as well as in other Arab nations, because people rose up on their own against repression, injustice, and widespread poverty. That is precisely what George W. Bush warned would come to pass. And whatever one felt at the time about the possibilities and dangers of the revolutions now engulfing much of the Arab world, American policy should be to use all the levers at our disposal, which are limited but not insignificant, to help guide the revolution in a direction that advances American interests and ideals. That is, I think, what prudence dictates.

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Democrats Get Attacked from the Left on Budget Delay

Last weekend, the New York Times editorial board unloaded on Senate Democrats for being too politically cowardly to release a budget plan. And now other liberals are echoing this criticism. At the Washington Post today, Dana Milibank noted that “the Democrat-controlled Senate hasn’t passed a budget in 762 days, a new standard for dereliction of duty.”

He also slammed Democrats for playing politics with the deficit:

It is just the sort of thing that offends Americans about Washington: The triumph of tactical advantage over the national interest. Democrats were understandably embarrassed about voting themselves a vacation so soon after abandoning their budget responsibilities. So when Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the top Republican on the budget committee, demanded a roll-call vote on the recess, Reid used the pro forma loophole.

Milbank isn’t saying anything new here. Senate Republicans have been making these same arguments for weeks. The difference is that Democrats were able to dismiss these attacks when they were coming from the right. Now that they’re coming from the left, it’s not going to be as easy for Sen. Harry Reid to ignore them.

Last weekend, the New York Times editorial board unloaded on Senate Democrats for being too politically cowardly to release a budget plan. And now other liberals are echoing this criticism. At the Washington Post today, Dana Milibank noted that “the Democrat-controlled Senate hasn’t passed a budget in 762 days, a new standard for dereliction of duty.”

He also slammed Democrats for playing politics with the deficit:

It is just the sort of thing that offends Americans about Washington: The triumph of tactical advantage over the national interest. Democrats were understandably embarrassed about voting themselves a vacation so soon after abandoning their budget responsibilities. So when Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the top Republican on the budget committee, demanded a roll-call vote on the recess, Reid used the pro forma loophole.

Milbank isn’t saying anything new here. Senate Republicans have been making these same arguments for weeks. The difference is that Democrats were able to dismiss these attacks when they were coming from the right. Now that they’re coming from the left, it’s not going to be as easy for Sen. Harry Reid to ignore them.

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Weiner’s Stonewall Hurting His Reputation More than “Prank”

Like many of those who have followed the astonishing story revolving around Congressman Anthony Weiner, I initially presumed that he was the innocent victim of a prank. But after days of his stonewalling as facts that smell a little fishy have leaked out, perhaps it’s time to for even those who support his liberal politics to come to grips with some basic flaws in his character.

At this point, Weiner’s refusal to call for an investigation of what would be a crime if his account really had been hacked, or even to answer reporters’ questions about why he was following the young woman who was sent the lewd tweet, is suspicious. Weiner may be completely faultless, but as his brutish tap dance routine with CNN showed yesterday, he’s acting awfully guilty.

Up until this past weekend, Weiner was the odds-on favorite to succeed Michael Bloomberg as mayor of New York City in 2013. But his refusal to answer a few basic questions about the episode has already done more damage to his reputation than anything allegedly politically motivated pranksters might have done. Indeed, it may just be that this arrogant and self-righteous man simply doesn’t have the common sense to stop lecturing the press when he should be doing what he can to put questions to rest. The longer Weiner keeps this story alive—and at this point it is he and not the press who is doing so—the less the vituperative Democrat looks like someone with a political future.

I’m still willing to give the congressman the benefit of the doubt about the incident. But this story may have opened a window into his character that has nothing to do with alleged sexual harassment. The story has exposed him, in a way that numerous other previous incidents of his bullying the press and abusing his political antagonists never have, as the sort of person who ought not to be entrusted with higher office. His innocence, which still ought to be presumed, is now almost beside the point. Weiner’s instinctive refusal to be as transparent about himself as he demands from others when they are in the cross hairs of the press during a scandal, illustrates exactly what a political lout he has always been.

Like many of those who have followed the astonishing story revolving around Congressman Anthony Weiner, I initially presumed that he was the innocent victim of a prank. But after days of his stonewalling as facts that smell a little fishy have leaked out, perhaps it’s time to for even those who support his liberal politics to come to grips with some basic flaws in his character.

At this point, Weiner’s refusal to call for an investigation of what would be a crime if his account really had been hacked, or even to answer reporters’ questions about why he was following the young woman who was sent the lewd tweet, is suspicious. Weiner may be completely faultless, but as his brutish tap dance routine with CNN showed yesterday, he’s acting awfully guilty.

Up until this past weekend, Weiner was the odds-on favorite to succeed Michael Bloomberg as mayor of New York City in 2013. But his refusal to answer a few basic questions about the episode has already done more damage to his reputation than anything allegedly politically motivated pranksters might have done. Indeed, it may just be that this arrogant and self-righteous man simply doesn’t have the common sense to stop lecturing the press when he should be doing what he can to put questions to rest. The longer Weiner keeps this story alive—and at this point it is he and not the press who is doing so—the less the vituperative Democrat looks like someone with a political future.

I’m still willing to give the congressman the benefit of the doubt about the incident. But this story may have opened a window into his character that has nothing to do with alleged sexual harassment. The story has exposed him, in a way that numerous other previous incidents of his bullying the press and abusing his political antagonists never have, as the sort of person who ought not to be entrusted with higher office. His innocence, which still ought to be presumed, is now almost beside the point. Weiner’s instinctive refusal to be as transparent about himself as he demands from others when they are in the cross hairs of the press during a scandal, illustrates exactly what a political lout he has always been.

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How to Avoid a U.S. Veto at the UN

In the Wall Street Journal, Fouad Ajami writes that by proceeding to the UN for a resolution, the Palestinians are misreading what transpired at the General Assembly in 1947. Jewish statehood was not the result of the UN resolution that year, but came from institutions formed over decades:

The vote at the General Assembly was of immense help, but it wasn’t the decisive factor in the founding of the Jewish state. The hard work had been done in the three decades between the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the vote on partition. Realism had guided the Zionist project. We will take a state even if it is the size of a tablecloth, said Chaim Weizmann, one of the founding fathers of the Zionist endeavor.

The Palestinian Arabs rejected a state in 1947 because it required the acceptance of a Jewish one, and have rejected two more offers of a state since 2000 only a tablecloth short of their territorial demands, unwilling to give up a “right of return” intended to reverse the results of the war they started (and lost) 63 years ago. They are turning to the UN without the basic political institutions necessary for a peaceful state (repeatedly unable even to hold scheduled elections) and without a self-sustaining economy (annually dependent on huge contributions by Western “donor states”). They seek a UN resolution not to effectuate a two-state solution, but as Noah Pollak noted, to create a weapon for lawfare against the first one.

President Obama thought he could head off the UN effort with his May 19 speech—effectively endorsing the 1967 lines, signaling he was prepared to run roughshod over Israeli objections, and calling for resumed negotiations notwithstanding the Fatah-Hamas agreement. He reversed himself three days later, saying his address had been misrepresented, having once again antagonized both sides. A knowledgeable Democratic congressman told me yesterday that Obama appears to lack a Plan B.

So here is a suggestion: convene the Quartet and have it reject the Palestinian effort, applying the principle the Quartet has repeatedly asserted (most recently on February 10): “unilateral actions by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community.” It is a principle that—unless it is applicable only to one side—would require a unified rejection of the Palestinian effort.

In the Wall Street Journal, Fouad Ajami writes that by proceeding to the UN for a resolution, the Palestinians are misreading what transpired at the General Assembly in 1947. Jewish statehood was not the result of the UN resolution that year, but came from institutions formed over decades:

The vote at the General Assembly was of immense help, but it wasn’t the decisive factor in the founding of the Jewish state. The hard work had been done in the three decades between the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the vote on partition. Realism had guided the Zionist project. We will take a state even if it is the size of a tablecloth, said Chaim Weizmann, one of the founding fathers of the Zionist endeavor.

The Palestinian Arabs rejected a state in 1947 because it required the acceptance of a Jewish one, and have rejected two more offers of a state since 2000 only a tablecloth short of their territorial demands, unwilling to give up a “right of return” intended to reverse the results of the war they started (and lost) 63 years ago. They are turning to the UN without the basic political institutions necessary for a peaceful state (repeatedly unable even to hold scheduled elections) and without a self-sustaining economy (annually dependent on huge contributions by Western “donor states”). They seek a UN resolution not to effectuate a two-state solution, but as Noah Pollak noted, to create a weapon for lawfare against the first one.

President Obama thought he could head off the UN effort with his May 19 speech—effectively endorsing the 1967 lines, signaling he was prepared to run roughshod over Israeli objections, and calling for resumed negotiations notwithstanding the Fatah-Hamas agreement. He reversed himself three days later, saying his address had been misrepresented, having once again antagonized both sides. A knowledgeable Democratic congressman told me yesterday that Obama appears to lack a Plan B.

So here is a suggestion: convene the Quartet and have it reject the Palestinian effort, applying the principle the Quartet has repeatedly asserted (most recently on February 10): “unilateral actions by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community.” It is a principle that—unless it is applicable only to one side—would require a unified rejection of the Palestinian effort.

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“I’m Rubber and you’re Glue” Diplomacy

In apparent retaliation for U.S. designation of Iranian individuals for their activity in terrorism and proliferation, the Iranian government has announced that it is imposing sanctions on 26 Americans, including: Generals Petraeus, McCrystal, Odierno, Franks, Sanchez, Casey, Mattis, Keane, Karpinski, Cody, Schoomaker, Briggs, and Jones; as well as former officials Jerry Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle. Probably reflecting the Islamic Republic’s own conflation of domestic security and foreign intelligence services, it also designated former FBI directors Robert Mueller and Louis Freeh, although it misidentified them as directors of the CIA.

Iran’s response may be both comical and amateurish, but prompts a simple conclusion. The Iranian leadership has yet to take seriously the international community’s concerns about its persistent violations of its nuclear agreements. At such a time, the Obama administration might want to ratchet up the cost of Iranian defiance. After all, those who read pragmatism into the Iranian regime’s behavior must necessarily conclude that such pragmatism makes Iran susceptible to cost and benefit calculations to its behavior.

In apparent retaliation for U.S. designation of Iranian individuals for their activity in terrorism and proliferation, the Iranian government has announced that it is imposing sanctions on 26 Americans, including: Generals Petraeus, McCrystal, Odierno, Franks, Sanchez, Casey, Mattis, Keane, Karpinski, Cody, Schoomaker, Briggs, and Jones; as well as former officials Jerry Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle. Probably reflecting the Islamic Republic’s own conflation of domestic security and foreign intelligence services, it also designated former FBI directors Robert Mueller and Louis Freeh, although it misidentified them as directors of the CIA.

Iran’s response may be both comical and amateurish, but prompts a simple conclusion. The Iranian leadership has yet to take seriously the international community’s concerns about its persistent violations of its nuclear agreements. At such a time, the Obama administration might want to ratchet up the cost of Iranian defiance. After all, those who read pragmatism into the Iranian regime’s behavior must necessarily conclude that such pragmatism makes Iran susceptible to cost and benefit calculations to its behavior.

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Is Hillary Clinton a Good Role Model for Sarah Palin?

On Bill O’Reilly’s show last night, Charles Krauthammer observed that it would be senseless for Sarah Palin to run for president at the moment—precisely because it could ruin her opportunity to run a successful political campaign in the future.

“I think it would make no sense for her to run,” said Krauthammer. “I think her chances of winning the nomination are small, the chances of her winning the general election are probably nil, I think for the same reasons you [O’Reilly] articulated, 60 percent negatives, that’s almost impossible to overcome.”

However, he compared her problem to the obstacles that Hillary Clinton faced earlier in her career. “[I]t isn’t as if that is forever. Hillary Clinton had very high negatives at many points in her career, but over time, they tend to soften,” Krauthammer said. “[Palin] has a future. Why would you jeopardize it by running now and losing?”

Although there are obvious differences between the ways the two were introduced to the nation and the way the media treated them, the comparison is an interesting one and Palin would be smart to follow her strategy. Clinton overcame her low negatives through hard work, both in the Senate and later at the State Department. Palin hasn’t shown that she’s willing to put in this sort of effort yet, and she hasn’t taken on any serious political role since resigning as governor of Alaska. Unlike Clinton, Palin has the charisma, intuition, and media savvy necessary to make her an extraordinary political leader. It remains to be seen, however, whether she is willing to be anything other than a celebrity politician playing to one segment of the electorate.

On Bill O’Reilly’s show last night, Charles Krauthammer observed that it would be senseless for Sarah Palin to run for president at the moment—precisely because it could ruin her opportunity to run a successful political campaign in the future.

“I think it would make no sense for her to run,” said Krauthammer. “I think her chances of winning the nomination are small, the chances of her winning the general election are probably nil, I think for the same reasons you [O’Reilly] articulated, 60 percent negatives, that’s almost impossible to overcome.”

However, he compared her problem to the obstacles that Hillary Clinton faced earlier in her career. “[I]t isn’t as if that is forever. Hillary Clinton had very high negatives at many points in her career, but over time, they tend to soften,” Krauthammer said. “[Palin] has a future. Why would you jeopardize it by running now and losing?”

Although there are obvious differences between the ways the two were introduced to the nation and the way the media treated them, the comparison is an interesting one and Palin would be smart to follow her strategy. Clinton overcame her low negatives through hard work, both in the Senate and later at the State Department. Palin hasn’t shown that she’s willing to put in this sort of effort yet, and she hasn’t taken on any serious political role since resigning as governor of Alaska. Unlike Clinton, Palin has the charisma, intuition, and media savvy necessary to make her an extraordinary political leader. It remains to be seen, however, whether she is willing to be anything other than a celebrity politician playing to one segment of the electorate.

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Egypt Not Looking Very Springlike

The term Arab Spring is one that speaks to the general sympathy with which the world greeted anti-authoritarian protests in the Arab world. But as we survey the region, it appears that those who feared that this year of revolutions might turn out to be another 1848—in which European liberals rose but were soon defeated by reactionary forces around the continent—may turn out to have been right.

While the success of repressive regimes in Syria and Bahrain are the most glaring examples of authoritarian regimes being able to suppress dissent (with the military stalemate in Libya another depressing story that has left Qaddafi in power in Tripoli), it appears that the most famous triumph for Arab protesters may turn out to be no victory for freedom after all.

As the New York Times reports today, Egypt’s military is increasing its censorship of critics in the media, making it all too obvious that the fall of Hosni Mubarak was more of a military coup than a successful popular uprising. Military control of Egypt may be preferable to that of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that is increasingly influential in that country since the fall of Mubarak. But it is far cry from democracy or anything approaching a free society.

Especially appalling are the revelations that the military conducted “virginity tests” on female demonstrators during the protests. This practice, which sounds more like an official policy condoning rape than anything else, puts the lie to the new regime’s supposed desire for accountability for the violence that went on at that time. Indeed, such stories place Cairo’s determination to try Hosni Mubarak for protesters’ deaths in a hypocritical context that is difficult to defend.

While those in the West have debated the virtues of exporting democracy to the Arab world, events in Egypt are making it all too clear that the outcome of the Arab Spring has little to do with anything that resembles our ideas of freedom.

The term Arab Spring is one that speaks to the general sympathy with which the world greeted anti-authoritarian protests in the Arab world. But as we survey the region, it appears that those who feared that this year of revolutions might turn out to be another 1848—in which European liberals rose but were soon defeated by reactionary forces around the continent—may turn out to have been right.

While the success of repressive regimes in Syria and Bahrain are the most glaring examples of authoritarian regimes being able to suppress dissent (with the military stalemate in Libya another depressing story that has left Qaddafi in power in Tripoli), it appears that the most famous triumph for Arab protesters may turn out to be no victory for freedom after all.

As the New York Times reports today, Egypt’s military is increasing its censorship of critics in the media, making it all too obvious that the fall of Hosni Mubarak was more of a military coup than a successful popular uprising. Military control of Egypt may be preferable to that of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that is increasingly influential in that country since the fall of Mubarak. But it is far cry from democracy or anything approaching a free society.

Especially appalling are the revelations that the military conducted “virginity tests” on female demonstrators during the protests. This practice, which sounds more like an official policy condoning rape than anything else, puts the lie to the new regime’s supposed desire for accountability for the violence that went on at that time. Indeed, such stories place Cairo’s determination to try Hosni Mubarak for protesters’ deaths in a hypocritical context that is difficult to defend.

While those in the West have debated the virtues of exporting democracy to the Arab world, events in Egypt are making it all too clear that the outcome of the Arab Spring has little to do with anything that resembles our ideas of freedom.

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Unprofessionalism at Voice of America’s Persian Service

When Voice of America appointed career foreign service officer Ramin Asgard to be the director of its Persian service, some officials raised concerns about the direction in which he would take this important institution. At the Enterprise blog, Trey Hicks raised three concerns:  First, emails released as part of a court process initiated by Trita Parsi show that, as a diplomat stationed at the Iran Regional Presence Office, Asgard proposed a scheme to support the anti-sanctions lobby group National Iranian American Council in which NIAC would handpick interns for the State Department office. Second, Asgard wrote an essay professing moral equivalence between the United States and the Islamic Republic for the lack of sustained dialogue. Finally, while conversant, Asgard lacked the Persian fluency for which the job description calls.

Speaking privately, several officials said that the blog entry gave Asgard too little credit, because his Persian was superior and that he was a consummate professional.

How disappointing it was, then, to read this entry on Voice of America Persian’s website (a very rough Google translation is here). The entry—about the Obama decision to grant Iranians multiple entry visas, is something I wrote about here at Contentions. The VOA report, however, reads like a press release for NIAC and ignores many other Iranian American groups involved in this initiative. The author Masud Alami quotes me as if he talked to me. Sadly, I never spoke with him. He simply quoted portion of a blog entry many months old.

Alami castigates “neocons” (the same neoconservatives who stood up for human rights in Iran before 2009, at a time when NIAC officers were still dining with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) without understanding that, outside conspiracy theories, neoconservatism prioritizes robust defense with promotion of democracy and human rights. Alami then argues that those who stand up for parity and two-way dialogue are motivated by a desire to make life tough for Iranians, an uncharitable fiction and editorial comment that does not belong in a news article.

As the Iranian government continues to crack down on the media in Iran, it’s essential that Voice of America step up to the plate to broadcast the sort of news which Iranian journalists would not be free to broadcast. Alas, it seems either that Asgard is asleep at the switch or hopelessly political. Either way, he does the entire Voice of America franchise a disservice which, hopefully, if he truly is a consummate professional, he will rectify soon.

When Voice of America appointed career foreign service officer Ramin Asgard to be the director of its Persian service, some officials raised concerns about the direction in which he would take this important institution. At the Enterprise blog, Trey Hicks raised three concerns:  First, emails released as part of a court process initiated by Trita Parsi show that, as a diplomat stationed at the Iran Regional Presence Office, Asgard proposed a scheme to support the anti-sanctions lobby group National Iranian American Council in which NIAC would handpick interns for the State Department office. Second, Asgard wrote an essay professing moral equivalence between the United States and the Islamic Republic for the lack of sustained dialogue. Finally, while conversant, Asgard lacked the Persian fluency for which the job description calls.

Speaking privately, several officials said that the blog entry gave Asgard too little credit, because his Persian was superior and that he was a consummate professional.

How disappointing it was, then, to read this entry on Voice of America Persian’s website (a very rough Google translation is here). The entry—about the Obama decision to grant Iranians multiple entry visas, is something I wrote about here at Contentions. The VOA report, however, reads like a press release for NIAC and ignores many other Iranian American groups involved in this initiative. The author Masud Alami quotes me as if he talked to me. Sadly, I never spoke with him. He simply quoted portion of a blog entry many months old.

Alami castigates “neocons” (the same neoconservatives who stood up for human rights in Iran before 2009, at a time when NIAC officers were still dining with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) without understanding that, outside conspiracy theories, neoconservatism prioritizes robust defense with promotion of democracy and human rights. Alami then argues that those who stand up for parity and two-way dialogue are motivated by a desire to make life tough for Iranians, an uncharitable fiction and editorial comment that does not belong in a news article.

As the Iranian government continues to crack down on the media in Iran, it’s essential that Voice of America step up to the plate to broadcast the sort of news which Iranian journalists would not be free to broadcast. Alas, it seems either that Asgard is asleep at the switch or hopelessly political. Either way, he does the entire Voice of America franchise a disservice which, hopefully, if he truly is a consummate professional, he will rectify soon.

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Obama Justice Department More Partisan in Hiring than Bush’s

During the Bush administration, most of the mainstream press did its best to hype one of the must trumped-up federal “scandals” of modern times: political hiring at the Justice Department. The notion that Bush’s Justice Department might be hiring more Republicans and conservatives than Democrats and liberals was treated as a shocking politicization of the legal system.

While the Bush administration did attempt to give its political appointees more control over the hiring at Justice, their efforts to pack Washington with like-minded lawyers differed little from those of the Clinton administration and virtually every other previous administration. Yet the idea that Bush’s Justice Department might be filled with more potential right-wingers than, say, Clinton’s was treated as a shocking ethical violation that demonstrated the utter corruption of his administration worthy of Congressional investigations and outraged editorials from the liberal press.

Fast-forward to 2011. What is going on now at the Justice Department? According to the New York Times, the Obama administration appears to be even more partisan in its hiring practices than Bush’s was. An examination of the resumes of lawyers hired to work in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department revealed that under Bush, a quarter of the new hires had conservative credentials while only seven percent had liberal ties. But during the first two years of the Obama administration, 60 percent of new hires had liberal credentials while the number of those with conservatives ties came in at a big fat zero.

In other words, while being a conservative appeared to give you an edge in being hired by Bush’s Justice Department, since Obama came into office the tables have not only turned (as one might expect) but the system has become utterly rigged. Being a liberal now is now virtually a requirement to be hired at Obama’s Justice while conservatives might just as well not bother.

Any day now the same Democrats who fired up investigations of Bush will jump on these figures. Right? And liberal editorialists, like those at the Times that flayed Bush for the politicized hiring at Justice, will also start inveighing against Obama. Any day now.

Don’t hold your breath.

During the Bush administration, most of the mainstream press did its best to hype one of the must trumped-up federal “scandals” of modern times: political hiring at the Justice Department. The notion that Bush’s Justice Department might be hiring more Republicans and conservatives than Democrats and liberals was treated as a shocking politicization of the legal system.

While the Bush administration did attempt to give its political appointees more control over the hiring at Justice, their efforts to pack Washington with like-minded lawyers differed little from those of the Clinton administration and virtually every other previous administration. Yet the idea that Bush’s Justice Department might be filled with more potential right-wingers than, say, Clinton’s was treated as a shocking ethical violation that demonstrated the utter corruption of his administration worthy of Congressional investigations and outraged editorials from the liberal press.

Fast-forward to 2011. What is going on now at the Justice Department? According to the New York Times, the Obama administration appears to be even more partisan in its hiring practices than Bush’s was. An examination of the resumes of lawyers hired to work in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department revealed that under Bush, a quarter of the new hires had conservative credentials while only seven percent had liberal ties. But during the first two years of the Obama administration, 60 percent of new hires had liberal credentials while the number of those with conservatives ties came in at a big fat zero.

In other words, while being a conservative appeared to give you an edge in being hired by Bush’s Justice Department, since Obama came into office the tables have not only turned (as one might expect) but the system has become utterly rigged. Being a liberal now is now virtually a requirement to be hired at Obama’s Justice while conservatives might just as well not bother.

Any day now the same Democrats who fired up investigations of Bush will jump on these figures. Right? And liberal editorialists, like those at the Times that flayed Bush for the politicized hiring at Justice, will also start inveighing against Obama. Any day now.

Don’t hold your breath.

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Revisiting Dennis Ross’s Obama Endorsement

Dennis Ross is an honorable man, even though I often disagree with his faith in diplomacy (especially diplomacy with insincere adversaries) and his analysis of Iranian decision-making. He joined the Obama bandwagon early, and campaigned actively for the President. While Haaretz has put this article down its memory hole, it’s worth revisiting its 2008 interview with Dennis Ross and why he’s working for Obama.

A few points Ross made then:

• “On the question of Israel, I talk about what I saw during his trip to Israel, how I saw his understanding of the relationship with Israel—he would describe it as a commitment of the head and heart. He looks at Israel and sees us as being two countries with common values. But he also looks at Israel and sees that whatever threatens Israel also happens to threaten the United States. So we have a [common] interest, because we end up facing the same threats.”

• “At the end of the day [Obama's] position is [that] we cannot impose peace, because an imposed peace isn’t peace at all. He’s more than willing to invest in the process, but, then again, how he does it and in what ways will depend very much on the circumstances, and obviously there are many other issues out there.”

• “I think that what impressed me the most is that he has perspective. He’s very thoughtful, he knows how to ask the right questions, and he doesn’t jump to conclusions. He’s careful with his judgments and he’s not afraid to ask questions, because he’s not afraid to have people ask him questions. I think he has a kind of personal character and the kind of temperament presidents need.”

Dennis Ross remains Obama adminstration’s point man for speeches to various Jewish, Muslim, and Middle Eastern advocacy groups. Much of the Obama whom Ross described in 2008 can now safely be relegated to the realm of wishful thinking. Accordingly, it might be time for an ambitious journalist to ask whether Ross stands by his previous assessments of Obama, whether he believed he could moderate Obama, or whether he allowed ambition to get the best of him.

Dennis Ross is an honorable man, even though I often disagree with his faith in diplomacy (especially diplomacy with insincere adversaries) and his analysis of Iranian decision-making. He joined the Obama bandwagon early, and campaigned actively for the President. While Haaretz has put this article down its memory hole, it’s worth revisiting its 2008 interview with Dennis Ross and why he’s working for Obama.

A few points Ross made then:

• “On the question of Israel, I talk about what I saw during his trip to Israel, how I saw his understanding of the relationship with Israel—he would describe it as a commitment of the head and heart. He looks at Israel and sees us as being two countries with common values. But he also looks at Israel and sees that whatever threatens Israel also happens to threaten the United States. So we have a [common] interest, because we end up facing the same threats.”

• “At the end of the day [Obama's] position is [that] we cannot impose peace, because an imposed peace isn’t peace at all. He’s more than willing to invest in the process, but, then again, how he does it and in what ways will depend very much on the circumstances, and obviously there are many other issues out there.”

• “I think that what impressed me the most is that he has perspective. He’s very thoughtful, he knows how to ask the right questions, and he doesn’t jump to conclusions. He’s careful with his judgments and he’s not afraid to ask questions, because he’s not afraid to have people ask him questions. I think he has a kind of personal character and the kind of temperament presidents need.”

Dennis Ross remains Obama adminstration’s point man for speeches to various Jewish, Muslim, and Middle Eastern advocacy groups. Much of the Obama whom Ross described in 2008 can now safely be relegated to the realm of wishful thinking. Accordingly, it might be time for an ambitious journalist to ask whether Ross stands by his previous assessments of Obama, whether he believed he could moderate Obama, or whether he allowed ambition to get the best of him.

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The Problem With Iowa and New Hampshire

Dave Leonhardt sounds a familiar complaint in his column in today’s New York Times: the disproportionate influence of voters in New Hampshire and Iowa on the question of who is elected president. But his argument is no less cogent for being both ancient and futile.

The unfairness of allowing Iowa and New Hampshire to go first and thus set the tone for the nomination contests is so obvious that it almost doesn’t need to be said. The other states that vote or caucus in January and early February have some say about the ultimate outcome, but none as much as those two since aspiring presidents spend most of the previous year camping out in them and largely pandering to their parochial interests. The willingness of so many to support federal subsidies for ethanol production, a boondoggle that benefits Iowa farmers, is merely the most obvious evidence of the absurdity of the system.

But there is more to this than ethanol. Leonhardt discusses the various economic implications (it is bad for cities since none of the early states are urban) of this system. The bigger issue is one of pure democracy. The nominating system is set up in such a way as to allow the major contenders to be sorted out from the also-rans in the early states and then have the issue decided among them by Super Tuesday. The design is no accident. The parties want the contest over early enough so that whoever has emerged from this convoluted process as the winner has time to raise money and unite their party before the nominating conventions at the end of the summer and then the fall campaign.

That makes sense for them but not for the country since outside of the unlikely prospect of a long-drawn out primary battle (the Obama-Clinton fight lasted until late in the spring but that was only because it took the latter who came into 2008 as the overwhelming favorite more time to accept the inevitable than most contenders require), the outcome will be decided long before the majority of Americans have a change to vote in a primary.

But complaints such as these are futile. The political class knows how to game this system and fears changes that might produce results they can’t anticipate.

It would take the combined efforts of both parties and their leaders to get rid of this antiquated and absurd system. But since anyone who wants to be president or would like to stay in the Oval Office doesn’t dare cross Iowa and New Hampshire, it’s hard to see how it will ever happen.

Dave Leonhardt sounds a familiar complaint in his column in today’s New York Times: the disproportionate influence of voters in New Hampshire and Iowa on the question of who is elected president. But his argument is no less cogent for being both ancient and futile.

The unfairness of allowing Iowa and New Hampshire to go first and thus set the tone for the nomination contests is so obvious that it almost doesn’t need to be said. The other states that vote or caucus in January and early February have some say about the ultimate outcome, but none as much as those two since aspiring presidents spend most of the previous year camping out in them and largely pandering to their parochial interests. The willingness of so many to support federal subsidies for ethanol production, a boondoggle that benefits Iowa farmers, is merely the most obvious evidence of the absurdity of the system.

But there is more to this than ethanol. Leonhardt discusses the various economic implications (it is bad for cities since none of the early states are urban) of this system. The bigger issue is one of pure democracy. The nominating system is set up in such a way as to allow the major contenders to be sorted out from the also-rans in the early states and then have the issue decided among them by Super Tuesday. The design is no accident. The parties want the contest over early enough so that whoever has emerged from this convoluted process as the winner has time to raise money and unite their party before the nominating conventions at the end of the summer and then the fall campaign.

That makes sense for them but not for the country since outside of the unlikely prospect of a long-drawn out primary battle (the Obama-Clinton fight lasted until late in the spring but that was only because it took the latter who came into 2008 as the overwhelming favorite more time to accept the inevitable than most contenders require), the outcome will be decided long before the majority of Americans have a change to vote in a primary.

But complaints such as these are futile. The political class knows how to game this system and fears changes that might produce results they can’t anticipate.

It would take the combined efforts of both parties and their leaders to get rid of this antiquated and absurd system. But since anyone who wants to be president or would like to stay in the Oval Office doesn’t dare cross Iowa and New Hampshire, it’s hard to see how it will ever happen.

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Ryan Is Right—Top Rate to Be 45% under Obama

In his May 16 speech to the Economic Club of Chicago, Representative Paul Ryan said that President Obama wants to raise taxes, including raising the top rate to 44.8 percent (the current top rate is 35 percent). Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact checker, points out that most of the media’s coverage of the president’s 2012 budget has focused on the president’s desire to return the top tax rate to 39.6 percent, the same as it was before the Bush-era tax cuts. “The top rate is currently 35 percent,” Kessler wrote. “So when President Obama said in his speech on fiscal policy last month that the wealthy (those making above $390,050 a year) would ‘pay a little more,’ we thought he meant an extra 4.6 percent. But Ryan is suggesting the increase is much more than that. Who’s right?”

Kessler does a fine job sorting through the claims and the numbers. His bottom line? “Paul Ryan’s attention-getting figure adds up and appears credible,” he concludes.

A top rate of nearly 45 percent is quite high, and conservatives would be wise to hammer home just how high it really is.

In his May 16 speech to the Economic Club of Chicago, Representative Paul Ryan said that President Obama wants to raise taxes, including raising the top rate to 44.8 percent (the current top rate is 35 percent). Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact checker, points out that most of the media’s coverage of the president’s 2012 budget has focused on the president’s desire to return the top tax rate to 39.6 percent, the same as it was before the Bush-era tax cuts. “The top rate is currently 35 percent,” Kessler wrote. “So when President Obama said in his speech on fiscal policy last month that the wealthy (those making above $390,050 a year) would ‘pay a little more,’ we thought he meant an extra 4.6 percent. But Ryan is suggesting the increase is much more than that. Who’s right?”

Kessler does a fine job sorting through the claims and the numbers. His bottom line? “Paul Ryan’s attention-getting figure adds up and appears credible,” he concludes.

A top rate of nearly 45 percent is quite high, and conservatives would be wise to hammer home just how high it really is.

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Jerusalem Day in the Age of Obama

Jerusalem Day is not just a date on the Jewish calendar anymore. It is a symbol not only of Israel’s desire to prevent the re-division of its capitol, but also of the breach between the Jewish state and its closest ally the United States.

Observed today in Israel according to the Hebrew calendar, Yom Yerushalayim is the 44th anniversary of the unification of the city of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War. The city had been divided in 1948 when the Arab invasion to prevent the birth of a Jewish state left one part under Israel’s control and another part in the hands of Jordan, which had seized the Old City and evicted Jews from the city’s ancient Jewish Quarter. The ceasefire that ended that war created lines that are now known as the “1967 borders,” which may be forever associated with President Obama’s demand that they serve as the starting point for any future Middle East peace negotiation.

The core of the “1967” problem is in Jerusalem. And it is there that Obama’s policy has moved the closest to Palestinian desires. Rather than taking it for granted that the Jewish neighborhoods that were created in parts of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 would stay in Israel’s hands, Obama has treated them as if they were no different from the most remote West Bank settlement. It was over the construction of homes in these neighborhoods where a quarter of a million Jews live, and not in the West Bank, that Obama’s last attack on Israel’s government was launched last year.

Those who propose “sharing” the city with a Palestinian state claim that the situation that existed on June 4, 1967, will not be recreated. At that time, “East Jerusalem” was Judenrein—no Jews were permitted to enter. The Western Wall was off limits for Jewish worshippers, and the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives was desecrated. It is important to restate the fact that the only time in the city’s history when its holy places have been open to worship for all faiths and believers has been since 1967, when they came under Israeli control. It is difficult, if not impossible,  to understand how this small place can be shared without more walls and more conflict. And considering that the Palestinians refuse even to negotiate, it’s impossible to understand what Obama thinks he has accomplished with his stance except to reinforce their intransigence.

Thus Yom Yerushalayim 2011 has a special political significance. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before Congress last week, virtually everyone in the chamber applauded his pledge that Jerusalem would remain undivided. Everyone that is, except for Vice President Joe Biden. It is incumbent upon those who still support this administration to ask why the president and his team have chosen to tilt so far toward the Palestinians on this question. And today is as good as any to pose the question.

Jerusalem Day is not just a date on the Jewish calendar anymore. It is a symbol not only of Israel’s desire to prevent the re-division of its capitol, but also of the breach between the Jewish state and its closest ally the United States.

Observed today in Israel according to the Hebrew calendar, Yom Yerushalayim is the 44th anniversary of the unification of the city of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War. The city had been divided in 1948 when the Arab invasion to prevent the birth of a Jewish state left one part under Israel’s control and another part in the hands of Jordan, which had seized the Old City and evicted Jews from the city’s ancient Jewish Quarter. The ceasefire that ended that war created lines that are now known as the “1967 borders,” which may be forever associated with President Obama’s demand that they serve as the starting point for any future Middle East peace negotiation.

The core of the “1967” problem is in Jerusalem. And it is there that Obama’s policy has moved the closest to Palestinian desires. Rather than taking it for granted that the Jewish neighborhoods that were created in parts of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 would stay in Israel’s hands, Obama has treated them as if they were no different from the most remote West Bank settlement. It was over the construction of homes in these neighborhoods where a quarter of a million Jews live, and not in the West Bank, that Obama’s last attack on Israel’s government was launched last year.

Those who propose “sharing” the city with a Palestinian state claim that the situation that existed on June 4, 1967, will not be recreated. At that time, “East Jerusalem” was Judenrein—no Jews were permitted to enter. The Western Wall was off limits for Jewish worshippers, and the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives was desecrated. It is important to restate the fact that the only time in the city’s history when its holy places have been open to worship for all faiths and believers has been since 1967, when they came under Israeli control. It is difficult, if not impossible,  to understand how this small place can be shared without more walls and more conflict. And considering that the Palestinians refuse even to negotiate, it’s impossible to understand what Obama thinks he has accomplished with his stance except to reinforce their intransigence.

Thus Yom Yerushalayim 2011 has a special political significance. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before Congress last week, virtually everyone in the chamber applauded his pledge that Jerusalem would remain undivided. Everyone that is, except for Vice President Joe Biden. It is incumbent upon those who still support this administration to ask why the president and his team have chosen to tilt so far toward the Palestinians on this question. And today is as good as any to pose the question.

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The Personification of Leadership and Integrity

Robert Gates—easily President Obama’s finest cabinet member—delivered his final commencement address as defense secretary on Friday. Speaking to the graduates at the U.S. Naval Academy, Gates (who has served under eight presidents and will retire next month) offered his reflections on the nature of leadership. His speech included this passage:

Self-confidence is still another quality of leadership. Not the chest-thumping, strutting egotism we see and read about all the time. Rather, it is the quiet self-assurance that allows a leader to give others both real responsibility and real credit for success. The ability to stand in the shadow and let others receive attention and accolades. A leader is able to make decisions but then delegate and trust others to make things happen. This doesn’t mean turning your back after making a decision and hoping for the best. It does mean trusting in people at the same time you hold them accountable. The bottom line: a self-confident leader doesn’t cast such a large shadow that no one else can grow.

A further quality of leadership is courage: not just the physical courage of the seas, of the skies and of the trenches, but moral courage. The courage to chart a new course; the courage to do what is right and not just what is popular; the courage to stand alone; the courage to act; the courage as a military officer to “speak truth to power.”

In most academic curricula today, and in most business, government, and military training programs, there is great emphasis on team-building, on working together, on building consensus, on group dynamics. You have learned a lot about that. But, for everyone who would become a leader, the time will inevitably come when you must stand alone. When alone you must say, “This is wrong” or “I disagree with all of you and, because I have the responsibility, this is what we will do.” Don’t kid yourself—that takes real courage.

Another essential quality of leadership is integrity. Without this, real leadership is not possible. Nowadays, it seems like integrity—or honor or character—is kind of quaint, a curious, old-fashioned notion. We read of too many successful and intelligent people in and out of government who succumb to the easy wrong rather than the hard right—whether from inattention or a sense of entitlement, the notion that rules are not for them. But for a real leader, personal virtues – self-reliance, self control, honor, truthfulness, morality—are absolute. These are the building blocks of character, of integrity – and only on that foundation can real leadership be built.

A final quality of real leadership, I believe, is simply common decency: treating those around you – and, above all, your subordinates – with fairness and respect. An acid test of leadership is how you treat those you outrank, or as President Truman once said, “how you treat those who can’t talk back.”

Whatever your military specialty might be, use your authority over others for constructive purposes, to help them – to watch out and care for them and their families, to help them improve their skills and advance, to ease their hardships whenever possible. All of this can be done without compromising discipline or mission or authority. Common decency builds respect and, in a democratic society, respect is what prompts people to give their all for a leader, even at great personal sacrifice.

There is great wisdom in these words; and they are easier to accept by virtue of the fact that Robert M. Gates himself personified leadership and integrity.

He leaves public life having served his nation very well and with honor.

Robert Gates—easily President Obama’s finest cabinet member—delivered his final commencement address as defense secretary on Friday. Speaking to the graduates at the U.S. Naval Academy, Gates (who has served under eight presidents and will retire next month) offered his reflections on the nature of leadership. His speech included this passage:

Self-confidence is still another quality of leadership. Not the chest-thumping, strutting egotism we see and read about all the time. Rather, it is the quiet self-assurance that allows a leader to give others both real responsibility and real credit for success. The ability to stand in the shadow and let others receive attention and accolades. A leader is able to make decisions but then delegate and trust others to make things happen. This doesn’t mean turning your back after making a decision and hoping for the best. It does mean trusting in people at the same time you hold them accountable. The bottom line: a self-confident leader doesn’t cast such a large shadow that no one else can grow.

A further quality of leadership is courage: not just the physical courage of the seas, of the skies and of the trenches, but moral courage. The courage to chart a new course; the courage to do what is right and not just what is popular; the courage to stand alone; the courage to act; the courage as a military officer to “speak truth to power.”

In most academic curricula today, and in most business, government, and military training programs, there is great emphasis on team-building, on working together, on building consensus, on group dynamics. You have learned a lot about that. But, for everyone who would become a leader, the time will inevitably come when you must stand alone. When alone you must say, “This is wrong” or “I disagree with all of you and, because I have the responsibility, this is what we will do.” Don’t kid yourself—that takes real courage.

Another essential quality of leadership is integrity. Without this, real leadership is not possible. Nowadays, it seems like integrity—or honor or character—is kind of quaint, a curious, old-fashioned notion. We read of too many successful and intelligent people in and out of government who succumb to the easy wrong rather than the hard right—whether from inattention or a sense of entitlement, the notion that rules are not for them. But for a real leader, personal virtues – self-reliance, self control, honor, truthfulness, morality—are absolute. These are the building blocks of character, of integrity – and only on that foundation can real leadership be built.

A final quality of real leadership, I believe, is simply common decency: treating those around you – and, above all, your subordinates – with fairness and respect. An acid test of leadership is how you treat those you outrank, or as President Truman once said, “how you treat those who can’t talk back.”

Whatever your military specialty might be, use your authority over others for constructive purposes, to help them – to watch out and care for them and their families, to help them improve their skills and advance, to ease their hardships whenever possible. All of this can be done without compromising discipline or mission or authority. Common decency builds respect and, in a democratic society, respect is what prompts people to give their all for a leader, even at great personal sacrifice.

There is great wisdom in these words; and they are easier to accept by virtue of the fact that Robert M. Gates himself personified leadership and integrity.

He leaves public life having served his nation very well and with honor.

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Gordis Calls Out J Street to its Face

It’s a testament to J Street’s waning relevancy that its highly entertaining feud with Rabbi Daniel Gordis has gotten very little attention over the past few days. Apparently the debate began during J Street’s leadership trip to Israel, when Gordis, senior VP of the Shalem Center and a COMMENTARY contributor, was invited to address the organization. J Street may have ended up regretting that invitation, because Gordis’s remarks cut a little too close to the bone.

The rabbi not only denounced J Street’s positions as “arrogant” and “intellectually shallow,” he also called the group out for supporting anti-Israel policies and promoting a condescending view of Israeli citizens.

“You think that those of us who claim that we favor a two-state solution but who are not willing to give up the store at this moment are bluffing,” Gordis said to the organization. “But that is arrogance of the worst sort. Does your distance from the conflict give you some moral clarity that we don’t have? Are you smarter than we are? Are you less racist? Why do you assume with such certainty that you have a monopoly on the wisdom needed to get to the goal we both seek?”

Gordis went on the say that J Street’s positions raised legitimate questions over whether it should be included in the pro-Israel “tent.”

“Why would you assume that we’re stupid, or immoral, or addicted to the conflict?” he asked the group. “Why do you insist that the Fatah-Hamas agreement is a good thing, or that it’s best for Israel if the United States twists its arm even harder? At a time when Israel is so alone, can you see why it’s hard for many of us to buy the argument that you’re genuinely pro-Israel, or that you should be part of the Big Tent?”

Since Gordis’s speech, J Street has defended its stance, saying that as a group of American Jews, it has a “different perspective” that can be a “unique asset” to solving the conflict in Israel.

“An outside perspective is often invaluable to cutting through the fog of war,” wrote J Street Board Member David Gilo in a response to Gordis in the Jerusalem Post.

From the sound of Gilo’s column, J Street isn’t much interested in taking Gordis’s advice. Which is unfortunate. The group really could use it.

It’s a testament to J Street’s waning relevancy that its highly entertaining feud with Rabbi Daniel Gordis has gotten very little attention over the past few days. Apparently the debate began during J Street’s leadership trip to Israel, when Gordis, senior VP of the Shalem Center and a COMMENTARY contributor, was invited to address the organization. J Street may have ended up regretting that invitation, because Gordis’s remarks cut a little too close to the bone.

The rabbi not only denounced J Street’s positions as “arrogant” and “intellectually shallow,” he also called the group out for supporting anti-Israel policies and promoting a condescending view of Israeli citizens.

“You think that those of us who claim that we favor a two-state solution but who are not willing to give up the store at this moment are bluffing,” Gordis said to the organization. “But that is arrogance of the worst sort. Does your distance from the conflict give you some moral clarity that we don’t have? Are you smarter than we are? Are you less racist? Why do you assume with such certainty that you have a monopoly on the wisdom needed to get to the goal we both seek?”

Gordis went on the say that J Street’s positions raised legitimate questions over whether it should be included in the pro-Israel “tent.”

“Why would you assume that we’re stupid, or immoral, or addicted to the conflict?” he asked the group. “Why do you insist that the Fatah-Hamas agreement is a good thing, or that it’s best for Israel if the United States twists its arm even harder? At a time when Israel is so alone, can you see why it’s hard for many of us to buy the argument that you’re genuinely pro-Israel, or that you should be part of the Big Tent?”

Since Gordis’s speech, J Street has defended its stance, saying that as a group of American Jews, it has a “different perspective” that can be a “unique asset” to solving the conflict in Israel.

“An outside perspective is often invaluable to cutting through the fog of war,” wrote J Street Board Member David Gilo in a response to Gordis in the Jerusalem Post.

From the sound of Gilo’s column, J Street isn’t much interested in taking Gordis’s advice. Which is unfortunate. The group really could use it.

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America’s Version of Japan’s Lost Decade

Much of the political world is atwitter about Sarah Palin’s bus tour. They need not be. She won’t run for president; and if she does, she won’t win the GOP nomination. Republicans want to win the presidency in 2012, and Sarah Palin simply cannot do that.

The more politically significant news is the more politically prosaic news. The American economy continues to flat line. We’ve seen that in the most recent housing data, which confirms a double-dip in home prices across much of the nation. The ownership rate, which peaked at almost 70 percent during the Bush presidency, is now at 66.4 percent, the lowest since the late 1990s. Some housing experts are predicting the level could drop to that of the 1980s or even earlier.

Not surprisingly, Americans are losing faith in the economy. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index fell to 60.8 from a revised 66 in April. It was the lowest reading since November. As a reference point, a reading of 90 indicates a healthy economy.

And as the Wall Street Journal points out, a growing number of forecasters are downgrading their second-quarter growth predictions. JPMorgan Chase & Co. economists revised down their estimate to a 2.5 percent from 3 percent while Bank of America Merrill Lynch economists cut theirs to 2 percent from 2.8 percent. Deutsche Bank cut its forecast to 3.2 percent from 3.7 percent. The Journal interviews economists about the specter of what it calls a “chronic growth problem.”

“We keep expecting the economy to perform along norms that are very difficult to achieve when you have this much private debt and public debt,” Carmen Reinhart, an economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, tells the Journal. She believes the U.S. could be in for a protracted period of subpar growth and high unemployment.

Barack Obama remains caught in a potentially lethal political tractor beam. And if a year from now the economy is in essentially the same condition as it now—and as it has been for more or less the entirely of the Obama presidency—the president will be the easiest incumbent to beat since 1980.

Obama is presiding over America’s version of Japan’s Lost Decade. That makes him not only beatable, but extraordinarily vulnerable.

Much of the political world is atwitter about Sarah Palin’s bus tour. They need not be. She won’t run for president; and if she does, she won’t win the GOP nomination. Republicans want to win the presidency in 2012, and Sarah Palin simply cannot do that.

The more politically significant news is the more politically prosaic news. The American economy continues to flat line. We’ve seen that in the most recent housing data, which confirms a double-dip in home prices across much of the nation. The ownership rate, which peaked at almost 70 percent during the Bush presidency, is now at 66.4 percent, the lowest since the late 1990s. Some housing experts are predicting the level could drop to that of the 1980s or even earlier.

Not surprisingly, Americans are losing faith in the economy. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index fell to 60.8 from a revised 66 in April. It was the lowest reading since November. As a reference point, a reading of 90 indicates a healthy economy.

And as the Wall Street Journal points out, a growing number of forecasters are downgrading their second-quarter growth predictions. JPMorgan Chase & Co. economists revised down their estimate to a 2.5 percent from 3 percent while Bank of America Merrill Lynch economists cut theirs to 2 percent from 2.8 percent. Deutsche Bank cut its forecast to 3.2 percent from 3.7 percent. The Journal interviews economists about the specter of what it calls a “chronic growth problem.”

“We keep expecting the economy to perform along norms that are very difficult to achieve when you have this much private debt and public debt,” Carmen Reinhart, an economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, tells the Journal. She believes the U.S. could be in for a protracted period of subpar growth and high unemployment.

Barack Obama remains caught in a potentially lethal political tractor beam. And if a year from now the economy is in essentially the same condition as it now—and as it has been for more or less the entirely of the Obama presidency—the president will be the easiest incumbent to beat since 1980.

Obama is presiding over America’s version of Japan’s Lost Decade. That makes him not only beatable, but extraordinarily vulnerable.

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