The latest bad economic news has sent political pundits into a frenzy of prediction as they speculate about whether a certain level of unemployment or some other measure of activity will doom the incumbent next year. Conservatives are mostly sure that if unemployment is higher next fall than it was in the fall of 2008, Barack Obama can’t be reelected. The same applies to the dismal figures about housing, gross domestic product and inflation. Liberals seek to spin things in the other direction.
But though his tendency is see Obama’s chances in a more optimistic light, New York Times blogger and stat freak Nate Silver’s work on this subject is valuable reading. Silver has written a couple of interesting pieces in the last few days about the question whose goal has been to see if there is some metric that will tell us with some degree of certainty at what number or rate of decline or advance will tell us who wins in November 2012. His inquiries ought to sober up Republicans. Though some of us speak as if the economic numbers are an absolute predictor of voter behavior, history teaches us that there are no hard and fast rules about such things. All we can say with certainty is that, as Silver admits, “The higher the unemployment rate in November 2012, the less likely President Obama is to win a second term.” But that’s as far as numbers crunching can take us no matter how many we look at.
In spite of the fact that we routinely speak of politics as a “science”—with every institution of higher learning having a department of the same name—politics isn’t science. Though political scientists struggle to create models to explain every thing that happens in politics, as Silver’s exploration of the nexus between presidential elections and economic figures illustrates, each election is a unique separate event with a host of contributing factors.
In 2012, we will be voting on the reelection of the first African-American president. Barack Obama is a man who will always be treated more gently by the mainstream press than any other president or his challengers. It’s also true that no president since Franklin Roosevelt has been able to get away with more distortions of his predecessor—about whom virtually anything can be said and anything can be blamed—as Obama. Yet he will also be operating with the handicap of a depressed base and a disillusioned youth vote that is the product of the unreasonable expectations excited by his first campaign. Even more important to the outcome is the identity of his Republican opponent.
Bad economic numbers and a justified perception that Obama’s leadership is precipitating a decline of America’s fortunes may doom his chances of reelection. But they also may not. As much as we should be interested in the economic indicators that all appear to be heading south, it would be a mistake to think that any of them is a code that can be used to decipher a future election.
Sarah Palin’s fans are nothing if not resourceful. Indeed, in some respects, they are good deal more resourceful than the object of their idolatry. In response to the chuckles that her halting and somewhat fractured attempt to explain the story of Paul Revere’s ride, they have dug up a passage from Revere’s memoir of the event in which he claimed to have evaded capture by a British patrol by telling them that the militia, whom he roused, was coming. Her fans, as well writers like William A. Jacobson, the author of the Le-gal In-sur-rect-tion blog, believe that means everyone who had a chortle at Palin’s expense must apologize.
The answer in this corner is: Not exactly.
First, the question that Palin appeared to be answering was what was the point of his ride. The answer to which is obviously that he and fellow rider William Dawes (who is largely forgotten to history mainly because Henry Wadsworth Longfellow felt two heroes didn’t make for as interesting an epic patriotic poem as one) were warning the Patriots that British were on the march, not the British about the Patriots. The fact that one of them ran into some Brits and fibbed about Americans coming in that direction is interesting but it isn’t really the answer to the question. If anything, a better argument to justify Palin would be to say that hers was a grand symbolic explanation in the sense that Lexington and Concord was a warning to King George that Americans would not be deprived of their liberty. But if so, it just shows she was trying to fake her away out of giving a specific answer in a manner that is all-too-familiar to those who have followed her career the last few years.
That said, Revere’s quote does technically get her off the hook. Of course, if you believe that this minor incident in the story of the ride is what she was thinking of when she answered the question then you are probably among the minority of Americans who think she deserves to be trusted with nuclear weapons. Because anyone other than a Palinite who watches the video of her answer knows very well that her bumbling response shows she was having a hard time coming up with a coherent answer. Palin’s inability to speak in clear, precise terms about questions of large importance as well as small (such as this) is a chronic problem. She is an articulate woman and many of her positions on the issues are actually quite sound. But she is unable to explain them in any depth because her body of knowledge is tissue thin. Whenever pressed by an interviewer who is not there to puff her, she stumbles and usually blunders. The fact that some of her gaffes can wind up being rationalized in some manner does not justify the pretense that she is person of substance.
Last week, I wrote that the Defense Security Service (DISCO) has slowed its processing and adjudication of security clearances. While my clearance is fortunately current for another few years and so I am not writing this for personal reasons, someone who knows the issue in wrote in, and I excerpt his email with permission:
The major problem with DISCO today is it works on a fee-for-service basis; i.e. it performs clearances for other government agencies and government contractors and bills them for the service. However, while contractors usually pay promptly, the agencies for which it performs the service are usually lax about paying the invoice presented by DISCO. DISCO’s annual budget basically covers its administrative costs and a handful of routine clearances. After that, it’s entirely dependent on the fees paid by the agencies for which it processes clearances. Once DISCO runs out of money, it must stop processing clearances until more money comes in, because the Non-Deficiency Act prohibits Federal agencies from performing work or delivering products for which it lacks funding. I was also surprised to discover that DISCO no longer has its own field investigators working routine clearances. My interviewer was a subcontractor from the Office of Personnel Management, who seemed not to have a clue regarding the kind of work I did or the necessity of meeting with foreign government, military and business representatives.
Again, I repeat: When we are at war, the inability of the federal government to streamline and speed up the clearance process necessary to win that war is inexcusable.
The Obama administration notified Congress late on Friday that, once again, it is not moving the United States Embassy to the state of Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Although Congress mandated that the embassy be moved to the city that is actually Israel’s capital in 1995, it included a waiver that allows the law to be flouted if the president believed America’s national security interests are at stake. Such waivers have been invoked every six months since the law’s passage and they have usually been sent out on Friday afternoons so as to limit news coverage of the decision.
But while the waivers promulgated by both the Clinton and Bush administrations always noted that the embassy might be moved at some point in the future, Obama has never even sought to sweeten this bitter pill to friends of Israel with even such a vague promise.
The question of moving the embassy is something of a chestnut for both the pro-Israel community and American politicians. Everyone knows that no American president would have the guts to acknowledge reality and, at least, recognize West Jerusalem (the part of the city that was not illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967). The Arab and Muslim world be very mad. But the sheer irrationality of America’s refusal to do so has always infuriated friends of Israel and often gave those who wished to pander to them an opportunity to grandstand.
That was exactly the purpose of the law that Obama just bypassed. It was sponsored by then Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, a politician who had never previously shown much interest in Israel. In 1995 he was preparing for his futile run for the presidency the following year, so it made sense for him to pretend as if he cared about Jerusalem. But the law, which was welcomed by pro-Israel activists at the time, did nothing to move the embassy. And the ritual of the waiver, which presidents of both parties have regularly invoked, has actually dampened support for the idea since advocacy for the move is seen as transparently cynical.
In spite of all that, President Obama has infused some life into the issue. His decision to speak of Jewish neighborhoods in the city as “settlements” that must be frozen and his insistence on using the 1967 lines as the starting point for future negotiations as opposed to Bush’s frank acknowledgment that those neighborhoods and the surrounding settlement blocs will always be part of Israel, has put the status of Jerusalem back on the political front burner. The applause from the Palestinian Authority for Obama’s decision on the embassy illustrates the way his stand has encouraged Arab intransigence on the issue. While both Clinton and Bush gave us the impression that they would like to move the embassy after the signing of a theoretical peace treaty with the Palestinians, Obama’s attitude is far more negative. America’s stubborn refusal to move its embassy has always been an obstacle to peace. But under Barack Obama, it is also a symbol of his administration’s hostility to a united Jerusalem.
Over the past nine years, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has undermined Turkey’s struggling democracy while building a virtual police state. Turks are afraid to talk on the phone; they assume their homes and offices are bugged; journalists can no longer report freely. At the same time, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has steadily implemented an Islamist agenda. The AKP now says that it will rewrite the constitution, a move which would further undermine checks and balances and move Turkey further into autocracy.
It’s against this backdrop that next week’s elections in Turkey become so important. Finally, Europeans are starting to wake up to what has happened in Turkey. Too many diplomats and intellectuals accepted at face value the AKP’s rhetoric that the Islamists represented democracy and the old secular order represented fascism. The secularists aren’t great—rampant corruption and a dubious human rights record rightly tarnished their image, but the Islamists have been just as bad and far more cynical.
Retiring the military from any political guardianship role is a noble goal, but the AKP pursued it for cynical aims: Removing a constitutional check on the abuse of power without constructing a new, viable civilian mechanism to defend the constitution. Indeed, Erdogan’s deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc famously threatened to dissolve the constitutional court as well if they didn’t stop declaring the party’s legislation unconstitutional. That State Department officials and journalists accepted Islamist declarations of democratic intent at face value, but treated secularists with disdain should give a pause for reflection and illustrated a great deal about the power of wishful thinking.
At any rate, it’s a good sign that the mainstream media is beginning to recognize the danger that awaits Turkey should the AKP consolidate power. The Economist, long a cheerleader for the AKP, had declared, “The best way for Turks to promote democracy would be to vote against the ruling party.”
Alas, the polls do not look good. Here are five. The AKP is the Islamist party, the CHP is the center-left secularist opposition, the MHP is the nationalist party, and the independents are mainly Kurds. It certainly looks like the AKP won’t have much trouble getting re-elected. The question is whether the MHP will break the 10 percent threshold. The way the Turkish system works, every party must get above 10 percent to win seats in parliament. If they get less than 10 percent, their seats are re-allocated in a way that benefits the largest party. That’s why back in 2002, the AKP was about to win 32 percent of the vote, but win an overwhelming majority in parliament. If the MHP doesn’t make it, and if the CHP under performs, there will be no stopping the AKP from cementing its transformation of Turkey.
On Thursday, Peter neatly summarized the reaction of many outside the New York Times newsroom who thought Jill Abramson’s confession that in her parents’ house the Times was not merely the newspaper of record, but holy writ. The newspaper and the liberalism for which it stood, she said, “substituted for religion.” As Peter says, it was “quite useful” for Abramson to say so openly.
Now it appears that Abramson may have had second thoughts about such an admission. Although one might think that the adherents of the church of the New York Times (dwindling but still substantial, especially the secular liberal Jews of whom she is quite typical) would find such words from their faith’s newly appointed pontiff to be quite inspiring, the Times magisterium has rethought Abramson’s confession.
As a number of bloggers wrote the following day, Abramson’s moving quote was removed from the Times’s website within 12 hours and scrubbed from the print version of the article on Friday. Although the first versions of Times articles that go up first on their website are often reedited for subsequent editions, as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto observed, eliminating such a revealing quotation had the feel of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in which inconvenient tidbits got tossed down the memory hole. Politico’s “On Media” column subsequently reported that, according to the Times spokeswoman, the elimination of Abramson’s religion quotation was merely a function of limited space and an editing process which is designed to substitute stale quotations for newer and fresher ones. Which is about as credible as the Times’s claim that the content of its news section isn’t written and edited with a massive left-wing bias.
Like Abramson’s words themselves, this attempt to eliminate from the official record an all-too-revealing expression of the thinking of liberals who not only read the Times but also edit it is also quite useful.
Thomas von der Osten-Sacken from the German NGO “WADI” has been a consistent voice for liberty and democracy in the Middle East. I have stumbled across Thomas in Iraq and Qatar, but wish I had been able to accompany him during his latest work in Libya. He has begun publishing photos he took from a recent trip to Benghazi. Too often, critics accuse American advocates for freedom of cherry-picking or, at the very least, neglecting to realize their Arab interlocutors are only telling them what they want to here. Thomas is no American (and, frankly, doesn’t look American). Hence, all the pro-American symbolism in these photos and those yet unpublished but of which I had a preview is important.