Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 27, 2011

Gaza Blockade Distractions

It took a day, but fortunately, the Israeli government has rescinded  the threat by the government press office to any member of the press who chose to accompany the flotilla set to sail to Gaza. The bureaucrats in Jerusalem should never have said accredited journalists found on a ship trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza would have their equipment confiscated and be banned from entry into the country for ten years. It is to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s credit that he quickly intervened to overturn this foolish decision.

However irksome the presence of the press on this pointless Palestinian propaganda mission might be, it does Israel no good to attempt to punish them. Those journalists on the ship may be covering a bogus story and may even, as is likely, be prejudiced against Israel and in favor of those planning this pro-Hamas stunt. But their status there is the moral equivalent of a war correspondent covering a different army and should be respected. Israelis are right to have their backs up about biased journalists puffing an effort to aid a terrorist state, but threatening the press is no way to improve your image or convince people to change their minds. Mark this story down as just one more error in the Jewish state’s long history of badly managed public relations.

A better riposte to a flotilla whose aim is to bring succor to a terrorist-run region that is not actually suffering a humanitarian crisis comes from a more literary source. Booker Prize winning novelist Howard Jacobson writes on the CNN website about fellow literary celebrity Alice Walker’s participation in the flotilla. Though he ignores some of her more egregious comments about Israel such as her belief  it is a terrorist state, Jacobson is on target when he notes that “good people can do great harm.” He patiently explains why Walker’s stance is not only morally wrong but undermines any chances for peace. So while I’m not sure a person who singles out the one Jewish state in the world for opprobrium that she never would hand out to any other country — a textbook definition of anti-Semitism — deserves to be termed “good,” Jacobson deserves credit for bringing some literary artillery to Israel’s defense.

It took a day, but fortunately, the Israeli government has rescinded  the threat by the government press office to any member of the press who chose to accompany the flotilla set to sail to Gaza. The bureaucrats in Jerusalem should never have said accredited journalists found on a ship trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza would have their equipment confiscated and be banned from entry into the country for ten years. It is to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s credit that he quickly intervened to overturn this foolish decision.

However irksome the presence of the press on this pointless Palestinian propaganda mission might be, it does Israel no good to attempt to punish them. Those journalists on the ship may be covering a bogus story and may even, as is likely, be prejudiced against Israel and in favor of those planning this pro-Hamas stunt. But their status there is the moral equivalent of a war correspondent covering a different army and should be respected. Israelis are right to have their backs up about biased journalists puffing an effort to aid a terrorist state, but threatening the press is no way to improve your image or convince people to change their minds. Mark this story down as just one more error in the Jewish state’s long history of badly managed public relations.

A better riposte to a flotilla whose aim is to bring succor to a terrorist-run region that is not actually suffering a humanitarian crisis comes from a more literary source. Booker Prize winning novelist Howard Jacobson writes on the CNN website about fellow literary celebrity Alice Walker’s participation in the flotilla. Though he ignores some of her more egregious comments about Israel such as her belief  it is a terrorist state, Jacobson is on target when he notes that “good people can do great harm.” He patiently explains why Walker’s stance is not only morally wrong but undermines any chances for peace. So while I’m not sure a person who singles out the one Jewish state in the world for opprobrium that she never would hand out to any other country — a textbook definition of anti-Semitism — deserves to be termed “good,” Jacobson deserves credit for bringing some literary artillery to Israel’s defense.

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What Constitutes a Fatal Gaffe?

Michele Bachmann seems to have erred today when she said in her announcement speech she drew inspiration from actor John Wayne from her hometown Waterloo, Iowa. Apparently, he’s from Winterset, and there’s a museum honoring the screen legend in that otherwise little known burg. The John Wayne from Waterloo is serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Oops.

This mistake will, no doubt, provide some good material for comedians. It will certainly linger in the public’s memory of her.  But is it the sort of gaffe that will really hurt her campaign?

Maybe, but I doubt it. Clunkers that help kill candidacies and blight careers are generally mistakes ordinary persons think are errors they would not make. The most famous and most damaging political gaffe may have been Gerald Ford’s astonishing statement during the 1976 presidential debate with Jimmy Carter in which he “liberated” Poland from Soviet rule. That was bad not only because it was a stupid thing to say, but because most Americans knew that Poland was a Soviet satellite and thus understood Ford had something dumb without having  smarty-pants journalists tell them that it was. Similarly, Dan Quayle never lived down his misspelling of “potato,” because most of us knew the correct spelling or at least pretended we did.

On a less earth-shaking level, Michele Bachmann’s statement earlier this year in which she placed the Revolutionary War battle of Concord in Concord, New Hampshire, rather than its correct location in Massachusetts was a genuine gaffe. Americans with even a dim memory of their school lessons know about Lexington and Concord.

But however embarrassing Bachmann’s invocation of the Wayne from the wrong town in Iowa may be, this is not the same kind of mistake. Most Americans, even many of those who still love the Duke’s movies, probably couldn’t have told you which state he was born in, let alone which Iowa hamlet has the proper claim to his legacy. So are we all really going to look down our noses at her because she made a mistake about a topic most of us did not know ourselves? Actually, a better question might be why a candidate would claim to be inspired by a guy who just played American heroes rather than any actual heroes. (Wayne was an icon of the cinema and made some true classics, but he stayed in Hollywood during World War II making movies rather than seeing action in the armed services like actor Jimmy Stewart and other Hollywood stars did.)

While it is arguable someone from Waterloo ought to know where Wayne was born, I find it hard to believe even the most hard-core Hawkeye patriots will not vote for Bachmann because she did not know. However, this gaffe does represent some poor staff work by the Bachmann campaign. Bachmann has just learned the hard way campaign speeches need to be fact-checked.

Michele Bachmann seems to have erred today when she said in her announcement speech she drew inspiration from actor John Wayne from her hometown Waterloo, Iowa. Apparently, he’s from Winterset, and there’s a museum honoring the screen legend in that otherwise little known burg. The John Wayne from Waterloo is serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Oops.

This mistake will, no doubt, provide some good material for comedians. It will certainly linger in the public’s memory of her.  But is it the sort of gaffe that will really hurt her campaign?

Maybe, but I doubt it. Clunkers that help kill candidacies and blight careers are generally mistakes ordinary persons think are errors they would not make. The most famous and most damaging political gaffe may have been Gerald Ford’s astonishing statement during the 1976 presidential debate with Jimmy Carter in which he “liberated” Poland from Soviet rule. That was bad not only because it was a stupid thing to say, but because most Americans knew that Poland was a Soviet satellite and thus understood Ford had something dumb without having  smarty-pants journalists tell them that it was. Similarly, Dan Quayle never lived down his misspelling of “potato,” because most of us knew the correct spelling or at least pretended we did.

On a less earth-shaking level, Michele Bachmann’s statement earlier this year in which she placed the Revolutionary War battle of Concord in Concord, New Hampshire, rather than its correct location in Massachusetts was a genuine gaffe. Americans with even a dim memory of their school lessons know about Lexington and Concord.

But however embarrassing Bachmann’s invocation of the Wayne from the wrong town in Iowa may be, this is not the same kind of mistake. Most Americans, even many of those who still love the Duke’s movies, probably couldn’t have told you which state he was born in, let alone which Iowa hamlet has the proper claim to his legacy. So are we all really going to look down our noses at her because she made a mistake about a topic most of us did not know ourselves? Actually, a better question might be why a candidate would claim to be inspired by a guy who just played American heroes rather than any actual heroes. (Wayne was an icon of the cinema and made some true classics, but he stayed in Hollywood during World War II making movies rather than seeing action in the armed services like actor Jimmy Stewart and other Hollywood stars did.)

While it is arguable someone from Waterloo ought to know where Wayne was born, I find it hard to believe even the most hard-core Hawkeye patriots will not vote for Bachmann because she did not know. However, this gaffe does represent some poor staff work by the Bachmann campaign. Bachmann has just learned the hard way campaign speeches need to be fact-checked.

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Ros-Lehtinen Pushes Obama to Recall Ambassador to Syria

House Foreign Affairs Chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is pressing the Obama administration to do what it probably should have done ages ago: recall Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria. The ambassador drew controversy last week after he participated in a regime-led tour of northern Syria, prompting concerns his continued presence there is being exploited as a propaganda tool.

In a press release today, Ros-Lehtinen said:

“The recess appointment of an Ambassador to Syria was an ill-advised overture to the Syrian regime by the Administration.  The Administration should reverse this mistake by recalling the Ambassador immediately.

“Ambassador Ford’s recent participation in a regime-organized tour of northern Syria provided legitimacy to a ploy aimed at covering up the regime’s violence against the Syrian people.  It compromised U.S. credibility with freedom and pro-democracy advocates within Syria at a critical time.

“The regime has made it clear though its brutal actions and through the refusal of senior officials to meet with the Ambassador that it is not interested in diplomacy.  Any continued presence of a U.S. Ambassador will either be used by the regime for propaganda purposes or just plain ignored.”

The congresswoman’s call comes on the heels of Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s bizarre visit to Syria today, where he is expected to meet with President Bashar al-Assad. The trip will likely be hailed by the Syrian regime and its state-run media as evidence Assad has international support and legitimacy. There isn’t much President Obama can do to rein in Kucinich right now, but recalling Ford would certainly send the message the U.S. has no interest in lending legitimacy to the regime.

House Foreign Affairs Chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is pressing the Obama administration to do what it probably should have done ages ago: recall Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria. The ambassador drew controversy last week after he participated in a regime-led tour of northern Syria, prompting concerns his continued presence there is being exploited as a propaganda tool.

In a press release today, Ros-Lehtinen said:

“The recess appointment of an Ambassador to Syria was an ill-advised overture to the Syrian regime by the Administration.  The Administration should reverse this mistake by recalling the Ambassador immediately.

“Ambassador Ford’s recent participation in a regime-organized tour of northern Syria provided legitimacy to a ploy aimed at covering up the regime’s violence against the Syrian people.  It compromised U.S. credibility with freedom and pro-democracy advocates within Syria at a critical time.

“The regime has made it clear though its brutal actions and through the refusal of senior officials to meet with the Ambassador that it is not interested in diplomacy.  Any continued presence of a U.S. Ambassador will either be used by the regime for propaganda purposes or just plain ignored.”

The congresswoman’s call comes on the heels of Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s bizarre visit to Syria today, where he is expected to meet with President Bashar al-Assad. The trip will likely be hailed by the Syrian regime and its state-run media as evidence Assad has international support and legitimacy. There isn’t much President Obama can do to rein in Kucinich right now, but recalling Ford would certainly send the message the U.S. has no interest in lending legitimacy to the regime.

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Dutch Considering Funding Cuts to Anti-Israel NGOs?

Late last year, it was revealed the Dutch government was pouring millions into anti-Israel NGOs, including the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO), which finances the Israel-hating Electronic Intifada propagandist website. But after months of debate, it appears the Dutch government may be inching toward defunding these organizations, according to a transcript of a Dutch parliament panel obtained by the Jerusalem Post:

According to the transcript, leading Dutch humanitarian relief organizations defended boycott, divestment and sanctions actions against Israel, prompting Johan Driesen, from the Party for Freedom (PVV), to say, “It was the first time I sat down to talk with the directors of the aid groups and I found what they said not only surprising, but disgusting, and I think the Dutch government should cut funding to organizations promoting this agenda.”

It is encouraging to see Dutch lawmakers are actually taking this problem seriously. According to the Jerusalem Post, the ICCO has already seen its budget slashed by $55 million euros this year, though it’s still unclear whether this reduction was due to the group’s involvement in the anti-Israel delegitimization movement.

Anti-Semitism is punishable by law in the Netherlands, and the Electronic Intifada has arguably crossed the line from legitimate criticism of Israel to targeted demonization of the Jewish state. If Electronic Intifada wants to continue to publish Holocaust denying screeds, then it has the right to do so on its own dime. But it sounds like Dutch lawmakers are understandably becoming reluctant to sanction this propaganda with taxpayer money.

Late last year, it was revealed the Dutch government was pouring millions into anti-Israel NGOs, including the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO), which finances the Israel-hating Electronic Intifada propagandist website. But after months of debate, it appears the Dutch government may be inching toward defunding these organizations, according to a transcript of a Dutch parliament panel obtained by the Jerusalem Post:

According to the transcript, leading Dutch humanitarian relief organizations defended boycott, divestment and sanctions actions against Israel, prompting Johan Driesen, from the Party for Freedom (PVV), to say, “It was the first time I sat down to talk with the directors of the aid groups and I found what they said not only surprising, but disgusting, and I think the Dutch government should cut funding to organizations promoting this agenda.”

It is encouraging to see Dutch lawmakers are actually taking this problem seriously. According to the Jerusalem Post, the ICCO has already seen its budget slashed by $55 million euros this year, though it’s still unclear whether this reduction was due to the group’s involvement in the anti-Israel delegitimization movement.

Anti-Semitism is punishable by law in the Netherlands, and the Electronic Intifada has arguably crossed the line from legitimate criticism of Israel to targeted demonization of the Jewish state. If Electronic Intifada wants to continue to publish Holocaust denying screeds, then it has the right to do so on its own dime. But it sounds like Dutch lawmakers are understandably becoming reluctant to sanction this propaganda with taxpayer money.

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Another Nail in the Coffin of Government-Funded Campaigns

In a 5-4 decision today, the Supreme Court cut down yet another attempt to impose a regime of publicly funded election campaigns in the name of “reform.” The court ruled unconstitutional an Arizona scheme that gave extra cash to publicly funded candidates who faced privately financed rivals.

The decision in the combined cases of Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett and McComish v. Bennett did not go as far as some critics of government-financed elections might have liked, but it did mark another setback for those who have sought ever since Watergate to impose schemes that severely restrict the ability of citizens to spend money on political speech. Rather than overrule the entire idea of publicly funded election campaigns, the court concentrated its attention on a mechanism that triggered extra money for some candidates based on how much non-government cash their opponents raised. This trigger system was rightly ruled by the court to be an unconstitutional violation of free speech, since it inhibited Arizonans from giving to candidates who do not take public money because their donations would only generate more taxpayer cash for their opponents.

The court was divided along the same conservative-liberal lines as the groundbreaking 2009 Citizens United decision that ended the government’s ability to restrict spending by groups on political causes linked to elections. Speaking for the liberal minority, Justice Elena Kagan said the Arizona law was constitutional since its goal was “less corruption” and “more speech.” But the very process by which the government sought to favor some candidates and not others based on the sources of their money was itself corrupt.

As Chief Justice Roberts said in his majority opinion, the notion of government tinkering with political speech in order to create an illusion of fairness is the problem: “Leveling the playing field can sound like a good thing. But in a democracy, campaigning for office is not a game.”

The good intentions of so-called campaign finance reformers have proved no protection against the creation of a system that is, if anything, more corrupt than the one they initially thought to overturn in the 1970s. This is an important point, although one the left fails to understand. So long as the government in the form of election commissions or courts is empowered to fine tune the back and forth of election spending, it is on a fool’s errand that will make more mischief than good. When it comes to all forms of political speech, the only thing for state or federal governments to do is to get out of the way. Money spent promoting ideas, causes or candidates is political speech. Efforts to restrict such speech will inevitably harm the cause of democracy.

Though a cautious conservative majority left the basic and faulty premise of publicly financed campaigns in place, this case may represent yet another nail in the coffin of that misguided cause.

In a 5-4 decision today, the Supreme Court cut down yet another attempt to impose a regime of publicly funded election campaigns in the name of “reform.” The court ruled unconstitutional an Arizona scheme that gave extra cash to publicly funded candidates who faced privately financed rivals.

The decision in the combined cases of Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett and McComish v. Bennett did not go as far as some critics of government-financed elections might have liked, but it did mark another setback for those who have sought ever since Watergate to impose schemes that severely restrict the ability of citizens to spend money on political speech. Rather than overrule the entire idea of publicly funded election campaigns, the court concentrated its attention on a mechanism that triggered extra money for some candidates based on how much non-government cash their opponents raised. This trigger system was rightly ruled by the court to be an unconstitutional violation of free speech, since it inhibited Arizonans from giving to candidates who do not take public money because their donations would only generate more taxpayer cash for their opponents.

The court was divided along the same conservative-liberal lines as the groundbreaking 2009 Citizens United decision that ended the government’s ability to restrict spending by groups on political causes linked to elections. Speaking for the liberal minority, Justice Elena Kagan said the Arizona law was constitutional since its goal was “less corruption” and “more speech.” But the very process by which the government sought to favor some candidates and not others based on the sources of their money was itself corrupt.

As Chief Justice Roberts said in his majority opinion, the notion of government tinkering with political speech in order to create an illusion of fairness is the problem: “Leveling the playing field can sound like a good thing. But in a democracy, campaigning for office is not a game.”

The good intentions of so-called campaign finance reformers have proved no protection against the creation of a system that is, if anything, more corrupt than the one they initially thought to overturn in the 1970s. This is an important point, although one the left fails to understand. So long as the government in the form of election commissions or courts is empowered to fine tune the back and forth of election spending, it is on a fool’s errand that will make more mischief than good. When it comes to all forms of political speech, the only thing for state or federal governments to do is to get out of the way. Money spent promoting ideas, causes or candidates is political speech. Efforts to restrict such speech will inevitably harm the cause of democracy.

Though a cautious conservative majority left the basic and faulty premise of publicly financed campaigns in place, this case may represent yet another nail in the coffin of that misguided cause.

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Real-World Effects of Anti-War Activism

I was too young for the Vietnam War to have been a formative influence on my political views, but I do recall how the aftermath of the war revealed something to me both quite revealing and disturbing about contemporary liberalism.

In the wake of the victories by the North Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge, many liberals simply ignored what followed their ascension to power. Progressives believed the leadership of these countries were comprised of enlightened agrarian reformers who would improve the everyday lives of people in both countries. What the South Vietnamese and the Cambodian people got instead was unimaginable brutality and horror — and what we heard from many on the left were excuses and indifference.

I was reminded of this in reading Max’s post, which quoted a tribal elder in Afghanistan, commenting on President Obama’s decision to withdraw more than 33,000 troops by next September. “This drawdown will embolden the morale of the Taliban, and actually it has already emboldened them,” the tribal elder said. The Taliban are saying to the elders not to support Americans or you will be killed, and now they say the Americans are leaving and your lives will not be spared. Read More

I was too young for the Vietnam War to have been a formative influence on my political views, but I do recall how the aftermath of the war revealed something to me both quite revealing and disturbing about contemporary liberalism.

In the wake of the victories by the North Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge, many liberals simply ignored what followed their ascension to power. Progressives believed the leadership of these countries were comprised of enlightened agrarian reformers who would improve the everyday lives of people in both countries. What the South Vietnamese and the Cambodian people got instead was unimaginable brutality and horror — and what we heard from many on the left were excuses and indifference.

I was reminded of this in reading Max’s post, which quoted a tribal elder in Afghanistan, commenting on President Obama’s decision to withdraw more than 33,000 troops by next September. “This drawdown will embolden the morale of the Taliban, and actually it has already emboldened them,” the tribal elder said. The Taliban are saying to the elders not to support Americans or you will be killed, and now they say the Americans are leaving and your lives will not be spared. ”

Yet we have figures like the liberal evangelical Jim Wallis urging the United States exit immediately, without even a single reference to the hellish future that would face the people of Afghanistan if that were to happen. Wallis argued something similar in Iraq, urging the United States to withdraw rather than support President Bush’s surge strategy. If America had followed the counsel of Wallis, Iraq would have descended into civil war and mass death.

None of this is surprising for Wallis or those who shared his worldview. After all, in September 1979, Wallis wrote of the Vietnamese “boat people”: “Many of today’s refugees were inoculated with a taste for a Western lifestyle during the war years and are fleeing to support their consumer habit in other lands.” (See this profile on Wallis.) Wallis’ words were disgraceful, a slander of innocent people who were fleeing a repressive government. And in Cambodia we didn’t see the emergence of social justice (a favorite phrase of Wallis’); what we saw instead was forced labor, slavery, starvation and the extermination of roughly one-quarter of the Cambodian population.

I recall my cognitive dissonance: Why weren’t those on the left –who took great pride in advertising their compassion for the poor, the dispossessed, and the downtrodden and who took special pride in their multicultural sensitivities — the least bit horrified by what happened and their complicity in it? Didn’t the mass graves, the genocide, and the killing fields bother them? Why weren’t there more liberals like Joan Baez, who supported the North Vietnamese until she became horrified at its human-rights violations (she eventually published a full-page newspaper advertisement describing the horror that had descended on Vietnam). Conservatism might not be perfect, I thought at the time, but it could do a good deal better than this. Call it a young man mugged by hypocrisy.

Indeed, it dawned on me then that for some on the left — not all, but for some — the expressions of concern for the suffering and oppressed was an affectation; what mattered to them was ideology, not justice and human dignity. And if great numbers of innocent people had to die in order to defend The Cause, that was the unfortunate collateral damage that needed to be buried along with the bodies. Liberalism, after all, was too important to be harmed by the stain of genocide, even if genocide was the unwitting result of its policies. We have seen some version of this play out many times since the wars in Southeast Asia, including in Iraq and now Afghanistan. Withdrawal and surrender are endorsed without seemingly a moment’s thought to the wholesale slaughter that might follow.

Here I want to add several important qualifiers, including this one: the first priority of American policy is America’s national interest, and if one believes war is undermining that interest, or the war itself is simply not winnable, then it might be prudent to withdraw. In addition, humanitarian concerns cannot be the sole, or even the major, factor in determining which hostilities America chooses to become part of. The suffering in the world is endless, and America cannot hope to put an end to anywhere near most of it. And when it comes to Afghanistan, the views of Wallis are extreme in their recklessness. There are liberals, and increasingly some conservatives, who believe a counterterrorism strategy is wiser than a counterinsurgency (COIN) one and entails significantly fewer troops to execute the strategy. Which is another way of saying while I think General Petraeus’ COIN strategy is quite clearly the best one for Afghanistan and has shown demonstrable progress since it has been in place, it is not self-evidently the only workable one.

My point is simply this: the human suffering that would follow in the wake of a premature American withdrawal, and a subsequent American defeat, has to be taken into account by anyone, of any philosophical stripe, who endorses such a strategy. To ignore that dimension, or to deny the facts when they are no longer in dispute, is dishonest. And those who like to strut about how devoted they are to the most vulnerable members of society — who take great pride in identifying themselves as activists for ethics in public life and place themselves in the “prophetic tradition” — need to be held accountable for the real-world effects of their policies. Bumper sticker slogans, like War No More, aren’t serious; and they need to be examined in terms of their human consequences. In this instance, it won’t be pretty. But for many anti-war activists on the left, it won’t really matter. They will have turned their attention to new efforts to promote social justice, to inspire hope, and to free the captives, even as those they leave behind will suffer, will bleed and will die.

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Debunking the Huntsman Hype

Yesterday in Politico, Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei wrote the definitive account of the mainstream media’s recent swoon over Jon Huntsman. To summarize their findings, which concurs with articles I also have written in recent weeks, his campaign is predicated on the following scenario:

That by the power of his personality, and with a few lucky bounces early in the nomination battle, he can unilaterally repeal rules of GOP politics that have dominated for a generation.

While they acknowledge many in the media, including their own Politico colleague Charles Mahtesian, think Huntsman is on to something, their response is succinct: “Fat chance, Charlie.”

Allen and VandeHei suggest the best analogies for Huntsman’s campaign are Bruce Babbitt, who flopped despite heavy media support in 1988, and Bill Bradley’s similarly over-hyped and elite driven effort to win the 2000 Democratic nomination. But at least in that lopsided contest against Al Gore, Bradley was able to go at his competition in a one-on-one matchup. Huntsman may be unique in that he is the least hostile to Obama of all the Republican candidates, but that’s not exactly the sort of ground you want to stake out in a party united solely by hostility to the president. Nor is it likely the GOP is ready to embrace a leader who is to the left of Obama on Afghanistan and thought the stimulus was too small.

The other surprising point in their piece is the impression of Huntsman as a less than energetic candidate. Allen and VandeHei describe Huntsman’s demeanor during interviews as so low-key he made Tim Pawlenty “seem downright electric.” If, as they note, Huntsman is already complaining of being tired out by a few weeks of campaigning, how will he survive the next year if his bid lasts that long? It makes you wonder about his campaign promo film that has him (or someone we are supposed to presume is Huntsman) riding a motorcycle across the Western landscape.

If Huntsman has the money to keep going through the early primaries, he’ll have the opportunity to prove cynics wrong. But until then, it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion the buzz about his candidacy is purely a creation of the media.

Yesterday in Politico, Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei wrote the definitive account of the mainstream media’s recent swoon over Jon Huntsman. To summarize their findings, which concurs with articles I also have written in recent weeks, his campaign is predicated on the following scenario:

That by the power of his personality, and with a few lucky bounces early in the nomination battle, he can unilaterally repeal rules of GOP politics that have dominated for a generation.

While they acknowledge many in the media, including their own Politico colleague Charles Mahtesian, think Huntsman is on to something, their response is succinct: “Fat chance, Charlie.”

Allen and VandeHei suggest the best analogies for Huntsman’s campaign are Bruce Babbitt, who flopped despite heavy media support in 1988, and Bill Bradley’s similarly over-hyped and elite driven effort to win the 2000 Democratic nomination. But at least in that lopsided contest against Al Gore, Bradley was able to go at his competition in a one-on-one matchup. Huntsman may be unique in that he is the least hostile to Obama of all the Republican candidates, but that’s not exactly the sort of ground you want to stake out in a party united solely by hostility to the president. Nor is it likely the GOP is ready to embrace a leader who is to the left of Obama on Afghanistan and thought the stimulus was too small.

The other surprising point in their piece is the impression of Huntsman as a less than energetic candidate. Allen and VandeHei describe Huntsman’s demeanor during interviews as so low-key he made Tim Pawlenty “seem downright electric.” If, as they note, Huntsman is already complaining of being tired out by a few weeks of campaigning, how will he survive the next year if his bid lasts that long? It makes you wonder about his campaign promo film that has him (or someone we are supposed to presume is Huntsman) riding a motorcycle across the Western landscape.

If Huntsman has the money to keep going through the early primaries, he’ll have the opportunity to prove cynics wrong. But until then, it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion the buzz about his candidacy is purely a creation of the media.

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Feds Misled Public on “Backdoor Amnesty” Scandal

What’s the federal government to do when its plans for amnesty for illegal immigrants are rejected by the general public? If it’s the Obama administration, it goes ahead and does it anyway, and then denies the truth to the public, Congress and the news media.

Last summer, it was revealed an increasing number of illegal immigration deportation cases were being dismissed, apparently with the approval of the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). When the Senate began investigating last fall, ICE officials downplayed its involvement in the issue, saying it was only approving dismissals for a small number of immigrants who fit rigorous criteria.

But the truth has a way of coming out. An investigation by the Houston Chronicle revealed today the Houston ICE office actually ordered its immigration attorneys to file dismissals for any immigrants who didn’t meet the agency’s “top priorities.” And these orders appear to have been given the green-light by Washington ICE officials: Read More

What’s the federal government to do when its plans for amnesty for illegal immigrants are rejected by the general public? If it’s the Obama administration, it goes ahead and does it anyway, and then denies the truth to the public, Congress and the news media.

Last summer, it was revealed an increasing number of illegal immigration deportation cases were being dismissed, apparently with the approval of the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). When the Senate began investigating last fall, ICE officials downplayed its involvement in the issue, saying it was only approving dismissals for a small number of immigrants who fit rigorous criteria.

But the truth has a way of coming out. An investigation by the Houston Chronicle revealed today the Houston ICE office actually ordered its immigration attorneys to file dismissals for any immigrants who didn’t meet the agency’s “top priorities.” And these orders appear to have been given the green-light by Washington ICE officials:

[Houston ICE chief counsel Gary L.] Goldman sent out a memo dated Aug. 12 to all his attorneys, ordering them to consider filing motions to dismiss cases that did not meet with the agency’s top priorities. He also created a task force of attorneys to conduct a review of thousands of files on Houston’s immigration court docket to determine whether they merited dismissal, the memo shows.

Moments after Goldman emailed the memo to his staff in Houston, he forwarded it to ICE leadership in Washington. Riah Ramlogan, then the acting field director for the ICE’s legal office at agency headquarters, replied: “Outstanding, Gary,” and asked him to share details of the local effort on the next national conference call for top ICE attorneys.

Most damning for the administration is the wide range of illegal immigration cases that apparently met the criteria for dismissal. The documents reveal attorneys were even encouraged to file dismissals for illegal immigrants with prior criminal records:

However, the newly released documents show conclusively that government attorneys in Houston were given wide latitude to file motions to dismiss cases, including some involving immigrants with convictions for primarily misdemeanor offenses.

This could have the makings of a major scandal for the Obama administration, especially since Sen. John Cornyn, ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration, has indicated he’s interested in investigating the case further.

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The Hague, Obama and the Libyan Stalemate

The arrest warrants issued this morning by the International Criminal Court in The Hague against Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, his son, as well as his regime’s chief of intelligence, are not what generally resolves conflicts. If there was any doubt the Qaddafi clan had no choice but to fight to the bitter end, the warrants make it clear they don’t have the option of fleeing to a safe retirement in a neutral country.

On the surface, that might mean the currently deadlocked Libyan war could go on forever. The Libyan rebels, with NATO assistance, are just strong enough to hold onto their strongholds in the eastern part of the country, and Qaddafi appears to have enough power at his disposal to hang on to the rest of Libya. The question now is whether these formal war crimes charges will convince NATO and/or the United States its participation in the struggle–which has been just enough to ensure the war is not won or lost by either side–ought to expand.

On the surface, the odds of that happening appear slim. After all, President Obama can’t or won’t make a compelling argument either to the American people or to Congress on behalf of the U.S. involvement in Libya. With Congress pressuring the president to invoke the War Powers Act and members of both parties openly criticizing both Obama’s decision to intervene and his refusal to call the fighting there “hostilities,” it is highly unlikely the president will choose this moment to step up American participation.

The Europeans, who are actually conducting air combat operations over Libya, are just as divided about this undeclared war as the Americans. Americans don’t give a hoot about international law or the court in The Hague. But, the warrants issued by the ICC are bound to be treated as a very big deal on the continent. Support for an effort to arrest Qaddafi or to provide the rebels with more help might now ensue.

Still, without direct U.S. participation in the fighting, it’s hard to imagine NATO forces having the ability to knock off Qaddafi or put a quick end to his regime. In the end, all these warrants may accomplish is to highlight the ineffectiveness of the half-hearted NATO/U.S. attitude to this war. Giving the rebels just enough help to keep them fighting but not enough to help them win, let alone capture Qaddafi, may be politically expedient, but the result is a bloody stalemate that does neither the West nor the people of Libya much good.


The arrest warrants issued this morning by the International Criminal Court in The Hague against Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, his son, as well as his regime’s chief of intelligence, are not what generally resolves conflicts. If there was any doubt the Qaddafi clan had no choice but to fight to the bitter end, the warrants make it clear they don’t have the option of fleeing to a safe retirement in a neutral country.

On the surface, that might mean the currently deadlocked Libyan war could go on forever. The Libyan rebels, with NATO assistance, are just strong enough to hold onto their strongholds in the eastern part of the country, and Qaddafi appears to have enough power at his disposal to hang on to the rest of Libya. The question now is whether these formal war crimes charges will convince NATO and/or the United States its participation in the struggle–which has been just enough to ensure the war is not won or lost by either side–ought to expand.

On the surface, the odds of that happening appear slim. After all, President Obama can’t or won’t make a compelling argument either to the American people or to Congress on behalf of the U.S. involvement in Libya. With Congress pressuring the president to invoke the War Powers Act and members of both parties openly criticizing both Obama’s decision to intervene and his refusal to call the fighting there “hostilities,” it is highly unlikely the president will choose this moment to step up American participation.

The Europeans, who are actually conducting air combat operations over Libya, are just as divided about this undeclared war as the Americans. Americans don’t give a hoot about international law or the court in The Hague. But, the warrants issued by the ICC are bound to be treated as a very big deal on the continent. Support for an effort to arrest Qaddafi or to provide the rebels with more help might now ensue.

Still, without direct U.S. participation in the fighting, it’s hard to imagine NATO forces having the ability to knock off Qaddafi or put a quick end to his regime. In the end, all these warrants may accomplish is to highlight the ineffectiveness of the half-hearted NATO/U.S. attitude to this war. Giving the rebels just enough help to keep them fighting but not enough to help them win, let alone capture Qaddafi, may be politically expedient, but the result is a bloody stalemate that does neither the West nor the people of Libya much good.


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Taliban Making Desperate Moves

It is a shame President Obama is signaling retreat in Afghanistan. The Taliban are clearly feeling the pressure from coalition operations. How else to explain such desperate moves as sending a suicide bomber to attack a public hospital? The subsequent blast killed 25 civilians, mainly women and children. Or tricking an eight-year-old girl into becoming an unwitting suicide bomber?

These types of barbaric attacks are certain to alienate the population–as even the Taliban themselves have acknowledged in the past by issuing directives against causing needless civilian casualties. That the Taliban are reduced to such extremes shows how little luck they are having in actually fighting coalition troops and their Afghan allies. It is nothing short of a tragedy that at this moment, when the battle is finally going against the Taliban, Obama is providing them with what amounts to a reprieve.

It is a shame President Obama is signaling retreat in Afghanistan. The Taliban are clearly feeling the pressure from coalition operations. How else to explain such desperate moves as sending a suicide bomber to attack a public hospital? The subsequent blast killed 25 civilians, mainly women and children. Or tricking an eight-year-old girl into becoming an unwitting suicide bomber?

These types of barbaric attacks are certain to alienate the population–as even the Taliban themselves have acknowledged in the past by issuing directives against causing needless civilian casualties. That the Taliban are reduced to such extremes shows how little luck they are having in actually fighting coalition troops and their Afghan allies. It is nothing short of a tragedy that at this moment, when the battle is finally going against the Taliban, Obama is providing them with what amounts to a reprieve.

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As News Becomes More Polarized, Trust in Media Increases

It might sound counterintuitive, but the latest Gallup poll found the public’s confidence in television news has grown as the media has become more ideologically “polarized”:

The views of Americans aged 18 to 29 exhibited the most mixed year-to-year change, with this group showing a 10-point increase in confidence in television news but a 10-point decrease in confidence in newspapers. While members of this group remain among the most confident in each, their views are now on par with those of Democrats and liberals. Republicans also showed inconsistent movement in their opinions, registering a nine-point increase in their confidence in television news and essentially no change in their views of newspapers. Interestingly, considering the highly polarized nature of cable news, all ideological groups increased their trust in television news to about the same degree.

In other words, the Rupert Murdoch model is working – and there’s a good reason why. Before the Fox News Channel, conservative trust in TV news was almost nonexistent because of the pervasive (and undisclosed) liberal bias of the network news stations. FNC not only countered this by hiring journalists who gave the other side of the story, it also laid its cards on the table by hiring openly conservative commentators and pundits for its primetime lineup.

Unlike the network news stations, FNC has never tried to hide its ideological programming. The same goes for the left-leaning MSNBC. Disclosing biases arms viewers with more information, helping them decide which programs they want to watch and how much credence they want to give to each news show.

One other interesting part of the Gallup poll was that public confidence in newspapers did not rise alongside trust in TV news. This might be due to the fact newspapers have not latched onto the same model as cable news. Though the poll did not test for this, it would be interesting to see whether public trust in ultra-polarized online news has increased. If so, this could be a strategy newspapers might want to consider emulating.

It might sound counterintuitive, but the latest Gallup poll found the public’s confidence in television news has grown as the media has become more ideologically “polarized”:

The views of Americans aged 18 to 29 exhibited the most mixed year-to-year change, with this group showing a 10-point increase in confidence in television news but a 10-point decrease in confidence in newspapers. While members of this group remain among the most confident in each, their views are now on par with those of Democrats and liberals. Republicans also showed inconsistent movement in their opinions, registering a nine-point increase in their confidence in television news and essentially no change in their views of newspapers. Interestingly, considering the highly polarized nature of cable news, all ideological groups increased their trust in television news to about the same degree.

In other words, the Rupert Murdoch model is working – and there’s a good reason why. Before the Fox News Channel, conservative trust in TV news was almost nonexistent because of the pervasive (and undisclosed) liberal bias of the network news stations. FNC not only countered this by hiring journalists who gave the other side of the story, it also laid its cards on the table by hiring openly conservative commentators and pundits for its primetime lineup.

Unlike the network news stations, FNC has never tried to hide its ideological programming. The same goes for the left-leaning MSNBC. Disclosing biases arms viewers with more information, helping them decide which programs they want to watch and how much credence they want to give to each news show.

One other interesting part of the Gallup poll was that public confidence in newspapers did not rise alongside trust in TV news. This might be due to the fact newspapers have not latched onto the same model as cable news. Though the poll did not test for this, it would be interesting to see whether public trust in ultra-polarized online news has increased. If so, this could be a strategy newspapers might want to consider emulating.

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Michele Bachmann’s Moment

Rep. Michelle Bachmann will formally begin her presidential campaign this morning in Waterloo, Iowa, riding a wave of positive news that has transformed her candidacy. Yesterday’s Des Moines Register Iowa Poll placed her in a statistical dead heat only a point behind frontrunner Mitt Romney at 22 percent. Coming less than two weeks after her smashing appearance at the New Hampshire Republican presidential debate, with Tim Pawlenty, her main competition in Iowa, faltering and with religious conservatives and Tea Party activists rallying to her side, it is clear in just a few weeks Bachmann has elevated herself from a second tier curiosity to a serious contender for the GOP nomination.

That’s an amazing accomplishment, but it does not get any easier for the congresswoman from Minnesota. With more than six months to go before the Iowa caucuses, Bachmann will be severely tested by increased and often hostile media scrutiny and the drudgery of retail campaigning in the early states as well as by the need to raise increasingly large amounts of money to fuel a national campaign. Yet while her opponents and media critics may think that gives Bachmann plenty of time to fail, they need to come to grips with the possibility a very different scenario may play out in the coming months.

It was a telling moment when Chris Wallace asked Bachmann yesterday if she was a “flake” during an interview on Fox News. Bachmann dismissed the charge with a dignity that showed she was anything but a “flake,” and Wallace has apologized. The interesting point about that exchange is it reflected exactly what many pundits and Republican power brokers have always thought about Bachmann. She was dismissed as a Sarah Palin knockoff, a Tea Party flamethrower or an evangelical extremist without the sense to know how to operate in Washington, let alone become a formidable presidential contender. Those who think the Republican Party is ready for a safe-sounding elite-pleasing “mainstream” candidate like Jon Huntsman believe Bachmann simply can’t win the nomination. They think the most she can hope for is a Mike Huckabee-style victory in Iowa that will be followed by defeat at the hands of a Republican who will supposedly have a better shot at winning in November.

The problem for Bachmann-bashers is she is not the political lightweight they take her for.

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Rep. Michelle Bachmann will formally begin her presidential campaign this morning in Waterloo, Iowa, riding a wave of positive news that has transformed her candidacy. Yesterday’s Des Moines Register Iowa Poll placed her in a statistical dead heat only a point behind frontrunner Mitt Romney at 22 percent. Coming less than two weeks after her smashing appearance at the New Hampshire Republican presidential debate, with Tim Pawlenty, her main competition in Iowa, faltering and with religious conservatives and Tea Party activists rallying to her side, it is clear in just a few weeks Bachmann has elevated herself from a second tier curiosity to a serious contender for the GOP nomination.

That’s an amazing accomplishment, but it does not get any easier for the congresswoman from Minnesota. With more than six months to go before the Iowa caucuses, Bachmann will be severely tested by increased and often hostile media scrutiny and the drudgery of retail campaigning in the early states as well as by the need to raise increasingly large amounts of money to fuel a national campaign. Yet while her opponents and media critics may think that gives Bachmann plenty of time to fail, they need to come to grips with the possibility a very different scenario may play out in the coming months.

It was a telling moment when Chris Wallace asked Bachmann yesterday if she was a “flake” during an interview on Fox News. Bachmann dismissed the charge with a dignity that showed she was anything but a “flake,” and Wallace has apologized. The interesting point about that exchange is it reflected exactly what many pundits and Republican power brokers have always thought about Bachmann. She was dismissed as a Sarah Palin knockoff, a Tea Party flamethrower or an evangelical extremist without the sense to know how to operate in Washington, let alone become a formidable presidential contender. Those who think the Republican Party is ready for a safe-sounding elite-pleasing “mainstream” candidate like Jon Huntsman believe Bachmann simply can’t win the nomination. They think the most she can hope for is a Mike Huckabee-style victory in Iowa that will be followed by defeat at the hands of a Republican who will supposedly have a better shot at winning in November.

The problem for Bachmann-bashers is she is not the political lightweight they take her for.

Bachmann has shown herself in recent weeks to be a polished and articulate candidate who has carefully modulated her statements and demonstrated she is ready for prime time. As analyst Nate Silver wrote in today’s New York Times, her polling numbers are simply terrific. She isn’t merely competing with the frontrunners who are supposed to be out of her class; she has the best favorability ratings of any candidate.

She starts out today with the enthusiasm and affection of large chunks of the most active elements of her party: religious conservatives and Tea Party activists. She must continue to excite them and get them to turn out to give her a victory in Iowa that looks to be more than possible. But the coming months will also give Bachmann the chance to become something more than just the standard bearer of the right wing of the GOP. In order to do that, she will have to stay on message, avoid foolish mistakes and also develop a coherent approach to foreign policy that will make her sound like someone who could actually be president. If she does all that (and that’s not a small “if”), anyone who thinks she can’t be the person accepting the Republican nomination in Tampa next August may be making a huge mistake.

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Fixing the “Communications Problem” Won’t Make Much of a Difference

CNN’s James Carville has written a “memo” to the president, offering advice on how he should talk about the economy. Among the recommendations Carville offers is Obama needs to “feel their pain,” greater message discipline, be more mindful of “wonder political opportunities” as they present themselves (like reappointing Peter Diamond to the Fed board, which should do wonders for Obama’s approval rating), and warning voters Republicans want to reinstate the polices that got us into this mess in the first place.

Now one can debate how creative and impressive these suggestions are (count me as underwhelmed). But my point is a somewhat different one, which is that political strategists speak as if fixing the president’s “communications problem” will significantly shape the outcome of events. It won’t. And even if  Obama made the best arguments in the most compelling way possible, that cannot begin to undo most of the political damage a sick economy does to a president’s standing.

What matters is reality, not rhetoric; objective conditions, not “message discipline;” economic growth and the unemployment rate, not the Federal Reserve’s Peter Diamond testifying before a Senate committee. “Morning in America” worked for Ronald Reagan not so much because it was an ingenious campaign ad; but because the economy was surging.

President Obama has to say something, of course, and it’s better for him if he makes good arguments rather than bad ones. But no one, including the president, should pretend it will make much of a difference. Unlike in 2008, the public will judge Obama by his deeds rather than his words. Too bad for him.

CNN’s James Carville has written a “memo” to the president, offering advice on how he should talk about the economy. Among the recommendations Carville offers is Obama needs to “feel their pain,” greater message discipline, be more mindful of “wonder political opportunities” as they present themselves (like reappointing Peter Diamond to the Fed board, which should do wonders for Obama’s approval rating), and warning voters Republicans want to reinstate the polices that got us into this mess in the first place.

Now one can debate how creative and impressive these suggestions are (count me as underwhelmed). But my point is a somewhat different one, which is that political strategists speak as if fixing the president’s “communications problem” will significantly shape the outcome of events. It won’t. And even if  Obama made the best arguments in the most compelling way possible, that cannot begin to undo most of the political damage a sick economy does to a president’s standing.

What matters is reality, not rhetoric; objective conditions, not “message discipline;” economic growth and the unemployment rate, not the Federal Reserve’s Peter Diamond testifying before a Senate committee. “Morning in America” worked for Ronald Reagan not so much because it was an ingenious campaign ad; but because the economy was surging.

President Obama has to say something, of course, and it’s better for him if he makes good arguments rather than bad ones. But no one, including the president, should pretend it will make much of a difference. Unlike in 2008, the public will judge Obama by his deeds rather than his words. Too bad for him.

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