Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 6, 2011

Obama’s No Bill Clinton

The Wall Street Journal editorial page does us the favor of quoting Bill Clinton’s comments last Saturday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, when the former president made the case for cutting corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 25 percent and, as a trade off, “eliminate a lot of the deductions so that we still get a fair amount [in revenues], and there’s not so much variance in what the corporations pay.”

That’s quite a good idea, and Clinton’s remarks are a reminder that whatever his other failures, he was in many respects a constructive intellectual force in the Democratic Party. He moved it toward the center, much as his friend Tony Blair moved the British Labour Party toward the middle, making it not only politically viable but politically successful.

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The Wall Street Journal editorial page does us the favor of quoting Bill Clinton’s comments last Saturday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, when the former president made the case for cutting corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 25 percent and, as a trade off, “eliminate a lot of the deductions so that we still get a fair amount [in revenues], and there’s not so much variance in what the corporations pay.”

That’s quite a good idea, and Clinton’s remarks are a reminder that whatever his other failures, he was in many respects a constructive intellectual force in the Democratic Party. He moved it toward the center, much as his friend Tony Blair moved the British Labour Party toward the middle, making it not only politically viable but politically successful.

Both Clinton and Blair achieved impressive political track records. They made their parties stronger, not weaker; and more, not less, appealing.

Barack Obama, so far at least, has had the opposite effect. His party was thoroughly repudiated in the first mid-term election of his presidency. The same thing happened to Clinton in 1994, though not on the scale that Democrats were defeated in 2010. But by this point in the Clinton presidency the prospects for Democrats were looking up, and in fact, Clinton was well on his way to winning a comfortable re-election. That doesn’t appear to be the case for Obama, who is turning the Democratic Party into a pre-Clinton party, one characterized by unalloyed liberalism.

It turns out that in almost every respect, Clinton was a more formidable political figure than Obama, and certainly more competent. And as we get closer to 2012, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear Democrats speak longingly of the Clinton Era, as glory days compared to the dangerous, even ruinous, prospects they now face.

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Obama’s Online “Town Hall” Sham

The Obama campaign likes to hold up its online town hall meetings as examples of its social media prowess, pointing out this allows the president to reach millions of Americans all at once. But there’s probably a less respectable reason Obama prefers to engage with the public from behind the security of a computer screen – it’s safer that way.

It’s true many in the media have gone too easy on Obama, neglecting to press him on a lot of tough questions. But with online town halls, the president doesn’t even have to worry about the small chance a rogue reporter or earnest audience member will try to grill him on an issue. And he doesn’t have to worry he’ll get booed by the crowd, or embarrassed by protesters – the hand-picked audiences at his online town halls are always reliably friendly.

He also doesn’t have to worry he’ll get caught off guard by any of the questions, since the White House pre-approves them. Which is why we learned almost nothing new from the town hall today, and the most challenging question the president fielded was one that was promoted by congressional Republicans long before the town hall even started.

These online events are pure propaganda, and they’re becoming increasingly embarrassing for the reporters who cover them uncritically. If Obama wants to have a chat with some of his supporters over Facebook or Twitter, there’s nobody stopping him. But it’s just dishonest for media organizations to cover these as if they’re actual town halls that aren’t micromanaged from top to bottom by his campaign officials.

The Obama campaign likes to hold up its online town hall meetings as examples of its social media prowess, pointing out this allows the president to reach millions of Americans all at once. But there’s probably a less respectable reason Obama prefers to engage with the public from behind the security of a computer screen – it’s safer that way.

It’s true many in the media have gone too easy on Obama, neglecting to press him on a lot of tough questions. But with online town halls, the president doesn’t even have to worry about the small chance a rogue reporter or earnest audience member will try to grill him on an issue. And he doesn’t have to worry he’ll get booed by the crowd, or embarrassed by protesters – the hand-picked audiences at his online town halls are always reliably friendly.

He also doesn’t have to worry he’ll get caught off guard by any of the questions, since the White House pre-approves them. Which is why we learned almost nothing new from the town hall today, and the most challenging question the president fielded was one that was promoted by congressional Republicans long before the town hall even started.

These online events are pure propaganda, and they’re becoming increasingly embarrassing for the reporters who cover them uncritically. If Obama wants to have a chat with some of his supporters over Facebook or Twitter, there’s nobody stopping him. But it’s just dishonest for media organizations to cover these as if they’re actual town halls that aren’t micromanaged from top to bottom by his campaign officials.

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GOP Foreign Policy Scorecard

It’s the same game we play every four years. In order to figure out what a candidate will do if he or she becomes president, we look to their list of advisers, particularly on foreign policy issues, as the Rosetta stone by which we may unlock the secret of their future actions. While such analyses are by no means perfect, they are often instructive.

For skeptics, I need only mention the name Zbigniew Brzezinski, whose name surfaced in late 2007 on a list of Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers. Obama’s handlers spent the rest of the campaign downplaying Brzezinski’s role or even disputing he was any sort of an adviser at all. But as it turns out, the presence of Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor on that list turned out to be an accurate forecast of the president’s hostility to Israel and his desire for confrontation with its government.

For those who want to play along in terms of the current crop of Republican presidential wannabes, Josh Rogin provides a good introduction to the subject in Foreign Policy as he breaks down the Romney, Pawlenty, Huntsman and Bachmann teams.

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It’s the same game we play every four years. In order to figure out what a candidate will do if he or she becomes president, we look to their list of advisers, particularly on foreign policy issues, as the Rosetta stone by which we may unlock the secret of their future actions. While such analyses are by no means perfect, they are often instructive.

For skeptics, I need only mention the name Zbigniew Brzezinski, whose name surfaced in late 2007 on a list of Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers. Obama’s handlers spent the rest of the campaign downplaying Brzezinski’s role or even disputing he was any sort of an adviser at all. But as it turns out, the presence of Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor on that list turned out to be an accurate forecast of the president’s hostility to Israel and his desire for confrontation with its government.

For those who want to play along in terms of the current crop of Republican presidential wannabes, Josh Rogin provides a good introduction to the subject in Foreign Policy as he breaks down the Romney, Pawlenty, Huntsman and Bachmann teams.

Rogin’s research shows Romney’s prospective approach to foreign and security issues to be as amorphous as many of his other policies. While Romney worked last year with the eminently sound Heritage Foundation to broadcast his opposition to the START Treaty with Russia, now he is “broadening the tent,” whatever that means. The outline of Romney’s foreign policy isn’t clear yet. While he has made strong statements opposing Obama’s pressure on Israel, he seems ambivalent about the American commitment to the war in Afghanistan. Among the names mentioned as advising Romney are Mitchell Reiss, State Department policy planning director under Colin Powell, and Dan Senor, who worked in the George W. Bush administration and co-authored an important book about technological innovation in Israel.

By contrast, Tim Pawlenty’s foreign policy approach couldn’t be clearer. In his speech to the Council on Foreign Relations last month, he outlined his belief in a strong American role in the world, a commitment to the fight against terror and support for Israel. His only problem is he is worried about being called a neoconservative. But whatever label he wants to put on himself, he has as firm a grasp of the issues and what needs to be done abroad as any Republican contender. If his campaign were as well thought out as his foreign policy statements, he’d be the frontrunner instead of Mitt Romney.

Among the names mentioned as advising Pawlenty are former Rep. Vin Weber, who headed the National Endowment for Democracy with distinction, and Brian Hook, a former aide to John Bolton, America’s most forthright diplomat of the past decade.

Jon Huntsman’s campaign is denying that former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, and Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass, are advising him. But it doesn’t really matter whether those eminent “realists” and mandarins of our foreign policy establishment are actually on board with Huntsman or not. Huntsman has already staked out his positions policy in a manner to make their official participation unnecessary. The former Obama administration ambassador to China is to the left of his former boss on Afghanistan and favors defense cuts as well as an American retreat from a forward foreign policy. In the unlikely event Huntsman is either nominated or elected, Scowcroft’s name ought to stick out like neon as a predictor of his future plans in much the same way Brzezinski’s did for Obama.

Michele Bachmann’s foreign policy future is much more of a mystery. There don’t appear to be any foreign policy veterans of any particular persuasion in her inner or outer circle of advisers. All we know is she is a passionate lifelong supporter of Israel, and her instincts are hawkish, though not uniformly so. She rightly criticized President Obama for his Afghanistan drawdown but opposes humanitarian intervention in Libya.

The only thing approaching a foreign policy adviser Rogin can come up with for Bachmann is, surprisingly enough, Senator John McCain. Apparently, she met last month with McCain to discuss national security and Afghanistan. That doesn’t make him part of Bachmann’s team, but it does show reports about her being some sort of a Tea Party isolationist are either false or exaggerated.

Rogin’s article leaves us with as many questions as it provides answers, especially with regard to Romney and Bachmann, the two leading GOP presidential contenders. But this is a good start in our effort to figuring out how they might govern.

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Cognitive Dissonance at the State Department

From yesterday’s State Department press conference, regarding (1) a leader who is a key ally of Iran; and (2) a leader of a country of limited strategic significance – both of whom are presently killing their citizens to stay in power:

Regarding Syria:

QUESTION: Do you feel that we are reaching a tipping point where you have perhaps to declare that Mr. Assad should step aside?

MS. NULAND: The Syrian Government has declared an interest in having a national reconciliation dialogue. So on the one hand, they claim to be talking the talk, but the walk we see them walking outside of Hama, et cetera, belies their interest in really having a national reconciliation dialogue, so we’re concerned.

QUESTION: What signs would there have to be by the Syrians to show that they are genuinely interested in pursuing talks with the opposition?

MS. NULAND: As we’ve said, we’d like to see their forces pulled back from cities, from the border. We’d like to see the violence stop. We’d like to see peaceful demonstrators allowed and we’d like to see a real dialogue begin. We want to see political prisoners released. We want to see repression and torture ending in Syrian jails.

Got it: pull back forces, stop the violence, release political prisoners, end the repression and torture, and begin a “real dialogue.” Check, check, check. No need for Mr. Assad to step aside.

Regarding Libya:

QUESTION: It was reported today that Qaddafi has opened [a] line of dialogue with the opposition. Do you support such calls?

MS. NULAND: We’ve heard lots of reports of this kind – Qaddafi’s talking, Qaddafi’s not talking, Qaddafi’s leaving, Qaddafi’s not leaving. You know what the U.S. position is – that he needs to end the violence, pull back his forces, step down. …

QUESTION: So you don’t support a political solution or dialogue between the two factions?

MS. NULAND: We support whatever’s going to get us to a place where Qaddafi knows it’s time for him to go.

Got it: pull back forces, stop the violence, step down. Forget “dialogue” – it’s time for Qaddafi to go.

There must be a coherent foreign policy in there somewhere.

From yesterday’s State Department press conference, regarding (1) a leader who is a key ally of Iran; and (2) a leader of a country of limited strategic significance – both of whom are presently killing their citizens to stay in power:

Regarding Syria:

QUESTION: Do you feel that we are reaching a tipping point where you have perhaps to declare that Mr. Assad should step aside?

MS. NULAND: The Syrian Government has declared an interest in having a national reconciliation dialogue. So on the one hand, they claim to be talking the talk, but the walk we see them walking outside of Hama, et cetera, belies their interest in really having a national reconciliation dialogue, so we’re concerned.

QUESTION: What signs would there have to be by the Syrians to show that they are genuinely interested in pursuing talks with the opposition?

MS. NULAND: As we’ve said, we’d like to see their forces pulled back from cities, from the border. We’d like to see the violence stop. We’d like to see peaceful demonstrators allowed and we’d like to see a real dialogue begin. We want to see political prisoners released. We want to see repression and torture ending in Syrian jails.

Got it: pull back forces, stop the violence, release political prisoners, end the repression and torture, and begin a “real dialogue.” Check, check, check. No need for Mr. Assad to step aside.

Regarding Libya:

QUESTION: It was reported today that Qaddafi has opened [a] line of dialogue with the opposition. Do you support such calls?

MS. NULAND: We’ve heard lots of reports of this kind – Qaddafi’s talking, Qaddafi’s not talking, Qaddafi’s leaving, Qaddafi’s not leaving. You know what the U.S. position is – that he needs to end the violence, pull back his forces, step down. …

QUESTION: So you don’t support a political solution or dialogue between the two factions?

MS. NULAND: We support whatever’s going to get us to a place where Qaddafi knows it’s time for him to go.

Got it: pull back forces, stop the violence, step down. Forget “dialogue” – it’s time for Qaddafi to go.

There must be a coherent foreign policy in there somewhere.

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Ad Hominem Attacks Are Not Necessary

As Republicans in Congress and the president negotiate over raising the debt ceiling, liberal commentators are, as they so often do, adding to the quality of the debate based on the rigor and care of their arguments. For example, the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen compares the GOP presidential field as “a virtual political Jonestown.” Then there’s MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who – when he’s not complaining about the incivility of Republicans – finds time to describe the GOP as “the Wahhabis of American government.” Not to be outdone, Tina Brown of Newsweek and the Daily Beast refers to Republicans in Congress as “suicide bombers.”

All in the name of elevated public discourse, of course.

It’s hard to know whether these pundits understand how stupid and childish their rants are, or whether they’re so blinded by their ideology they don’t understand it’s not really appropriate to refer to people with whom you disagree on taxes as Wahhabis, suicide bombers and members of a death cult.

Either explanation isn’t terribly encouraging. And it would be nice if a few liberals who pretend to care about the quality of our political dialogue – at this point I’d settle for one – might point out, in the gentlest way possible, this kind of ad hominem attack isn’t necessary or helpful.

As Republicans in Congress and the president negotiate over raising the debt ceiling, liberal commentators are, as they so often do, adding to the quality of the debate based on the rigor and care of their arguments. For example, the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen compares the GOP presidential field as “a virtual political Jonestown.” Then there’s MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who – when he’s not complaining about the incivility of Republicans – finds time to describe the GOP as “the Wahhabis of American government.” Not to be outdone, Tina Brown of Newsweek and the Daily Beast refers to Republicans in Congress as “suicide bombers.”

All in the name of elevated public discourse, of course.

It’s hard to know whether these pundits understand how stupid and childish their rants are, or whether they’re so blinded by their ideology they don’t understand it’s not really appropriate to refer to people with whom you disagree on taxes as Wahhabis, suicide bombers and members of a death cult.

Either explanation isn’t terribly encouraging. And it would be nice if a few liberals who pretend to care about the quality of our political dialogue – at this point I’d settle for one – might point out, in the gentlest way possible, this kind of ad hominem attack isn’t necessary or helpful.

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Twitter TownHall Proves Technology Doesn’t Make Us Wiser

Listening to and reading along with President Obama’s Twitter TownHall event today left me thinking about the illusory nature of political progress. Throughout the first 150 years of the republic’s history, the only way citizens could hear the sound of their president’s voice was by being lucky enough to hear him speak in person. Until the advent of radio, newspapers and printed accounts of speeches were the sole form of access to the presidency outside of personal appearances. Since then, our access to the presidency has been gradually expanded via film, television and now the Internet. Once upon a time it was thought that technological advances would bring with them a similar advance in the nature of our civilization and our politics.

Our communication technologies have certainly advanced, but we should not be under the illusion the advent of these technologies has brought us a higher form of democracy or access to greater wisdom.

The founding fathers would have distrusted a system that limited communication to 140-character messages. But they would have liked the idea of being able to communicate with the entire nation as easily as Barack Obama did today. Perhaps even some of those wise heads might have thought such a system might have enabled American democracy to more closely resemble New England town hall meetings where all may be heard.

Yet the fact remains while politicians can be better heard these days, the essence of political speech and debate is a function of those individuals speaking–not the technology by which their views are broadcast. It is all well and good the president can speak on the Internet and actually field questions in this manner from citizens and even fellow politicians. But if all this forum produces are presidential statements that are cliché-ridden class warfare demagoguery (such as that broadcast by President Obama this afternoon), then we must realize that progress is a relative term. The Twitter TownHall was a fascinating exercise, but it was nothing more than a partisan presidential stump speech with moderated questions and answers. We learned nothing new about either him or his policies. Nor was the controlled forum anything resembling genuine democratic debate.

The self-satisfied and arrogant manner in which the president took questions today, dismissing the views of his opponents and characteristically setting up straw men to knock down in a disingenuous attempt to play the moderate, was merely politics as usual. It would be foolish to expect anything else from him. For all of the self-congratulation routinely heard today about the improved and more immediate modes of communication, there should be no pretense it has brought about a similar advance in what is actually being communicated. As President Obama proved again today on Twitter, more access does not guarantee a more elevated form of political discourse.

Listening to and reading along with President Obama’s Twitter TownHall event today left me thinking about the illusory nature of political progress. Throughout the first 150 years of the republic’s history, the only way citizens could hear the sound of their president’s voice was by being lucky enough to hear him speak in person. Until the advent of radio, newspapers and printed accounts of speeches were the sole form of access to the presidency outside of personal appearances. Since then, our access to the presidency has been gradually expanded via film, television and now the Internet. Once upon a time it was thought that technological advances would bring with them a similar advance in the nature of our civilization and our politics.

Our communication technologies have certainly advanced, but we should not be under the illusion the advent of these technologies has brought us a higher form of democracy or access to greater wisdom.

The founding fathers would have distrusted a system that limited communication to 140-character messages. But they would have liked the idea of being able to communicate with the entire nation as easily as Barack Obama did today. Perhaps even some of those wise heads might have thought such a system might have enabled American democracy to more closely resemble New England town hall meetings where all may be heard.

Yet the fact remains while politicians can be better heard these days, the essence of political speech and debate is a function of those individuals speaking–not the technology by which their views are broadcast. It is all well and good the president can speak on the Internet and actually field questions in this manner from citizens and even fellow politicians. But if all this forum produces are presidential statements that are cliché-ridden class warfare demagoguery (such as that broadcast by President Obama this afternoon), then we must realize that progress is a relative term. The Twitter TownHall was a fascinating exercise, but it was nothing more than a partisan presidential stump speech with moderated questions and answers. We learned nothing new about either him or his policies. Nor was the controlled forum anything resembling genuine democratic debate.

The self-satisfied and arrogant manner in which the president took questions today, dismissing the views of his opponents and characteristically setting up straw men to knock down in a disingenuous attempt to play the moderate, was merely politics as usual. It would be foolish to expect anything else from him. For all of the self-congratulation routinely heard today about the improved and more immediate modes of communication, there should be no pretense it has brought about a similar advance in what is actually being communicated. As President Obama proved again today on Twitter, more access does not guarantee a more elevated form of political discourse.

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False Spring: Egyptian Democrat is Holocaust Denier

Most of those who are worried about the future path of Egypt in the wake of the fall of Hosni Mubarak have focused on the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist political party that commands the allegiance of a growing number of Egyptians. But as much as the West is right to fear the Brotherhood, it turns out their non-religious and presumably liberal rivals are not exactly a bargain either. The Washington Times reports the vice chairman of Egypt’s top secular political party believes the Holocaust is a lie and the 9/11 attacks were “made in the USA.”

Ahmed Ezz El-Arab, a leader of the Wafd Party, spoke to Ben Birnbaum of the Washington Times last week and told him, “The Holocaust is a lie.” He went to dismiss accounts of “gas chambers” as “fanciful stories” and said the Diary of Anne Frank is “a fake.”

El-Arab made the remarks during an interview in Budapest where he was attending the Conference on Democracy and Human Rights. The Wafd is reputed to be the second largest party in Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood.

Despite these hateful views, the Egyptian said his party was not in favor of war against Israel and denounced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He called Ahmadinejad a “hateful character” but said the Iranian, who shares El-Arab’s belief in Holocaust denial, was correct in that one respect.

What are we to make of the fact such a person is the “democrat” whose party’s success we should presumably support against the Brotherhood?

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Most of those who are worried about the future path of Egypt in the wake of the fall of Hosni Mubarak have focused on the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist political party that commands the allegiance of a growing number of Egyptians. But as much as the West is right to fear the Brotherhood, it turns out their non-religious and presumably liberal rivals are not exactly a bargain either. The Washington Times reports the vice chairman of Egypt’s top secular political party believes the Holocaust is a lie and the 9/11 attacks were “made in the USA.”

Ahmed Ezz El-Arab, a leader of the Wafd Party, spoke to Ben Birnbaum of the Washington Times last week and told him, “The Holocaust is a lie.” He went to dismiss accounts of “gas chambers” as “fanciful stories” and said the Diary of Anne Frank is “a fake.”

El-Arab made the remarks during an interview in Budapest where he was attending the Conference on Democracy and Human Rights. The Wafd is reputed to be the second largest party in Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood.

Despite these hateful views, the Egyptian said his party was not in favor of war against Israel and denounced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He called Ahmadinejad a “hateful character” but said the Iranian, who shares El-Arab’s belief in Holocaust denial, was correct in that one respect.

What are we to make of the fact such a person is the “democrat” whose party’s success we should presumably support against the Brotherhood?

While democracy is, in principle, something we should desire for all peoples, optimism about the Arab Spring must be tempered by a dose of reality. Even under Mubarak, who maintained the peace treaty with Israel, Jew-hatred was not only tolerated but also encouraged so as to give an outlet for public resentment that might otherwise have been directed against the government. It is therefore little wonder after generations of such views being promulgated in both mosques and popular culture, an Egyptian “democrat” would be both a Holocaust-denier and a 9/11 truther.

Were Egypt’s political system to ever evolve into one where the rule of law and public accountability became engrained in the culture of that country, there is a chance hate might gradually fade away. But with the army still ruling Egypt with an iron fist, such notions are unrealistic. So long as even the democrats in that country are a product of a culture of hate, there is little chance genuine democracy or peace will be the result of any of the changes there.

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Romney’s Fundraising Gives Opening for Late-Starting Candidates

Mitt Romney easily outraised his GOP competitors in the second quarter, hauling in $18.25 million. But this was a predictable outcome that can’t exactly be viewed as a win. In order for Romney to chalk this up as a success, he would have needed to meet or exceed the $23 million he raised in the first quarter of 2007. The fact he failed to do so raises a couple of concerns for his campaign:

1. There’s reluctance to back Romney, despite a lack of strong alternatives: Romney’s inability to top his 2007 record — and his failure to come anywhere close to meeting his initial goal of $50 million — had little to do with competition from other candidates. During the first quarter of the race back in 2007, Rudy Giuliani brought in $15 million and Sen. John McCain around $12 million. Compare that to Romney’s challengers in 2011: His closest competitor is Ron Paul, who raised $4.5 million. The remaining candidates — Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich — each pulled in less than $3 million.

While Romney has maintained leads in the polls, Republicans don’t seem as willing to put their money on him. The good news for his campaign is the money isn’t going elsewhere, but the bad news is Romney still hasn’t figured out how to get it.

2. This gives an opening for a late-starting candidate to jump into the race: While a few months ago some potential candidates may have hesitated to enter the race based on reports the Romney campaign would raise close to $40 million, the intimidation factor is no longer there. It’s clear the big money donors haven’t settled on a candidate yet, leaving a prime opportunity for late-starters to throw their hats in. Romney’s fundraising totals also alleviate the concern about whether it would be possible for a late-summer or early-fall candidate to catch up. We now know it would be very much feasible, especially for a strong contender.

Mitt Romney easily outraised his GOP competitors in the second quarter, hauling in $18.25 million. But this was a predictable outcome that can’t exactly be viewed as a win. In order for Romney to chalk this up as a success, he would have needed to meet or exceed the $23 million he raised in the first quarter of 2007. The fact he failed to do so raises a couple of concerns for his campaign:

1. There’s reluctance to back Romney, despite a lack of strong alternatives: Romney’s inability to top his 2007 record — and his failure to come anywhere close to meeting his initial goal of $50 million — had little to do with competition from other candidates. During the first quarter of the race back in 2007, Rudy Giuliani brought in $15 million and Sen. John McCain around $12 million. Compare that to Romney’s challengers in 2011: His closest competitor is Ron Paul, who raised $4.5 million. The remaining candidates — Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich — each pulled in less than $3 million.

While Romney has maintained leads in the polls, Republicans don’t seem as willing to put their money on him. The good news for his campaign is the money isn’t going elsewhere, but the bad news is Romney still hasn’t figured out how to get it.

2. This gives an opening for a late-starting candidate to jump into the race: While a few months ago some potential candidates may have hesitated to enter the race based on reports the Romney campaign would raise close to $40 million, the intimidation factor is no longer there. It’s clear the big money donors haven’t settled on a candidate yet, leaving a prime opportunity for late-starters to throw their hats in. Romney’s fundraising totals also alleviate the concern about whether it would be possible for a late-summer or early-fall candidate to catch up. We now know it would be very much feasible, especially for a strong contender.

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Obama’s Twitter Pitfalls

As President Obama prepares for his “Twitter townhall” today, the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Bluey takes a look at how the White House has used the social networking site to bully critics. The Obama administration recently appointed former DNC staffer Jesse Lee to help steer its “online response” operation, and Bluey reports that more than 15 percent of Lee’s official White House tweets have been directed at prolific conservative Twitter user Kevin Eder. [Full disclosure: Kevin and I previously worked together at the Media Research Center, and he’s a friend of mine.]

But interestingly, Kevin is not a prominent political operative — he is a business analyst at an IT firm. Which is why it he finds it strange the White House has felt the need to engage in so many scuffles with him:

Of the 267 tweets written by Lee in just over a month, a stunning 40 of them have been directed at Kevin Eder, a prolific Twitter user with more than 83,000 tweets to his credit. That means 15 percent of Lee’s tweets — from an official White House account no less — have been with Eder. …

“I like going back and forth with him,” Eder said of Lee. “But if you engage your fiercest critics on new media, you’re doing two things: On the one hand, you’re showing that you take their opinion seriously. That’s good for the non-influencer public to watch what’s happening. But on the other hand, the White House is legitimizing me. And quite literally, I’m a nobody.”

Bluey sees this as part of a trend with the Obama administration, which often comes off as thin-skinned when faced with criticism. White it’s not unusual for presidential administrations to get aggressive with critics and pushy reporters, this particular White House’s use of controversial intimidation techniques have been well-documented.

Which is sure to make this afternoon’s Twitter townhall all the more interesting to watch. All Twitter users are free to ask the president questions by Tweeting them to @AskObama today, and the most popular questions will be the ones chosen for the town hall. Right now, both Republicans and labor unions are encouraging supporters to interrogate Obama about his jobs plan. And that’s one area where he’ll have a tricky time playing to both sides of the fence.

As President Obama prepares for his “Twitter townhall” today, the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Bluey takes a look at how the White House has used the social networking site to bully critics. The Obama administration recently appointed former DNC staffer Jesse Lee to help steer its “online response” operation, and Bluey reports that more than 15 percent of Lee’s official White House tweets have been directed at prolific conservative Twitter user Kevin Eder. [Full disclosure: Kevin and I previously worked together at the Media Research Center, and he’s a friend of mine.]

But interestingly, Kevin is not a prominent political operative — he is a business analyst at an IT firm. Which is why it he finds it strange the White House has felt the need to engage in so many scuffles with him:

Of the 267 tweets written by Lee in just over a month, a stunning 40 of them have been directed at Kevin Eder, a prolific Twitter user with more than 83,000 tweets to his credit. That means 15 percent of Lee’s tweets — from an official White House account no less — have been with Eder. …

“I like going back and forth with him,” Eder said of Lee. “But if you engage your fiercest critics on new media, you’re doing two things: On the one hand, you’re showing that you take their opinion seriously. That’s good for the non-influencer public to watch what’s happening. But on the other hand, the White House is legitimizing me. And quite literally, I’m a nobody.”

Bluey sees this as part of a trend with the Obama administration, which often comes off as thin-skinned when faced with criticism. White it’s not unusual for presidential administrations to get aggressive with critics and pushy reporters, this particular White House’s use of controversial intimidation techniques have been well-documented.

Which is sure to make this afternoon’s Twitter townhall all the more interesting to watch. All Twitter users are free to ask the president questions by Tweeting them to @AskObama today, and the most popular questions will be the ones chosen for the town hall. Right now, both Republicans and labor unions are encouraging supporters to interrogate Obama about his jobs plan. And that’s one area where he’ll have a tricky time playing to both sides of the fence.

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Pro-Palestinian Fly-In Shows Activists’ Goal

With the latest iteration of the Gaza flotilla having turned into a costly fiasco, what can the anti-Israel crowd do to gain some attention? Their answer is to stage a “fly-in” to Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport. The point of the exercise is apparently an attempt to disrupt operations at the busy terminal, something that will, no doubt, further endear the Palestinian cause to weary travelers coming into or out of the country.

While reports say three such activists have already been arrested after arriving at the airport, it is believed that some 700 others will land on Friday. After landing, they plan to tell authorities they have arrived to visit “Palestine” and will either be arrested or let loose to engage in “solidarity” activities in the West Bank.

While many of the Gaza flotilla activists insist their goal is merely to help the people of Gaza, the purpose of their excursion is to strengthen the Hamas rulers of the strip by ending the isolation the international community has attempted to impose on the terrorist-run territory.

But much less effort is needed to connect the dots between the stated intentions of the “fly-in” activists and their actual goal. Someone who lands in Israel and says they have come to “Palestine” isn’t leaving much doubt about their feelings about the existence of the Jewish state.

Contrary to the apologists for the flotilla activists in the New York Times and elsewhere, the point of this campaign isn’t an effort to bring succor to Palestinians. The activists clearly couldn’t care less about the lives of the Arabs in the territories. If they did, they wouldn’t be demonstrating their support for the tyrannical Islamist rulers of Gaza. What they want is to demonstrate their opposition to Jewish sovereignty. Indeed, as the “fly-in” shows, these people not only seek to impede Israel’s right of self-defense but the right of its people to go about their business.

So while their bad intentions and attempts at disrupting a busy terminal are not appreciated, we can at least thank them for their candor about their goals.

With the latest iteration of the Gaza flotilla having turned into a costly fiasco, what can the anti-Israel crowd do to gain some attention? Their answer is to stage a “fly-in” to Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport. The point of the exercise is apparently an attempt to disrupt operations at the busy terminal, something that will, no doubt, further endear the Palestinian cause to weary travelers coming into or out of the country.

While reports say three such activists have already been arrested after arriving at the airport, it is believed that some 700 others will land on Friday. After landing, they plan to tell authorities they have arrived to visit “Palestine” and will either be arrested or let loose to engage in “solidarity” activities in the West Bank.

While many of the Gaza flotilla activists insist their goal is merely to help the people of Gaza, the purpose of their excursion is to strengthen the Hamas rulers of the strip by ending the isolation the international community has attempted to impose on the terrorist-run territory.

But much less effort is needed to connect the dots between the stated intentions of the “fly-in” activists and their actual goal. Someone who lands in Israel and says they have come to “Palestine” isn’t leaving much doubt about their feelings about the existence of the Jewish state.

Contrary to the apologists for the flotilla activists in the New York Times and elsewhere, the point of this campaign isn’t an effort to bring succor to Palestinians. The activists clearly couldn’t care less about the lives of the Arabs in the territories. If they did, they wouldn’t be demonstrating their support for the tyrannical Islamist rulers of Gaza. What they want is to demonstrate their opposition to Jewish sovereignty. Indeed, as the “fly-in” shows, these people not only seek to impede Israel’s right of self-defense but the right of its people to go about their business.

So while their bad intentions and attempts at disrupting a busy terminal are not appreciated, we can at least thank them for their candor about their goals.

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Making Arguments that Move the Human Heart

Andy Ferguson did what probably no other American outside of Newt Gingrich has done: read all 21 books authored or co-authored by the former Speaker of the House. And the result is a New York Times Magazine article that is funny, witty and insightful.

There’s one point in particular made by Ferguson, who writes the monthly “Press Man” column for COMMENTARY, that I want to highlight:

“To Renew America” marks the moment that persuasion faded as a primary purpose of political talk and preaching to the choir took over. Having won at last, and confident that the future was safely in his pocket, Gingrich by 1995 no longer saw a reason to persuade anyone and didn’t try. It’s the victor’s prerogative, but it doesn’t give you practice in constructing arguments.

That is quite an important observation. There are exceptions, of course, but many politicians, columnists, and commentators tend to fall into one of two camps: those who are interested in persuasion and those who see their task as stoking the embers of the already-convinced. We saw successful examples of both during the American founding, including the Federalist Papers (James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay) and Common Sense (Thomas Paine). The first approach is meant to appeal to the intellect and the undecided; the second appeals primarily (though not exclusively) to emotion and the true believers. Practitioners of each approach possess different skill sets; they also face different dilemmas.

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Andy Ferguson did what probably no other American outside of Newt Gingrich has done: read all 21 books authored or co-authored by the former Speaker of the House. And the result is a New York Times Magazine article that is funny, witty and insightful.

There’s one point in particular made by Ferguson, who writes the monthly “Press Man” column for COMMENTARY, that I want to highlight:

“To Renew America” marks the moment that persuasion faded as a primary purpose of political talk and preaching to the choir took over. Having won at last, and confident that the future was safely in his pocket, Gingrich by 1995 no longer saw a reason to persuade anyone and didn’t try. It’s the victor’s prerogative, but it doesn’t give you practice in constructing arguments.

That is quite an important observation. There are exceptions, of course, but many politicians, columnists, and commentators tend to fall into one of two camps: those who are interested in persuasion and those who see their task as stoking the embers of the already-convinced. We saw successful examples of both during the American founding, including the Federalist Papers (James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay) and Common Sense (Thomas Paine). The first approach is meant to appeal to the intellect and the undecided; the second appeals primarily (though not exclusively) to emotion and the true believers. Practitioners of each approach possess different skill sets; they also face different dilemmas.

For the former, the danger is that a style that seeks to be precise becomes pedantic. They find themselves unable to move people, to summon them to a great cause. “The heart has reasons that reason cannot know,” in the words of Pascal. And for those who preach to the choir, the danger is their premises and facts are taken for granted by like-minded audiences because they reinforce existing impressions. Claims aren’t held up to scrutiny. There’s also the temptation, one most of us are fully familiar with, to portray those who hold beliefs different than our own in distorted ways. Cartoon figures are easier to rebut than real ones.

Those who are used to inhabiting one world often have a rough time transitioning to the other. Lines that garner applause before one audience are off-putting to another. For example, warning  that one’s grandchildren might eventually live “in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American” probably goes down better among the faithful than it does among the undecided, for whom this rhetoric might come across as alarmist.

The greatest politicians and writers have shown the capacity to inspire the converted while winning over the yet-to-be-converted, to employ rhetoric that is powerful and reasonable, and to make arguments in ways that move the human heart. Relatively few figures in American history have done that particularly well. Many others have not, and Ferguson’s article reminds us what can be lost in the process.

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Poll: Only 56 Percent of Jews Would Vote to Reelect Obama

There was a lot of attention given to a Gallup poll yesterday showing Jewish approval for President Obama has remained fairly steady at around 60 percent since the beginning of the year (though it has also dropped by 20 points since 2009). But another poll released yesterday, taken by conservative strategist Dick Morris, found a shockingly low 56 percent of Jewish Americans said they would vote to reelect Obama over a generic Republican candidate if the elections were held today.

Considering the fact 78 percent of Jewish voters cast a ballot for Obama in 2008, this seems like a staggering — and almost unbelievable — drop in support. But here’s one reason to take it seriously: presidential approval ratings often find more support for the president than generic match-ups.

Take, for example, Gallup’s recent generic ballot poll from June 16, which found that just 39 percent of registered American voters would back Obama for reelection against a generic Republican. The president’s approval rating, however, was at 44 percent, according to a Gallup poll taken during the same week.

So it’s certainly plausible that 60 percent of Jewish Americans approve of Obama’s performance, while only 56 percent would currently vote to reelect him. While nobody can predict if these numbers would hold steady once an actual Republican enters the field, the finding undercuts the idea Jewish Americans would automatically side with Obama over any GOP candidate.

And unlike the Gallup poll, Morris asked respondents their opinions on Obama’s Israel policy. Needless to say, the results were not encouraging for the president:

Triggering the increasing Jewish disaffection with Obama is opposition to his proposal that an Israeli return to ’67 borders be the starting point of peace negotiations. By 10-83, Jewish voters opposed the plan. Jewish Democrats opposed it by 10-67. Asked if President Obama is “too biased against Israel,” Jewish voters as a whole agreed with the charge by 39-30, while 32 percent of Jewish Democrats also agreed (and 40 percent of Jewish Democrats disagreed).

A few final takeaways from both polls: Gallup’s was of 350 Jewish Americans, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 7 percent. In comparison, Morris’ poll was of 1,000 Jewish voters, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent. Morris’ seems to have an edge here, which is certainly something to keep in mind as you compare both surveys.

There was a lot of attention given to a Gallup poll yesterday showing Jewish approval for President Obama has remained fairly steady at around 60 percent since the beginning of the year (though it has also dropped by 20 points since 2009). But another poll released yesterday, taken by conservative strategist Dick Morris, found a shockingly low 56 percent of Jewish Americans said they would vote to reelect Obama over a generic Republican candidate if the elections were held today.

Considering the fact 78 percent of Jewish voters cast a ballot for Obama in 2008, this seems like a staggering — and almost unbelievable — drop in support. But here’s one reason to take it seriously: presidential approval ratings often find more support for the president than generic match-ups.

Take, for example, Gallup’s recent generic ballot poll from June 16, which found that just 39 percent of registered American voters would back Obama for reelection against a generic Republican. The president’s approval rating, however, was at 44 percent, according to a Gallup poll taken during the same week.

So it’s certainly plausible that 60 percent of Jewish Americans approve of Obama’s performance, while only 56 percent would currently vote to reelect him. While nobody can predict if these numbers would hold steady once an actual Republican enters the field, the finding undercuts the idea Jewish Americans would automatically side with Obama over any GOP candidate.

And unlike the Gallup poll, Morris asked respondents their opinions on Obama’s Israel policy. Needless to say, the results were not encouraging for the president:

Triggering the increasing Jewish disaffection with Obama is opposition to his proposal that an Israeli return to ’67 borders be the starting point of peace negotiations. By 10-83, Jewish voters opposed the plan. Jewish Democrats opposed it by 10-67. Asked if President Obama is “too biased against Israel,” Jewish voters as a whole agreed with the charge by 39-30, while 32 percent of Jewish Democrats also agreed (and 40 percent of Jewish Democrats disagreed).

A few final takeaways from both polls: Gallup’s was of 350 Jewish Americans, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 7 percent. In comparison, Morris’ poll was of 1,000 Jewish voters, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent. Morris’ seems to have an edge here, which is certainly something to keep in mind as you compare both surveys.

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Romney Rises as Sinking Economy Shunts Obamacare to the Back Burner

Up until now, presidential polls have been almost solely a function of name recognition. But after several weeks of active campaigning by the contenders as well as a couple of debates, there’s no denying the race is starting to take shape. So while the latest WMUR Granite State Poll should not be considered definitive, it does tell us something about how the candidates are doing, at least in the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire.

The first point to be made is there’s no denying Mitt Romney is way ahead in New Hampshire.  With 35 percent of likely Republican voters saying they would vote for him there, Romney ought to be feeling confident about his chances. Having served as governor of neighboring Massachusetts, Romney started with a leg up in New Hampshire, and his huge edge in fundraising accentuates that advantage.

But the best thing Romney has going for him is the dismal state of the economy. That’s a problem for President Obama, but it works to Romney’s advantage because the unemployment figures have served to overshadow health care as the major issue in 2012. So long as Republicans, as well as everyone else, are echoing Romney’s charge Obama has made the economy worse, that means they’re not talking about an issue on which Romney is vulnerable. Of course, Romney’s challengers won’t miss opportunities to talk about “Obamneycare” in future debates as Tim Pawlenty did in New Hampshire last month. But so long as Obamacare is not the top issue, Romney is in good shape.

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Up until now, presidential polls have been almost solely a function of name recognition. But after several weeks of active campaigning by the contenders as well as a couple of debates, there’s no denying the race is starting to take shape. So while the latest WMUR Granite State Poll should not be considered definitive, it does tell us something about how the candidates are doing, at least in the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire.

The first point to be made is there’s no denying Mitt Romney is way ahead in New Hampshire.  With 35 percent of likely Republican voters saying they would vote for him there, Romney ought to be feeling confident about his chances. Having served as governor of neighboring Massachusetts, Romney started with a leg up in New Hampshire, and his huge edge in fundraising accentuates that advantage.

But the best thing Romney has going for him is the dismal state of the economy. That’s a problem for President Obama, but it works to Romney’s advantage because the unemployment figures have served to overshadow health care as the major issue in 2012. So long as Republicans, as well as everyone else, are echoing Romney’s charge Obama has made the economy worse, that means they’re not talking about an issue on which Romney is vulnerable. Of course, Romney’s challengers won’t miss opportunities to talk about “Obamneycare” in future debates as Tim Pawlenty did in New Hampshire last month. But so long as Obamacare is not the top issue, Romney is in good shape.

There are two other interesting lessons from the WMUR poll. One shows Michele Bachmann vaulting over the other candidates to place a distant second with 12 percent. While that is not an impressive figure in and of itself, just a few weeks ago few thought Bachmann could even be a factor in New Hampshire. But if she can win in Iowa and then finish a strong second in Romney’s backyard in New Hampshire, that could set up a one-on-one duel to the finish between the two the rest of the way.

The final point to be gleaned from this poll is the dismal showing of both Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman. Pawlenty’s three percent is pathetic,but he can console himself that his main chance is in Iowa. If he can prevail there, his prospects will improve everywhere else. On the other hand, Huntsman’s meager two percent of the likely vote shows just how much of a dud his campaign launch has been among his fellow Republicans. Huntsman’s plan is to start with a strong showing in New Hampshire, but right now that scenario seems as unlikely as everything else about his candidacy.

There’s a long way to go in New Hampshire as well as the entire GOP race, but there’s no denying the rest of the field has a lot of ground to make up to catch Romney and Bachmann.

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A Disturbing Glimpse into a Human Tape Recorder

Here’s an amazing display of message discipline, courtesy of the Labour Party leader Ed Miliband. It captures how absurd politicians can become as they transform themselves from spontaneous, interesting, and flawed people into human tape recorders.

This interview is both funny and a disturbing glimpse into the world we’ve created.

Here’s an amazing display of message discipline, courtesy of the Labour Party leader Ed Miliband. It captures how absurd politicians can become as they transform themselves from spontaneous, interesting, and flawed people into human tape recorders.

This interview is both funny and a disturbing glimpse into the world we’ve created.

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How the Media Fosters the Myth Palestinians Want Peace

A public opinion poll released two weeks ago offers an excellent lesson in how the media fosters the myth the Palestinians want peace.

Here,  for instance, is how DPA and Haaretz reported the poll; here’s The Media Line’s version; here’s AFP. All correctly reported Palestinians prefer incumbent Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to Hamas’ candidate by a two-to-one margin; the first two also noted that 61 percent want the new unity government to follow Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ peace policies, while only 18 percent favor Hamas’s policies. The clear implication is most Palestinians are moderates who want peace with Israel: They prefer Fayyad to Hamas and Abbas’ stated support for a deal to Hamas’ vocal opposition.

But here’s the finding  none of these media outlets bothered to report: Asked what the Palestinians’ “most vital” goals were, 40 percent chose securing “the right of return of refugees to their 1948 towns and villages” as the “second most vital Palestinian goal” and another 26 percent deemed it the “first most vital Palestinian goal.” This issue outpolled all the other options in the second-place slot, while only “end the Israeli occupation” outranked it in the first-place slot. Read More

A public opinion poll released two weeks ago offers an excellent lesson in how the media fosters the myth the Palestinians want peace.

Here,  for instance, is how DPA and Haaretz reported the poll; here’s The Media Line’s version; here’s AFP. All correctly reported Palestinians prefer incumbent Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to Hamas’ candidate by a two-to-one margin; the first two also noted that 61 percent want the new unity government to follow Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ peace policies, while only 18 percent favor Hamas’s policies. The clear implication is most Palestinians are moderates who want peace with Israel: They prefer Fayyad to Hamas and Abbas’ stated support for a deal to Hamas’ vocal opposition.

But here’s the finding  none of these media outlets bothered to report: Asked what the Palestinians’ “most vital” goals were, 40 percent chose securing “the right of return of refugees to their 1948 towns and villages” as the “second most vital Palestinian goal” and another 26 percent deemed it the “first most vital Palestinian goal.” This issue outpolled all the other options in the second-place slot, while only “end the Israeli occupation” outranked it in the first-place slot.

A “return of refugees to their 1948 towns” – i.e. to pre-1967 Israel – is clearly incompatible with a two-state solution: Relocating 4.8 million refugees and their descendants to pre-1967 Israel would, when combined with Israel’s 1.6 million existing Arab citizens, turn Israel into a second Palestinian-majority state, thereby eliminating the world’s only Jewish one. Yet Abbas cannot concede the “right of return” in negotiations when 66 percent of his people deem it one of the two “most vital Palestinian goals”; no leader anywhere could. Thus as long as most Palestinians view the “right of return” as crucial, no peace agreement will be possible.

Public opinion obviously isn’t immutable, but it often requires a concerted effort to change. On the Israeli side, this effort has been made. Both Israeli and international leaders have told Israelis for two decades they must cede the territories for peace, and it worked: Polls now show most Israelis as being willing to cede virtually all the West Bank, whereas 20 years ago, this was a minority opinion.

But no similar effort has been made on the Palestinian side. Not only has no Palestinian leader ever forthrightly told his people they will have to cede the dream of “return” for peace, but few international leaders have. President Barack Obama’s May 19 policy address, for instance, demanded an Israeli return to the 1967 lines but no Palestinian concession on the refugees; he advocated deferring this whole issue until later. The EU similarly demands an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines but only an unspecified “ just, viable and agreed solution” on the refugees.  The hope seems to be ignoring the problem of the refugees will make it go away.

But Palestinian opinion can only be changed by confronting this issue openly. By sweeping it under the rug, the media is ultimately distancing the prospect of peace.


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