Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 7, 2011

Perry Campaign Moves Ahead (Without Perry)

Gov. Rick Perry is still debating whether to enter the 2012 race, but his supporters aren’t waiting around for his decision. Americans for Rick Perry, a group that’s not affiliated with the governor, has already raised $400,000 in the past three weeks, the National Journal reports. And it’s planning to use that money to represent Perry in the upcoming Iowa straw poll, regardless of whether he’s joined the race by then:

Bob Schuman, a senior strategist for Americans for Rick Perry, said Thursday that the group is expanding its fundraising operation outside of Texas to include Miami, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. The group can accept unlimited donations but, under federal law, can’t strategize with Perry himself. …

Read More

Gov. Rick Perry is still debating whether to enter the 2012 race, but his supporters aren’t waiting around for his decision. Americans for Rick Perry, a group that’s not affiliated with the governor, has already raised $400,000 in the past three weeks, the National Journal reports. And it’s planning to use that money to represent Perry in the upcoming Iowa straw poll, regardless of whether he’s joined the race by then:

Bob Schuman, a senior strategist for Americans for Rick Perry, said Thursday that the group is expanding its fundraising operation outside of Texas to include Miami, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. The group can accept unlimited donations but, under federal law, can’t strategize with Perry himself. …

Perry has given no indication that he will be announcing a decision on a White House bid before he hosts a national prayer meeting in Houston on August 6. That’s just one week before the straw poll, leaving him little time to launch a campaign.

“We’re going to see if we can turn people out for him and keep him in the hearts and minds of caucusgoers,’’ said Schuman, who worked on campaigns for Phil Gramm and Jack Kemp. “The race is still so fluid.’’

The fact that an organization not officially associated with Perry was able to raise so much in a short time – and before the governor has even decided to enter the race – is a positive sign for Perry’s potential fundraising capacity. It will be interesting to see whether this financial backing also translates into grassroots support in Iowa.

Read Less

Obama’s Job Approval Rating Is in Danger Zone

According to the most recent Gallup survey, President Obama’s job approval rating averaged 46 percent in June.

The president’s strongest support comes from blacks (86 percent), adults aged 18 to 29 (54 percent), those living in the East (53 percent), and Hispanics (52 percent). This is in addition to 81 percent approval from Democrats, 75 percent from liberals, and 55 percent from moderates. On the flip side, Obama’s support is lowest among Republicans (14 percent), conservatives (24 percent), whites (38 percent), seniors (39 percent), and those living in the South (40 percent).

Read More

According to the most recent Gallup survey, President Obama’s job approval rating averaged 46 percent in June.

The president’s strongest support comes from blacks (86 percent), adults aged 18 to 29 (54 percent), those living in the East (53 percent), and Hispanics (52 percent). This is in addition to 81 percent approval from Democrats, 75 percent from liberals, and 55 percent from moderates. On the flip side, Obama’s support is lowest among Republicans (14 percent), conservatives (24 percent), whites (38 percent), seniors (39 percent), and those living in the South (40 percent).

Perhaps the most alarming decline in support for Obama is among Hispanics, which has dropped from 73 percent during January-December 2009 to the current figure of 52 percent. That large of a drop in support (21 points) among that significant of a demographic group would be worrisome for any candidate seeking re-election. It also seems to undercut the argument the GOP’s stance on illegal immigration would deeply alienate Hispanics and drive them into the arms of Democrats for generations to come.

Obama’s job approval rating isn’t catastrophic for a president seeking re-election, but it is in a danger zone. His approval numbers will need to go up if he hopes to win re-election. (A president wants an approval rating of at least 48 percent on Election Day; anything below that becomes problematic. No president with a Gallup approval of 47 percent or less has won re-election.)

The greater danger for Obama, though, is that, in the words of Democratic pollster Mark Penn, “the country is going through one of its longest sustained periods of unhappiness and pessimism ever.” The president is inextricably tied to that unhappiness and pessimism; he is seen as responsible, at least in part, for our national decline (almost four in 10 Americans believe we’re in a state of permanent decline, a strikingly large figure). That’s a significant problem for Obama to overcome — and unless the economy turns around, it’s not entirely clear how he will do so. I’m sure that same thought has crossed the minds of David Axelrod and David Plouffe as well.

Read Less

Purity Makes Good Politics

Politics may be the art of the possible, but while demonstrating flexibility is important for a legislator it can be a drawback to winning elections. That’s why Michele Bachmann’s first television advertisement to be broadcast in Iowa is smart politics even if it may not be the smartest policy. During the course of her ad, Bachmann not only brags of her vote against President Obama’s stimulus plan and the 2008 bailout of financial institutions,but gives a flat promise: “I will not vote to increase the debt ceiling.” That sort of fiscal absolutism may be considered an irresponsible roadblock to genuine compromises, especially if it means she would vote against a debt ceiling bill that would, as House Speaker John Boehner has proposed to the president, enact the sort of genuine tax reform Republicans have wanted to enact for decades.

But as much as such a pledge can’t be considered constructive on Capitol Hill, it is exactly what many Republicans are dying to hear from a presidential candidate. Though some in the GOP, as well as the media, are acting as if the Tea Party movement that drove the Republican midterm election victory in 2010 is a passing craze, it is not. Many grass roots Republicans are worried this Republican Congress will succumb to the blandishments of the Washington establishment the way their predecessors who were defeated in 2006 did. Bachmann’s promise, rather than Boehner’s proposed compromise, is a guarantee that won’t happen even if means passing up an opportunity to do something constructive.

Read More

Politics may be the art of the possible, but while demonstrating flexibility is important for a legislator it can be a drawback to winning elections. That’s why Michele Bachmann’s first television advertisement to be broadcast in Iowa is smart politics even if it may not be the smartest policy. During the course of her ad, Bachmann not only brags of her vote against President Obama’s stimulus plan and the 2008 bailout of financial institutions,but gives a flat promise: “I will not vote to increase the debt ceiling.” That sort of fiscal absolutism may be considered an irresponsible roadblock to genuine compromises, especially if it means she would vote against a debt ceiling bill that would, as House Speaker John Boehner has proposed to the president, enact the sort of genuine tax reform Republicans have wanted to enact for decades.

But as much as such a pledge can’t be considered constructive on Capitol Hill, it is exactly what many Republicans are dying to hear from a presidential candidate. Though some in the GOP, as well as the media, are acting as if the Tea Party movement that drove the Republican midterm election victory in 2010 is a passing craze, it is not. Many grass roots Republicans are worried this Republican Congress will succumb to the blandishments of the Washington establishment the way their predecessors who were defeated in 2006 did. Bachmann’s promise, rather than Boehner’s proposed compromise, is a guarantee that won’t happen even if means passing up an opportunity to do something constructive.

The political value of Bachmann’s purity shouldn’t be underestimated. As Chris Cillizza wrote in today’s Washington Post, unlike most members of Congress, Bachmann’s legislative record is no burden to her candidacy. During her five years in Congress, Bachmann has not devoted any effort to “going along to get along” as most members must do in order to pass legislation. She has not brought home any “bacon” to her district because she viewed her purpose very differently than her colleagues. Instead of log rolling with other members to gain passage of pet legislation, she has spent all of her time “tilting at windmills” and generally running afoul of her party’s leadership.

Many members of the GOP establishment, including fellow members of the Republican congressional caucus, probably rolled their eyes when they saw her Iowa ad. But those who view her record on the Hill as one of failure which ought to render her candidacy quixotic, don’t get it. Her purity may make her irrelevant in Washington, but it is exactly the ticket for pleasing movement conservatives who are disgusted with the pragmatic measures getting things done requires. Far from hurting Bachmann’s chances, this attitude helps her immeasurably.

In fact, if her congressional record resembles anyone’s, it’s that of Barack Obama, who coasted through his three-plus years in the Senate with no object in mind but the presidency. That ought to scare the dickens out of the rest of the GOP presidential field.

Read Less

The 14th Amendment to the Rescue? I Don’t Think So

There is a really lousy idea making the rounds of the chattering classes in Washington right now: that the 14th Amendment gives the President the power to take on debt beyond what Congress has authorized. What the 14th Amendment, Section 4, says is:

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Read More

There is a really lousy idea making the rounds of the chattering classes in Washington right now: that the 14th Amendment gives the President the power to take on debt beyond what Congress has authorized. What the 14th Amendment, Section 4, says is:

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

How does this authorize the president to borrow money, especially as the power “to borrow money on the credit of the United States” is one of the powers vested in Congress in Article I, Section 8? Good question. The 14th Amendment, declared ratified on July 9th, 1868, dealt with post-Civil War issues,  and the clauses dealing with citizenship, apportionment, civil disabilities for anyone who had sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution and had subsequently engaged in rebellion, and the “incorporation” of the Bill of Rights, making parts of it apply to the states as well as the federal government, have generated a huge amount of Supreme Court jurisprudence.

Section 4 has not. Indeed, as far as I know, the only Supreme Court case dealing with it was Perry v. United States (1935), one of the so-called gold bond cases. Congress had passed a joint resolution  saying United States bonds that were to be paid off in gold could be paid, instead, in ordinary money. The court ruled (5-4) that “We conclude that the Joint Resolution of June 5, 1933, in so far as it attempted to override the obligation created by the bond in suit, went beyond the congressional power.” But it also ruled the plaintiff had failed to show a cause of action and therefore had no standing. Case closed.  Those of the Tea Party persuasion should read, for entertainment value if nothing else as the matter is now moot, the furious dissent of Justice McReynolds in this case. You can almost hear the steam coming out of his ears.

But Perry in no way questions the plain meaning of the section: that the enormous debt that had been run up to pay for the Civil War (the national debt went from $64.8 million in 1860 to $2.8 billion in 1866) as well as future pension costs were  not to be questioned by anyone while the losses incurred by slaveholders and those who had loaned the Confederacy and Confederate states money (including some European banks and speculators) were not to be paid by anyone.

Any attempt to twist what is clear in plain English into a back-door grant of power to the president would, I suspect, cause a political and even constitutional problem far more severe than a short-term default would.

Read Less

UN Official Admits to “Unintentionally” Posting Anti-Semitic Cartoon

Not only did he come clean, he issued a bizarre quasi-apology as well – but more on that in a second.

The controversy began when Richard Falk, the UN envoy for human rights in the Palestinian territories, posted a cartoon of a yarmulke-wearing dog chewing on a bloody skeleton and urinating on Lady Justice on his personal blog last month.

Read More

Not only did he come clean, he issued a bizarre quasi-apology as well – but more on that in a second.

The controversy began when Richard Falk, the UN envoy for human rights in the Palestinian territories, posted a cartoon of a yarmulke-wearing dog chewing on a bloody skeleton and urinating on Lady Justice on his personal blog last month.

After he was confronted about the cartoon’s anti-Semitic connotations, he initially denied posting it. “It is a complete lie,” he reportedly wrote on his blog. “I know nothing about such a cartoon, and would never publish such a thing, ever.” A few minutes later, Falk backtracked, removing the post from his blog and explaining he “didn’t realize that it could be viewed as anti-Semitic, and still do not realize.”

And now Falk has finally issued an “apology,” clarifying that he opposes any denigration of individuals “based on ethnicity, race, religion, stage of development.”

“My intention has never been to demean in any way Jews as a people despite my strong criticisms of Israeli policies, and some versions of Zionist support,” said Falk.

His statement then incongruously launches into a lecture on respecting animals, saying, “If we are to have a sustainable human future we must also make peace with nature, and treat animals with as much respect as possible. This is both a sacred imperative of my idea of a spiritual life, but also an integral aspect of species survival on an increasingly crowded, overheated, and endangered planet.”

Is Falk also apologizing to animal rights activists who might have been offended by the cartoon’s portrayal of a dog as a Jew?

The group UN Watch also found this message inappropriate, writing, “Falk here appears not only to be equating animals with human beings, but to be apologizing for his cartoon’s insult to Jews as well as dogs.”

But honestly, even the most heartfelt apology from Falk wouldn’t change the fact the guy has to go. He’s been a problem for the UN for too long. Earlier this year, US Ambassador Susan Rice called for Falk’s resignation after he was accused of supporting the 9/11 “Truther” movement. This latest cartoon controversy seems to fit a pattern of extremely poor judgment and embarrassing mishaps.

For what it’s worth, the Anti-Defamation League is asking the UN to publicly condemn Falk, but the group doesn’t seem to be going as far as UN Watch, which is now calling for Falk’s dismissal.

Read Less

Re-Establishing Deterrence Should Be Israel’s Priority

Jonathan Tobin has expertly dissected many of the problems with the UN report on the May 15 incident in which more than 1,000 Palestinian and other “protesters” tried to storm the border between Israel and Lebanon. But I can’t resist piling on. Michael Williams’ report is such a perfect example of the double standard to which Israel—and occasionally the United States—is held.

Williams admits the “demonstrators” were hardly Gandhi types: He writes they “unearthed 23 anti-tank mines, threw stones and two petrol bombs across the fence and attempted to climb it and bring it down.” He also admits Israeli troops were not eager to shoot anyone: Only after “a verbal warning and firing into the air” did the soldiers open live fire, and then only to prevent the protesters from tearing down the fence and invading Israel. It’s not even clear Israeli troops caused all 11 fatalities, since Lebanese forces were using live rounds, too.
Read More

Jonathan Tobin has expertly dissected many of the problems with the UN report on the May 15 incident in which more than 1,000 Palestinian and other “protesters” tried to storm the border between Israel and Lebanon. But I can’t resist piling on. Michael Williams’ report is such a perfect example of the double standard to which Israel—and occasionally the United States—is held.

Williams admits the “demonstrators” were hardly Gandhi types: He writes they “unearthed 23 anti-tank mines, threw stones and two petrol bombs across the fence and attempted to climb it and bring it down.” He also admits Israeli troops were not eager to shoot anyone: Only after “a verbal warning and firing into the air” did the soldiers open live fire, and then only to prevent the protesters from tearing down the fence and invading Israel. It’s not even clear Israeli troops caused all 11 fatalities, since Lebanese forces were using live rounds, too.

This was not exactly a Hama-style massacre. If the Israeli soldiers were guilty of anything, it was being unprepared for this surprise tactic; they didn’t have crowd control equipment handy. But that’s because no protesters had previously tried to storm the border. Perhaps the Israelis should have anticipated this contingency and prepared for it. But at worst that’s a tactical failure–not a war crime.

It is absurd to argue, as the UN does, Israeli actions violated international law because the actions of Israeli troops were “not commensurate” to the threat they faced. That’s a judgment easy to make in a far-away, air-conditioned office; it’s a different matter when a large number of enraged people bent on destroying your country, and armed with bombs and stones, are about to overrun your positions. Even faced with such a dire provocation, Israeli troops still showed commendable restraint–for which of course they get no thanks at all.

The use of the “incommensurate” argument is particularly rich–though hardly surprising. It has become a favorite trope of the anti-Israel Left which seems to believe soldiers must under all circumstances calibrate their response exactly to the sort of tactics they face. So should Israel be car-bombing Lebanese civilians, kidnapping Lebanese soldiers, or randomly firing rockets into Lebanon–the tactics of Hezbollah?

In 2006, Israel responded to Hezbollah’s provocations with the bombing of Hezbollah infrastructure and a limited ground incursion into the south. Inside Israel, the IDF’s tactics were widely criticized for being indecisive; outside Israel they were damned for not being commensurate. But perhaps because they were not commensurate, they did shock Hezbollah and establish a degree of deterrence that had been lost. Maybe the May 15 incident will have the same impact on “protesters” thinking of storming Israel’s borders in the future. If so, the result may well be saved lives on both sides.

Read Less

Islam Takes a Backseat to Realpolitik in Turkey

Turkey’s Islamic government has spent the last few years gradually dismantling that country’s once warm alliance with Israel. Motivated as much by their ideological affinities as any notion of their national interest, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP party government had distanced itself from Jerusalem and then assumed the role of one of the Jewish state’s most ardent critics. Things came to a head last year when the Turks allowed an “aid” flotilla to Gaza to be launched from their shores to break the blockade of the Hamas-run strip. When Turkish nationals were killed as armed activists on one of the ships resisted Israeli commandos who bordered the vessel, it seemed a complete rupture between the two countries was in the cards.

Thus, the news that Israeli and Turkish diplomats are meeting today to settle their differences must be considered a remarkable turn of events. It shows that despite the sympathy for Israel’s Islamist foes among the Turks and the belief among some members of the AKP that their country should assume the pose of the successor of the Ottoman Empire, shoring up their strategic position in the region may be a higher priority.

Read More

Turkey’s Islamic government has spent the last few years gradually dismantling that country’s once warm alliance with Israel. Motivated as much by their ideological affinities as any notion of their national interest, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP party government had distanced itself from Jerusalem and then assumed the role of one of the Jewish state’s most ardent critics. Things came to a head last year when the Turks allowed an “aid” flotilla to Gaza to be launched from their shores to break the blockade of the Hamas-run strip. When Turkish nationals were killed as armed activists on one of the ships resisted Israeli commandos who bordered the vessel, it seemed a complete rupture between the two countries was in the cards.

Thus, the news that Israeli and Turkish diplomats are meeting today to settle their differences must be considered a remarkable turn of events. It shows that despite the sympathy for Israel’s Islamist foes among the Turks and the belief among some members of the AKP that their country should assume the pose of the successor of the Ottoman Empire, shoring up their strategic position in the region may be a higher priority.

The Arab Spring wave of protests has not only brought down Arab authoritarians such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, it has also apparently scared the Turks who see the region now as roiling with unrest and instability. In particular, the chaos in Syria, a longtime antagonist of the Turks, is scaring Ankara. Israel knows it needs the Turks to act as counterbalance to the growing influence of Iran and its Hamas and Hezbollah allies, as well as to an increasingly hostile Egypt. By the same token, Turkey now realizes it needs Israel to act as a check on some of these same Islamic forces as much as they did in the past.

The sticking point between the two countries is agreeing on the final language of a United Nations report on the Marvi Mamara incident. Though chaired by a former prime minister of New Zealand, the committee has both Israeli and Turkish representatives. Both sides want the issue to go away. The key, as the New York Times noted today, is to find “a word that would sound like an apology in Turkish, but not in Hebrew.” The publication of the report is being held up to allow the two nations to arrive at a compromise. If, by giving a little on the wording, Turkey can be induced to back away from a confrontation, it will be a major triumph for Israeli diplomacy.

If this rapprochement happens, it will prove two common assumptions about the Middle East are totally wrong. One is that the Netanyahu government is ideologically too rigid and incompetent to conduct Israeli foreign policy. Given the skillful way he has held off pressure from the Obama administration while rekindling relations with Turkey, it appears the Likud-led coalition has a firm grasp on the nation’s interest. By the same token, Erdoğan’s apparent willingness to kiss and make up with Israel shows he is more worried about Turkey’s strategic needs than his ambition to be the leader of the Muslim world. If so, it shows that for all of the uncertainty about the Middle East and the rise of political Islam, the only two democracies in the region know they still need each other.

 

Read Less

Pre-Cooked UN Report on Border Clashes Yields Predictable Result

Soon after the assault on Israel’s borders that took place on the anniversary of the birth of the Jewish state, Michael Williams, the United Nations’ special coordinator for Lebanon, was quoted as saying he was “shocked by the number of the deaths and the use of disproportionate, deadly force” by Israeli soldiers against “apparently unarmed demonstrators.” So it is hardly surprising the UN report on the incident authored by the same Michael Williams placed the blame on Israel for the fatalities among the border crashers.

The UN report that Williams wrote was released today and damned Israel for using the wrong tactics in dealing with the May 15 attempt on the part of those protesting the country’s existence to break in. While conceding the demonstrators had been verbally warned and that warning shots were fired, the report stated the deaths were still primarily Israel’s fault because of faulty crowd-control measures. The UN does blame the protesters for violating the cease-fire that exists along the border and for throwing rocks and petrol bombs and for trying to tear down the fence there. But it failed to note the Lebanese Army was also firing live ammunition there and might have been responsible for the deaths. Even more to the point, the report fails to understand a violent mob crashing a border fence in a war zone is not the same thing as a peaceful demonstration in a city square.

Read More

Soon after the assault on Israel’s borders that took place on the anniversary of the birth of the Jewish state, Michael Williams, the United Nations’ special coordinator for Lebanon, was quoted as saying he was “shocked by the number of the deaths and the use of disproportionate, deadly force” by Israeli soldiers against “apparently unarmed demonstrators.” So it is hardly surprising the UN report on the incident authored by the same Michael Williams placed the blame on Israel for the fatalities among the border crashers.

The UN report that Williams wrote was released today and damned Israel for using the wrong tactics in dealing with the May 15 attempt on the part of those protesting the country’s existence to break in. While conceding the demonstrators had been verbally warned and that warning shots were fired, the report stated the deaths were still primarily Israel’s fault because of faulty crowd-control measures. The UN does blame the protesters for violating the cease-fire that exists along the border and for throwing rocks and petrol bombs and for trying to tear down the fence there. But it failed to note the Lebanese Army was also firing live ammunition there and might have been responsible for the deaths. Even more to the point, the report fails to understand a violent mob crashing a border fence in a war zone is not the same thing as a peaceful demonstration in a city square.

The problem with the “Nakba Day” demonstration at the Lebanese border was not just that those who took part want to see Israel destroyed. It is that their effort was itself an illegal invasion. No nation state is obligated to let terrorists or their sympathizers tear down a barrier at a border. While the Israel Defense Force might have handled things better, the fault for the casualties lies with those who recruited (and possibly paid, as was the case with similar attacks on the Syrian frontier) people to act in an illegal and violent manner. Troops subjected to gas bomb attacks have the right to defend themselves. Any country and any army protecting its border against hostile forces would have reacted in the same way. But the double standard by which Israel is judged at the UN treats any form of self-defense as inherently illegitimate.

UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force on that border which compiled the report under Williams’ supervision, has itself been credibly accused of bias against Israel during the years. Hezbollah terrorists have operated with impunity under their noses as they planned and carried out attacks across the same border. Is there any wonder then the report was slanted and that, under the circumstances, few in Israel will pay much attention to it?

Read Less

Team Obama Seeks to Steer GOP Race

It’s hard to read too much into the Obama campaign attacks on GOP candidates at this point. If the Democrats go after Mitt Romney, does that mean they are concerned he has the best chance of beating Obama if he becomes the nominee? Or is it a ploy, designed to make strategists think they’re nervous about Romney, when in reality they’re worried about some other candidate?

Regardless, the Obama campaign has a lot of money to burn, and it’s already started using it to tamper with the Republican nominations — and especially Romney — the Washington Post reports:

Read More

It’s hard to read too much into the Obama campaign attacks on GOP candidates at this point. If the Democrats go after Mitt Romney, does that mean they are concerned he has the best chance of beating Obama if he becomes the nominee? Or is it a ploy, designed to make strategists think they’re nervous about Romney, when in reality they’re worried about some other candidate?

Regardless, the Obama campaign has a lot of money to burn, and it’s already started using it to tamper with the Republican nominations — and especially Romney — the Washington Post reports:

The exchanges show that Obama and his lieutenants have no intention of sitting quietly by while GOP voters pick their nominee. Democratic officials are reaching into the fray to test out lines of attack against potential 2012 opponents — and maybe make some mischief along the way.

This week, however, Democrats have trained their attention for the most part on Romney. The former Massachusetts governor is trying to solidify his status as the leader in a still-unsettled Republican field. He has maintained his standing in early polls, is assembling a deep organization nationwide and is raising exponentially more money than his opponents. The Romney campaign said Wednesday it had raised $18.25 million over the past three months , while a new outside political action committee run by his allies raised $12 million.

Democrats have recently been trying to enhance the perception Romney’s a “flip-flopper,” which is something they say makes him vulnerable in both the primaries and in the general election. Romney’s team, of course, is loving the attention, especially since attacks from Obama could make him more attractive to Republican voters.

But while Romney’s reputation as a flip-flopper is a major obstacle in the primaries, would it really be so disastrous in the general election? Obviously it doesn’t speak well to his character, but from a political perspective, his changing views will make him more vulnerable in the primaries than in the general election. After all, he shifted from a liberal Republican to a moderate Republican. If conservatives are able to forgive him for that and give him the nomination, there’s no reason why independents couldn’t get past it.

Read Less

Sex Appeal Doesn’t Hurt Any Politician

Good looks may have always been an advantage in politics, but the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon television debates have long been considered the turning point when the outside package trumped substance. Supposedly those who heard the first debate between the two over the radio thought Richard Nixon was the winner, while those who viewed it on television (and got a good look at Nixon’s bad makeup job that made him look the part of “Tricky Dick”) believed the far more handsome Kennedy came out on top.

Not all successful presidential candidates have had the charm of JFK, but the notion that “sex appeal” may have something to do with the outcomes of elections did not originate with former congressman Vin Weber, who has been put through the wringer after publicly noting Michele Bachmann may have a way of appealing to voters his candidate Tim Pawlenty does not. Weber has been forced to apologize in large measure because such a remark is rightly seen as sexist. There’s little doubt female politicians’ looks, hair and clothes are the subject of far more comment than that devoted to their male counterparts. Attractive female politicians, among whose ranks Bachmann must certainly be counted, are also routinely subjected to the sort of objectification and demeaning comments about their abilities that are the stuff of boys’ locker room banter.

Read More

Good looks may have always been an advantage in politics, but the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon television debates have long been considered the turning point when the outside package trumped substance. Supposedly those who heard the first debate between the two over the radio thought Richard Nixon was the winner, while those who viewed it on television (and got a good look at Nixon’s bad makeup job that made him look the part of “Tricky Dick”) believed the far more handsome Kennedy came out on top.

Not all successful presidential candidates have had the charm of JFK, but the notion that “sex appeal” may have something to do with the outcomes of elections did not originate with former congressman Vin Weber, who has been put through the wringer after publicly noting Michele Bachmann may have a way of appealing to voters his candidate Tim Pawlenty does not. Weber has been forced to apologize in large measure because such a remark is rightly seen as sexist. There’s little doubt female politicians’ looks, hair and clothes are the subject of far more comment than that devoted to their male counterparts. Attractive female politicians, among whose ranks Bachmann must certainly be counted, are also routinely subjected to the sort of objectification and demeaning comments about their abilities that are the stuff of boys’ locker room banter.

But as much as Weber was dead wrong even to touch on the question of Bachmann’s looks, a candidate’s appearance is bound to have some impact on their chances of victory. While we hope our presidential selection system is a bit more sophisticated than contests for high school prom kings or queens, does anyone really think homely candidates don’t have a steeper hill to climb than handsome ones?

Had Mitch Daniels run for president, we might have had a good test of just how important looks were in contemporary politics. There’s no reason to assume a plain, short man could not have won the presidency, especially if he was as smart as the Indiana governor, but does anyone think his height and lack of matinee idol looks would have helped him?  Prior to the age of television, the ranks of our presidents were filled with almost as many ordinary looking men as handsome ones. For every tall and handsome George Washington, there was a short and squat John Adams. But we haven’t elected a truly homely man president since Nixon and his predecessor Lyndon Johnson.

One of the homeliest residents of the White House, Abraham Lincoln, supposedly considered his looks no great disadvantage to his political career since it allowed the majority of voters to identify with him. Far from hurting his chances, Lincoln’s rough-hewn appearance actually played into the conceit of his campaign that portrayed a sophisticated, prosperous railroad lawyer as the embodiment of the common man. As Lincoln said, “Common-looking people are the best in the world: that is the reason the Lord makes so many of them.”

But in the age of television and the Internet, it appears most of us common-looking people prefer presidents who look the part. While it must be conceded the odds are still against Michele Bachmann’s taking the presidential oath in January 2013, it is doubtful her good looks will be an impediment to that goal.

Read Less

Unbelievable: TV Reporter Mocks Romney’s Mormonism

Even with polls showing there’s an anti-Mormon bias among voters — especially Democrats, more than a quarter of whom say they wouldn’t vote for a Mormon — I hadn’t given the issue much thought. But this video of a Memphis Fox affiliate ridiculing Mitt Romney about his religion is a real wake-up call (h/t Ben Smith). The whole news segment appears to be about Mormonism and the 2012 election, but skip ahead to the 3:20 mark for the worst of it:

Poking fun at religion is one thing, but skewering peoples’ religious beliefs during a news analysis segment is pretty outrageous. Imagine if a reporter had instead been mocking some of the stranger aspects of Judaism, Christianity or Islam?

Read More

Even with polls showing there’s an anti-Mormon bias among voters — especially Democrats, more than a quarter of whom say they wouldn’t vote for a Mormon — I hadn’t given the issue much thought. But this video of a Memphis Fox affiliate ridiculing Mitt Romney about his religion is a real wake-up call (h/t Ben Smith). The whole news segment appears to be about Mormonism and the 2012 election, but skip ahead to the 3:20 mark for the worst of it:

Poking fun at religion is one thing, but skewering peoples’ religious beliefs during a news analysis segment is pretty outrageous. Imagine if a reporter had instead been mocking some of the stranger aspects of Judaism, Christianity or Islam?

That said, I’m not sure whether this video hurts Romney or helps him. On the one hand, getting attacked by a reporter about your religion is pure gold for most Republican politicians, and this clip could certainly help Romney win sympathy and support from the conservative base. On the other hand, the video does portray Mormonism negatively, and it highlights some religious beliefs Romney might not want circulating.

I didn’t expect Mormonism to become part of the election, but if videos like this keep popping up, then it might become an issue Romney will have to address.

Read Less

Michele Bachmann’s First Campaign Ad

Rep. Michele Bachmann’s first campaign ad of the season is out in Iowa today, and it’s clearly aimed at introducing herself to Iowa voters. The commercial is short and simple, and features Bachmann talking directly into the camera about her Iowa roots, her foster kids, her career as an attorney, and her fiscal record as a member of Congress.

The underlying message of the video: this is not the crazy tea party lady the Democrats have been trying to paint her as for the past few years.

Read More

Rep. Michele Bachmann’s first campaign ad of the season is out in Iowa today, and it’s clearly aimed at introducing herself to Iowa voters. The commercial is short and simple, and features Bachmann talking directly into the camera about her Iowa roots, her foster kids, her career as an attorney, and her fiscal record as a member of Congress.

The underlying message of the video: this is not the crazy tea party lady the Democrats have been trying to paint her as for the past few years.

The most interesting part of the ad comes at the end, where Bachmann unveils what may potentially become a campaign slogan: “The unifying choice to beat Obama.” Bachmann is a star with the grassroots, but many Republicans and Independents likely have doubts about whether she could win in a general election. And it’s important for Bachmann to change that perception — especially in Iowa, where a new Iowa Republican poll just found this week state GOP voters prefer a candidate who can beat Obama over one they agree with ideologically. This follows a larger Gallup poll that found the same trend among Republicans nationally. Convincing voters she can win in a general election will be Bachmann’s biggest challenge as the primaries draw closer.

Read Less

Does Bachmann Have a Plan to Limit Government?

Representative Michele Bachmann, a heroine of the Tea Party Movement, is fond of referring to her “titanium spine.” Her quest for the presidency is premised on the idea she is willing to do the hard work “establishment” Republicans will not. But in her recent appearances on Fox News Sunday, she made some comments about Representative Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal that seemed to cut against that narrative.

When asked about his plan to reform Medicare, Bachmann told host Chris Wallace it is one over which she has put “an asterisk.” Bachmann went on to explain, “We have to make sure going forward with senior citizens, that we’re focusing on a higher quality of life, dealing with cures for instance for senior citizens.”

Read More

Representative Michele Bachmann, a heroine of the Tea Party Movement, is fond of referring to her “titanium spine.” Her quest for the presidency is premised on the idea she is willing to do the hard work “establishment” Republicans will not. But in her recent appearances on Fox News Sunday, she made some comments about Representative Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal that seemed to cut against that narrative.

When asked about his plan to reform Medicare, Bachmann told host Chris Wallace it is one over which she has put “an asterisk.” Bachmann went on to explain, “We have to make sure going forward with senior citizens, that we’re focusing on a higher quality of life, dealing with cures for instance for senior citizens.”

This answer echoed earlier comments Bachmann made to Wallace. When he asked her, “What do you tell people nearing retirement who say I can’t afford to pay more of my own healthcare costs out of pocket, which is what the Ryan and Republican Study Committee plans would do,” Bachmann said,

And I understand that. I put an asterisk on my support. And I put a blog posting up that said just as much. That is my area of concern, I support these bills with that proviso. … One position that I’m concerned about is shifting the cost burden to senior citizens. Seniors are saying, “Look, I’m not in a position to be able to handle that.” I also share that real fear. That’s why I put that asterisk out there.

When Wallace pressed Bachmann further, asking, “So you’re not wedded to the idea of a voucher plan for Medicare?” she answered, “I’m wedded to the idea of efficiencies and cost cuttings and savings in healthcare, [but] how we get there is open to discussion.”

It’s still early in the process, and Representative Bachmann will have many more opportunities to speak about Medicare. We’ll see how she does. But the acid test for those who claim to be champions of limited government remains structural reforms of entitlement programs. If public officials duck on it, and most especially on Medicare, they will severely injure their credibility when it comes to scaling back, in any significant way, the Leviathan. And the Tea Party, if it hopes to remain true to its animating spirit, has to hold politicians accountable, including Michele Bachmann.

Now it may be she has a detailed, substantive plan that differs from what Ryan has put forward. But so far she hasn’t revealed it, and there are no signs she’ll do so anytime soon. And if she intends to offer caveats and provisos of the kind she has done several times now on Fox News Sunday, then the burden is on her to show how she would improve on what Ryan has put forward.

The House GOP budget certainly isn’t the only way to get the job done. But there’s no easy way to get the job done, either. And if Bachmann simply resorts to familiar talking points when it comes to Medicare, then her claim to having a “titanium spine” will unravel.

Talking about limited government turns out to be easier than putting forward a credible plan to actually limit government. Paul Ryan understands the difference; I hope Michele Bachmann does as well.

Read Less

Flotilla Diplomacy Proves the Importance of Hard Power

With diplomatic efforts to stop this year’s flotilla to Gaza a seeming success, a new myth has arisen: The success of this year’s effort proves Israel could also have stopped last year’s flotilla without bloodshed had it only been a bit smarter. Max implied as much here; Haaretz said it openly. But the sorry truth is Israel’s diplomatic efforts succeeded this time only because of its willingness to use deadly force last year.

Since Israel’s diplomatic efforts failed so utterly last year, they garnered no international attention. But in fact, Israel tried desperately to stop the flotilla peacefully right up until its commandos boarded the ships. It negotiated frantically with Turkey, whose nationals comprised the bulk of the passengers, and even reached an agreement under which the flotilla would dock in Israel and the Turkish Red Crescent would then transfer the cargo to Gaza; but Ankara reneged at the last minute. It begged the countries whence the ships were sailing (Turkey, Greece and Ireland) not to let them depart and urged other Western countries, especially the U.S., to employ their diplomatic leverage. But all to no avail: The unanimous response was democracies can’t bar peaceful demonstrators from sailing the high seas.

Read More

With diplomatic efforts to stop this year’s flotilla to Gaza a seeming success, a new myth has arisen: The success of this year’s effort proves Israel could also have stopped last year’s flotilla without bloodshed had it only been a bit smarter. Max implied as much here; Haaretz said it openly. But the sorry truth is Israel’s diplomatic efforts succeeded this time only because of its willingness to use deadly force last year.

Since Israel’s diplomatic efforts failed so utterly last year, they garnered no international attention. But in fact, Israel tried desperately to stop the flotilla peacefully right up until its commandos boarded the ships. It negotiated frantically with Turkey, whose nationals comprised the bulk of the passengers, and even reached an agreement under which the flotilla would dock in Israel and the Turkish Red Crescent would then transfer the cargo to Gaza; but Ankara reneged at the last minute. It begged the countries whence the ships were sailing (Turkey, Greece and Ireland) not to let them depart and urged other Western countries, especially the U.S., to employ their diplomatic leverage. But all to no avail: The unanimous response was democracies can’t bar peaceful demonstrators from sailing the high seas.

So why was it suddenly okay for democratic countries to intervene this year? Because this year, they had an excuse: The intervention was meant to prevent bloodshed. Indeed, officials worldwide said this explicitly. Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis said Greece was barring the ships from departing to prevent the “humanitarian disaster” that might ensue from a confrontation with Israel’s navy. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland explained Washington’s opposition to the flotilla similarly: By seeking to break the naval blockade of Gaza, the ships “are taking irresponsible and provocative actions that risk the safety of their passengers.”

It was also last year’s bloodshed, though for different reasons, that led Ankara to pressure the Turkish organization IHH to withdraw from this year’s flotilla shortly before it was due to sail. IHH, which has close links to Turkey’s government, was the driving force behind last year’s violence; its activists brutally assaulted the Israeli soldiers, forcing them to open fire in self-defense. The problem for Ankara is that a UN panel investigating last year’s flotilla is due to present its findings shortly, and astoundingly, it reportedly concluded that Turkey also bore some responsibility for the deadly outcome. Ankara is now frantically trying to get Israel to agree to soften the wording (both countries are on the panel), so the last thing it needed was for IHH to spark another round of bloodshed.

Like Max, I still think Israel mishandled last year’s interception. Yet it now turns out last year’s violence was necessary to achieve this year’s peaceful resolution. That’s certainly a pity. But it also proves, once again, that “soft power” works best when backed by hard power – and the willingness to use it.

Read Less

Obama-Boehner Deficit Deal Could Throw Congressional Democrats Under the Bus

The news that President Obama has upped the ante in the talks over extending the nation’s debt limit has to leave most observers wondering, who’s bluffing? Is the president seriously considering House Speaker John Boehner’s idea of a major overhaul of the tax code that would close loopholes and therefore raise revenues in exchange for substantial spending cuts in entitlement spending that would include hitherto sacred cows such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security?

If so, then we may be on the brink of a historic compromise that will not only represent a major step toward fiscal sanity but also fairness. Simplifying the tax code has long been a Republican goal although not one energetically pursued. This would eliminate a great many loopholes and raise a considerable amount of revenue, but if it is accompanied as the GOP insists, by lower rates, it could be sold to their party’s rank and file as a blow to big government rather than yet another measure that will only feed the monster.

Read More

The news that President Obama has upped the ante in the talks over extending the nation’s debt limit has to leave most observers wondering, who’s bluffing? Is the president seriously considering House Speaker John Boehner’s idea of a major overhaul of the tax code that would close loopholes and therefore raise revenues in exchange for substantial spending cuts in entitlement spending that would include hitherto sacred cows such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security?

If so, then we may be on the brink of a historic compromise that will not only represent a major step toward fiscal sanity but also fairness. Simplifying the tax code has long been a Republican goal although not one energetically pursued. This would eliminate a great many loopholes and raise a considerable amount of revenue, but if it is accompanied as the GOP insists, by lower rates, it could be sold to their party’s rank and file as a blow to big government rather than yet another measure that will only feed the monster.

If the president agrees to such a deal, it would deprive him of some of his favorite hobbyhorses, such as his incessant complaints about special treatment for owners of corporate jets, but it would also mean he could go to the country next year as a man who acted to cut the deficit and created a simpler and fairer tax code. The odds are such a record would play better with the independent voters who will decide the 2012 presidential election.

Some Republican hardliners, such as Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has pledged never to vote to raise the debt limit, may resist the compromise, but it’s likely Boehner could still carry the vast majority of his caucus. But if the Obama-Boehner deal passes, it will do so without much Democratic support.

Congressional Democrats would have few reasons to buy into this far-reaching accord. Most Democrats have little interest in tax simplification and none at all in the drastic cuts in entitlement spending the deal would mandate. Indeed, having spent the last few months doing their best to demonize Rep. Paul Ryan and the rest of the Republicans for their ideas about reforming Medicare, it is going to be hard for them to step back and buy into the cuts they had previously said were unthinkable.

Even worse for the Democrats, the Obama-Boehner deal would take this issue off the table in 2012, since big cuts in Medicare and other programs would be just as much the responsibility of the president as the Republicans. Democratic strategists probably were over-optimistic about their chances of re-taking the House of Representatives next year. But a budget compromise that would make it difficult to engage in the sort of demagoguery on Medicare that won the special election in New York’s 26th congressional district in May for the Democrats would effectively kill such hopes. Instead of talking about the Republicans throwing the nation’s grandmas over the cliff, Democrats may be forgiven for seeing a budget compromise as Barack Obama throwing them under the proverbial bus.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.