Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 18, 2011

Goldberg is Wrong to Conflate Spirituality with Ignorance

In late June, JTA’s Ron Kampeas wrote an in-depth profile of Michele Bachmann, highlighting her pro-Israel bona fides and her excellent relationship with the Jewish community in her congressional district. The article noted that unlike many politicians, Bachmann’s affinity for Israel was sparked by her time living there for a summer as a teenager.

“She was informed on the minor details of what’s going on,” Jenna Mitelman (who interviewed Bachmann for the blog site TCJewFolk), told Kampeas for the piece. The comment is consistent with what others say about her–that Bachmann’s firsthand experience in Israel during her formative years, as well as her religious upbringing that taught the value in the relationship between the Jewish people and the Christian community, has given her an informed, sensitive and heartfelt appreciation for the state of Israel.

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In late June, JTA’s Ron Kampeas wrote an in-depth profile of Michele Bachmann, highlighting her pro-Israel bona fides and her excellent relationship with the Jewish community in her congressional district. The article noted that unlike many politicians, Bachmann’s affinity for Israel was sparked by her time living there for a summer as a teenager.

“She was informed on the minor details of what’s going on,” Jenna Mitelman (who interviewed Bachmann for the blog site TCJewFolk), told Kampeas for the piece. The comment is consistent with what others say about her–that Bachmann’s firsthand experience in Israel during her formative years, as well as her religious upbringing that taught the value in the relationship between the Jewish people and the Christian community, has given her an informed, sensitive and heartfelt appreciation for the state of Israel.

“Many of her pro-Israel supporters said they were especially impressed by her command of Middle East issues, pointing in particular to a recent video on Israel posted by her campaign,” Kampeas wrote. “The video showcases Bachmann’s understanding of how Israelis view their alliance with the United States as nuanced, emotive and consistent with her pronounced Christian identity.”

All this sounded fair-minded and respectful (I’ll admit, a pleasant surprise given Bachmann’s coverage in the liberal press) particularly with regard to her religious convictions. But for an example of what I feared, look no further than Jeffrey Goldberg’s column in Bloomberg about her today.

Goldberg’s premise rests on an apparent contradiction that Bachmann loves Israel but dislikes gay people. Therefore, she should be whisked away to the Tel Aviv gay pride parade, where she will be forced to confront the fact there are gay Israelis. I, too, believe Israel’s welcoming and accepting attitude toward gay men and women is something of which we should be proud. It is not a contradiction for Bachmann to stand against gay marriage and still love Israel. Perhaps a more beneficial stunt would be to take American liberals to the Tel Aviv gay pride parade, since so much of the Left endorses the theory that Israel is an apartheid state yet somehow cannot find the time to lead a flotilla to one of Israel’s many neighbors who imprison or execute gays.

Goldberg’s thesis continues—Bachmann “doesn’t seem to know much at all [about Israel], apart from what she reads in the Bible.” Unfortunately for Goldberg, his theory has already been blown to pieces by Kampeas (and other journalists who have actually interviewed Bachmann and those who know her well). What is risible, though, is the genesis of the thesis. This is a statement Bachmann made: “We have to show that we are inextricably entwined, that as a nation we have been blessed because of our relationship with Israel, and if we reject Israel, then there is a curse that comes into play.”

That is the second and last time Bachmann is quoted in the article. Presumably, Bachmann quoting theology is sufficient to establish ignorance. But Israel is a country full of those who, like Bachmann, support Israel, understand the geostrategic threats facing the Jewish state, and respect the theological underpinnings of the Jewish state’s existence and continued survival. The uncomfortable fact for Bachmann’s detractors on the Left is that she is both deeply spiritual and well-informed about the Middle East. Israel has been led by such people for decades; it shouldn’t be so objectionable for the U.S. to be as well.

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Coburn Plan: $1 Trillion in Defense Cuts, $1 Trillion in Tax Hikes

In the midst of an increasingly polarized deficit fight, Sen. Tom Coburn may have achieved the impossible by bringing liberals and conservatives together in opposition to his disastrous $9 trillion deficit reduction plan.

The first major problem with the plan: it calls for $1 trillion in defense cuts during the next decade. That’s further than even Sen. Kent Conrad dared to go in his widely-criticized proposal, which reportedly included $900 billion in defense reductions during the same time period. And it’s far more radical than Obama’s own recommendation to slash the defense budget by $400 billion.

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In the midst of an increasingly polarized deficit fight, Sen. Tom Coburn may have achieved the impossible by bringing liberals and conservatives together in opposition to his disastrous $9 trillion deficit reduction plan.

The first major problem with the plan: it calls for $1 trillion in defense cuts during the next decade. That’s further than even Sen. Kent Conrad dared to go in his widely-criticized proposal, which reportedly included $900 billion in defense reductions during the same time period. And it’s far more radical than Obama’s own recommendation to slash the defense budget by $400 billion.

It seems for whatever reason, some conservatives believe defense spending should be sacrificed as a sort of goodwill gesture, in order to persuade liberals to make concessions on entitlements. But in reality, proposals like Coburn’s only end up encouraging American-declinists to seek bolder defense cuts. Military spending is not the reason why we’re in a fiscal crisis. Getting rid of wasteful spending in the defense budget is one thing, but strangling it with cuts will endanger our troops and dangerously diminish America’s standing in the world.

The portion of Coburn’s plan that conservatives can embrace – reducing the cost of Medicare and Medicaid by $2.6 trillion during the next decade – is also something that will get it automatically shot down by progressives.

But despite the cuts to defense and Medicare, this is a plan even fiscal hawks like Grover Norquist don’t want to get behind. This is because Coburn is proposing $1 trillion in tax hikes, thereby ensuring this is one plan that will make nobody happy.

According to The Hill, Coburn says the plan is something people “can pick and choose from.” Picking and choosing isn’t the hard part, though – it’s getting both sides to agree to concessions they may not be thrilled to make. Coburn’s proposals will likely be unacceptable to most of the people involved in the debate, which basically renders his entire plan meaningless.

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Those at No Labels Have No Next Step

This afternoon on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, a group of 75 “protesters” gathered to protest politicians. Or the debt. Or the nature of politics in general. The event was organized by “No Labels,” a non-partisan organization designed to overcome the partisan aspect of politics and encourage politicians to look beyond their reelections to instead focus on what’s best for the American people.

Before the rally a tourist asked me what the group’s stance was. When I told her, she responded, “Oh, so they’re liberals.” The desire to just get things done absent a clear strategy is classic liberal behavior. Without deciding what one stands for, how can a settlement be reached on any issue? One of the group’s manufactured chants, yelled meekly in the glaring 90+ degree sun was “Wanna get a deal. Wanna get it done!” These pre-manufactured chants, along with pre-manufactured signs, were staged for a group of camera crews who were reporting not on a rally, but on a photo-op.

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This afternoon on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, a group of 75 “protesters” gathered to protest politicians. Or the debt. Or the nature of politics in general. The event was organized by “No Labels,” a non-partisan organization designed to overcome the partisan aspect of politics and encourage politicians to look beyond their reelections to instead focus on what’s best for the American people.

Before the rally a tourist asked me what the group’s stance was. When I told her, she responded, “Oh, so they’re liberals.” The desire to just get things done absent a clear strategy is classic liberal behavior. Without deciding what one stands for, how can a settlement be reached on any issue? One of the group’s manufactured chants, yelled meekly in the glaring 90+ degree sun was “Wanna get a deal. Wanna get it done!” These pre-manufactured chants, along with pre-manufactured signs, were staged for a group of camera crews who were reporting not on a rally, but on a photo-op.

After the “rally,” some participants from New Jersey rested in the shade. One asked, “So, what’s the next step?” Another replied, “We’re stepless. We’re done.”

Despite disagreements between Democrats and Republicans, there are deals on the table. Those on each side know what they stand for and they’re fighting to get the best agreement possible for their supporters. Those at No Labels have no next step, because they have no base from which to demand action.

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Broken Windows Revisited: Graffiti Revival

If there was one achievement that symbolized the accomplishments Rudy Giuliani achieved in New York during his years as mayor, it was the drastic reduction in the graffiti that had previously defaced so much of the city. The effort to get rid of this form of vandalism was part of the “Broken Windows” strategy in which the police endeavored to stop the spread of behavior that engendered the feeling of neglect and decay that caused so many New Yorkers to believe there was no alternative to tolerating high crime rates.

But while graffiti has been held in check, if not eliminated in New York, such vandalism appears to be undergoing a revival of sorts in numerous cities around the country. In reporting on this trend, the New York Times asks whether this is being caused by the economic downturn or the increasing acceptance of graffiti as “art” in an era of debased standards. But the answer to the newspaper’s question may be something altogether different.

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If there was one achievement that symbolized the accomplishments Rudy Giuliani achieved in New York during his years as mayor, it was the drastic reduction in the graffiti that had previously defaced so much of the city. The effort to get rid of this form of vandalism was part of the “Broken Windows” strategy in which the police endeavored to stop the spread of behavior that engendered the feeling of neglect and decay that caused so many New Yorkers to believe there was no alternative to tolerating high crime rates.

But while graffiti has been held in check, if not eliminated in New York, such vandalism appears to be undergoing a revival of sorts in numerous cities around the country. In reporting on this trend, the New York Times asks whether this is being caused by the economic downturn or the increasing acceptance of graffiti as “art” in an era of debased standards. But the answer to the newspaper’s question may be something altogether different.

The Times claims the spread of graffiti in smaller cities such as Santa Monica, California, Portland, Oregon and Nashville, Tennessee (even as the practice is still kept in check in larger urban areas), may be a function of the growing rate of unemployment. This argument seems to be a rehash of the old adage about idle hands being the devil’s workshop. Others point to the glamorization of graffiti by an art world that has embraced a form of vandalism as a part of pop culture.

But the answer may have less to do with unemployment or the twisted taste of hip hop culture than it does with police policies. In those cities where anti-graffiti task forces have been cut, the defacement of public and private property goes up. While statistics indicate that violent crime has not increased, those areas where disrepair and despair are made manifest by the spread of graffiti may inevitably see a reversal of those figures.

While art fashions may come and go, the spread of vandalism can have only one meaning–decline. While the economic downturn is causing hardship in many areas, those cities that wish to avoid a return to the crime waves of the 1980s need to heed the lessons of “Broken Windows.” Those who fail to do so will pay a steep price–not just in the cost of clean ups.

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New O’Keefe Sting Exposes Medicaid Corruption

Conservative activist James O’Keefe traded in his pimp hat for a Russian accent during his latest undercover sting operation, in which he pretends to be an affluent European drug dealer attempting to obtain Medicaid benefits from an Ohio government office. Once again, the con apparently worked. Government employees are shown on video assisting O’Keefe in applying for medical assistance, after he tells them that he sells drugs, pimps out his underage sister and recently purchased an $800,000 car:

In response, Ohio employees tasked with disbursing federal Medicaid dollars are shown coaching the men through the process of applying for benefits. “If it’s not something registered here, maybe I just wouldn’t mention it,” a Franklin County Medicaid officer named Traci Daniels tells the men, when asked whether they should mention owning a vehicle that retails for nearly $1 million, as they apply for government aid designed to help poor people. “Not that I can say that. You didn’t hear that from me. But, that would right there, that would throw him off. He would be immediately not qualified.” Daniels also tells the men to describe their occupation as babysitting, though she apparently believes they are drug dealers.

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Conservative activist James O’Keefe traded in his pimp hat for a Russian accent during his latest undercover sting operation, in which he pretends to be an affluent European drug dealer attempting to obtain Medicaid benefits from an Ohio government office. Once again, the con apparently worked. Government employees are shown on video assisting O’Keefe in applying for medical assistance, after he tells them that he sells drugs, pimps out his underage sister and recently purchased an $800,000 car:

In response, Ohio employees tasked with disbursing federal Medicaid dollars are shown coaching the men through the process of applying for benefits. “If it’s not something registered here, maybe I just wouldn’t mention it,” a Franklin County Medicaid officer named Traci Daniels tells the men, when asked whether they should mention owning a vehicle that retails for nearly $1 million, as they apply for government aid designed to help poor people. “Not that I can say that. You didn’t hear that from me. But, that would right there, that would throw him off. He would be immediately not qualified.” Daniels also tells the men to describe their occupation as babysitting, though she apparently believes they are drug dealers.

The “babysitting” comment is probably the most egregious part of the video. When one of the activists informs a Medicaid worker that he sells “Bob Marley pharmaceuticals,” the chuckling employee replies, “I know what you’re saying, and I don’t want to hear what you’re saying. So just, yeah – babysitting.” But it’s not the only devastating part of the tape — at another point in the video, the same Medicaid worker appears to encourage the activists to go to Planned Parenthood if their underage, prostitute sister needs an abortion. This isn’t the first time the Medicaid program has been caught up in a drug-dealing-related scandal. Last December, New York investigators charged dozens of Medicaid recipients with selling medication to drug dealers:

[Ethel] Johnson is among 33 people charged so far in a large-scale investigation that has opened a window into an emerging class of suppliers in the illicit drug trade: medical patients, including many who rely on the publicly funded Medicaid program to pay for their appointments and prescriptions. She has pleaded not guilty. For the first time, the Buffalo investigators devoted the kinds of resources normally aimed at street drugs like heroin or crack — wiretaps, buys, surveillance and cross-agency cooperation to trace the drugs from pharmacy to street. Even they were taken aback by the burgeoning market for the kinds of pills found in medicine cabinets in typical American homes.

A Government Accountability Office report from 2009 examined Medicaid pharmaceutical fraud in California, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, and Texas, and found that it cost taxpayers $63 million in those four states alone. If O’Keefe’s sting video provokes enough public outrage over Medicaid abuse, then it could help save taxpayers a significant chunk of change. Of course, O’Keefe has been accused of questionable editing tactics in some of his previous videos, and if any similar complaints arise over this tape, then that could end up overshadowing the real issue here.

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Hezbollah Attack May Influence Talks Between Israel and Turkey

Haaretz is reporting that an Istanbul bombing previously credited to a Kurdish terrorist group was actually the work of Hezbollah. According to a story first reported in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the May attack was undertaken by the Lebanese Islamist terror group in a failed attempt to murder Israel’s consul general in the city. The explosion is believed to be in retaliation for the death of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran earlier this year.

This attack on Turkish soil may be one of several events convincing the Islamic government there a rapprochement with Israel may be in their strategic interest.

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Haaretz is reporting that an Istanbul bombing previously credited to a Kurdish terrorist group was actually the work of Hezbollah. According to a story first reported in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the May attack was undertaken by the Lebanese Islamist terror group in a failed attempt to murder Israel’s consul general in the city. The explosion is believed to be in retaliation for the death of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran earlier this year.

This attack on Turkish soil may be one of several events convincing the Islamic government there a rapprochement with Israel may be in their strategic interest.

While sources in Ankara are denying Hezbollah is operating on their territory, this incident may have been part of a recent trend in which Turkey’s Islamic government has backed away from Iran and Syria in the wake of the Arab Spring protests. Turkey chose not to play any role in this year’s version of the anti-Israel flotilla to Gaza, and it has been alarmed by Syria’s military activities close to their southern border as the Assad regime tries to wipe out dissidents.

While a year ago it seemed as if Israel’s once close relationship with Turkey had collapsed in a wave of recriminations after several Turks were killed during the seizure of one of the flotilla ships, the two countries are cautiously moving back toward a more normal relationship. The Jerusalem Post is reporting that talks between the two countries are continuing as they attempt to settle the flotilla affair. Recent statements from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Israel must lift the blockade of Gaza in order to achieve a settlement of the dispute have complicated those talks. That is something Israel will not do, although it is willing to apologize for the loss of life provided such a statement will conclusively end the matter.

It is not clear whether Erdogan is posturing prior to making a deal. But the news about Hezbollah killers operating in Turkey may well be influencing the Turks to renew their alliance with Israel in order to protect itself against Iran and its terrorist allies.

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Does Iowa Still Matter?

In my last post, I mentioned Rudy Giuliani’s strategy for winning the Republican nomination: Skip Iowa and base a campaign around New Hampshire. He is not the first candidate this year to announce such a move (since Giuliani hasn’t declared yet, his announcement is purely hypothetical). So it’s worth pondering: Does Iowa still matter?

The Iowa caucuses hold a peculiar place on the path to the Republican nomination. But it’s fair to wonder if the state really is the bellwether Iowans proclaim it to be, at least as compared with New Hampshire, which holds the first primary. A look at the data shows just how different the preferences of the two states’ voters can be and how that will impact this election. Read More

In my last post, I mentioned Rudy Giuliani’s strategy for winning the Republican nomination: Skip Iowa and base a campaign around New Hampshire. He is not the first candidate this year to announce such a move (since Giuliani hasn’t declared yet, his announcement is purely hypothetical). So it’s worth pondering: Does Iowa still matter?

The Iowa caucuses hold a peculiar place on the path to the Republican nomination. But it’s fair to wonder if the state really is the bellwether Iowans proclaim it to be, at least as compared with New Hampshire, which holds the first primary. A look at the data shows just how different the preferences of the two states’ voters can be and how that will impact this election.Since 1976, there have been nine presidential elections. The candidate who won Iowa won the Republican nomination six times (67 percent). The candidate who won New Hampshire won seven times (78 percent). But we can clean that up by eliminating the four elections in which there was an incumbent Republican president, as there is none this election. Of the remaining five election years, the candidate who won Iowa won the GOP nomination twice (40 percent). New Hampshire predicted the eventual GOP nominee three of those five (60 percent). It’s not a terribly wide deviation, but it certainly doesn’t show Iowa to be essential.

And here’s where it gets interesting. In those five “open” election years, Iowa and New Hampshire never produced the same winner. That’s because it’s always been about more than just statistics and probabilities. As in past years, there is a significant difference between the types of candidates who are competing in Iowa this election and those who are competing in New Hampshire. In the Politico story I linked to in my last post, Giuliani says if he runs, his focus will be on his economic record, not foreign policy. He has also indicated he has no interest in defending the conservative position on same-sex marriage. Here there is consistency among the candidates. Mitt Romney is also skipping Iowa to focus on New Hampshire, and he too is concentrating on his economic record and eschewing culture war politics. Same goes for Jon Huntsman, who was a supporter of civil unions (and many think same-sex marriage as well) as governor of Utah, and he will be concentrating on job creation.

The candidates competing in Iowa, however, are all making a strong pitch to social conservative voters. Michele Bachmann has the reputation as perhaps the staunchest opponent of same-sex marriage in the GOP field, though an argument can be made that Rick Santorum holds that distinction. Tim Pawlenty is a favorite of the pro-life crowd and has taken a conservative stance on same-sex marriage.

The lore surrounding Iowa and New Hampshire is built on the retail politicking it takes to win those states. And although New Hampshire seems to be slightly better at picking the eventual nominee, Iowa takes some pride in this. What many voters like about the Iowa caucuses is that winning them depends a lot less on money and campaign machines. But it also produces less realistic outcomes, because protest candidates and vanity insurgents don’t always end up finishing the race.

Additionally, while Iowa may be able to generate momentum for a candidate as the first contest on the nominating schedule, New Hampshire can easily slow or stop that momentum–though its ability to do so will be determined in part by which primaries follow. (If it’s Nevada and Michigan again, it could easily give Romney three wins in a row.)

The most significant factor, though, is the message. The social conservative message is important to many GOP primary voters, but it’s not the leading issue nationwide. The economy will dominate the debates, and in this respect, the candidates focusing on New Hampshire may have the right message, regardless of the geography.

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Seventy Percent of Obama Haul May Be From Big-Money Bundlers

The Romney campaign’s reliance on big-money donors has received a lot of attention, but President Obama and the DNC may have also raked in up to $60 million-plus from ultra-wealthy bundlers – nearly 70 percent of the campaign’s total haul.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports that the Obama campaign only disclosed broad ranges of how much each individual bundler contributed. If the bundlers pulled in the maximum for their category, then the total amount could be much higher than previously reported:

These broad categories mean the true amount collected for Obama’s re-election could be even greater than $35 million. In fact, if the maximum amounts raised by these 200-plus elite moneymen and women are used, the total could be as high as $60 million. That’s 70 percent of the total announced haul. And that amount could be higher still, since for the 27 individuals who bundled more than a half-million dollars there is no maximum amount given.

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The Romney campaign’s reliance on big-money donors has received a lot of attention, but President Obama and the DNC may have also raked in up to $60 million-plus from ultra-wealthy bundlers – nearly 70 percent of the campaign’s total haul.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports that the Obama campaign only disclosed broad ranges of how much each individual bundler contributed. If the bundlers pulled in the maximum for their category, then the total amount could be much higher than previously reported:

These broad categories mean the true amount collected for Obama’s re-election could be even greater than $35 million. In fact, if the maximum amounts raised by these 200-plus elite moneymen and women are used, the total could be as high as $60 million. That’s 70 percent of the total announced haul. And that amount could be higher still, since for the 27 individuals who bundled more than a half-million dollars there is no maximum amount given.

The Obama campaign often tries to downplay its dependence on bundlers, and portray itself as primarily grassroots-driven. And while it definitely collected an impressive amount of small-money donations, Obama is still reliant on wealthy bundlers and special interest groups, just like any other incumbent politician.

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Herman Cain Steps In It Again

Former Godfather Pizza CEO Herman Cain had a brief surge after the May South Carolina debate, but since then he has spent much of his time frittering away his small advantage by making gaffes that he’s had trouble explaining. While we’ve previously discussed his lack of understanding of foreign policy issues, another topic that has bedeviled him is his attitude toward Muslims.

Previously, Cain said he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet or to a federal judgeship. He later backed off that statement and told me last week when I appeared with him on “The John Stossel Show” on the Fox Business Channel he only meant he just wanted to make sure any possible cabinet members were not terrorists. He had no answer when I asked why he would consider someone who could possibly be a terrorist for such a position. Yesterday, he dug himself in even deeper on the question of Muslims by making another puzzling statement.

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Former Godfather Pizza CEO Herman Cain had a brief surge after the May South Carolina debate, but since then he has spent much of his time frittering away his small advantage by making gaffes that he’s had trouble explaining. While we’ve previously discussed his lack of understanding of foreign policy issues, another topic that has bedeviled him is his attitude toward Muslims.

Previously, Cain said he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet or to a federal judgeship. He later backed off that statement and told me last week when I appeared with him on “The John Stossel Show” on the Fox Business Channel he only meant he just wanted to make sure any possible cabinet members were not terrorists. He had no answer when I asked why he would consider someone who could possibly be a terrorist for such a position. Yesterday, he dug himself in even deeper on the question of Muslims by making another puzzling statement.

Cain told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday that he sided with the residents of a town near Nashville, Tennessee, who were trying to prevent the construction of a mosque, saying they had a right to keep Muslim worship out of their municipality. Let’s understand right away there is no comparison between the concerns many Americans had about the construction of a Muslim community center literally in the shadow of Ground Zero and a controversy such as this one. It is one thing to ask that a sectarian group not try to commandeer the narrative of the 9/11 attacks. It is quite another to establish a principle, as Cain appears to be doing, that freedom of religion may be abridged across the country simply at the whims of some citizens.

Cain insists he is not personally prejudiced. But even if we concede he is above personal biases, it’s clear he doesn’t understand the implications of such a stand. While he is good at delivering clever sound bytes, Cain has demonstrated he has trouble making sense of some issues. For example, on the Stossel show, he insisted that he was pro-life, but then said he supports a women’s right to choose. It was as if he didn’t realize the two stands were contradictory.

During the course of the last decade, as America has fought a war against Islamist terrorists, some of our nation’s leaders have bent over backwards trying to avoid any mention of the role of Islam in the conflict. But as much as that may have been overdone, it bears repeating the United States is not at war with all Muslims or their religion. To intimate that this is the case is to undermine the efforts of our troops fighting in the Middle East and to alienate potential allies.

It is also bad politics. Perhaps Cain thinks he will score points with conservatives with his ham-handed swipes at Muslims, but appeals to prejudice are not the way to win votes in the primaries. On the contrary, the more Cain sticks his foot into his mouth on these issues the less chance he has of having any impact in the GOP race.

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Even New York Jews Cooling to Obama?

It’s hard to believe President Obama could be having problems with Jewish voters in New York City of all places, but this Siena College poll suggests he may even be losing Jewish support in one of the most liberal enclaves in the country.

The poll, which surveyed about 70 Jews and thus needs to be taken with a serious grain of salt, found that just 35 percent would vote to re-elect Obama in 2012, while 52 percent would vote for someone else. It follows other recent nationwide polls, which have also shown a dip in Obama’s Jewish support.

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It’s hard to believe President Obama could be having problems with Jewish voters in New York City of all places, but this Siena College poll suggests he may even be losing Jewish support in one of the most liberal enclaves in the country.

The poll, which surveyed about 70 Jews and thus needs to be taken with a serious grain of salt, found that just 35 percent would vote to re-elect Obama in 2012, while 52 percent would vote for someone else. It follows other recent nationwide polls, which have also shown a dip in Obama’s Jewish support.

Unhappiness with Obama in the Siena survey didn’t seem to cross over to other Democratic politicians, however. Sixty percent of Jewish respondents said they would vote to re-elect Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, while just 22 percent said they would support someone else.

It’s tempting to dismiss these numbers off-hand because the sample size was so miniscule, but there are other indicators Obama’s Israel policy could be hurting him with Jewish voters in New York. For example, take the recent campaign by former Democratic New York Mayor Ed Koch, who is calling on voters to elect a Republican to fill Rep. Anthony Weiner’s vacant seat, as a rebuke to Obama over his Israel policy.

“If Jewish New Yorkers and others who support Israel were to turn away from the Democratic Party in that congressional election and elect the Republican candidate to Congress in 2011, it might very well cause President Obama to change his hostile position on the state of Israel and to re-establish the special relationship presidents before him had supported,” Koch said last week.

Even New York Democrats who disagree with Koch’s plan concede Obama has turned off some Jewish voters with his positions on Israel.

“The perceptions aren’t great right now,” Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver told the New York Daily News today, referring to Jewish opinions on Obama in the state.

But Silver said that instead of supporting Republican politicians, Democrats should be putting forward more proudly pro-Israel candidates.

“What we need is more Democrats who will go to bat for Israel, notwithstanding what a president may think,” he told the Daily News. “In order to change the perceptions, it’s important to elect more staunch Democrats who are supporters of Israel.”

While neither the Siena poll nor the anecdotal evidence can be taken as solid proof Obama is losing significant Jewish support in New York, combined, these examples should be enough to make the president and his campaign nervous.

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Egypt’s Army Following Turkish Model

I am someone who believed it was time for Hosni Mubarak to go. I also believe Egypt must make the painful transition to democracy, while also being cognizant of the danger that militants could use the resulting chaos to seize power.  Thus, I am of two minds about reports the Egyptian military is planning to carve out an extra-constitutional role as a defender of secularism. There is obviously a self-serving motive here: Egypt’s armed forces are a big business that control lots of companies. Generals have gotten wealthy off the resulting lucre, and they want to protect their cash cow. This exerts a considerable cost on the Egyptian economy by crowding out more productive investment and forcing entrepreneurs to pay bribes to get a piece of the action. The army should stick to its military mission and expose its perks and payoffs to greater public scrutiny.

But there is little doubt Egypt’s transition to democracy is a perilous one, and some of the perils could be mitigated if the military commits itself to being a guardian of a relatively liberal and secular state.  The obvious model is Turkey, which for decades was a quasi-democracy where the military would step in from time to time to make sure that the secular principles of Ataturk were adhered to. Now we are seeing the consequences of the army’s diminished role with the Erdogan government steering the country in a more anti-Western, anti-Israeli direction. Turkey at least has some tradition of pluralism that exerts some degree of control–however minimal–over the Islamist government.
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I am someone who believed it was time for Hosni Mubarak to go. I also believe Egypt must make the painful transition to democracy, while also being cognizant of the danger that militants could use the resulting chaos to seize power.  Thus, I am of two minds about reports the Egyptian military is planning to carve out an extra-constitutional role as a defender of secularism. There is obviously a self-serving motive here: Egypt’s armed forces are a big business that control lots of companies. Generals have gotten wealthy off the resulting lucre, and they want to protect their cash cow. This exerts a considerable cost on the Egyptian economy by crowding out more productive investment and forcing entrepreneurs to pay bribes to get a piece of the action. The army should stick to its military mission and expose its perks and payoffs to greater public scrutiny.

But there is little doubt Egypt’s transition to democracy is a perilous one, and some of the perils could be mitigated if the military commits itself to being a guardian of a relatively liberal and secular state.  The obvious model is Turkey, which for decades was a quasi-democracy where the military would step in from time to time to make sure that the secular principles of Ataturk were adhered to. Now we are seeing the consequences of the army’s diminished role with the Erdogan government steering the country in a more anti-Western, anti-Israeli direction. Turkey at least has some tradition of pluralism that exerts some degree of control–however minimal–over the Islamist government.

Egypt has no such tradition. It could all too easily find itself replacing one dictator for another, only this time a dictator with Islamist sympathies. The danger is especially great because elections (though moved back slightly) are still scheduled for this fall, giving the liberal parties little time to organize. The Muslim Brotherhood, by contrast, has a a built-in structure upon which to base its electioneering. The good news is the Brotherhood is hardly monolithic, and now it is splintering into various factions.

Still, big risks remain. It is hardly a bad thing if the army acts as a referee and rule-keeper for this emerging democracy. The question is whether the cost of the army’s role—in particular the cost for Egypt’s struggling economy—is worth the potential political payoff. It looks as if we’re about to find out.

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Giuliani and New Hampshire: A Different Tack, or 2008 Redux?

During the weekend, Politico ran a story on Rudy Giuliani’s pronouncement that if he runs for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, he will do things differently this time around. But is his “new” strategy really new, or is it meant to cement the (erroneous) conventional wisdom about his 2008 run?

Giuliani has worked diligently–as have campaign reporters–to establish as fact that the former New York City mayor’s last election campaign was based on ignoring the early primary states, winning Florida with the help of Charlie Crist, and allowing that (and the “comeback” storyline sure to accompany it) to propel him through Super Tuesday and eventually the nomination.

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During the weekend, Politico ran a story on Rudy Giuliani’s pronouncement that if he runs for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, he will do things differently this time around. But is his “new” strategy really new, or is it meant to cement the (erroneous) conventional wisdom about his 2008 run?

Giuliani has worked diligently–as have campaign reporters–to establish as fact that the former New York City mayor’s last election campaign was based on ignoring the early primary states, winning Florida with the help of Charlie Crist, and allowing that (and the “comeback” storyline sure to accompany it) to propel him through Super Tuesday and eventually the nomination.

“New Hampshire would be the key state in his strategy — as opposed to Florida, where he placed his big bet last time,” Maggie Haberman writes early in the story.

The problem with this narrative is that it’s not true.

Giuliani pledged to skip the Iowa caucuses and pour money into New Hampshire last time–which he did. Despite his efforts there, however, he gained no traction in the polls, and rather than let the media pronounce him finished after a contested loss in New Hampshire, he pulled his campaign out early and decamped to Florida.

What carried Giuliani’s pre-candidacy buzz last time was his well-earned reputation as a good crisis manager and a leader in difficult times. But buzz fades. And not only was it insufficient enough to carry him to a win (or close to a win) in New Hampshire, it didn’t even enable him to win Florida–his fail-safe–with its significant number of New York ex-pats, Jewish voters and military bases.

If Giuliani’s reputation wasn’t enough to help him in 2008, why would it be any better this time? In all likelihood, we would expect it to be more difficult to win New Hampshire next year, not less. Haberman asked him about recent polls showing him well behind Romney. “It’s so early, it doesn’t matter,” Giuliani responded, citing his own lead in 2007 that quickly dissipated as the primaries and caucuses began. Fair enough. But shouldn’t that tell him something, too? If he led the polls last time, and yet eventually lost New Hampshire by a wide margin, why would his underdog status help him this time?

Giuliani cites John McCain’s come-from-behind candidacy as the model for the out-funded and out-hyped underdog to succeed. But McCain was the runner-up to Bush in 2000, and was widely assumed to be the “next in line”–a title that has always meant a lot to Republican primary voters. That candidate this time is Romney–who Giuliani trails in both the polls and campaign cash.

Republicans–especially foreign policy hawks–will always remember and respect what Giuliani did after 9/11. Though he never held the title, he seemed to be the country’s director of homeland security during those harrowing weeks after the attacks, and he appeared to be leading the nation right along with George W. Bush. But he simply does not seem to have a realistic path to the Republican nomination, and it is difficult to see what he gains by even running. Perhaps he’ll come to the same conclusion and decide not to run.

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There’s a Reason We Have a Debt Ceiling

With all of Washington butting heads over the question of how to let the debt ceiling rise, the investor service Moody’s thinks it has a better idea: eliminate the debt ceiling altogether. According to Reuters, a new report for the investor’s service whose ratings are critical to the value of bonds says it believes the problem isn’t so much the debate over spending cuts versus taxes as it is the system whereby the Congress sets a limit on the national debt. This self-imposed restriction creates “periodic uncertainty,” according to Moody’s analyst Steven Hess.

Moody’s has threatened to devalue the United States’ AAA bond ratings if payments are missed as a result of the standoff between the White House and Republicans. But though the suggestion that the debt ceiling be eliminated would resolve this problem, the idea would only serve to allow the size of government to continue to grow unchecked. While the process has proven to be messy, giving Congress the ability to stop the growth of debt may prove to be the only way to halt the slide into insolvency. Though many decry the demands of House Republicans for an end to the spending orgy, without this check on the system, the government will be able to write itself a blank check.

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With all of Washington butting heads over the question of how to let the debt ceiling rise, the investor service Moody’s thinks it has a better idea: eliminate the debt ceiling altogether. According to Reuters, a new report for the investor’s service whose ratings are critical to the value of bonds says it believes the problem isn’t so much the debate over spending cuts versus taxes as it is the system whereby the Congress sets a limit on the national debt. This self-imposed restriction creates “periodic uncertainty,” according to Moody’s analyst Steven Hess.

Moody’s has threatened to devalue the United States’ AAA bond ratings if payments are missed as a result of the standoff between the White House and Republicans. But though the suggestion that the debt ceiling be eliminated would resolve this problem, the idea would only serve to allow the size of government to continue to grow unchecked. While the process has proven to be messy, giving Congress the ability to stop the growth of debt may prove to be the only way to halt the slide into insolvency. Though many decry the demands of House Republicans for an end to the spending orgy, without this check on the system, the government will be able to write itself a blank check.

The service claims that there are other institutional practices to limit the size of the debt that could take the place of a congressional vote. But even Hess concedes such strictures have not stopped governments from expanding the debt if they were so inclined. It is also true that up until now forcing a vote on the debt ceiling has not impeded the growth of the government’s arrears, because the Congress has always dutifully voted an increase to avoid trouble. The threat of default may be more theoretical than anything else, but even the hint such a thing may be possible has brought the Democrats to the negotiating table and forced them to concede spending cuts heretofore unimaginable. Though the White House’s demands for tax increases have made an agreement elusive, this process has still made it possible to achieve cuts in government spending that would never have happened without the threat of a congressional veto on further debt.

As Senator Marco Rubio said yesterday on CBS’s “Face the Nation”: “The debt limit is not really the problem here, the problem is the debt.” So long as Congress has something to say about that limit and can use the power of a deadline to create an opening for real change, the nation will be forced to deal with the debt.

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More Bad News About the Economy

On Friday evening we learned that Jan Hatzius, Goldman Sachs′ chief U.S. economist, reported that following another week of weak economic data, Goldman Sachs cut its estimates for real GDP growth in the second and third quarter of  2011 to 1.5 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively, from 2 percent and 3.25 percent. Goldman’s forecasts for the fourth quarter and 2012 are under review, but even excluding any further changes, Hatzius reports, it expects the unemployment rate to come down only modestly to 8¾ percent at the end of 2012.

Hatzius went on to say:

The main reason for the downgrade is that the high-frequency information on  overall economic activity has continued to fall substantially short of our  expectations. … Some of this weakness is undoubtedly related to the disruptions  to the supply chain—specifically in the auto sector—following the East Japan earthquake. By our estimates, this disruption  has subtracted around ½ percentage point from second-quarter GDP growth. We  expect this hit to reverse fully in the next couple of months, and this could  add ½ point to third-quarter GDP growth. Moreover, some of the hit from higher energy costs is probably also temporary, as crude prices are down on net over the past three months. But the slowdown of recent months goes well beyond what can be explained with these temporary effects. … final demand growth has slowed  to a pace that is typically only seen in recessions. .. Moreover, if the  economy returns to recession—not our forecast, but clearly a possibility given
the recent numbers … [emphasis added]

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On Friday evening we learned that Jan Hatzius, Goldman Sachs′ chief U.S. economist, reported that following another week of weak economic data, Goldman Sachs cut its estimates for real GDP growth in the second and third quarter of  2011 to 1.5 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively, from 2 percent and 3.25 percent. Goldman’s forecasts for the fourth quarter and 2012 are under review, but even excluding any further changes, Hatzius reports, it expects the unemployment rate to come down only modestly to 8¾ percent at the end of 2012.

Hatzius went on to say:

The main reason for the downgrade is that the high-frequency information on  overall economic activity has continued to fall substantially short of our  expectations. … Some of this weakness is undoubtedly related to the disruptions  to the supply chain—specifically in the auto sector—following the East Japan earthquake. By our estimates, this disruption  has subtracted around ½ percentage point from second-quarter GDP growth. We  expect this hit to reverse fully in the next couple of months, and this could  add ½ point to third-quarter GDP growth. Moreover, some of the hit from higher energy costs is probably also temporary, as crude prices are down on net over the past three months. But the slowdown of recent months goes well beyond what can be explained with these temporary effects. … final demand growth has slowed  to a pace that is typically only seen in recessions. .. Moreover, if the  economy returns to recession—not our forecast, but clearly a possibility given
the recent numbers … [emphasis added]

James Pethokoukis reminds us that two summers ago the White House made these forecasts: Starting in 2011, GDP would rise 4.3 percent in 2011, followed by  4.3 percent growth in 2012 and 2013, and another 4 percent in 2014. “Even in its forecast earlier this year,” Pethokoukis writes, “Team Obama said it was looking for 3.5 percent GDP growth in 2012, followed by 4.4 percent in 2013,  4.3 percent in 2014.”

These forecasts now look to be ludicrously out-of-touch. (Joe Biden, remember, predicted more than 500,000 jobs per month in advance of last year’s Recovery Summer”).  And of course those inflated growth figures helped keep the projected deficit artificially low.

To add to the depressing news, economist David Rosenberg told CNBC the economy is teetering on the brink of a second recession. “Everything is telling you how soft the underbelly of the economy really is,” Rosenberg said. “We’re just one small shock away from the economy going back into recession.” Rosenberg added, “It is absolutely not normal to have two soft patches this close together nearly two years after the recession ends. It doesn’t happen. This will be two separate recessions.”

And just in case people forget, it’s once again worth citing the words of one of Barack Obama’s top aides, David Plouffe, as well as DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Barack  Obama “owns” the economy.

Indeed he does. And he will be judged on it.

(h/t: Ed  Morrissey/HotAir.com.)

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Arab Spring Fallout: Tunisia Constitution May Ban Ties With Israel

The Arab Spring began in Tunisia and, unlike Egypt where the revolt against authoritarianism was hijacked by the military and its subtle alliance with the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood, the North African nation is still seen as being on the road to democracy. But the first draft of the country’s new constitution appears to have enshrined opposition to Israel’s existence. According to this report in the Jerusalem Post, the new Tunisian constitution will not only enshrine Islam as the country’s state religion, it will explicitly ban ties with the state of Israel.

Tunisia has a history of secularism and devotion to education and modernization. It is no surprise that the new government would cater to public opinion by making Islam the state religion. But the move to ban any chance of reconciliation with Israel and to make support for the Palestinians part of Tunisia’s new charter is something else. Under the old regime, the small but still vibrant Jewish community was protected and tourism from world Jewry was encouraged. But Islamists are more of a force in Tunisia than before simply because they are no longer the objects of repression as they were under the now deposed authoritarian rulers of the country.

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The Arab Spring began in Tunisia and, unlike Egypt where the revolt against authoritarianism was hijacked by the military and its subtle alliance with the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood, the North African nation is still seen as being on the road to democracy. But the first draft of the country’s new constitution appears to have enshrined opposition to Israel’s existence. According to this report in the Jerusalem Post, the new Tunisian constitution will not only enshrine Islam as the country’s state religion, it will explicitly ban ties with the state of Israel.

Tunisia has a history of secularism and devotion to education and modernization. It is no surprise that the new government would cater to public opinion by making Islam the state religion. But the move to ban any chance of reconciliation with Israel and to make support for the Palestinians part of Tunisia’s new charter is something else. Under the old regime, the small but still vibrant Jewish community was protected and tourism from world Jewry was encouraged. But Islamists are more of a force in Tunisia than before simply because they are no longer the objects of repression as they were under the now deposed authoritarian rulers of the country.

While there appears to be no immediate danger of Tunisia abandoning its secular ways and following a more Islamist path even in a democratic context such as has happened in Turkey, the debate over the new constitution is troubling. If there was any country in the Arab world where Jews were made to feel welcome both as citizens and visitors, it was Tunisia. But if the new Tunisia proves more hospitable to Islamist extremism and opposed to peace with the Jewish state under any circumstances, then it will be one more reason to believe the Arab Spring has turned out far worse than its Western supporters hoped.

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Debt Ceiling Debate Has Not Been Good for Obama

There is a lot of commentary about the political fallout from the debt ceiling debate. But at this point, several weeks after the issue has come to the fore and after three press conferences by the president, Obama seems to be incurring a bit of damage.

For example, the president’s three-day rolling average in the Gallup Poll has been 42 approve/50 disapprove (for July 13-15) and 44 approve/49 disapprove (for July 14-16).

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There is a lot of commentary about the political fallout from the debt ceiling debate. But at this point, several weeks after the issue has come to the fore and after three press conferences by the president, Obama seems to be incurring a bit of damage.

For example, the president’s three-day rolling average in the Gallup Poll has been 42 approve/50 disapprove (for July 13-15) and 44 approve/49 disapprove (for July 14-16).

As a reference point, this weekend Obama’s approval rating fell to the second lowest point in his presidency, just one point ahead of where he was last August (41 percent approval rating).

Based on these Gallup numbers, it’s reasonable to infer that the debt ceiling debate has not, so far at least, been very good for the president.

That might change, of course, if a bargain isn’t reached by the August 2 deadline. My guess is a deal will be reached before then, and that this matter will soon fade away, yet another topic that was the subject of hyper-intense press coverage and is soon forgotten.

But even if no deal is reached by early August, I’m something of a contrarian on this issue. I believe the president is quite vulnerable, and failure to reach an agreement will hurt him as well as congressional Republicans. And if failure to reach an agreement causes the economy to fall off the edge of a cliff — as many worry and as the president and his team predict – then Obama will suffer in the process.

It’s not simply that Obama was elected in large measure because he was supposed to be a unifying figure in American politics, one who would transcend differences and bring people together and prevent these sorts of messes from happening in the first place. More important, no politician in America has more to lose if we lurch back into a recession. If things get substantially worse, Obama will incur the wrath of voters. He won’t be the only one – but he will, I think, be among the main ones.

This is not Bill Clinton and the 1995 government shutdown all over again.

 

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Will Gay Attack on Bachmann Help Her?

Michele Bachmann’s presidential bid has steadily gained ground in the last two months. However, during this same period, a story about her candidacy has similarly morphed from a sidebar to a feature: Bachmann and the gays. In the last few weeks there has been increasing interest on the part of the press in a number of aspects of the relationship between the Minnesota congresswoman and the gay community. Yesterday, in its Sunday edition, the New York Times devoted a front page article on the issue while Politico followed up today with a piece about gay rights groups targeting the candidate.

Bachmann’s longstanding and passionate opposition to gay marriage and her husband’s alleged use of “reparative therapy” to “cure” homosexuals in his Christian-based practice have both become major stories. This raises the question whether the attention devoted to this topic as well as the increasing fury of gay activist groups will negatively impact her chances. The answer is, probably not in Iowa or other early conservative primary states. But if gays, rather than fiscal conservatism becomes the first thing you think of when Bachmann’s name is mentioned, this may wind up as an obstacle to her nomination.

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Michele Bachmann’s presidential bid has steadily gained ground in the last two months. However, during this same period, a story about her candidacy has similarly morphed from a sidebar to a feature: Bachmann and the gays. In the last few weeks there has been increasing interest on the part of the press in a number of aspects of the relationship between the Minnesota congresswoman and the gay community. Yesterday, in its Sunday edition, the New York Times devoted a front page article on the issue while Politico followed up today with a piece about gay rights groups targeting the candidate.

Bachmann’s longstanding and passionate opposition to gay marriage and her husband’s alleged use of “reparative therapy” to “cure” homosexuals in his Christian-based practice have both become major stories. This raises the question whether the attention devoted to this topic as well as the increasing fury of gay activist groups will negatively impact her chances. The answer is, probably not in Iowa or other early conservative primary states. But if gays, rather than fiscal conservatism becomes the first thing you think of when Bachmann’s name is mentioned, this may wind up as an obstacle to her nomination.

In the short term, the anger of gay rights groups about her past history in the Minnesotal legislature as a vocal opponent of gay marriage won’t hurt Bachmann. The voters who would be turned off by her stands on the issue or would find her husband’s therapy practice questionable are not a major force in GOP primaries. To the extent Republican voters care about the issue, it actually may work to her benefit. Bachmann’s main focus right now remains on winning the Iowa caucuses, where her strong record on conservative Christian social issues is as much a source of strength to her as her status as the heroine of the Tea Party movement. Getting beaten up for her opposition to gay marriage can only help her with this key voting group and make it even harder for other candidates, such as Tim Pawlenty or Rick Santorum, to make any headway with social issue voters.

Of course, conservative Christians don’t just vote in Iowa. They form a powerful voting bloc within the Republican Party throughout the nation. And the more the liberal media tries to marginalize Bachmann, the more inclined most conservatives will be to embrace her.

But it would be a mistake to think Bachmann ought not to be concerned about her association with gay issues. Bachmann’s success to date has been the product of her strong stands on fiscal issues and a sunny, upbeat personality that has charmed many Republicans who hadn’t known much about her before the last few months. That has helped her overcome some gaffes and the prejudicial attitude of journalists who were ready to put her down as a far right gadfly. Her identity as a devout Christian is an essential part of her candidacy, but it has not completely defined her. Her current path to the nomination, though still strewn with obstacles, is based on a credible scenario that calls for her to emerge as the leading conservative while Romney and others falter. But, even after a victory in Iowa, if the increasing media focus on the gay issue is what is most associated with her in the public mind, it will become a major problem in the later big state primaries and possible derail her long shot hopes of winning the nomination.

Of course, if she does confound the party establishment and win the GOP nomination, you can bet Democrats and the media will spend the fall of 2012 talking about her alleged gay bashing and hoping to brand her as this generation’s right wing extremist version of Barry Goldwater. We’re a long way from there. But as much as the gay community’s anger may boost Bachmann in Iowa, it gives the Republican establishment one more reason to hope she ultimately falls short.

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