Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 25, 2011

Disenchantment with Obama on the Vineyard

It looks as if America’s disenchantment with Barack Obama has even made its way to Martha’s Vineyard.

According to a story in the Boston Globe, “When President Obama took his first trip to Martha’s Vineyard after taking office, the excitement among locals here was palpable, from the signs of support strung across shop windows and front porches to a full-page newspaper ad taken out by 125 Vineyard grandmothers in support of his health care plan. This week, with the jobless rate stuck above 9 percent and the president’s nationwide approval rating at its lowest level, the Vineyard’s broad allegiance shows cracks, leaving some islanders with a more textured, even tormented feeling about the president.”

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It looks as if America’s disenchantment with Barack Obama has even made its way to Martha’s Vineyard.

According to a story in the Boston Globe, “When President Obama took his first trip to Martha’s Vineyard after taking office, the excitement among locals here was palpable, from the signs of support strung across shop windows and front porches to a full-page newspaper ad taken out by 125 Vineyard grandmothers in support of his health care plan. This week, with the jobless rate stuck above 9 percent and the president’s nationwide approval rating at its lowest level, the Vineyard’s broad allegiance shows cracks, leaving some islanders with a more textured, even tormented feeling about the president.”

It’s reasonable to conclude, I think, if Obama’s support is cracking in Martha’s Vineyard, it’s cracking just about everywhere.

Part of the alienation has to do with the shaky local economy. Empty storefronts dot main streets in Vineyard Haven, Edgartown, and elsewhere, according to the Globe. But it goes deeper than that.

“I think a lot of people in ’08 felt, ‘Hey, here comes a breath of fresh air, and maybe this guy can put an end to a lot – not all of it, but a lot – of the foolishness that goes on,’ ’’ lifelong resident John Alley said. “But he hasn’t been very good at that.’’

And Mary Jo Goodrich, a 21-year resident and real estate broker who voted for Obama in 2008, said he will not get her support next year.

“We all wanted a happy ending to this fairy tale,’’ said Goodrich, owner of Mary Jo Goodrich Island Properties in Vineyard Haven. “But I don’t think there’s going to be one. I just don’t see a turnaround in the near future.’’

Neither do we, Ms. Goodrich, neither do we. Perhaps it’s also worth pointing out that fairly tales are nice — but fairly tales are not real. And neither, it turns out, was the hope and promise of Barack Obama.

 

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In Defense of the NYPD

The Associated Press has a long, ominous-sounding article about the New York Police Department’s Intelligence Division and its efforts to prevent a recurrence of 9/11. I would suspect that 99.99 percent of New Yorkers are grateful for the department’s work, which has helped keep the city safe, but the AP suggests we should fear the cops–not the terrorists. Writes the AP’s Adam Goldman:

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the New York Police Department has become one of the nation’s most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies, targeting ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government, an Associated Press investigation has found.

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The Associated Press has a long, ominous-sounding article about the New York Police Department’s Intelligence Division and its efforts to prevent a recurrence of 9/11. I would suspect that 99.99 percent of New Yorkers are grateful for the department’s work, which has helped keep the city safe, but the AP suggests we should fear the cops–not the terrorists. Writes the AP’s Adam Goldman:

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the New York Police Department has become one of the nation’s most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies, targeting ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government, an Associated Press investigation has found.

These operations have benefited from unprecedented help from the CIA, a partnership that has blurred the line between foreign and domestic spying….

Neither the city council, which finances the department, nor the federal government, which has given NYPD more than $1.6 billion since 9/11, is told exactly what’s going on.

You would think the AP had blown the lid on Watergate. In point of fact, while it’s possible the AP story has a few details not reported elsewhere, the basic contours of the NYPD’s efforts–which includes the use of undercover officers, informants, and liaison officers working with intelligence services and police departments both at home and abroad–have long been well-known. They have even been chronicled in books such as Securing the City by Newsweek’s Christopher Dickey.

It is unclear what the AP means when it suggests neither the federal government nor the city council “is told exactly what’s going on”: Does that mean the NYPD doesn’t file the names of its confidential informants and undercover officers? Or is  it that neither the city council nor the federal government is aware of the broad contours of what’s going on? It’s difficult to see how the latter could be the case given the existence of the Dickey book and numerous other such reports.

Indeed, although it contains the obligatory scare quote from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (“this is potentially illegal what they’re doing”), there is scant cause to believe the NYPD is guilty of anything beyond tough, proactive policing designed to head off terrorist attacks. Naturally, the bulk of its efforts are focused on the Islamic community: Where else would a potential al Qaeda terrorist hide? Among Hasidic Jews? If the NYPD weren’t focusing its efforts on Muslims, it would be guilty of gross negligence. But there is nothing to indicate it has violated the rights of law-abiding Muslims.

By all accounts, the NYPD has remade itself since 9/11 to become one of the most effective counter-terrorist forces in the country–maybe the most effective.

That is an achievement for which it should get kudos, not damning innuendo from sneering reporters.

No doubt reading this article has raised the blood pressure of the dedicated analysts and detectives working diligently to protect New Yorkers. They can take solace from reading Kipling’s classic poem “Tommy,” which eloquently captures the public’s ambivalent attitude toward its protectors:

I went into a public-’ouse
to get a pint o’ beer,

The publican ‘e up an’
sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”

The girls be’ind the bar
they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,

I outs into the street
again an’ to myself sez I:

O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’
“Tommy, go away”;

But it’s “Thank you, Mister
Atkins”, when the band begins to play,

The band begins to play, my boys, the band
begins to play,

O it’s “Thank you, Mister
Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

In short, there is nothing new about damning soldiers–in this case, the soldiers of the war on terror–while we feel safe in our homes. The irony is the sense of safety that has been precariously achieved during the past decade is the product of the very efforts now decried by the AP.

 

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Pew Poll: Palin Has No Chance

From today’s sweeping Pew Research Center opinion poll come two definitive reasons why Sarah Palin probably won’t be announcing a presidential run:

1.) A full 41 percent of Republican voters say there is absolutely no chance they’d vote for Palin. To put this in perspective, more Republicans would be open to voting for Ron Paul.

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From today’s sweeping Pew Research Center opinion poll come two definitive reasons why Sarah Palin probably won’t be announcing a presidential run:

1.) A full 41 percent of Republican voters say there is absolutely no chance they’d vote for Palin. To put this in perspective, more Republicans would be open to voting for Ron Paul.

Politico makes the logical leap:

There’s no question that Palin would shake up the GOP race if she got in, or that she’ll continue to command media attention for as long as she drags out the will-she-or-won’t-she act. But the level of interest in her candidacy among actual voters is not what it used to be.

2.) Even if Palin does enter the race, and manages to clinch the nomination, nearly 70 percent of American voters say there is no chance they would vote for her:

Substantial majorities of those who have heard of Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich have ruled out voting them; 67 percent say there is no chance they would vote for Palin, while 66 percent say there is no chance they would vote for Gingrich.

Worse than Gingrich? There’s no chance. The best she could potentially get under Pew’s scenario is 34 percent of the vote – and that’s only if she managed to win over every single person who was merely open to voting for her.

The top priority for most Republican voters is to nominate a candidate who has a chance of beating Obama. If Palin entered the GOP race, her inability to win a national election would get even more publicity than it already has. She would become toxic. As a real live candidate, her performance in the polls could end up making the 11 percent Republican support she’s pulling in right now look impressive.

With these numbers, is there even a need to speculate about the Sept. 3 speech?

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Perry and Romney Each Acting Like the Frontrunner

Word of Rick Perry’s criticism of Mitt Romney on the Laura Ingraham radio show has been making the rounds, but I think it’s less than people are making it out to be–though I think that makes it more interesting, not less.

Here’s how Talking Points Memo described the exchange:

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Word of Rick Perry’s criticism of Mitt Romney on the Laura Ingraham radio show has been making the rounds, but I think it’s less than people are making it out to be–though I think that makes it more interesting, not less.

Here’s how Talking Points Memo described the exchange:

Baited by Ingraham to discuss the main albatross around Romney’s neck, his Massachusetts healthcare plan that formed the basis for “Obamacare,” Perry simply said, “I think Mitt is finally recognizing that the Massachusetts healthcare is a problem for him,” before pivoting off to a broader attack on Obama’s plan.

It actually sounds to me like Perry was trying to avoid taking direct shots at Romney if he didn’t have to. If that’s the case, then Perry is acting like the frontrunner; this was Romney’s strategy the entire time he led in the polls. Frontrunners focus their jabs at the president, not those running behind them in the primary. But what’s interesting is Romney has also passed on swinging at Perry, even after Gallup showed Perry with a lead for the first time.

So they’re both acting like frontrunners. Some might say they both are, since Perry’s lead is new, and we’re still months away from the first vote. But it will be entertaining to watch the two most plausible general election candidates pretend their rival doesn’t exist.

That, naturally, would be temporary. And it’s not even clear this is either candidate’s official strategy. But if Perry really wanted to hit Romney on healthcare, he wouldn’t have bunted; he’d have swung for the fences.

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Obama Should Read Less Fiction, More Women

At least that’s the verdict of the political press. On Tuesday, at the National Review Online, Tevi Troy described Obama’s summer reading as “the oddest assortment of presidential reading material ever disclosed.” Five of his six books are fiction, which is a problem, you see, because it “sets him up for the charge that he is out of touch with reality.” Meanwhile, over at Salon, Robin Black was less exercised by his books’ genre as by their authors’ gender. “Obama’s reading [is] 70 percent male,” she said — “which is actually a better male-female ratio than the past.” Studying a list compiled by the Daily Beast of every book Obama has mentioned since 2008, Black howled that “It’s a 23-to-one blowout in favor of the men.”

If it is displeasing both left and right, the White House might just consider declaring victory and putting the books away. The real problem, this summer as last (when he wasted his time with Jonathan Franzen’s overhyped Freedom), is that all of Obama’s books speak with one voice. Troy noticed something of the kind when commenting on the president’s non-fiction reading load:

While the fiction-heavy aspect of the list is something new, the liberal authors should come as no surprise. Obama, like other Democratic presidents, has tended to read mainly liberal books, although he could stand to gain some insight from conservative ones.

As long as he is going to read fiction, though, Obama is going to read liberal authors. Perhaps the only publicly identified conservatives who are known for writing novels these days are Charles McCarry and Christopher Buckley. Shelley’s Heart, McCarry’s masterpiece, is unlikely to appeal to the president, since it is about a conspiracy by the political left to install a “messiah” in the White House. And he needn’t curry any favor with Buckley. The author of Thank You for Smoking endorsed Obama in 2008.

The fiction that Obama does read is guaranteed to make him smile. Not only do its authors side with the better angels of the president’s progressive nature, but as I have observed here and here and here, Bush-and-Cheney-and-Fox News bashing has become one of the most reliable conventions of contemporary fiction. Small wonder Obama took home so many novels to enjoy this summer. Even smaller wonder that that so few were by women. Nearly all of them share his purity of heart, after all.

At least that’s the verdict of the political press. On Tuesday, at the National Review Online, Tevi Troy described Obama’s summer reading as “the oddest assortment of presidential reading material ever disclosed.” Five of his six books are fiction, which is a problem, you see, because it “sets him up for the charge that he is out of touch with reality.” Meanwhile, over at Salon, Robin Black was less exercised by his books’ genre as by their authors’ gender. “Obama’s reading [is] 70 percent male,” she said — “which is actually a better male-female ratio than the past.” Studying a list compiled by the Daily Beast of every book Obama has mentioned since 2008, Black howled that “It’s a 23-to-one blowout in favor of the men.”

If it is displeasing both left and right, the White House might just consider declaring victory and putting the books away. The real problem, this summer as last (when he wasted his time with Jonathan Franzen’s overhyped Freedom), is that all of Obama’s books speak with one voice. Troy noticed something of the kind when commenting on the president’s non-fiction reading load:

While the fiction-heavy aspect of the list is something new, the liberal authors should come as no surprise. Obama, like other Democratic presidents, has tended to read mainly liberal books, although he could stand to gain some insight from conservative ones.

As long as he is going to read fiction, though, Obama is going to read liberal authors. Perhaps the only publicly identified conservatives who are known for writing novels these days are Charles McCarry and Christopher Buckley. Shelley’s Heart, McCarry’s masterpiece, is unlikely to appeal to the president, since it is about a conspiracy by the political left to install a “messiah” in the White House. And he needn’t curry any favor with Buckley. The author of Thank You for Smoking endorsed Obama in 2008.

The fiction that Obama does read is guaranteed to make him smile. Not only do its authors side with the better angels of the president’s progressive nature, but as I have observed here and here and here, Bush-and-Cheney-and-Fox News bashing has become one of the most reliable conventions of contemporary fiction. Small wonder Obama took home so many novels to enjoy this summer. Even smaller wonder that that so few were by women. Nearly all of them share his purity of heart, after all.

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Bill Keller, Just Asking Questions

New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, who never expressed much curiosity about the religion of Democratic presidential candidates, is suddenly burning to find out more about the Republican field’s religious beliefs:

This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life — and to get over them. We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, a faith that many conservative Christians have been taught is a “cult” and that many others think is just weird. (Huntsman says he is not “overly religious.”) Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum are all affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity, which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.

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New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, who never expressed much curiosity about the religion of Democratic presidential candidates, is suddenly burning to find out more about the Republican field’s religious beliefs:

This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life — and to get over them. We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, a faith that many conservative Christians have been taught is a “cult” and that many others think is just weird. (Huntsman says he is not “overly religious.”) Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum are all affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity, which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.

It will be interesting to see how the left responds. When Obama’s spiritual adviser Jeremiah Wright and his father’s Muslim religion came under fire in 2008, the immediate response was to condemn it as similar to the anti-Catholic paranoia JFK dealt with in the 1960 election.

Of course, none of the current Republican candidates claim to rely on a vehemently anti-American pastor for spiritual guidance. Still, says Keller, there should be more scrutiny of Romney’s Mormonism, which “many others think is just weird,” and questions about whether Bachmann believes in the outrageous fundamentalist idea that “social welfare should come from charity, not government taxation.”

Keller opens his column with the question, “If a candidate for president said he believed that space aliens dwell among us, would that affect your willingness to vote for him?” Being the open-minded guy he is, the Times editor concedes he “might not disqualify” this wacko immediately, but “would certainly want to ask a few questions.” Which leads him to the argument that we should also “ask a few questions” to the Republican candidates who ascribe to outlandish fringe philosophies like evangelical Christianity.

I have a feeling most Americans are far less concerned about the threat of mainstream Christianity (or Mormonism, for that matter) than Keller and his Times colleagues. The editor throws in some scary details and a lot of guilt-by-association (Perry invited leaders from a fringe southern church he doesn’t belong to to attend his prayer rally! He once accepted an endorsement from a preacher who believes government should be rooted in faith!), but these aren’t likely to alarm anyone other than the Times’ readership base. Most Americans have a pretty good understanding of what the major denominations of Christianity ascribe to, and what they don’t.

Not that there’s anything wrong with questioning a candidate’s religion. Byron York did it well when he gave Bachmann a chance to explain whether being “submissive” in marriage meant she would defer to her husband if she became president. But in his column, Keller seems more interested in mocking and smearing the candidates than asking legitimate questions.

“I care a lot if a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed,” writes Keller, as if this is actually a realistic threat we should all be worried about.

I’m sure Keller would also “care a lot” if Obama was a secret Muslim intent on destroying America and replacing it with a socialist empire/American caliphate. But he wouldn’t innocently write about this unfounded concern in a column. Why? Because there’s no evidence of it. Just like there’s not a shred to suggest that Romney, Perry or Bachmann are Trojan horses for some bizarre Christian theocratic conspiracy.

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Who’s Doing What in Libya?

Dueling headline alert. From the New York Times:

NATO Helps in Hunt for Qaddafi as Rebels Gain Momentum

And from the Associated Press:

Pentagon: US, NATO not in manhunt for Qaddafi

Well, they can’t both be right.

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Dueling headline alert. From the New York Times:

NATO Helps in Hunt for Qaddafi as Rebels Gain Momentum

And from the Associated Press:

Pentagon: US, NATO not in manhunt for Qaddafi

Well, they can’t both be right.

NATO is either helping in the hunt for Muammar Qaddafi or it’s not. As reported in the Times, “Britain’s defense secretary, Liam Fox, said Thursday that NATO was trying to help the rebels locate Colonel Qaddafi, apparently breaking from the frequent Western assertion that it adheres to its United Nations mandate to protect civilians.” But according to the AP, U.S. Marine Col. David Lapan said,  “I’ve confirmed with folks at NATO and through the command structure that they are not involved in targeting any particular individual, that they are not involved in a manhunt. NATO itself and the US’s part of NATO are not.”

Why would it be important for the U.S. to deny Liam Fox’s claim about NATO’s involvement in hunting down Qaddafi? Perhaps because if what Fox says is true then all the crowing about Barack Obama’s trailblazing success in keeping America’s role limited and bound by a UN mandate goes out the door. Wouldn’t it be something if the drawn out campaign in Libya came to a successful end because the U.S. and NATO had finally come around to doing what critics had been suggesting all along: stepping up the attacks and ignoring the constraints of international bodies? If that turns out to be the case, just imagine how much sooner this all could have been accomplished.

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We Are All in Need of Truth-Seeking Conversation

After writing some thoughts on Isaiah Berlin, I came across Norman Podhoretz’s splendid essay on Berlin. Podhoretz’s article is worth reading for all sorts of reasons, but I wanted to call attention to just one part of it.

In writing about a dinner party in New York given for the Berlins by Lionel and Diana Trilling and attended by Podhoretz and his wife Midge Decter, as well as the British poet and critic Stephen Spender, Podhoretz referred to it as “one of the best and most serious discussions I have ever participated in.” The reason, he wrote, is, “Contentious issues and their many ramifications were explored with frankness on both sides, without any rancor, and with everyone trying to do justice to the position against which he was arguing instead of reducing it to an easily ridiculed caricature.”

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After writing some thoughts on Isaiah Berlin, I came across Norman Podhoretz’s splendid essay on Berlin. Podhoretz’s article is worth reading for all sorts of reasons, but I wanted to call attention to just one part of it.

In writing about a dinner party in New York given for the Berlins by Lionel and Diana Trilling and attended by Podhoretz and his wife Midge Decter, as well as the British poet and critic Stephen Spender, Podhoretz referred to it as “one of the best and most serious discussions I have ever participated in.” The reason, he wrote, is, “Contentious issues and their many ramifications were explored with frankness on both sides, without any rancor, and with everyone trying to do justice to the position against which he was arguing instead of reducing it to an easily ridiculed caricature.”

That description has stayed with me since I read it, in part because of how rare it is. Our tendency is to do what the attendees of this dinner avoided doing: portraying those with whom we disagree as cartoonish figures. We delight in creating strawmen and setting them ablaze, which saves us the more difficult intellectual work of answering the best (rather than the worst) arguments of those who hold beliefs different than ours.

The second reason Podhoretz’s account impressed me is that the conversation was oriented, or so it seems to me, toward truth-seeking rather than simply affirming one’s pre-existing attitudes. Now, I wouldn’t pretend for a minute the personalities who assembled at the Trilling home didn’t have strong views or deep convictions; they clearly did. But engaging in a conversation that includes the proper conditions of discourse — free of rancor, cliches, and partis pris– allows for the kind of back and forth that elicits greater understanding all the way around.

I should add that I reject, and have a certain disdain for, the belief that truth always lies equidistant between two positions. Some positions are simply wrong — and some political philosophies and systems of government better align with human nature and reality than do others.

At the same time, there is something from Book VII of The Republic we can all learn from. The philosopher Leo Strauss considered it “the best image of the human dilemma,” according to Ken Weinstein. “That image, of men in a cave, shackled so they can only see the shadows of images projected on the wall, is a metaphor for the ancient city, for the notion that men are bound to horizons shaped in some sense by the dominant opinions of their day.” What a person in search of the truth needs to do, Weinstein wrote, is to “escape the cave and turn his soul to the blinding light of the sun.”

How to unshackle ourselves is a complicated matter. For some, like Strauss, it involved turning to the great minds of the past. For others, it is found in the kind of conversations Podhoretz wrote about. For still others it is found in a community of writers and thinkers who have the ability to refine our way of looking at the world. And for still others it comes in solitude, and perhaps in prayer.

Here’s the thing, though: none of us can fully extricate ourselves from the dominant opinions of our day. In this world we see through a glass darkly; we can know only in part. Some people perceive truth more fully than others, but truth is still fragmentary. The shadows on the wall never fully disappear. And so we are all in need of dialogue, of conversation, and even, from time to time, of correction. As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

Berlin made precisely this point in an interview. In admitting he was deeply sympathetic to the values of the Enlightenment, Berlin added,

I am interested in the views of the opposition because I think that understanding it can sharpen one’s own vision, clever and gifted enemies often pinpoint fallacies or shallow analyses in the thought of the Enlightenment. I am more interested in critical attacks which lead to knowledge than simply in repeating and defending the commonplaces of and about the Enlightenment. You know, it can be tedious to assert again and again that John Stuart Mill was right against Hobbes, or that Sakharov is a nobler thinker than Lenin… If you believe in liberal principles and rational analysis, as I do, then you must take account of what the objections are, and where the cracks in your structures are, where your side went wrong: hostile criticism … can reveal truth… I do not share, or even greatly admire, the views of these enemies of enlightenment, but I have learnt a good deal from them.

This can be overdone, of course. Critical attacks are sometimes silly, sometimes lacking in wisdom, and sometimes the product of bad faith. But to understand where the “cracks in your structure” are — to seriously engage the arguments made by clever and gifted opponents — is both admirable and uncommon. It’s true enough the light of the sun can be blinding. But it’s still better than shadows.

 

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Perry’s Built-in Advantage in National Polls

Nate Silver has a characteristically interesting look at the numbers behind the new Gallup poll giving Perry an early 12-point lead over Romney. Silver makes a couple of good points about the dangers to an early Perry surge–first and foremost, a win in New Hampshire that could encourage party elites to drop Romney.

But I believe Silver vastly understates another danger for Romney, which may tempt Romney into a false sense of security but which represents a time bomb the campaign will have to defuse as early as possible–if possible, that is. Silver writes:

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Nate Silver has a characteristically interesting look at the numbers behind the new Gallup poll giving Perry an early 12-point lead over Romney. Silver makes a couple of good points about the dangers to an early Perry surge–first and foremost, a win in New Hampshire that could encourage party elites to drop Romney.

But I believe Silver vastly understates another danger for Romney, which may tempt Romney into a false sense of security but which represents a time bomb the campaign will have to defuse as early as possible–if possible, that is. Silver writes:

Mr. Romney should have a fair amount of breathing room since the Republican field is heavily tilted toward very conservative candidates like Mr. Perry. Were Rudolph W. Giuliani or Chris Christie to enter the race, Mr. Romney might face a bit more pressure, as he would if Jon M. Huntsman Jr. were somehow to surge. Still, the conservative part of the Republican field is far more crowded, and will be even more so if Sarah Palin runs.

But that should be cold comfort to Romney. Later in the post, Silver mentions Romney’s lead over Perry in New Hampshire is substantial, but if you add all the other candidates to Perry’s total, Perry would lead. So if Perry knocks out other candidates after Iowa, New Hampshire could immediately become a close race. The unstated point is the risk Romney may be approaching his ceiling of support. Perry, on the other hand, may just be getting started.

Look at that Gallup poll. As I wrote yesterday, Perry is easily holding his own constituency while encroaching on Romney’s. I understand national polls are less important than state polls at this point, but the trend is there. Ron Paul will probably stay in the race for a while, but Bachmann’s 10 percent may be up for grabs. Expect it to go to Perry. Herman Cain is next, with 4 percent. Cain’s claim to fame has always been his early–very, very early–opposition to government-run national healthcare, so it’s doubtful his support goes to Romney, but perhaps his business credentials will throw Romney a bit of it. After Cain, we have Gingrich; Romney and Perry could split those votes. Santorum’s 3 percent probably goes to Perry. Huntsman’s 1 percent presumably goes back to Obama for the general election.

So what happens if we see national polls giving Perry a lead of 25 points or more? And all that assumes Perry won’t siphon away more of the moderate vote, which he is very likely to do if this keeps up. The state polls right now are Romney’s refuge, but Perry has a built-in advantage. The sooner other candidates exit the race, the worse Romney’s chances look.

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Qaddafi’s Creepy Fascination with Condoleezza Rice

Deep within his bunker, Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi seemed to have an unhealthy fascination with Bush-era National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It seems the mad colonel must have tired of Ukrainian nurses and his all-female bodyguards. Sometimes the less we know about Middle Eastern dictators, the better.

Deep within his bunker, Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi seemed to have an unhealthy fascination with Bush-era National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It seems the mad colonel must have tired of Ukrainian nurses and his all-female bodyguards. Sometimes the less we know about Middle Eastern dictators, the better.

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Labor Warns Obama Ahead of Jobs Speech

The rift between President Obama and Big Labor has been growing for some time, and it may come to a head during the president’s upcoming jobs speech. While the AFL-CIO hasn’t explicitly announced it will cut off Obama’s reelection campaign, its leader Richard Trumka fired a few more warning shots this week.

The labor union says it’s pursuing a new campaign strategy, focused more on strengthening its own grassroots support and political influence than electing Democratic politicians, Politico’s Byron Tau reports:

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The rift between President Obama and Big Labor has been growing for some time, and it may come to a head during the president’s upcoming jobs speech. While the AFL-CIO hasn’t explicitly announced it will cut off Obama’s reelection campaign, its leader Richard Trumka fired a few more warning shots this week.

The labor union says it’s pursuing a new campaign strategy, focused more on strengthening its own grassroots support and political influence than electing Democratic politicians, Politico’s Byron Tau reports:

“We’re going to use a lot of our money to build structures that work for working people,” Trumka said. “You’re going to see us give less money to build structures for others and more of our money will be used to build our own structure.”

Union anger toward Obama is reaching a critical point. Labor spent hundreds of millions to help elect him in 2008, and leaders believe they received little in return. In an interview with the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein, Trumka complains Democrats have taken union support for granted:

Trumka called the current climate “absolutely” the worst he has seen during the course of his 40-year career in organized labor. …

“In the past we’ve spent a significant amount of resources on candidates and party structures, and the day after election, workers were no stronger than they were the day before,” Trumka said, during a sit down at his Washington, D.C. office slightly more than a week ago.

This is some of the strongest public criticism yet from Trumka, and it comes at an interesting time. The AFL-CIO said this week it is moving forward on its plan to form a super PAC, which could raise unlimited funds for politicians – as long as they play by Labor’s rules.

One major test for Obama will be his jobs speech. Union leaders will be watching closely to see if their preferred policies make it into the plan:

“He’s going to give a speech in a couple of weeks on job creation,” Trumka told reporters. “If he’s talking about another percent or two break from a tax here and doing something with patent control, and doing three years down the road something with infrastructure bank, that’s not going to get the job done.”

Of course, that leaves Obama in a tough spot. If he goes too far to the left to appease the unions, he risks alienating the centrists to whom the speech is meant to appeal.

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It Takes More Than a Speech

President Obama hit a new low in today’s Rasmussen poll. His total disapproval is at 57 percent, against 42 percent approval – a 15 point spread. We are a long way from the soaring vision he set forth in his Inaugural Address two-and-a-half years ago:

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.

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President Obama hit a new low in today’s Rasmussen poll. His total disapproval is at 57 percent, against 42 percent approval – a 15 point spread. We are a long way from the soaring vision he set forth in his Inaugural Address two-and-a-half years ago:

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.

It was an impressive list of things whose end was proclaimed by means of a speech: fear, conflict, discord, petty grievances, false promises, recriminations, worn-out dogmas – gone in one election and two sentences.

The operational significance of Obama’s words turned out to be hyper-partisan legislation (so much for unity of purpose), constant blaming of his predecessor (endless recriminations), massive spending on shovel-ready projects that did not exist (among other false promises), and a year-long effort to restructure one-seventh of the economy with Obamacare, while jobs disappeared. The discord was reflected in election results in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts, followed by a shellacking that did not end his proposals for trillion-dollar deficits, “clean” debt increases and more taxes.

The soaring rhetoric is long gone, replaced by eat your peas; turn in your homework; I can’t suck it up with a straw; and don’t blame me for the run of bad luck. Obama’s “presidential index” in the Rasmussen poll was at Plus 30 his first week in office, turned negative by July 2009, and today is at Minus 24. The chart (courtesy of Boker tov, Boulder) graphically demonstrating the poll results, is here. It is worth a thousand words.

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Re: The Logic of the Left

Jonathan ably takes Larry Derfner to task for Derfner’s reprehensible justification of terrorism as an “anti-occupation” tactic–one that Derfner says Israel invites and is thus responsible for. But the key part of that to me was the recognition of Derfner’s “logic” when approaching the situation from extreme leftist ideology.

There are two reasons leftists have stopped getting elected in Israel. The first is, their policies have plainly failed. But the second reason is, leftists started being honest (though I doubt Derfner’s bloodlust is shared by his ideological compatriots, many of whom are true pacifists). Once upon a time, revered Israeli peaceniks spoke of the indivisibility of Jerusalem. Once upon a time, Ehud Barak criticized peace deals brokered by Benjamin Netanyahu from the right, even as Bill Clinton’s campaign strategists were preparing to help Barak oust Netanyahu. It was all a game–but apparently the game’s over.

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Jonathan ably takes Larry Derfner to task for Derfner’s reprehensible justification of terrorism as an “anti-occupation” tactic–one that Derfner says Israel invites and is thus responsible for. But the key part of that to me was the recognition of Derfner’s “logic” when approaching the situation from extreme leftist ideology.

There are two reasons leftists have stopped getting elected in Israel. The first is, their policies have plainly failed. But the second reason is, leftists started being honest (though I doubt Derfner’s bloodlust is shared by his ideological compatriots, many of whom are true pacifists). Once upon a time, revered Israeli peaceniks spoke of the indivisibility of Jerusalem. Once upon a time, Ehud Barak criticized peace deals brokered by Benjamin Netanyahu from the right, even as Bill Clinton’s campaign strategists were preparing to help Barak oust Netanyahu. It was all a game–but apparently the game’s over.

Now, there is no place for Barak in the Labor party. It’s admirable that many in the Labor party would rather criticize Israel from the sidelines than get elected; it is a more honest expression both of their priorities and of the Israeli public’s outright rejection of those same priorities. To be sure, Derfner is in the minority here. I do not believe large numbers of Israeli leftists think blowing up an Israeli school bus, for example, is appropriate or deserved.

Derfner has created two categories of action: good and bad. Thus, Israel’s stewardship of land the Palestinians want for an independent state of their own some day is “bad.” Murdering innocent children is “bad.” There’s no gray area. So Palestinians in the West Bank have to go through checkpoints to make sure they’re not armed; this is “bad.” As such, they respond by breaking into the home of a Jewish family and murdering them in cold blood, including slitting the throat of an infant. This, to Derfner, is not only logical but acceptable. It’s in the category of “bad,” sure–but it’s called for, and anyway, it’s Israel’s fault.

Derfner’s blog post is rotten to the core. It’s reassuring, however, that Derfner is left to offer such moral corruption from his own personal blog site–an indication that few share his values, or lack thereof.

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Poll: Americans Blame Bush, GOP for Economy

Why has Obama continued to blame Bush for the lagging economy? Because apparently it still resonates with the public. According to the latest Associated Press-GfK poll, Americans don’t approve of the president’s economic performance, but they continue to blame President Bush and congressional Republicans for getting the country into the mess:

While Republicans have pushed to cast the sputtering economy as Obama’s fault, Americans place their blame elsewhere. Fifty-one percent say that George W. Bush is most to blame for the down economy, while 31 percent say it’s Obama.

At the same time, 44 percent of Americans say that “a lot” or “most” of the blame should be put on the shoulders of congressional Republicans, while 36 percent say the same of congressional Democrats.

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Why has Obama continued to blame Bush for the lagging economy? Because apparently it still resonates with the public. According to the latest Associated Press-GfK poll, Americans don’t approve of the president’s economic performance, but they continue to blame President Bush and congressional Republicans for getting the country into the mess:

While Republicans have pushed to cast the sputtering economy as Obama’s fault, Americans place their blame elsewhere. Fifty-one percent say that George W. Bush is most to blame for the down economy, while 31 percent say it’s Obama.

At the same time, 44 percent of Americans say that “a lot” or “most” of the blame should be put on the shoulders of congressional Republicans, while 36 percent say the same of congressional Democrats.

AP-GfK hasn’t released its polling data yet, but these numbers are fairly consistent with a July Quinnipiac poll, which found Americans blamed Bush over Obama by 54 to 27 percent. One of the reasons why Bush fared so poorly in the Quinnipiac poll is because Republicans were more likely to blame Bush (18 percent) than Democrats were to blame Obama (5 percent); and a much larger proportion of Democrats blamed Bush (87 percent) than Republicans blamed Obama (60 percent).

Independents fell somewhere in between, holding Bush responsible over Obama, 49 percent to 24 percent. But the poll didn’t take into account why Americans are more likely to blame Bush. For many Republicans (and conservative-leaning independents), it could be because they opposed Bush’s big-government fiscal policy. If that’s the case, these numbers aren’t necessarily good news for Obama.

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Libya Shows the Failure of Deterring a Nuclear Iran

Muammar Qaddafi’s demise may be imminent, but the mad colonel refuses to give in. In the past few days, his loyalists have managed to fire Scuds at liberated towns, more out of spite and ideological animus than for any other reason.

This should be of concern to anyone who says the United States can contain a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic of Iran. It may be true the Iranian regime isn’t suicidal. But, as Qaddafi’s actions demonstrate, that all goes out the window if the Iranian people have risen up (even without outside support), and the regime is counting its final hours. In such a scenario–which, given the Iranian peoples’ animosity to their leaders, isn’t unlikely–what would stop the most retrenched, ideological core of the Revolutionary Guards, which in theory would have the command and control of Iran’s nuclear arsenal, from launching against enemies in the Persian Gulf, Israel, or us? The answer is not much. In such a situation, deterrence breaks down, because neither the United States nor Israel would retaliate against a country whose regime had already changed. I explain further, here.

Muammar Qaddafi’s demise may be imminent, but the mad colonel refuses to give in. In the past few days, his loyalists have managed to fire Scuds at liberated towns, more out of spite and ideological animus than for any other reason.

This should be of concern to anyone who says the United States can contain a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic of Iran. It may be true the Iranian regime isn’t suicidal. But, as Qaddafi’s actions demonstrate, that all goes out the window if the Iranian people have risen up (even without outside support), and the regime is counting its final hours. In such a scenario–which, given the Iranian peoples’ animosity to their leaders, isn’t unlikely–what would stop the most retrenched, ideological core of the Revolutionary Guards, which in theory would have the command and control of Iran’s nuclear arsenal, from launching against enemies in the Persian Gulf, Israel, or us? The answer is not much. In such a situation, deterrence breaks down, because neither the United States nor Israel would retaliate against a country whose regime had already changed. I explain further, here.

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The Logic of the Left: Condemnation of Israel Leads to Justification of Terror

The point where we reach the limits of civil debate about policy is, like Justice Potter Stewart’s famous description of pornography, hard to define but you generally know it when you see it. That’s the only possible reaction to a blog post by Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner who wrote on Sunday to say the actions of the terrorists who murdered eight Israelis near Eilat last week were justified. Yes, you read that right. Derfner, a veteran journalist who has enjoyed playing the enfant terrible house leftist at the centrist Post for years, wrote on his personal blog to say Palestinian terrorism against Israelis is “justified.”

In doing so, Derfner has exposed the fundamental flaw in the left’s position on terror. His obscene post will, as he predicted, lead some of his fellow countrymen to call him a traitor, and Israel’s enemies will cite it in defense of their policy of murder. But the significant aspect of this piece is it shows how pious liberals who believe the blame for the conflict falls upon the Jews are inevitably led to the justification of murder.

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The point where we reach the limits of civil debate about policy is, like Justice Potter Stewart’s famous description of pornography, hard to define but you generally know it when you see it. That’s the only possible reaction to a blog post by Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner who wrote on Sunday to say the actions of the terrorists who murdered eight Israelis near Eilat last week were justified. Yes, you read that right. Derfner, a veteran journalist who has enjoyed playing the enfant terrible house leftist at the centrist Post for years, wrote on his personal blog to say Palestinian terrorism against Israelis is “justified.”

In doing so, Derfner has exposed the fundamental flaw in the left’s position on terror. His obscene post will, as he predicted, lead some of his fellow countrymen to call him a traitor, and Israel’s enemies will cite it in defense of their policy of murder. But the significant aspect of this piece is it shows how pious liberals who believe the blame for the conflict falls upon the Jews are inevitably led to the justification of murder.

Derfner claims, despite all the evidence of the past 18 years of peace processing, the blame for the continuation of the conflict falls squarely on Israel and no one else. He says the Palestinian terrorists are merely fighting for their “independence” against an evil Israeli “occupation.” But, as even Shimon Peres has said, if the conflict were just about the Palestinian desire for an independent state, it would have been over more than a decade ago when Yasir Arafat chose to reject Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David in July 2000. Since then, that offer has been repeated and rejected. But that is meaningless to Derfner, because he and those who think like him have never been really been interested in the Palestinians or what they do or want. His focus is hatred of the Israeli right and the settlement movement, and to discuss anything else, even if that means ignoring the truth about Palestinian nationalism and its implacable desire to destroy Israel no matter where its borders are drawn, is a distraction.

To Derfner’s way of thinking, so long as Israel is not unilaterally surrendering to the Palestinians, it is provoking, nay “compelling” them to murder Jews. For him, there is no “cycle of violence” which wrongly treats Palestinian murder and Israeli self-defense on the same moral plain. As far as he is concerned, the Arabs are in the right and the Israelis in the wrong, and therefore the latter has no logical right to complain about being murdered. Derfner claims he wishes the Palestinians wouldn’t employ terrorism since, presumably, he is not happy to see people slaughtered in this fashion and wouldn’t like it if it happened to him or his family and friends. But he says it’s time for Israeli leftists to stop denouncing Arab terror because it’s hypocritical. That is the crux of his position, and one has to admit there is more logic to it than the Jewish liberals and leftists (who will, no doubt, condemn his words), will admit.

The problem is Derfner has stripped away the veneer of civility from the critique of his country’s policies. He is, in a sense, right. If you really do believe that Israel is “occupying” and “oppressing” Palestinians then why shouldn’t you support terror against Israelis? For those who buy into his palpably false notions about the conflict, qualms about murdering Jews in cold blood as in Eilat or deliberately firing missiles at civilian targets, is mere squeamishness.

What the Jerusalem Post columnist has written is beyond the pale of civil debate, and he will deserve every bit of the abuse that comes his way from fellow Israelis. But the ones who should really be upset are liberals and leftists, both in Israel and elsewhere, who agree with his misleading position about the “occupation.” It is they who must think long and hard about the “logic” of his argument and realize that, whether they echo Derfner’s words or not, their wrongful condemnations of Israel and refusal to defend its rights will be interpreted as implicit justification of terrorism.

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