Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 2011

Why We Don’t Forget Giuliani’s Leadership on 9/11

Every year around this time, as the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, I re-read Time Magazine’s 2001 Person of the Year profile of Rudy Giuliani. This year, when I read it again, I found it easier to understand how as an undeclared candidate Giuliani still polls at nearly 10 percent nationally. And when I watched as our current mayor, Giuliani’s successor, did his best to look awake during press conferences about Hurricane Irene, I found it easier still.

It’s difficult to quantify the concept of “leadership.” It’s one of the reasons Giuliani had such a rough time gaining traction as a national candidate in 2008, especially since he was running seven years after the attacks. Rick Perry can talk about the jobs created in Texas during his tenure; Mitt Romney can point to executive experience with direct relevance to the country’s current challenges. But if Giuliani mentions his executive experience, he will have the “noun-verb-9/11” joke thrown in his face, as Joe Biden did in 2008. (Incidentally, I have always found it unsettling that a man who thinks 9/11 is a punch line has become our vice president.) The Person of the Year article, written by Eric Pooley, begins with this:

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Every year around this time, as the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, I re-read Time Magazine’s 2001 Person of the Year profile of Rudy Giuliani. This year, when I read it again, I found it easier to understand how as an undeclared candidate Giuliani still polls at nearly 10 percent nationally. And when I watched as our current mayor, Giuliani’s successor, did his best to look awake during press conferences about Hurricane Irene, I found it easier still.

It’s difficult to quantify the concept of “leadership.” It’s one of the reasons Giuliani had such a rough time gaining traction as a national candidate in 2008, especially since he was running seven years after the attacks. Rick Perry can talk about the jobs created in Texas during his tenure; Mitt Romney can point to executive experience with direct relevance to the country’s current challenges. But if Giuliani mentions his executive experience, he will have the “noun-verb-9/11” joke thrown in his face, as Joe Biden did in 2008. (Incidentally, I have always found it unsettling that a man who thinks 9/11 is a punch line has become our vice president.) The Person of the Year article, written by Eric Pooley, begins with this:

Sixteen hours had passed since the Twin Towers crumbled and fell, and people kept telling Rudy Giuliani to get some rest. The indomitable mayor of New York City had spent the day and night holding his town together. He arrived at the World Trade Center just after the second plane hit, watched human beings drop from the sky and — when the south tower imploded — nearly got trapped inside his makeshift command center near the site. Then he led a battered platoon of city officials, reporters and civilians north through the blizzard of ash and smoke, and a detective jimmied open the door to a firehouse so the mayor could revive his government there. Giuliani took to the airwaves to calm and reassure his people, made a few hundred rapid-fire decisions about the security and rescue operations, toured hospitals to comfort the families of the missing and made four more visits to the apocalyptic attack scene.

At 2:30 a.m., Giuliani finally got home. Since he couldn’t sleep, he watched the day’s events again on TV while reading the latest biography of Winston Churchill. Instead of scoffing at the comparison, Pooley runs with it. “There is a bright magic at work when one great leader reaches into the past and finds another waiting to guide him,” he wrote. Giuliani was impressed with the people of his city, and believed they deserved a leader to match them. The Churchill he looked to was the Churchill of 1940, during the Blitz.

It worked, Pooley writes:

With the President out of sight for most of that day, Giuliani became the voice of America. Every time he spoke, millions of people felt a little better. His words were full of grief and iron, inspiring New York to inspire the nation. “Tomorrow New York is going to be here,” he said. “And we’re going to rebuild, and we’re going to be stronger than we were before…I want the people of New York to be an example to the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, that terrorism can’t stop us.”

The country still seems to be grateful for Giuliani’s leadership. (This week’s New York Magazine encourages “giving him his due,” and reminds readers that “Giuliani, showing what a leader is supposed to do in a crisis, did more than any single person to keep us together.”)

In politics, the American memory rarely contains more than fleeting moments and evanescent passions. But Giuliani’s heroics appear to be the exception that proves the rule. It doesn’t seem nearly enough, 10 years later, to get him elected president. But his leadership during that time shouldn’t be dismissed, either. America’s Mayor consistently gets about 10 percent of the vote–again, a decade later, and again, as an undeclared candidate. It isn’t the base of a presidential campaign, but it just might be America’s way, in whole or in part, of saying thank you–of saying: some things, we don’t forget.

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Obama Still Blaming Bush for Economy

Last week’s Associated Press-GfK poll that showed fewer Americans were prepared to blame President Obama for the economy than his predecessor was manna from heaven for a White House that has run out of answers about the state of the nation. So it was little surprise President Obama has chosen to stick to bashing George W. Bush rather than take ownership of the nation’s finances more than two and a half years after he was sworn in.

Obama repeated his mantra about inheriting a bad economy from Bush today during his appearance on the Tom Joyner Radio Show in comments otherwise devoted to shoring up support from African-Americans:

George Bush left us a $1 trillion deficit, and so it’s a lot harder to climb out of this hole when we don’t have a lot of money in the federal coffers.

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Last week’s Associated Press-GfK poll that showed fewer Americans were prepared to blame President Obama for the economy than his predecessor was manna from heaven for a White House that has run out of answers about the state of the nation. So it was little surprise President Obama has chosen to stick to bashing George W. Bush rather than take ownership of the nation’s finances more than two and a half years after he was sworn in.

Obama repeated his mantra about inheriting a bad economy from Bush today during his appearance on the Tom Joyner Radio Show in comments otherwise devoted to shoring up support from African-Americans:

George Bush left us a $1 trillion deficit, and so it’s a lot harder to climb out of this hole when we don’t have a lot of money in the federal coffers.

While it is true Obama did arrive in the White House at a time of economic crisis, it bears repeating the current administration has vastly increased that deficit with a stimulus boondoggle and Obamacare, and unemployment is higher today than on the day he took office.

Some in the administration were honest enough to admit earlier this year that more than halfway into his presidency, Obama did “own” the economy. But that was when they were counting on the recovery moving into second gear this fall rather than the nation coming to grips with a double-dip recession.

Though President Bush remains deeply unpopular, it remains to be seen whether merely shifting responsibility for the depressing results of the 31 months of Obama’s stewardship will be a sufficient argument for his re-election. It was one thing to run against Bush four years ago when the latter was still in office as a lame duck; it will be quite another thing to attempt to do so next year.

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White House Releasing Budget Review

The midsession budget review (which gives the White House’s revised projections on deficit, growth and unemployment) is supposed to be released in late July, but was kicked down the road this year thanks to congressional budget infighting and summer vacations. The White House announced it will finally be released at some point this week, but didn’t give an exact date (prediction: Friday afternoon, while everyone’s stuck in gridlock en route to a Labor Day vacation):

The White House said on Monday that its midsession review of President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2012 budget proposal would be released later this week, but an exact date had not yet been set. …

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The midsession budget review (which gives the White House’s revised projections on deficit, growth and unemployment) is supposed to be released in late July, but was kicked down the road this year thanks to congressional budget infighting and summer vacations. The White House announced it will finally be released at some point this week, but didn’t give an exact date (prediction: Friday afternoon, while everyone’s stuck in gridlock en route to a Labor Day vacation):

The White House said on Monday that its midsession review of President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2012 budget proposal would be released later this week, but an exact date had not yet been set. …

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its own midsession review on Wednesday, predicting the U.S. deficit and debt as a share of GDP would fall over the next 10 years, provided a range of tax breaks were allowed to expire.

It also forecast U.S. unemployment would remain stuck above 8 percent and growth would be tepid through the 2012 elections, as the country struggles to recover from the deepest recession since the 1930s. U.S. unemployment was 9.1 percent in July.

Obama’s 2012 budget proposal was overwhelmingly rejected by Congress last spring, so it will be interesting to see what changes, if any, have been included in the review. It could potentially be a good indicator of what we’ll hear from the president’s jobs proposal speech next week. This isn’t likely to be a happy report (especially judging from the CBO), but it will be helpful for him to at least get the bad news out of the way before turning to his jobs plan.

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Perry Plays it Safe While Romney Attacks

Rick Perry has a well-earned reputation for shooting from the hip, but he played it safe yesterday when addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in San Antonio. Sounding every bit the front-runner with more to lose than to gain by staking out specific positions on controversial topics, Perry chose instead to merely salute veterans and the military and to call for better care for them.

Even in those parts of his speech which were devoted to the use of military force, the Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate was extremely careful not to get too specific and to qualify his statements. So while Perry denounced “adventurism” in the use of American troops abroad, he omitted to say whether he thought our intervention in Libya could be categorized in that manner. Nor did he utter the word “Afghanistan” once. Similarly, he expressed strong support for the idea of America going it alone to defend its interests while praising the idea of consulting with our allies.

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Rick Perry has a well-earned reputation for shooting from the hip, but he played it safe yesterday when addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in San Antonio. Sounding every bit the front-runner with more to lose than to gain by staking out specific positions on controversial topics, Perry chose instead to merely salute veterans and the military and to call for better care for them.

Even in those parts of his speech which were devoted to the use of military force, the Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate was extremely careful not to get too specific and to qualify his statements. So while Perry denounced “adventurism” in the use of American troops abroad, he omitted to say whether he thought our intervention in Libya could be categorized in that manner. Nor did he utter the word “Afghanistan” once. Similarly, he expressed strong support for the idea of America going it alone to defend its interests while praising the idea of consulting with our allies.

Perry did sound a somewhat aggressive note when he said ten years after 9/11, America should still be prepared to “take the fight to the enemy before they strike at home.” His dismissal of the notion of conceding the defense of U.S. security to “multilateral debating societies” should also play well with the Republican base. But it’s hard to take this as a coherent critique of the policies of the man he hopes to replace in the White House. Though Obama has been a champion of multilateralism, especially on issues such as Iran, it must be conceded he was willing to act without consulting allies in the pursuit of Osama bin Laden.

By contrast, Mitt Romney’s speech to the same group today made pointed attacks on Obama for “mission muddle” in Libya and the president’s plans to draw U.S. forces in Afghanistan. While Romney recently has at times sounded as if he was pandering to the isolationist wing of his party on Afghanistan, he was singing a different tune today, albeit by focusing his criticism on the president for ignoring the advice of the military.

Although Romney has been doing his best to ignore his chief rival on the stump, the contrasting styles of the two candidates at the same forum clearly shows which one is the frontrunner and which one has adopted the more combative tone of the challenger.

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Review: All for the Sake of Love

Lee Martin, Break the Skin (New York: Crown, 2011). 272 pp. $24.00.

After it is all over, after the perpetrators have all been caught and tried and sentenced, one girl catches the eye of another in court and understands at once how easy it is to get swept up in a crime. “It was all about wanting to matter to someone,” she says, “wanting it so badly that you did things you never could have imagined, and you swore they were right, all for the sake of love.”

You don’t have to agree with the conclusion to Lee Martin’s fifth novel, or even find it convincing as an explanation why good people do bad things, to admire the execution of Break the Skin. Martin adapts the convention of alternating chapters — one of the basic formulae of contemporary American fiction — to tell the stories of two young women who are connected by love of the same man, although they are strangers to each other, living in two different parts of the country. It doesn’t hurt that Martin is so good at impersonating his women, poorly educated, working class, without resorting to either dialect or pity. (Full disclosure: Martin and I both teach at the Ohio State University, but I know him only through his published writing.)

Laney Volk is a high-school dropout living in Mt. Gilead, a small town located at the junction of U.S. 50 and state route 130 in southeastern Illinois. Laney says she is “as ordinary as bread from the wrapper,” despite a singing voice as big as Whitney Houston’s, which reminds her listeners that “no matter how scruffed up your life might be . . . you could still feel.” The music teacher and her mother urge Laney to “claim” her talent, or at least go to college, but she takes a job on the “gravedigger” shift at Walmart. When her mother warns that she is “on a fast track to nowhere,” Laney moves out and takes up residence in a double-wide trailer with Delilah Dade, whom she describes as “the pretty one,” but whom her mother describes as “trashy.” Rose MacAdow soon joins the household. A “big woman with a big heart,” Rose also works at Walmart. When Delilah takes up with Tweet Swain, a local rocker — the names are not the novel’s best feature — Laney just naturally takes up with Lester Stripp, a hanger-on with the band. And Rose is left alone with her bitterness.

Without transition or narrative juncture, the scene shifts to Denton, a small city on the edge of the Dallas metroplex (and home to North Texas University, where Martin taught before coming to Columbus). There Betty Ruiz (“most folks known me as Miss Baby”) finds a man wandering the streets in what is explained later as a fugue state. When she goes through his wallet, Miss Baby discovers that his name is Lester Stripp. She renames him Donnie True and reinvents his life for him. A tattoo artist with a salon called Babyheart’s Tats, Miss Baby tells him and everyone who will listen that they are married. What she is doing is crazy, she admits, but you must understand “how desperate I’d always been for a good man to watch over me.” Before long Lester (er, Donnie) is dragged into the family problems. A latter-day cattle rustler, Miss Baby’s brother Pablo has cheated his partner and is now on the run from both the police and a violent sociopath named Slam Dent. When the police come looking for him, they just naturally take an interest in the mysterious Donnie True.

In Mt. Gilead, the tangle of bitterness and jealousy ends with a double murder; in Denton, with a ferocious beating and the flight of a wanted man. Neither Laney nor Miss Baby seek out criminality, but they are both “so starved for love” that their lives “spin out of control.” On trial for her role in a conspiracy to commit murder, Laney is prepared to admit the truth:

There were all these lives going on in people and they didn’t even know it, all these lives festering just beneath the skin. The prick of a needle here or there, and everything you thought you weren’t could get out and stain you forever, could ripple out to other people — you could even swear you loved them — and hurt them in ways you never could have imagined. You could be that person you saw sometimes on the news, that person who’d done something unforgivable and could barely face it. Trust me, I wanted to say. It can happen.

Martin studiously keeps his own views to himself. A critic can’t help but wonder, though. Two of the most destructive trends in American culture are the decline of marriage and the loss of religious faith among the working poor. It is perhaps no accident that there is neither a church community nor an intact marriage in Break the Skin. “All for the sake of love,” as Lee Martin tragically shows, does nothing to provide “ragged lives” with social mobility or economic well-being or, sometimes, even simple ordinary freedom.

Lee Martin, Break the Skin (New York: Crown, 2011). 272 pp. $24.00.

After it is all over, after the perpetrators have all been caught and tried and sentenced, one girl catches the eye of another in court and understands at once how easy it is to get swept up in a crime. “It was all about wanting to matter to someone,” she says, “wanting it so badly that you did things you never could have imagined, and you swore they were right, all for the sake of love.”

You don’t have to agree with the conclusion to Lee Martin’s fifth novel, or even find it convincing as an explanation why good people do bad things, to admire the execution of Break the Skin. Martin adapts the convention of alternating chapters — one of the basic formulae of contemporary American fiction — to tell the stories of two young women who are connected by love of the same man, although they are strangers to each other, living in two different parts of the country. It doesn’t hurt that Martin is so good at impersonating his women, poorly educated, working class, without resorting to either dialect or pity. (Full disclosure: Martin and I both teach at the Ohio State University, but I know him only through his published writing.)

Laney Volk is a high-school dropout living in Mt. Gilead, a small town located at the junction of U.S. 50 and state route 130 in southeastern Illinois. Laney says she is “as ordinary as bread from the wrapper,” despite a singing voice as big as Whitney Houston’s, which reminds her listeners that “no matter how scruffed up your life might be . . . you could still feel.” The music teacher and her mother urge Laney to “claim” her talent, or at least go to college, but she takes a job on the “gravedigger” shift at Walmart. When her mother warns that she is “on a fast track to nowhere,” Laney moves out and takes up residence in a double-wide trailer with Delilah Dade, whom she describes as “the pretty one,” but whom her mother describes as “trashy.” Rose MacAdow soon joins the household. A “big woman with a big heart,” Rose also works at Walmart. When Delilah takes up with Tweet Swain, a local rocker — the names are not the novel’s best feature — Laney just naturally takes up with Lester Stripp, a hanger-on with the band. And Rose is left alone with her bitterness.

Without transition or narrative juncture, the scene shifts to Denton, a small city on the edge of the Dallas metroplex (and home to North Texas University, where Martin taught before coming to Columbus). There Betty Ruiz (“most folks known me as Miss Baby”) finds a man wandering the streets in what is explained later as a fugue state. When she goes through his wallet, Miss Baby discovers that his name is Lester Stripp. She renames him Donnie True and reinvents his life for him. A tattoo artist with a salon called Babyheart’s Tats, Miss Baby tells him and everyone who will listen that they are married. What she is doing is crazy, she admits, but you must understand “how desperate I’d always been for a good man to watch over me.” Before long Lester (er, Donnie) is dragged into the family problems. A latter-day cattle rustler, Miss Baby’s brother Pablo has cheated his partner and is now on the run from both the police and a violent sociopath named Slam Dent. When the police come looking for him, they just naturally take an interest in the mysterious Donnie True.

In Mt. Gilead, the tangle of bitterness and jealousy ends with a double murder; in Denton, with a ferocious beating and the flight of a wanted man. Neither Laney nor Miss Baby seek out criminality, but they are both “so starved for love” that their lives “spin out of control.” On trial for her role in a conspiracy to commit murder, Laney is prepared to admit the truth:

There were all these lives going on in people and they didn’t even know it, all these lives festering just beneath the skin. The prick of a needle here or there, and everything you thought you weren’t could get out and stain you forever, could ripple out to other people — you could even swear you loved them — and hurt them in ways you never could have imagined. You could be that person you saw sometimes on the news, that person who’d done something unforgivable and could barely face it. Trust me, I wanted to say. It can happen.

Martin studiously keeps his own views to himself. A critic can’t help but wonder, though. Two of the most destructive trends in American culture are the decline of marriage and the loss of religious faith among the working poor. It is perhaps no accident that there is neither a church community nor an intact marriage in Break the Skin. “All for the sake of love,” as Lee Martin tragically shows, does nothing to provide “ragged lives” with social mobility or economic well-being or, sometimes, even simple ordinary freedom.

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Two More Polls–Two New Lows for Obama

Two more polls have been released – and two new lows for the president have been reached.

Let’s take them one at a time, beginning with Gallup’s weekly analysis. It shows President Obama’s job approval rating averaged 40 percent last week, tying his record-low rating and 53 percent disapproval. But the poll also provides trend lines that must be absolutely frightening to David Axelrod & Company.

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Two more polls have been released – and two new lows for the president have been reached.

Let’s take them one at a time, beginning with Gallup’s weekly analysis. It shows President Obama’s job approval rating averaged 40 percent last week, tying his record-low rating and 53 percent disapproval. But the poll also provides trend lines that must be absolutely frightening to David Axelrod & Company.

The last time Obama’s average weekly job approval rating registered at least 50 percent among all Americans was May 30-June 5, 2011. Since then, the president’s support has eroded among every major demographic subgroup. Right now, no group other than blacks, Democrats, and liberals gives him majority support. The president’s loss of support is found among both genders and all ages, all income brackets, all races, all educational levels, and all regions of the country.

While Obama receives strong support (83 percent) among blacks, his support among Hispanics, a particularly prized political demographic, is down to 44 percent. Fewer than one-in-three whites (32 percent) approve of the president’s performance. Since the start of the summer Obama has lost a dozen points of support from independents and a dozen points of support from among moderates. He’s dropped 11 points among women and among liberals. He’s lost 12 points of support among college graduates and 16 points among those with post-graduate degrees. The president has lost 6 points among those earning $24,000 and less and 16 points among those earning $90,000 and more.

The picture for Obama supporters, then, is unremittingly bleak.

And then there is the president’s signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). According to a Kaiser Health Tracking poll, support for ACA has reached an all-time low. Less than four in 10 Americans surveyed (39 percent) have a favorable view of the law. Among independents, 33 percent feel favorably toward the ACA. And only 60 percent of Democrats support it.

On every front and in every conceivable way, the president is experiencing declining–and in some cases hemorrhaging–support.

This has been a brutal political summer for Obama. And I’m not sure the fall will bring him any relief.

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Perry is Right About Social Security

Texas Governor Rick Perry made some comments about Social Security which has some of his critics gleeful. “It is a Ponzi scheme for these young people. The idea that they’re working and paying into Social Security today, that the current program is going to be there for them, is a lie,” Perry said. “It is a monstrous lie on this generation, and we can’t do that to them.”

These are words that will come back to haunt the presidential candidate, we’re told.

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Texas Governor Rick Perry made some comments about Social Security which has some of his critics gleeful. “It is a Ponzi scheme for these young people. The idea that they’re working and paying into Social Security today, that the current program is going to be there for them, is a lie,” Perry said. “It is a monstrous lie on this generation, and we can’t do that to them.”

These are words that will come back to haunt the presidential candidate, we’re told.

Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Whatever the case, on substance, Perry is quite right. For younger people, Social Security is almost the definition of a Ponzi scheme. It takes money from the current generation in order to pay out money to support (among others) current retirees. Younger workers are led to believe they are putting money away for their retirement when in fact, they’re giving money away to others. There is no “trust fund” and no “lock box” – and because of demographics the younger generation cannot count on anything like the support past generations have received.

That is not to say Social Security is a program that wasn’t successful. It most certainly has been. The inter-generational transfer in which working-age people collectively take care of older people helped raise the elderly out of poverty, making Social Security among the most successful social programs the federal government has ever undertaken. But what worked in the past doesn’t necessarily work in the present, with fewer and fewer wage earners being asked to support more and more Social Security recipients.

Perry deserves credit, then, for speaking in an unvarnished way (that seems to be something of a habit of his). The test for him – and for the other candidates – is what they plan to do about reforming entitlement programs and the modern welfare state. Because if nothing is done, we are going to face a terrible day of reckoning, and it may come sooner than we think.

Words are, of course, not the same as reform – but before reforms can be done the case needs to be made. If Perry can make the case for entitlement (and especially for Medicare) reform, more power to him. My hope–and on my optimistic days my expectation–is the public is ready to embrace certain fiscal realities and that attacks that worked in the past won’t work today.

We’ll find out soon enough.

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Israeli Left Divided on Palestinian Issue

One remarkable sideshow of the Israeli summer protests has been the bitter disputes between Israeli “social justice” activists pushing for more socialist economic policies in the country, and the anti-Israel activists whose main focus is demonizing and delegitimizing the Jewish state.

The anti-Israel activists have become incensed that the protests are unrelated to Israel’s imaginary war crimes and assorted evils. And on the other side, social justice demonstrators have shunned groups like the New Israel Fund, out of fear the crusade for “economic equality” might be tarnished by these organizations.

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One remarkable sideshow of the Israeli summer protests has been the bitter disputes between Israeli “social justice” activists pushing for more socialist economic policies in the country, and the anti-Israel activists whose main focus is demonizing and delegitimizing the Jewish state.

The anti-Israel activists have become incensed that the protests are unrelated to Israel’s imaginary war crimes and assorted evils. And on the other side, social justice demonstrators have shunned groups like the New Israel Fund, out of fear the crusade for “economic equality” might be tarnished by these organizations.

The dispute is becoming more prominent as it makes its way into national politics. Prospective Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich, who has been one of the most prominent politicians involved with the protests, outraged anti-Israel activists last week when she defended the settlements and opposed boycotts.

One social justice activist involved in the protests, Yossi Gurvitz, is calling for a “parting of ways” between the two factions. He summed up his problem with the single-issue, pro-Palestinian activists on his blog:

They suffer from tunnel-vision: All they see is the occupation. As if there wasn’t an Israel beyond it, as if people did not live and breathe and love and die here, who had topics on their mind. …

They don’t see themselves as partners to an intra-Israeli struggle, mainly because they consider all Israelis to suffer from an original sin, which, as long as they don’t scrub themselves like Lady Macbeth while wearing the heretic’s robe and chanting “we have sinned, have mercy upon us,” they are unworthy of justice. We’re not talking about humans, after all: Just cardboard characters from a morality play.

The divide seems to be both ideological and politically expedient. If the social justice movement embraces the anti-Israel activists too strongly, it’s questionable whether it would receive as much support from the general public. But it’s also true when BDS groups work to delegitimize Israel, that scope includes left-wing Israeli Zionists – and it would also be interesting to see a strong anti-BDS pushback from within the Israeli left.

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White House to Oppose House Bill to Hold UN Accountable

Today, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen unveiled her United Nations reform bill that will put the world body on notice it will pay a steep price if it continues to thumb its nose at the United States on vital issues. The bill will cut off U.S. funding of any UN agency that treats the Palestinians as an independent state prior to the resolution of the Middle East conflict as well as ending the flow of American largesse to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC).

But while Ros-Lehtinen’s bill is likely to pass the House, it will face a rough time in the Senate due to opposition from the White House.  An administration source told Politico: “This draft legislation is dated, tired, and frankly unresponsive to the positive role being played by the UN.” This raises the question: is President Obama willing to head into a re-election contest flying the flag of the UN?

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Today, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen unveiled her United Nations reform bill that will put the world body on notice it will pay a steep price if it continues to thumb its nose at the United States on vital issues. The bill will cut off U.S. funding of any UN agency that treats the Palestinians as an independent state prior to the resolution of the Middle East conflict as well as ending the flow of American largesse to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC).

But while Ros-Lehtinen’s bill is likely to pass the House, it will face a rough time in the Senate due to opposition from the White House.  An administration source told Politico: “This draft legislation is dated, tired, and frankly unresponsive to the positive role being played by the UN.” This raises the question: is President Obama willing to head into a re-election contest flying the flag of the UN?

The White House claims Republican critics of the UN are ignoring the positive role the institution has played in Afghanistan and Libya. It argues that American influence at the world body is maximized when the U.S. is fully engaged and paying the 22 percent of the UN’s budget that flows from Washington. But Obama’s “don’t worry, be happy” approach to the UN has done nothing to convince its members to stop trying to kill the peace process by voting to recognize an independent Palestinian state without first requiring it to make peace with Israel. Nor has the administration used its supposedly weighty influence at Turtle Bay to transform UNRWA or the Human Rights Council, both of which exist primarily in order to perpetuate the Arab war against Israel. Despite progress on some fronts, the UN and its affiliate agencies remain a cesspool of anti-Semitism and bias against Israel as the upcoming Durban III UN conference (which, to its credit, the administration plans to boycott) proves yet again.

As Ros-Lehtinen stated in an op-ed published on Sunday in the Miami Herald, there is a well-established precedent for the practice of withholding America’s UN dues. In 1989, a previous attempt by the Palestinians to gain UN recognition was spiked by a threat from the first Bush administration that such a vote would result in the end of American funding for the world body.

The House effort to mandate reform of the UN on a variety of issues is motivated by a fundamental principle that ought to be a matter of bipartisan consensus: the United States should only fund those institutions and causes that reflect American values and interests.  UNRWA, which has been infiltrated by Hamas and whose purpose is to keep Palestinian refugees in place rather than to resettle them, is a classic example of a UN institution receiving American money that contradicts that principle. The Human Rights Council, which devotes most of its energy to excoriating democratic Israel while ignoring genuine abuses elsewhere, is another.

The Ros-Lehtinen bill is long overdue and deserves the support of pro-Israel Democrats. Just as they did back in May when they demonstrated their opposition to Obama’s attempt to pressure Israel to accept the 1967 lines as the starting point for negotiations, Democrats need to put the White House on notice they have no intention of facing the voters next year as defenders of a corrupt United Nations.

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Latest Bachmann Religion Rumor: She’s Jewish?

The New York Post’s bizarre story today about Jewish donors considering supporting Michele Bachmann because she’s “Jewish” is the latest example of the often humorous record of Jews claiming celebrities as members of the tribe because of their last names.

But it’s more surprising to hear this about Bachmann, whose liberal critics have insisted is attempting to create a Christian theocracy here in the U.S. Josh Margolin reports: “Some Jewish donors are telling fund-raisers for Romney, a Mormon, that while they like him, they’d rather open their wallets for the ‘Jewish candidate,’ who they don’t realize is actually a Lutheran, The Post has learned.” The confusion seems to stem from the combination of Bachmann’s last name and the following part of her speech to last year’s AIPAC conference:

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The New York Post’s bizarre story today about Jewish donors considering supporting Michele Bachmann because she’s “Jewish” is the latest example of the often humorous record of Jews claiming celebrities as members of the tribe because of their last names.

But it’s more surprising to hear this about Bachmann, whose liberal critics have insisted is attempting to create a Christian theocracy here in the U.S. Josh Margolin reports: “Some Jewish donors are telling fund-raisers for Romney, a Mormon, that while they like him, they’d rather open their wallets for the ‘Jewish candidate,’ who they don’t realize is actually a Lutheran, The Post has learned.” The confusion seems to stem from the combination of Bachmann’s last name and the following part of her speech to last year’s AIPAC conference:

In a speech to [AIPAC] last year, Bachmann recalled being guarded by soldiers while working on the kibbutz….

She went on to say, “I am a Christian, but I consider my heritage Jewish, because it is the foundation, the roots of my faith as a Christian.”

Bachmann also told an AIPAC gathering earlier this year that she and her family make sure each year to attend at least one Jewish-themed play or movie.

Bachmann has recently been involved in controversy over her church’s anti-Catholic views and some of the Christian literature she read in law school. I suppose if you’re not paying any attention to the campaign, other than to float in and out of Bachmann’s AIPAC address, you could be confused. It sounds implausible, but it’s possible.

The humorous part of this is that Bachmann joins a distinguished group of musicians, actors, and athletes whose names sound Jewish, earning them a kind of associate membership of the community. In 2007, for example, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun earned the nickname the “Hebrew Hammer,” because of rumors he was Jewish. Though his father’s side of the family is Jewish, Ryan is not. Adam Sandler’s famous “Chanukah Song” helpfully included some celebrities mistaken for Jews, and others who just have Jewish ancestry. (“Paul Newman’s half-Jewish, Goldie Hawn’s half too….”)

Sometimes Jews appear where they’re least expected. Last year, a CNN documentary found a Polish neo-Nazi couple who turned out to be Jewish. After some teshuvah, the couple became active in their local Orthodox synagogue.

But the mistake in Bachmann’s case is likely limited to a (very) few individuals, and the high-profile nature of a presidential campaign will probably clear up the confusion–at least on the part of the Jewish donors, who will presumably pay some attention to a candidate to whom they are considering donating millions of dollars.

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Egypt’s “Flagmen” Symbolize Hate for Israel

According to today’s New York Times, the current idol of Egypt is a man who scaled the walls of a multi-story building in order to get to the roof of Israel’s embassy in Cairo where he then hauled down the Israeli flag and replaced it with an Egyptian one. The man, now known as “flagman,” received a job and an apartment–both scarce commodities in Egypt–as a reward for his exploit.

The Times concentrates on the fact that, as is always the case with such tales, there is a dispute about who the real flagman might be, with another challenger stepping forward to claim at least part of the credit. But we needn’t concern ourselves with which of the two deserves the free stuff. Rather, it is far more important to ponder why it is that Egyptians are so convulsed with hatred for Israel they would make a hero out of either.

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According to today’s New York Times, the current idol of Egypt is a man who scaled the walls of a multi-story building in order to get to the roof of Israel’s embassy in Cairo where he then hauled down the Israeli flag and replaced it with an Egyptian one. The man, now known as “flagman,” received a job and an apartment–both scarce commodities in Egypt–as a reward for his exploit.

The Times concentrates on the fact that, as is always the case with such tales, there is a dispute about who the real flagman might be, with another challenger stepping forward to claim at least part of the credit. But we needn’t concern ourselves with which of the two deserves the free stuff. Rather, it is far more important to ponder why it is that Egyptians are so convulsed with hatred for Israel they would make a hero out of either.

After all, the whole point of the demonstration at the embassy was to protest what the Times tactfully refers to as a “series of cross-border killings on the Sinai frontier.” That was a nice way to say Egypt allowed its territory to be used as a launching pad for Palestinian terrorists to attack in Israel and kill eight persons. When Israeli forces were pursuing some of the escaping felons, they fled back over the border, and three Egyptian security men were killed by Israeli fire aimed at the terrorists. Israel apologized for those deaths, but we’re still waiting for Egypt to express regret for its responsibility for the affair.

The willingness of the Egyptian public to treat the incident as Israeli aggression without taking into account it occurred because their country turned a blind eye to Palestinian terrorists betrays the animus against the Jewish state that runs deep in Egyptian culture. Some will rationalize this as merely a function of sympathy for the Palestinians, who are portrayed in the Arab press as helpless victims suffering at the hands of evil Israeli oppressors. But that sympathy has always been tempered by both prejudice against Palestinians as well as resentment at them for being manipulated into several wars that were disasters for Egypt.

The anger at Israel in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world has always been about something much more fundamental: anti-Semitism and the belief the Jewish state’s very existence is a humiliation for Arabs and Muslims. The Israeli embassy in Cairo and the flag with the Star of David that flies above it has become a focus of that hatred, so it is no surprise the flag incident, which might otherwise be considered a foolish prank, has now been elevated into an expression of national pride.

For decades, the Mubarak regime allowed anti-Semitic hate to flow freely in the Egyptian media and popular culture in order to give critics of the government an outlet for their spleen. In the post-Mubarak era, the obsession with Israel is, if anything, becoming more important. The flagmen are just the tip of the iceberg of Arab hatred for Israel. Though the Egyptian military is loathe to give up the $2 billion they still get in American aid in exchange for keeping the peace with Israel, the virulent hatred for the Jewish state that is at the heart of the tensions between the countries is a variable that must not be discounted when assessing the future of the Middle East.

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Obama’s Low Approval Ratings: Does it Matter?

Gallup’s latest three-day polling finds Obama’s steadily sinking approval ratings have hit 38 percent, a record low for him. The last three presidents who have won reelection all had approval ratings above 45 percent at this point in office. But what does this mean for Obama’s chances?

This early, it’s hard to say. The last two presidents who lost reelection took very different paths. The first President Bush had approval ratings at 74 percent around this time in his presidency, and went on to lose reelection to Bill Clinton. But President Carter’s polling numbers were already down to 30 percent at this point, before rebounding to the above-50 percent range during the winter of 1980, and then bottoming back down to the 30s until he lost reelection.

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Gallup’s latest three-day polling finds Obama’s steadily sinking approval ratings have hit 38 percent, a record low for him. The last three presidents who have won reelection all had approval ratings above 45 percent at this point in office. But what does this mean for Obama’s chances?

This early, it’s hard to say. The last two presidents who lost reelection took very different paths. The first President Bush had approval ratings at 74 percent around this time in his presidency, and went on to lose reelection to Bill Clinton. But President Carter’s polling numbers were already down to 30 percent at this point, before rebounding to the above-50 percent range during the winter of 1980, and then bottoming back down to the 30s until he lost reelection.

One trend seems steady, though: by November before their reelection year, the last three two-term presidents all maintained approval at around 50 percent for the remainder of the term, and didn’t drop below that range for longer than a few weeks.

But for Clinton and Reagan, their record low points came earlier in their first terms. Clinton’s worst rating was around 37 percent in June, 1993, when his reelection was more than three years away. Reagan’s low was 35 percent in January, 1983, giving him almost two years to rebound. George W. Bush’s worst polling was only six months before his reelection, but at 46 percent it wasn’t as low as his predecessors.

If this is Obama’s low point, there’s still plenty of time for him to bounce back. But if his numbers don’t start inching back up toward 50 percent by mid-October, recent history shows he might have a problem.

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The Personal Pronoun Presidency

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Ben Zimmer reviewed a new book by James W. Pennebaker, chair of the Psychology Department at the University of Texas, entitled The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us. Professor Pennebaker and his associates have developed a computer program that purports to analyze the psychological content of speech through a person’s use of pronouns.

In his review, Zimmer criticized Victor Davis Hanson, George Will and Charles Krauthammer for asserting that Obama’s promiscuous use of the “I” word is a well-known trait of his presidency:

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In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Ben Zimmer reviewed a new book by James W. Pennebaker, chair of the Psychology Department at the University of Texas, entitled The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us. Professor Pennebaker and his associates have developed a computer program that purports to analyze the psychological content of speech through a person’s use of pronouns.

In his review, Zimmer criticized Victor Davis Hanson, George Will and Charles Krauthammer for asserting that Obama’s promiscuous use of the “I” word is a well-known trait of his presidency:

Regrettably, none of these pundits have bothered to look into how Obama might compare with his predecessors. … Pennebaker crunches the numbers on presidential press conferences since Truman and finds that “Obama has distinguished himself as the lowest I-word user of any of the modern presidents.” If anything, Obama has shown a disdain for the first-person singular during his administration.

Since this will come as news to many, it is worth noting how Pennebaker reached his result — which can assist in evaluating Zimmer’s assertion about Obama’s “disdain” for the first-person singular.

Pennebaker put each president’s press conferences into a computer, calculated the number of times the words “I,” “my,” and “me” appeared in them, and expressed the results as a percentage of total words in the total press conferences of each president. You don’t have to be John Kerry to notice what is missing from this analysis: nuance!

Earlier this year, I touched on this same subject, analyzing Obama’s Libya announcement and reviewing his Memorial Day address. Consider Obama’s classic self-reference in his statement on the terrorist attack in Norway: “I remember fondly my visit to Oslo and how warmly the people of Norway treated me.” Anyone who can use “I,” “my” and “me” in a single sentence, while speaking about horrific murders in a foreign country, has entered a zone no computer program can reach.

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Obama Reaches Out to Black Community

In 2008, black voters came out to vote for Obama in record numbers, closing the historical racial gap in voter participation. But discontent with Obama in the black community – which has been bubbling below the surface for awhile – is starting to reach a boiling point.

While yesterday’s Gallup poll showed Obama still receives 83 percent approval ratings among blacks, there’s concern disillusionment or apathy could keep black voters home in November 2012, according to Politico:

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In 2008, black voters came out to vote for Obama in record numbers, closing the historical racial gap in voter participation. But discontent with Obama in the black community – which has been bubbling below the surface for awhile – is starting to reach a boiling point.

While yesterday’s Gallup poll showed Obama still receives 83 percent approval ratings among blacks, there’s concern disillusionment or apathy could keep black voters home in November 2012, according to Politico:

“You can spend a lot of time trying to win over white independents, but if you don’t pay attention to your base, African Americans, if you have not locked up your base yet, you’ve got a serious problem,” said CNN contributor Roland Martin.

“African-Americans will vote for him again, 88, 92, 95 percent. The question is what’s the turnout? I’ll vote for you. But will I bring ten other people along, like I did in 2008? That’s the danger here for him. He doesn’t have the historical factor to lean on as much in 2012 as he did in 2008… And the first step, is that he has to be willing to speak to this audience, black people.”

In response, Obama has been quietly ramping up his outreach to the black community, a sign his team is worried about the impact of a decrease in black voter turnout:

Obama’s staff, including campaign manager Jim Messina and White House senior adviser David Plouffe, have privately predicted black turnout in 2012 will be comparable, or in some places even exceed, the rates in 2008. But they are also clearly concerned about drift. Hoping to head off the dispute before it becomes a larger 2012 headache, Obama and his team are ramping up outreach efforts. On Monday, Democratic National Committee executive director Patrick Gaspard and Obama 2012 official Paul Blake convened a meeting and conference call that included Roland Martin, veteran operative Donna Brazile, BET’s Debra Lee, Urban League President Marc Morial and the NAACP’s Ben Jealous. And the president will address the mid-September Congressional Black Caucus Foundation conference.

Obama can’t survive alienating a significant segment of his base, especially since many of the groups that supported him in 2008 now seem to be souring on him. Only 44 percent of Hispanic voters approve of his performance, according to Gallup, but Obama received 67 percent of the Latino vote in the last election. “His approval rating among several groups that previously gave him strong majority support — postgraduates, Hispanics, 18- to 29-year-olds, and lower-income Americans — is now below the 50 percent threshold,” reported Gallup. With those numbers, Obama can’t afford to ignore signs of dissatisfaction from his main base of support.

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The Battle between eBook and Print Is Not Yet Over

An excellent longish piece in the Guardian this morning by the novelist Lloyd Shepherd argues that the death of books has been greatly exaggerated. As opposed to the armchair philosophizing that most of us who debate this subject are prone to — I include myself in the indictment — Shepherd marshals empirical evidence to back up his claim.

Shepherd points out, for example, that while it is may be true that Barnes & Noble “sells three times as many digital books as all formats of physical books combined,” those numbers are for online sales only. Although it is still losing money, Barnes & Noble reported that book sales in all formats has increased by twenty percent so far this year. And while Amazon now says that it peddles more Kindle-ready texts than hardbacks and paperbacks combined, the sales of printed books are still increasing (the italics are Shepherd’s).

The conventional wisdom is that the price discrepancy between new hardback releases and digital editions at least partly explains why the ebook business is booming. (That’s the reason my wife bought me a Kindle — to cut the family’s book-buying expenses. She was not amused when I quoted Erasmus to the effect that, after buying the books I want, only then do I spend money on food and clothing.) Shepherd wonders if there is not another explanation. After all, most people are content to wait another year for a new book’s paperback release. Is it possible that the relatively less expensive digital version (less expensive than the hardback, at any rate) merely speeds up the process? That the convenience of downloading a book you want to read now is fueling the rise of ebooks?

In other words, the format — text shimmering on the screen of an electronic device versus handheld codex — may have less to do with what is happening than ebook enthusiasts like to think. Look, I am not in the business of predicting the future. My guess is that digital texts in their current format will not fully replace the paper-and-binding books. If even college students, the very population that should be most accustomed to electronic devices, prefer their textbooks in print by three to one, then the codex is not going to disappear any time soon.

What will happen, I imagine, is the emergence of a three-dimensional electronic text, or the invention of devices that make it possible to print one’s own books from source codes that have been downloaded from the internet. The means will evolve, I would bet, to integrate the convenience of etexts with the conceptual advantages of the codex. In any case, the battle between the ebook and the codex is not over. It has barely gotten started.

An excellent longish piece in the Guardian this morning by the novelist Lloyd Shepherd argues that the death of books has been greatly exaggerated. As opposed to the armchair philosophizing that most of us who debate this subject are prone to — I include myself in the indictment — Shepherd marshals empirical evidence to back up his claim.

Shepherd points out, for example, that while it is may be true that Barnes & Noble “sells three times as many digital books as all formats of physical books combined,” those numbers are for online sales only. Although it is still losing money, Barnes & Noble reported that book sales in all formats has increased by twenty percent so far this year. And while Amazon now says that it peddles more Kindle-ready texts than hardbacks and paperbacks combined, the sales of printed books are still increasing (the italics are Shepherd’s).

The conventional wisdom is that the price discrepancy between new hardback releases and digital editions at least partly explains why the ebook business is booming. (That’s the reason my wife bought me a Kindle — to cut the family’s book-buying expenses. She was not amused when I quoted Erasmus to the effect that, after buying the books I want, only then do I spend money on food and clothing.) Shepherd wonders if there is not another explanation. After all, most people are content to wait another year for a new book’s paperback release. Is it possible that the relatively less expensive digital version (less expensive than the hardback, at any rate) merely speeds up the process? That the convenience of downloading a book you want to read now is fueling the rise of ebooks?

In other words, the format — text shimmering on the screen of an electronic device versus handheld codex — may have less to do with what is happening than ebook enthusiasts like to think. Look, I am not in the business of predicting the future. My guess is that digital texts in their current format will not fully replace the paper-and-binding books. If even college students, the very population that should be most accustomed to electronic devices, prefer their textbooks in print by three to one, then the codex is not going to disappear any time soon.

What will happen, I imagine, is the emergence of a three-dimensional electronic text, or the invention of devices that make it possible to print one’s own books from source codes that have been downloaded from the internet. The means will evolve, I would bet, to integrate the convenience of etexts with the conceptual advantages of the codex. In any case, the battle between the ebook and the codex is not over. It has barely gotten started.

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Pressure Shalit’s Kidnappers, Not Netanyahu

Yesterday, many Israelis and Jews around the world marked the 25th birthday of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped by Hamas five years ago. Israeli demonstrators demanded his release but seemed to focus more on the unwillingness of the Israeli government to release 1,000 imprisoned terrorists — including many with Jewish blood on their hands — than on the killers who are holding Shalit.

That is the irony of all such activist efforts undertaken on behalf of a hostage being held by terrorists. It is the democratic governments who are forced to weigh the dangers of releasing terrorists against the imperative to ransom a captive who wind up being in the crosshairs of the controversy rather than the criminals. Our own Evelyn Gordon summed up this dilemma neatly last year when in writing about the case in the May 2010 issue of COMMENTARY she stated that despair over peace had led to defeatism about dealing with such instances of terror:

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Yesterday, many Israelis and Jews around the world marked the 25th birthday of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped by Hamas five years ago. Israeli demonstrators demanded his release but seemed to focus more on the unwillingness of the Israeli government to release 1,000 imprisoned terrorists — including many with Jewish blood on their hands — than on the killers who are holding Shalit.

That is the irony of all such activist efforts undertaken on behalf of a hostage being held by terrorists. It is the democratic governments who are forced to weigh the dangers of releasing terrorists against the imperative to ransom a captive who wind up being in the crosshairs of the controversy rather than the criminals. Our own Evelyn Gordon summed up this dilemma neatly last year when in writing about the case in the May 2010 issue of COMMENTARY she stated that despair over peace had led to defeatism about dealing with such instances of terror:

So long as the only factors in the equation that determine Israeli thinking are love of their children and the imperative to ransom captives, no political leader is likely to have the courage to resist the overwhelming public pressure for a deal. So there will be more Gilad Shalits, and the price the country will pay for their freedom will go even higher.

As much as we should all sympathize with the Shalit family, those seeking to increase the pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to give in to extortionate ransom demands are aiding Hamas, not Gilad Shalit. The only legitimate point of discussion about this issue should be the determination of the civilized world to isolate and bring down the independent terrorist state in Gaza that is holding the 25-year-old prisoner. So long as this group is able to exert sovereignty over that territory and continue to launch terror strikes at Israel with impunity, there will indeed be no end to the number of Israelis killed or kidnapped.

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Beinart Pronounces Neoconservatism Dead

It’s hard to keep track of how many times neoconservatism has been pronounced dead by critics. At the Daily Beast, Peter Beinart pens the latest eulogy:

And not only is al-Qaeda sliding into irrelevance, its demise is being hastened by exactly the narrowly targeted policies that neoconservatives derided.

The Obama administration is destroying al-Qaeda not by remaking Afghanistan—a project that looks increasingly far-fetched—but through intelligence cooperation and drone strikes. And while political change—and maybe even democracy—is indeed coming to the Middle East, it is coming because younger Muslims are fed up with corruption and dictatorship, not because of anything done by the Fourth Infantry Division.

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It’s hard to keep track of how many times neoconservatism has been pronounced dead by critics. At the Daily Beast, Peter Beinart pens the latest eulogy:

And not only is al-Qaeda sliding into irrelevance, its demise is being hastened by exactly the narrowly targeted policies that neoconservatives derided.

The Obama administration is destroying al-Qaeda not by remaking Afghanistan—a project that looks increasingly far-fetched—but through intelligence cooperation and drone strikes. And while political change—and maybe even democracy—is indeed coming to the Middle East, it is coming because younger Muslims are fed up with corruption and dictatorship, not because of anything done by the Fourth Infantry Division.

Throughout his essay, Beinart seems to falsely conflate neoconservatism with endless military action and the idea democracy can only be instituted by military force. These are both strawman arguments. In fact, the neocon position – that promoting democracy is both an American value and a national security interest – has become so widely accepted during the past decade it barely needs defending.

Beinart’s praise for Obama’s counterterrorism policies (really a continuation of the Bush policies) highlights how mainstream neoconservative ideas have become. His assertion that the Arab Spring was a result of young Muslims “fed up with corruption and dictatorship” stems from the notion dictatorships are not sustainable U.S. partners — a fact that’s barely even up for debate anymore.

And it’s because during the past few years, even progressives have become more open to neoconservative ideas. Obama came into office on promises to sit down with tyrants like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He ended up sending American troops to Libya to oust Qaddafi. Now, critics like Beinart have been reduced to claiming neocons oppose drone strikes or organic pro-democracy uprisings in the Arab world – blatantly ridiculous allegations. From that standpoint, Beinart’s article pretty much refutes itself.

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Poll: Government’s Image at All-Time Low

According to a new Gallup survey, the image of the federal government is at an all-time low.

According to the poll, Americans view the computer industry the most positively and the federal government the least positively when asked to rate 25 business and industry sectors.

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According to a new Gallup survey, the image of the federal government is at an all-time low.

According to the poll, Americans view the computer industry the most positively and the federal government the least positively when asked to rate 25 business and industry sectors.

The federal government has been near the bottom of the list in previous years, Gallup reports, but is at the absolute bottom this year for the first time, displacing the oil and gas industry. Only 17 percent of Americans have a positive view of the federal government while 63 percent have a negative image, a staggering 46-point gap. Real estate, health care, banking, and the legal field all rank above the federal government. The images of the federal government and the real estate industry have dropped the most during the past decade, with the percentage of Americans rating the government positively has declined 24 points since 2003, when George W. Bush was president.

There are a number of (tentative) conclusions that might be drawn from this finding, including this one: when liberals are in charge of government, confidence in it tends to collapse. That happened with Jimmy Carter, and it’s happening again with Barack Obama. (Bill Clinton succeeded most often when he governed more as a conservative than a liberal. See welfare reform and the 1997 budget agreement for more.)

Modern-day liberals have enormous–and very nearly unlimited–faith in the power, efficacy and healing effects of the federal government. They want it to control more and more areas of our lives (the Affordable Care Act is a prime example). And yet the more it does, the more opposition to government increases.

That isn’t always the case, of course. But it happens often enough that one cannot help but be struck by the irony of it all. Liberals assume office because of their enormous confidence in government to do good – and they often leave office having convinced much of the public of just the opposite. Which is why Barack Obama may be among the best things to happen to conservatism since Ronald Wilson Reagan. Having felt the effects of liberalism up close and personal, the alternative looks mighty fine right about now.

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Tea or No Tea: Perry Way Ahead in GOP

A new CNN/ORC International Poll released today confirms the results of last week’s Gallup survey: Rick Perry has jumped way ahead of the rest of the Republican presidential field. Republicans and GOP-leaning independents gave the Texas governor a 27-14 percent lead over Mitt Romney in a questionnaire that included Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani as choices. When those two non-candidates were eliminated, Perry’s advantage increased to 32-18 percent.

The most interesting piece of intelligence from the breakdown of the survey was that Perry had an overwhelming advantage among those who counted themselves as supporters of the Tea Party, with 37 percent of that group backing him to only 11 percent for Romney. Even more significant is Perry had an edge even among those who considered themselves neutral about the Tea Party, leading Romney 18-16 percent. This means that within only a couple of weeks of his campaign launch, Perry is not only the choice of conservatives but is competitive with GOP moderates.

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A new CNN/ORC International Poll released today confirms the results of last week’s Gallup survey: Rick Perry has jumped way ahead of the rest of the Republican presidential field. Republicans and GOP-leaning independents gave the Texas governor a 27-14 percent lead over Mitt Romney in a questionnaire that included Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani as choices. When those two non-candidates were eliminated, Perry’s advantage increased to 32-18 percent.

The most interesting piece of intelligence from the breakdown of the survey was that Perry had an overwhelming advantage among those who counted themselves as supporters of the Tea Party, with 37 percent of that group backing him to only 11 percent for Romney. Even more significant is Perry had an edge even among those who considered themselves neutral about the Tea Party, leading Romney 18-16 percent. This means that within only a couple of weeks of his campaign launch, Perry is not only the choice of conservatives but is competitive with GOP moderates.

Obviously, this is bad news for Romney. His default position as frontrunner against the likes of Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty through the spring and summer is officially over. It is worse news for Bachmann, whose brief stay in the first tier is also finished. That the woman who was the leading advocate of the Tea Party in Congress during the last two years trails Perry by a shocking margin of 37-14 among those who identify with that group says all we need to know about who is at this moment the overwhelming choice of conservatives. Even if Bachmann shines at the upcoming debates, Perry will have to falter badly for her to make up so much ground.

As for the rest of the field, it is also no longer in doubt that every other GOP candidate is more or less running for symbolic or personal reasons. While men like Rick Santorum or Herman Cain could never have been said to have a reasonable chance of winning, that is not the case for Jon Huntsman, whom many in the media believed to be a serious contender when he announced. That the well-funded Huntsman is registering only one percent in this poll and trailing even former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson–who gets two percent but has not even been invited to take part in the upcoming debates–must be considered quite an accomplishment. When you take into account the fact Huntsman, Cain, Santorum and Johnson are all registering support that is less than the three percent margin of error in this poll, perhaps we should stop worrying about how much coverage marginal candidates like Ron Paul (six percent support) get and wonder why anyone bothers to note Huntsman is still wandering the country pretending to be a serious candidate.

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The Sainted Colin Powell’s Shocking Distortions

Jennifer Rubin, our former colleague, catches Colin Powell out in a disgraceful effort to rewrite the history of his own department’s—and his own deputy’s—outing of the identity of Victoria Plame. He did so in response to Dick Cheney’s book. Jen’s post can’t be improved on. Read it here.

Jennifer Rubin, our former colleague, catches Colin Powell out in a disgraceful effort to rewrite the history of his own department’s—and his own deputy’s—outing of the identity of Victoria Plame. He did so in response to Dick Cheney’s book. Jen’s post can’t be improved on. Read it here.

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