Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 7, 2011

The GOP Race is Going to be a Snore

The big story at the Republican debate at the Reagan Library was Rick Perry’s debut on the presidential stage. The question for the GOP was whether the Texas governor who vaulted to a huge lead after entering the race last month could sustain that margin in the heat of the battle. The answer was that by the end of the evening nothing had changed. Despite constant attacks from his opponents, Perry is still way ahead and set up to win the nomination easily.

Mitt Romney will skewer Perry for calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and Democrats will hammer him on that point in a general election. But nothing he said will hurt him in the GOP primaries. Though Romney will attempt to gain traction as the more electable Republican, his failure to dent Perry’s armor bodes ill for his hopes to overcome the Texan’s enormous advantage with the conservative voters who make up the GOP base.

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The big story at the Republican debate at the Reagan Library was Rick Perry’s debut on the presidential stage. The question for the GOP was whether the Texas governor who vaulted to a huge lead after entering the race last month could sustain that margin in the heat of the battle. The answer was that by the end of the evening nothing had changed. Despite constant attacks from his opponents, Perry is still way ahead and set up to win the nomination easily.

Mitt Romney will skewer Perry for calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and Democrats will hammer him on that point in a general election. But nothing he said will hurt him in the GOP primaries. Though Romney will attempt to gain traction as the more electable Republican, his failure to dent Perry’s armor bodes ill for his hopes to overcome the Texan’s enormous advantage with the conservative voters who make up the GOP base.

Rather than playing it safe as would be expected for a frontrunner with a big lead, Perry went on the attack himself going directly after Romney on jobs and health care. Though he would falter at times later in the debate, especially when challenged on global warming by the moderators, even on those points that his critics will claim to be gaffes Perry lost no ground with the people who decide the Republican race.

Even though Romney did well, the debate nevertheless confirmed the dynamic of the GOP race that has emerged since Perry’s entrance. Romney is the only other Republican with a reasonable path to victory but his strategy of tilting to the middle of the road in order to compete with Perry is a certain loser in the vast majority of the 2012 primaries. Michele Bachmann has faded out of contention and now must be considered unlikely even to put forth a serious challenge to Perry even in Iowa where she has devoted so much time over the last few months. None of the other candidates have a prayer so that leaves Perry ready to cruise to the nomination.

This sets up a primary season which may bear a strong resemblance to 2000 when the only serious challenge to the nomination of another Texas governor came from a Republican who tried to win by running to the center. John McCain had no chance of beating George W. Bush 12 years ago and, if anything, the Republican Party is even more conservative today than it was then. That means Romney’s hopes of stopping Perry must be considered to be even slimmer than McCain’s were of beating Bush.

The 2000 Republican presidential nomination was decided early as Bush steamrollered McCain despite a loss in New Hampshire. Unless Perry does something a lot worse than using rhetoric about Social Security that the GOP core applauds, he will do the same to Romney next year. Right now it looks as if a Republican race that was thought to be quite competitive will be a snore.

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Live Blog: The GOP Debate

The debate ends abruptly and the situation at the end is no different from where we were at the start: Rick Perry’s huge lead is intact. His challengers not only failed to dent his armor, he went on the offensive throughout the debate and emerged without any serious mistakes. Mitt Romney came off well but as long as he is defending his health care plan he is losing. Similarly, Michele Bachmann didn’t do badly but also made no progress against Perry. The bottom line: Perry’s huge lead is unlikely to be going down any time soon. This is apparent already with MSNBC commentators treating him as the presumed GOP candidate in 2012 and starting their attacks on him as “anti-science” and intemperate. But whether they are right about his problems in a general election is a question for another day. Right now, Perry is well on his way to the nomination.

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The debate ends abruptly and the situation at the end is no different from where we were at the start: Rick Perry’s huge lead is intact. His challengers not only failed to dent his armor, he went on the offensive throughout the debate and emerged without any serious mistakes. Mitt Romney came off well but as long as he is defending his health care plan he is losing. Similarly, Michele Bachmann didn’t do badly but also made no progress against Perry. The bottom line: Perry’s huge lead is unlikely to be going down any time soon. This is apparent already with MSNBC commentators treating him as the presumed GOP candidate in 2012 and starting their attacks on him as “anti-science” and intemperate. But whether they are right about his problems in a general election is a question for another day. Right now, Perry is well on his way to the nomination.

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I don’t think Brian Williams expected his citation of the statistics about the number of murderers executed in Texas would be an applause line for Perry. Perry then follows up by making it clear that Texas is not a user friendly state for killers and that this is justice. Another very good moment for Perry. And it’s a great example of the liberal media disconnect with public opinion. The audience applauded because they agree with Perry that the death penalty is just.

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Perry’s answer on global warming was the first moment in the debate when he didn’t sound assured and confident. And liberals will make a meal out of his invocation of Galileo. But it’s not a gaffe or anything that will detract from his commanding lead in the polls.

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Putting the focus on Perry on global warming isn’t hurting him with GOP primary voters. And he won’t lose a general election because of that issue either since those who believe and care about that issue aren’t likely to vote for a conservative anyway.

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Bachmann skewers Obama by pointing out that Obama has taken his eye off the danger of a nuclear Iran and pressuring Israel.  She sticks to her guns on intervention in Libya but that’s not as attractive a debating point as it was a month ago before Qaddafi was ousted.

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Perry sounds presidential in giving Obama credit on bin Laden and Gitmo but then goes back to scoring points at the president’s expense on Keynesian economics. But he wisely won’t take the bait on accusing GW Bush of “adventurism.”

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Huntsman shows bad taste as well as wrong-headed policy in sounding an isolationist note on Afghanistan when asked about 9/11 anniversary. Does he think we’d be safer with the Taliban and Al Qaeda back in power in Kabul?

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Bachmann needed a strong performance but she hasn’t gotten enough time to make much of an impression tonight. Maybe she needed Tim Pawlenty to stay in the race.

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Romney quizzed on his Tea Party credentials. He’s not their favorite but his answer that if they’re for small government, he’s for them, sums up the wide appeal of the movement.

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The energy level is down as the debate drags on. But the main story so far is that Perry is winning on points even though all he had to do was not lose. At this rate, the 2012 GOP primary season is going to be a total snore.

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The Telemundo correspondent won’t get any GOP candidate to bite on the question of what do you do about 11 million illegals even if you secured the border.

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Romney tries to get to the right of Perry on immigration by bashing employers who hire illegals as well as “sanctuary cities.”

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Perry gets an easy question on securing the border. He appeals to the GOP base and gets a chance to call out Obama for a foolish statement.

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Perry turns attempt to corner him on education into another opportunity to talk about Texas job creation.

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Huntsman is right about one thing. Obsessing about TSA is a diversion from the real issues.

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It’s unfortunate that the only thing resembling a debate on security policy is being conducted by Gingrich and Paul. Newt wins but it would be nice to hear something about the people who want to kill us from the main contenders.

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Romney is wise not to join in the gang tackling of Perry on cancer issue. Saying that “his heart in the right place” was a good line.

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Attacks on Perry for doing something that can be defended as an attempt to fight cancer is, as they say in Texas, a dog that won’t hunt.

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Romney takes on Perry on Social Security, says it’s not a failure even though the funding system is broken. This is where he scores points but not with the GOP base which likes the fact that Perry is not afraid of being provocative.

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Perry doubles down on calling Social Security a “Ponzi Scheme.” Says it’s a “monstrous lie” to tell 25-year-olds that it will be waiting for them when they retire.

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So far Perry has come out swinging at everybody, even a gadfly like Ron Paul, and doing so without appearing too harsh. He looks confident. He could have played it safe but seems determined to emerge the winner of the debate on the merits, not just the guy who won by not losing.

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Perry is having a hard time keeping a straight face when Ron Paul speaks. A bemused tone is probably the best way for any Republican to answer a libertarian extremist.

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Huntsman is finally turning on his old boss Obama by making a joke about a teleprompter. He must want some GOP voters to support him after all.

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Michele Bachmann is never going to live down her promising $2/gallon gas.

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Did Rick Santorum just get implicitly accused of being a bad Catholic for being a conservative? He rightly responds that the liberal welfare state is bad for the poor. Winning moment for him.

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Newt Gingrich is blasting the moderators and the media again. It’s a sure-fire winning tactic when appearing in front of a GOP audience.

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Bachmann is running as the “strong leader” who will fight Democrats on health care. She may not win but the seven men on the stage do come across as kind of wimpy when compared to her.

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Huntsman is attempting to position himself as Perry’s buddy as they both attack Mitt on health care. Interesting strategy assuming that Huntsman had a prayer of competing with Romney for centrist Republicans. But he doesn’t.

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So long as Romney is defending his Mass. health care plan he is losing.

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When the whole field is given an opportunity to beat down Romney on Mass. health care, only Rick Perry takes the bait and slam dunks him.

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Ron Paul gets the opportunity to channel Ayn Rand when asked if he believed government had any role to play in society. But as long as he talks about the genius of the free market, he doesn’t sound quite as crazy as he does when speaking about foreign policy.

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Pop quiz for Michele Bachmann on existing intrusive government regulations. She ignores it and instead goes straight for an attack on Obamacare. Good misdirection play that allows her the first really strong attack on the president.

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Ironically, the least conservative of the candidates, Jon Huntsman, is the first to invoke Ronald Reagan.

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Perry and Romney exchange strong one-liners. Romney says Perry’s claim of credit for job creation is like Al Gore claiming to invent the Internet. Perry says Michael Dukasis created more jobs than Romney. Romney says George W. Bush did better than Perry. Both came prepared. Slight edge to Romney in the exchange.

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Rick Perry isn’t sitting back. He comes out swinging at Romney accusing him of creating jobs “around the world” but not in Massachusetts.

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Mitt Romney’s defense of Bain Capitol sounds good but the “buyout specialist” tag is a problem even if it’s unfair. His efforts to portray himself as a man who knows business is his strength.

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Rick Perry is served up an easy opportunity with the question of jobs. Brian Williams’ attempt to echo the Democratic talking points trashing Texas job creation actually helps Perry.

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Putting the GOP candidates under the wings of Air Force One in the Reagan Library is an interesting metaphor. Which of them will measure up to the Gipper or the office?

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Getting Ready for Perry

Tonight’s Republican presidential debate presents both opportunities and dangers for the eight candidates who will appear. This is Rick Perry’s debut on the debating stage and the scrutiny on the Texas governor who has emerged as the frontrunner will be intense. His opponents are hoping he will falter but that just means that all he has to do to succeed is to stay on his feet.

But it would be a mistake to think that Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann who have both slumped since Perry’s entry have nothing to gain here. Both have a chance to stand out and connect with the voters tonight especially if Perry proves unequal to the competition on this level.

Tonight’s Republican presidential debate presents both opportunities and dangers for the eight candidates who will appear. This is Rick Perry’s debut on the debating stage and the scrutiny on the Texas governor who has emerged as the frontrunner will be intense. His opponents are hoping he will falter but that just means that all he has to do to succeed is to stay on his feet.

But it would be a mistake to think that Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann who have both slumped since Perry’s entry have nothing to gain here. Both have a chance to stand out and connect with the voters tonight especially if Perry proves unequal to the competition on this level.

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Obama Has Lost Both Power and Mystique

Politico.com has published a story whose title says it all: “The Incredible Shrinking Obama.”

It cites recent polls which, according to reporters Glenn Thrush and Carrie Budoff Brown, told “the same sorry tale – the avatar of hope and change, the slayer of Osama bin Laden, the president with dreams of a billion-dollar reelection campaign – is losing popular support and bleeding political power 15 months ahead of Election Day.” And that’s more or less the positive part of the story for the president.

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Politico.com has published a story whose title says it all: “The Incredible Shrinking Obama.”

It cites recent polls which, according to reporters Glenn Thrush and Carrie Budoff Brown, told “the same sorry tale – the avatar of hope and change, the slayer of Osama bin Laden, the president with dreams of a billion-dollar reelection campaign – is losing popular support and bleeding political power 15 months ahead of Election Day.” And that’s more or less the positive part of the story for the president.

Thrush and Brown go on to write, “To critics and allies alike, the fact that the president of the United States has to tiptoe around Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees for the privilege of delivering a plan for putting Americans back to work is a measure of just how far he’s been humbled by an unforgiving economy, unyielding GOP and an unnerved, underemployed nation.”

There’s more.

Andy Stern, former president of the powerful Service Employees International Union, is quoted as saying this about Obama: “He has sort of lost the sense of power and mystique of the presidency. There’s also a sense that people aren’t scared of him. That’s very dangerous.” And one top Democratic ally of Obama complained, “He’s allowed the Congress to manhandle him. Every time he’s put his foot down they’ve kicked him in the shin. It’s god**** embarrassing. He’s losing power. He needs to grab it back.”

That’s easier said than done.

It didn’t take a political genius to see months and months ago – well before the 2010 mid-term elections, in fact – the gathering storm clouds on the horizon. Some of us even wrote about it at the time. But many in the political class were late to realize just how vulnerable and beatable Obama is, in part because they viewed him as far more formidable and impressive than he’s turned out to be. But that’s all gone with the wind. Obama has been unmasked. He cannot escape his awful record. And these days it’s not only Republicans and independents who are turning on the president; so is his own party, his own allies, and probably even some of his own people.

It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for the man. Almost.

 

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U.S. Must Stand Firm on Defense

Much of the commemoration of 9/11 has been highly sentimental, not to say soft-headed, focusing on compelling stories of courage and grief. But there are also broader issues of public policy worth examining on this 10-year anniversary. One of them is the state of our armed forces 10 years after the worst terrorist attacks in history.

The U.S. military has made some mistakes in the last decade—some of them, in Iraq, of great significance—but on the whole it has performed magnificently–notwithstanding the considerable hardship endured by those in uniform. The question is whether we will retain those hard-won military capacities for the next decade. We might not, because Washington is in a budget-cutting mood, and the defense budget looks ripe for sacrifice even as sacred cows such as Medicare and Social Security go untouched. This is a dangerous development—one that could do more damage to our military capacity than any foe our military has faced in the past decade.

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Much of the commemoration of 9/11 has been highly sentimental, not to say soft-headed, focusing on compelling stories of courage and grief. But there are also broader issues of public policy worth examining on this 10-year anniversary. One of them is the state of our armed forces 10 years after the worst terrorist attacks in history.

The U.S. military has made some mistakes in the last decade—some of them, in Iraq, of great significance—but on the whole it has performed magnificently–notwithstanding the considerable hardship endured by those in uniform. The question is whether we will retain those hard-won military capacities for the next decade. We might not, because Washington is in a budget-cutting mood, and the defense budget looks ripe for sacrifice even as sacred cows such as Medicare and Social Security go untouched. This is a dangerous development—one that could do more damage to our military capacity than any foe our military has faced in the past decade.

Luckily, some politicians in Washington are standing firm in defense of the defense budget. Among the most stalwart is “Buck” McKeon, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. He is featured in this video put together by his staff which pays rightful tribute to the armed forces while warning that our weapons systems are already old and insufficient in number to face all the threats we must confront—and this even before the Pentagon faces another major round of possible budget cuts this fall. Watch this short, four-minute video to get a sense of the issues at stake.

 

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About Those Missing Libyan Missiles…

I’m stuck at the Louisville airport watching CNN. There is truth to a comedian’s quip I once heard to the effect of Fox News’ slogan is “fair and balanced,” MSNBC’s slogan  is “lean forward,” and CNN’s is “If you’re watching us, your flight is delayed.” One of the major stories is about the apparent looting of Libya’s arsenal, including a load of surface-to-air missiles which, if they fall into the wrong hands, could threaten helicopters and civilian jetliners.

What is striking is the inconsistency with which the media are reporting this story in contrast to the manner in which they reported the alleged looting of an arms cache in al-Qa’qaa. The New York Times broke that story shortly before the 2004 presidential elections, and most major media outlets and pundits attributed the looting to incompetence on the part of President Bush. Certainly, if the military failed to guard al-Qa’qaa, there should be accountability for that failure. But after the Times’ breathless story, subsequent reporting suggested there might be less than met the eye.

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I’m stuck at the Louisville airport watching CNN. There is truth to a comedian’s quip I once heard to the effect of Fox News’ slogan is “fair and balanced,” MSNBC’s slogan  is “lean forward,” and CNN’s is “If you’re watching us, your flight is delayed.” One of the major stories is about the apparent looting of Libya’s arsenal, including a load of surface-to-air missiles which, if they fall into the wrong hands, could threaten helicopters and civilian jetliners.

What is striking is the inconsistency with which the media are reporting this story in contrast to the manner in which they reported the alleged looting of an arms cache in al-Qa’qaa. The New York Times broke that story shortly before the 2004 presidential elections, and most major media outlets and pundits attributed the looting to incompetence on the part of President Bush. Certainly, if the military failed to guard al-Qa’qaa, there should be accountability for that failure. But after the Times’ breathless story, subsequent reporting suggested there might be less than met the eye.

Why then do the media now disassociate the White House from planning for the Libya aftermath? Could it be because there is a Democrat in the White House? It’s hard not to compare the two stories and chalk up the difference in their handling to one more example of media bias. Certainly, if Obama’s team failed to secure the missile sites, someone in Congress should call Leon Panetta to testify: After all, he should have insight into how the lapse occurred given his leadership at the CIA and his current perch at the Pentagon.

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Questions Turkey and its Apologists Must Answer

Emanuele Ottolenghi is correct to note and report the harassment of Israelis arriving at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. Yusuf Kanli, a columnist for Hurriyet, reported the incident and takes up the Turkish harassment of Israelis from a different perspective and asks some great questions:

An officious deputy Istanbul governor – who unfortunately is serving as the “highest administrative official” at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport – apparently decided to defend the “national honor” of Turkey by ordering customs police to apply the famous “reciprocity principle” to arriving Israeli citizens and question them why they wanted to visit Turkey…

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Emanuele Ottolenghi is correct to note and report the harassment of Israelis arriving at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. Yusuf Kanli, a columnist for Hurriyet, reported the incident and takes up the Turkish harassment of Israelis from a different perspective and asks some great questions:

An officious deputy Istanbul governor – who unfortunately is serving as the “highest administrative official” at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport – apparently decided to defend the “national honor” of Turkey by ordering customs police to apply the famous “reciprocity principle” to arriving Israeli citizens and question them why they wanted to visit Turkey…

He continues to discuss how Turkey’s idea of reciprocity falls short:

If such foolish[ness]… at the airport are allowed to continue on the pretext of reciprocity … people might start asking tomorrow what happened to that deputy governor who allowed the Mavi Marmara to leave Turkey with passengers who did not go through routine departure formalities in accordance with the passport laws of the country. Did the Mavi Marmara possess proper navigation papers (and not ones obtained in the aftermath)?  There are many questions to be asked and of course even though Ankara might declare the U.N. Palmer Report on the Mavi Marmara incident as “null and void,” can the people in Ankara say in all confidence as “honest Muslims” that they did all they could to prevent the Mavi Marmara catastrophe? Why at the last minute were AKP deputies “ordered” to stay away from the trip but others were allowed to leave without going through passport formalities?

While Israelis (and Americans) have a tremendous capacity for self-flagellation, Kanli asks some great questions to which diplomats might seek answers.

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Proof That the War on Terror Was Successful

At Slate, Anne Applebaum is really upset about the war on terror. It’s not that it wasn’t effective in keeping America safe and degrading al-Qaeda. That much she readily acknowledges. She’s upset, rather, because the war on terror failed to resolve issues outside the scope of the war on terror. All issues outside the scope of the war on terror. Honest. That’s the gist of her take. She writes that “the war on terror was far too narrow a prism through which to see the entire planet” before using the war on terror as a prism through which to see the entire planet.

In our single-minded focus on Islamic fanaticism, we missed, for example, the transformation of China from a commercial power into an ambitious political power. We failed to appreciate the significance of economic growth in China’s neighborhood, too. When President George W. Bush traveled in Asia in the wake of 9/11, he spoke to his Malaysian and Indonesia interlocutors about their resident terrorist cells. His Chinese colleagues, meanwhile, talked business and trade.

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At Slate, Anne Applebaum is really upset about the war on terror. It’s not that it wasn’t effective in keeping America safe and degrading al-Qaeda. That much she readily acknowledges. She’s upset, rather, because the war on terror failed to resolve issues outside the scope of the war on terror. All issues outside the scope of the war on terror. Honest. That’s the gist of her take. She writes that “the war on terror was far too narrow a prism through which to see the entire planet” before using the war on terror as a prism through which to see the entire planet.

In our single-minded focus on Islamic fanaticism, we missed, for example, the transformation of China from a commercial power into an ambitious political power. We failed to appreciate the significance of economic growth in China’s neighborhood, too. When President George W. Bush traveled in Asia in the wake of 9/11, he spoke to his Malaysian and Indonesia interlocutors about their resident terrorist cells. His Chinese colleagues, meanwhile, talked business and trade.

That’s not all. Applebaum regrets that the war on terror didn’t save Russia from Vladimir Putin; was no help in addressing Latin America and U.S. immigration; made us miss some undefined opportunity in Africa; allowed our roads to deteriorate; didn’t address our energy policy; and “pushed aside our own economic, environmental, and political problems until they became too great to be ignored.”

It’s hard to think of a better endorsement of the war on terror than Applebaum’s column. When all you can say about a policy is that it didn’t fix the entire universe of problems outside its intended aims, you’re talking about one astoundingly successful policy. If the Bush-era national security team were savvy they’d put together a campaign around the idea: “The war on terror—sorry it didn’t fix your roads.”

There’s another shortcoming to Applebaum’s line of argumentation. It doesn’t account for how much worse all those other problems would be if the U.S. had failed to prevent another attack or allowed al-Qaeda to gain ground. If she thinks China ate our lunch as it is, she should consider how Beijing would have exploited a serially attacked and demonstrably weak America. And Putin? The only reset button that ever interested him was one that created a weaker United States. As for our economy, perhaps Applebaum doesn’t remember what 9/11 did to the tourist, insurance, and airline industries and New York’s small business sector. Consider merely that last one: A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in New York determined that “the attack resulted in about 430,000 lost job months and a loss in wages of $2.8 billion. These lost job months were equivalent to approximately 143,000 jobs, each month, for 3 months.”

Let’s not imagine what follow up attacks would have done to the American economy or to the geopolitical chessboard. Instead, let’s be thankful that the worst we can say of the war on terror is that it didn’t rise to every last one of America’s domestic and international challenges.

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Live Blogging the GOP Debate Tonight

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Library. So tune in to MSNBC at 8 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as eight GOP contenders have at it in their first confrontation since Texas Rick Perry joined the race last month.

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Library. So tune in to MSNBC at 8 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as eight GOP contenders have at it in their first confrontation since Texas Rick Perry joined the race last month.

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Best Baseball Books

After reading my last post, John Podhoretz wrote privately to insist that the two best baseball books are Ring Lardner’s You Know Me Al and The Kid from Tomkinsville. He’s got an argument for John R. Tunis’s novel, even though it is a boy’s book. Joseph Epstein has made the best case possible for Tunis in a lovely essay for COMMENTARY nearly a quarter century ago. The book was also the subject of a superb passage of literary criticism, one of the best pieces of criticism ever written, in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. After summarizing the book’s plot (and demonstrating that plot summary can itself be high art), Nathan Zuckerman explains that he read Tunis’s book at ten and “had never read anything like it.” Many years older, he says it could as well have been called The Lamb from Tomkinsville, even The Lamb from Tomkinsville Led to the Slaughter. He settles upon calling it “the boys’ Book of Job.”

Tunis’s moral concerns may not appeal to sophisticated 21st-century readers, although I am reading aloud Highpockets, a later Tunis about a cocky outfielder who accidentally strikes a child with the car he was awarded for winning Rookie of the Year, and my eight-year-old twins are eating it up.

About Lardner’s novel I am less sure. His son John Lardner, a marvelous writer in his own right, claimed that he had never read another piece of baseball fiction, besides his father’s, “in which there was no technical mistake.” Maybe so, but there is not a lot of technical knowledge on display either. Jack Keefe is a rookie pitcher for the Chicago White Sox. He tells of one time that he faced the great Ty Cobb:

Cobb came pranceing up like he always does and yells Give me that slow one Boy. So I says All right. But I fooled him. Instead of giveing him a slow one like I said I was going I handed him a spitter. He hit it all right but it was a line drive right in [Hal] Chase’s hands. He says Pretty lucky Boy but I will get you next time. I says Yes you will.

Lardner was more interested in baseball language, I think, than in the technical aspects of the game. He knew the technical aspects, though, and their shadowy presence beneath the plot, like the proverbial three-fourths of an iceberg below the surface, give the novel its unquestionable substance. The lack of baseball knowledge is what makes The Natural such a terrible baseball book.

Despite John’s prodding, I’ll stick with Mark Harris’s Southpaw as the best baseball novel of all time, although maybe it would be better to call it one of the five best.

After reading my last post, John Podhoretz wrote privately to insist that the two best baseball books are Ring Lardner’s You Know Me Al and The Kid from Tomkinsville. He’s got an argument for John R. Tunis’s novel, even though it is a boy’s book. Joseph Epstein has made the best case possible for Tunis in a lovely essay for COMMENTARY nearly a quarter century ago. The book was also the subject of a superb passage of literary criticism, one of the best pieces of criticism ever written, in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. After summarizing the book’s plot (and demonstrating that plot summary can itself be high art), Nathan Zuckerman explains that he read Tunis’s book at ten and “had never read anything like it.” Many years older, he says it could as well have been called The Lamb from Tomkinsville, even The Lamb from Tomkinsville Led to the Slaughter. He settles upon calling it “the boys’ Book of Job.”

Tunis’s moral concerns may not appeal to sophisticated 21st-century readers, although I am reading aloud Highpockets, a later Tunis about a cocky outfielder who accidentally strikes a child with the car he was awarded for winning Rookie of the Year, and my eight-year-old twins are eating it up.

About Lardner’s novel I am less sure. His son John Lardner, a marvelous writer in his own right, claimed that he had never read another piece of baseball fiction, besides his father’s, “in which there was no technical mistake.” Maybe so, but there is not a lot of technical knowledge on display either. Jack Keefe is a rookie pitcher for the Chicago White Sox. He tells of one time that he faced the great Ty Cobb:

Cobb came pranceing up like he always does and yells Give me that slow one Boy. So I says All right. But I fooled him. Instead of giveing him a slow one like I said I was going I handed him a spitter. He hit it all right but it was a line drive right in [Hal] Chase’s hands. He says Pretty lucky Boy but I will get you next time. I says Yes you will.

Lardner was more interested in baseball language, I think, than in the technical aspects of the game. He knew the technical aspects, though, and their shadowy presence beneath the plot, like the proverbial three-fourths of an iceberg below the surface, give the novel its unquestionable substance. The lack of baseball knowledge is what makes The Natural such a terrible baseball book.

Despite John’s prodding, I’ll stick with Mark Harris’s Southpaw as the best baseball novel of all time, although maybe it would be better to call it one of the five best.

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Dems’ New Political Language

According to The Hill, Representative Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats have dropped the word “stimulus” from their vocabulary.

“Though the House minority leader and her caucus are still pushing an economic stimulus agenda to save the economy, they’ve radically changed their rhetoric with the hope of winning over voters who saw ‘stimulus’ as close to a dirty word,” the story reports. “Democrats are now being careful to frame their job-creation agenda in language excluding references to any stimulus, even though their favored policies for ending the deepest recession since the Great Depression are largely the same.”

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According to The Hill, Representative Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats have dropped the word “stimulus” from their vocabulary.

“Though the House minority leader and her caucus are still pushing an economic stimulus agenda to save the economy, they’ve radically changed their rhetoric with the hope of winning over voters who saw ‘stimulus’ as close to a dirty word,” the story reports. “Democrats are now being careful to frame their job-creation agenda in language excluding references to any stimulus, even though their favored policies for ending the deepest recession since the Great Depression are largely the same.”

It might be instructive to consider just a few of the words liberals, in a bow to political necessity, have attempted to rename, starting with the word “liberal.” Sophisticated liberals now refer to themselves as “progressive,” since the liberal label is a toxic political term and, among liberals themselves, a charge that borders on libelous. Then there are tax increases, which travel under the banner of “revenue enhancements.” And let’s not forget spending increases, which are now referred to by liberals – er, I mean progressives – as “investments.”

Obama has added his own distinctive touch and twist to things. Opposition to his (failed) agenda, for example, is “putting party above country.” The worst economic recovery in our lifetime is referred to as a “run of bad luck.” Making a misleading point is prefaced by the words, “Let me be clear” (as in, “Let me be clear. If you like your doctor or health care provider, you can keep them.”) And the phrase “I don’t doubt their sincerity” means Obama (a) doubts their
sincerity and/or (b) he is about to set ablaze a field of straw men (as in, “There seems to be a set of folks who — I don’t doubt their sincerity — who just believe that we should do nothing.”).

To his credit, and in order to avoid staleness, the president will sometimes set up a straw man argument by using a different phrase – for example, citing “the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis” before citing an imaginary one (e.g., “The notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems.” [emphasis
added]).

In his essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell cites several passages and says “quite apart from avoidable ugliness,” certain qualities are common to them, including “lack of precision.”

“The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not,” Orwell wrote. “This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing.” Orwell went on to say, “Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

George Orwell was a remarkable journalist and literary critic. He was also, it turns out, a prescient one.

 

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Chance of New Stimulus Passing “Less Than Zero,” Says GOP Aide

We’re only hearing vague details about what’s in Obama’s rumored $300 billion stimulus plan, but there are already plenty of reasons to doubt it will get past Republicans in Congress.

It’s hard to imagine GOP lawmakers passing a watered-down carbon copy of the reviled 2009 stimulus, after the conservative movement spent so much energy criticizing the last one. Even if Republicans in Congress wanted to support it – which is doubtful – the conservative movement wouldn’t let them get away with it.

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We’re only hearing vague details about what’s in Obama’s rumored $300 billion stimulus plan, but there are already plenty of reasons to doubt it will get past Republicans in Congress.

It’s hard to imagine GOP lawmakers passing a watered-down carbon copy of the reviled 2009 stimulus, after the conservative movement spent so much energy criticizing the last one. Even if Republicans in Congress wanted to support it – which is doubtful – the conservative movement wouldn’t let them get away with it.

Another concern is the president neglected to reach out to Republican leadership on the plan, despite his claim he wants to reach a bipartisan proposal. Unless Obama is willing to reach across the aisle, he can’t rely on Republican support.

So it’s not a surprise that plan is already being dismissed as dead on arrival, according to Politico’s Ben White:

One GOP aide said chances were “less than zero” that Obama would get anything through that was not entirely paid for with immediate spending cuts (not the promise of them in the future). …

And the aide said there was no chance of passing big infrastructure project spending. “We tried that once. Shovel-ready turned out not to be shovel-ready. It’s not happening again.” A different aide said that “everything is political at this point. Everything is positioning for 2012. Everything.”

Democrats have been putting out word the stimulus will be paid for with a deficit reduction plan of equal size. But keep in mind, more than half of the $300 billion would be spent during the next year (in the form of a year-long payroll tax cut extension). Does anyone expect Obama to propose $150 billion+ in deficit reductions during the next year to make up for it? More likely, the deficit-reduction plan will be spread out over a 10-year period, leaving open the possibility many of the cuts will never actually take place.

It raises a few fundamental questions: why is Obama proposing a plan he knows is unlikely to pass? And if his interest is creating a jobs plan that will satisfy the public and pass Congress, why hasn’t he been working with Republicans on a bipartisan strategy?

One reasonable conclusion is that it’s politically motivated. Obama’s seeking to shift blame for the dismal jobs outlook, so he’s cobbled together some half-hearted plan – really just a smaller version of one that’s already failed – and hopes the public will blame Republicans when it gets blocked in Congress. Then, whenever a dismal jobs report breaks, the White House can point fingers at the House GOP. Cynical as that might sound, it could be the best shot Obama has at reelection.

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Hezbollah’s Ally Wants to See it Destroyed

Nabih Berri is Lebanon’s speaker of parliament. His political party, Amal, is a secular Shia movement and a corrupt political machine with a small and not terribly fearsome militia. It is aligned with Hezbollah and Bashar al-Assad’s Baath Party regime in Syria. Berri dispatched men to fight alongside Hezbollah during its invasion of Beirut in May 2008. He is as staunch an ally of Hezbollah as the Party of God could ever dream of acquiring from a secular Lebanese party even if he and its secretary general Hassan Nasrallah are both at least nominal Shias.

Yet Berri wished to see Hezbollah destroyed by the Israel Defense Forces in 2006.

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Nabih Berri is Lebanon’s speaker of parliament. His political party, Amal, is a secular Shia movement and a corrupt political machine with a small and not terribly fearsome militia. It is aligned with Hezbollah and Bashar al-Assad’s Baath Party regime in Syria. Berri dispatched men to fight alongside Hezbollah during its invasion of Beirut in May 2008. He is as staunch an ally of Hezbollah as the Party of God could ever dream of acquiring from a secular Lebanese party even if he and its secretary general Hassan Nasrallah are both at least nominal Shias.

Yet Berri wished to see Hezbollah destroyed by the Israel Defense Forces in 2006.

WikiLeaks recently published a diplomatic cable from Lebanon describing Berri’s “pleasure” and “laughter” as Israeli military hardware pummeled his supposed ally from the skies.

“Berri condemned the ferocity of Israel’s military response,” the cable says, “but admitted that a successful Israeli campaign against Hezbollah would be an excellent way to destroy Hezbollah’s military aspirations and discredit their political ambitions…We are certain that Berri hates Hezbollah as much, or even more, than the [Western-backed] March 14 politicians; after all, Hezbollah’s support… is drawn from the Shiites who might otherwise be with Berri.”

Leaders of the March 14 coalition of anti-Syrian and anti-Hezbollah parties tried in vain for years to peel Berri away from Hezbollah. Most assumed they failed for sectarian reasons as Amal and Hezbollah are both Shia, but apparently, if the leaked cable is accurate, Berri just didn’t want to be car-bombed.

We’ll see how much longer he lasts now that this information has been made public. And we’ll see how long Hezbollah lasts on the day its bullied allies no longer fear it.

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Israel’s Borders: It’s Complicated

Readers of the New York Times are often frustrated and offended by the pervasive bias in its coverage of Israel, in which the paper tends to present every conflict as an example of Israel refusing to take obvious action to alleviate a simple injustice. But every once in a while, the paper publishes what I like to call an “Imagine that!” story, in which its reporters finally delve into an issue and find that its pro-Israel readers were right all along.

Today, the Times carries such a story. I’m not sure it can top the best such article, which Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner co-authored in September 2009. Headlined “Resolve of West Bank Settlers May Have Limits,” Bronner and Kershner begin by repeating the sort of simpleminded conventional wisdom about “dangerous” Jews living in the West Bank. But then–four decades after the Six-Day War–the reporters ventured out to interview settlers. Here is what they found:

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Readers of the New York Times are often frustrated and offended by the pervasive bias in its coverage of Israel, in which the paper tends to present every conflict as an example of Israel refusing to take obvious action to alleviate a simple injustice. But every once in a while, the paper publishes what I like to call an “Imagine that!” story, in which its reporters finally delve into an issue and find that its pro-Israel readers were right all along.

Today, the Times carries such a story. I’m not sure it can top the best such article, which Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner co-authored in September 2009. Headlined “Resolve of West Bank Settlers May Have Limits,” Bronner and Kershner begin by repeating the sort of simpleminded conventional wisdom about “dangerous” Jews living in the West Bank. But then–four decades after the Six-Day War–the reporters ventured out to interview settlers. Here is what they found:

But scores of interviews over several months, including with settler firebrands, produced a different conclusion. Divided, leaderless and increasingly mystical, such settlers will certainly resist evacuation but are unlikely to engage in organized armed conflict with the Israeli military. Their belief that history can be best understood as a series of confrontations between the Jews and those who seek their destruction, and their faith in their ultimate triumph, make them hesitant to turn against their own, even in dire circumstances.

Imagine that! Far from being on the cusp of armed rebellion, the relationship between the state and the settlers is peaceful. Even the “firebrands” are calm, respectful, God-fearing citizens of a state they love, protected by an army they revere and for which they are grateful.

Today’s story, written by Kershner, is in that same category. Called “Elusive Line Defines Lives in Israel and the West Bank,” the piece is about the 1967 lines, and how Israel treats them as a border in some respects but refuses to delineate them as official borderlines. It sounds like we’re going to read about how an aggressive, mendacious Israeli government is trying to have it both ways. But when Kershner ventures out to villages that straddle the lines throughout the country, she finds a different story: the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs prefer the lines to stay blurred as much if not more than the Jewish Israelis do:

The Green Line runs, unmarked, right through the [Bartaa] market, an imaginary wall separating two parts of a village that has long been inhabited by one extended family, the Kabha clan.

With Israel’s conquest of the West Bank in 1967, the hostile frontier evaporated and the two parts of Bartaa were reunited, the western part being part of Israel and the eastern part falling under Israeli military rule. Then, when Israel constructed the West Bank security barrier, which it said was essential to prevent suicide bombers, it looped the fence east of Bartaa, deeper into the West Bank territory. Although Palestinians see the barrier as a land grab, in this particular case, the villagers accepted it as the lesser of two evils, to prevent them from being redivided.

Imagine that! Were the line to become an official border–as the international community so desperately wants–Palestinians would be separated from their families, and in some cases be separated from their businesses as well. And so Israel’s decision to move the security fence was far from a land grab; it was exactly what the Palestinians there wanted–and this was done after Israel reunited the village.

Yaacov Lozowick’s post on Beit Safafa and its implications for using the 1967 lines to divide existing communities remains the gold standard on this topic. I don’t know if Kershner has read the post, but she seems to have finally internalized its main point–and something all reporters should keep in mind–with regard to the borders: it’s complicated.

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The Amazing Adventures of a Novel in Manuscript

Three years ago Keith Gessen wrote All the Sad Young Literary Men, a comic novel about three young writers trying (though not very hard) to forge a literary career. The founding editor of n+1, a very good literary magazine, Gessen has now written a journalistic account that covers the same territory — with success rather than failure (or, at least, procrastination and delay) as its theme. How a Book Is Born: The Making of “The Art of Fielding” is the story of Chad Harbach’s debut novel, which is being released today by Little, Brown, from its origins in a creative writing classroom to the 35-year-old author’s $650,000 advance. Gessen originally wrote the story for Vanity Fair, but he has now expanded it into an ebook.

Harbach’s novel is already being compared to Bernard Malamud’s tall tale The Natural and Mark Harris’s pretend autobiography The Southpaw, a book that a couple of us called the best baseball novel of all time. Since Malamud and Harris have little in common besides baseball as a subject, the comparison is not particularly enlightening.

Harbach sounds like a regular fellow, and some of Gessen’s excitement is commendable happiness for a friend’s good fortune. (Harbach cofounded n+1 along with Gessen.) Nevertheless, the celebration over Harbach’s huge advance — four times larger than Michael Chabon’s for The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, the largest ever for a first novel and astounding to old literary hands at the time — suggests just how far the conception of a literary career has drifted from the years after the Second World War when modernism was an accomplished fact, creative writing was not yet the standard training and common experience for young writers just starting out, and according to the late Malcolm Bradbury (born this day in 1932),

the literary imagination, rich, generous and humane . . . came to be identified as the central, pluralistic, comprehensive (or as F. R. Leavis would put it “mature”) form of intellectual exploration and concern. In its scepticism and empiricism, its irony and ambiguity, its great moral and analytical power, in its concern with selfhood and the human person and the personal relation to society, in its passion to know and discover, to love and to dream, to criticize and to understand, literature in its liberal, humanistic and educative functions became important, and it also became culturally redefined.

No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money, I know. And the reminder that economic realities undergird all human activities, even the tussle with irony and ambiguity, has the virtue of checking much of the shallow eloquence of literary criticism. I know that too. Even so, I am nostalgic for a culture in which the publication of a new book was an event because of its literary ambitions, because it was important, and not because of the size of its author’s advance. Call me square.

Three years ago Keith Gessen wrote All the Sad Young Literary Men, a comic novel about three young writers trying (though not very hard) to forge a literary career. The founding editor of n+1, a very good literary magazine, Gessen has now written a journalistic account that covers the same territory — with success rather than failure (or, at least, procrastination and delay) as its theme. How a Book Is Born: The Making of “The Art of Fielding” is the story of Chad Harbach’s debut novel, which is being released today by Little, Brown, from its origins in a creative writing classroom to the 35-year-old author’s $650,000 advance. Gessen originally wrote the story for Vanity Fair, but he has now expanded it into an ebook.

Harbach’s novel is already being compared to Bernard Malamud’s tall tale The Natural and Mark Harris’s pretend autobiography The Southpaw, a book that a couple of us called the best baseball novel of all time. Since Malamud and Harris have little in common besides baseball as a subject, the comparison is not particularly enlightening.

Harbach sounds like a regular fellow, and some of Gessen’s excitement is commendable happiness for a friend’s good fortune. (Harbach cofounded n+1 along with Gessen.) Nevertheless, the celebration over Harbach’s huge advance — four times larger than Michael Chabon’s for The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, the largest ever for a first novel and astounding to old literary hands at the time — suggests just how far the conception of a literary career has drifted from the years after the Second World War when modernism was an accomplished fact, creative writing was not yet the standard training and common experience for young writers just starting out, and according to the late Malcolm Bradbury (born this day in 1932),

the literary imagination, rich, generous and humane . . . came to be identified as the central, pluralistic, comprehensive (or as F. R. Leavis would put it “mature”) form of intellectual exploration and concern. In its scepticism and empiricism, its irony and ambiguity, its great moral and analytical power, in its concern with selfhood and the human person and the personal relation to society, in its passion to know and discover, to love and to dream, to criticize and to understand, literature in its liberal, humanistic and educative functions became important, and it also became culturally redefined.

No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money, I know. And the reminder that economic realities undergird all human activities, even the tussle with irony and ambiguity, has the virtue of checking much of the shallow eloquence of literary criticism. I know that too. Even so, I am nostalgic for a culture in which the publication of a new book was an event because of its literary ambitions, because it was important, and not because of the size of its author’s advance. Call me square.

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American Legion Will Oppose Flag Bill

Rumor has it the American Legion will oppose the flag bill I wrote about here, as the House of Representatives tries to pass it on suspension, usually reserved for non-controversial bills.

The House version (HR 2061) is sponsored by Rep Richard Hanna (R-NY-24), and has the support of some 20-odd congressmen. An opponent to the bill points me to this blog post, asking if there is an inherent difference between military and civil service, and noting how many diplomats refuse to work in Iraq, Africa, and other areas critical to U.S. diplomacy. The House Committee report references the honors we give soldiers and says this bill aims to make up for the lack of the same honors for bureaucrats. The State Department, however, gives numerous meritorious service certificates and other power point honors.

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Rumor has it the American Legion will oppose the flag bill I wrote about here, as the House of Representatives tries to pass it on suspension, usually reserved for non-controversial bills.

The House version (HR 2061) is sponsored by Rep Richard Hanna (R-NY-24), and has the support of some 20-odd congressmen. An opponent to the bill points me to this blog post, asking if there is an inherent difference between military and civil service, and noting how many diplomats refuse to work in Iraq, Africa, and other areas critical to U.S. diplomacy. The House Committee report references the honors we give soldiers and says this bill aims to make up for the lack of the same honors for bureaucrats. The State Department, however, gives numerous meritorious service certificates and other power point honors.

Soldiers’ sacrifices are among the greatest the United States demands. We should not demean them in an effort to raise civilian bureaucratic morale.

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Obama’s Rhetoric: Cynical, Hypocritical and Now Untrue?

As Alana just wrote, two days ago, President Obama made this claim: “We said working folks deserved a break, so within one month of me taking office, we signed into law the biggest middle-class tax cut in history, putting more money into your pockets.” Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact-checker, calls that claim “ridiculous” and a “whopper,” which is a colloquial way of saying Obama’s claim is a lie.

Perhaps this is what a desperate president does at times like these. But Obama needs to be careful; if he isn’t, the public will not only turn on him because of his manifest incompetence (which Americans are doing in rather large numbers these days), but also because of his deeply flawed public character.

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As Alana just wrote, two days ago, President Obama made this claim: “We said working folks deserved a break, so within one month of me taking office, we signed into law the biggest middle-class tax cut in history, putting more money into your pockets.” Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact-checker, calls that claim “ridiculous” and a “whopper,” which is a colloquial way of saying Obama’s claim is a lie.

Perhaps this is what a desperate president does at times like these. But Obama needs to be careful; if he isn’t, the public will not only turn on him because of his manifest incompetence (which Americans are doing in rather large numbers these days), but also because of his deeply flawed public character.

More and more these days, the president’s rhetoric can be fairly judged to be cynical, hypocritical and untrue. Even the Washington Post says so.

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Obama’s Middle-Class Tax Cut Fabrication

At the Washington Post, Glenn Kessler catches a dubious claim from Obama’s Labor Day speech:

“Everything we’ve done, it’s been thinking about you. We said working folks deserved a break—so within one month of me taking office, we signed into law the biggest middle-class tax cut in history, putting more money into your pockets.” (Emphasis added.)

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At the Washington Post, Glenn Kessler catches a dubious claim from Obama’s Labor Day speech:

“Everything we’ve done, it’s been thinking about you. We said working folks deserved a break—so within one month of me taking office, we signed into law the biggest middle-class tax cut in history, putting more money into your pockets.” (Emphasis added.)

Since this is the first time we’ve heard about Obama’s “biggest middle-class tax cut in history,” which he supposedly signed nearly three years ago, Kessler decided to follow up with the White House. It turns out Obama was talking about the one-time tax credit in the 2009 stimulus bill, according to a spokesperson:

“The point the president was making is there is not a tax cut that has been enjoyed by such a broad section of the population,” an administration official said, pointing to a report that said that 95 percent of working families received some kind of tax cut under the Making Work Pay provision in his stimulus bill.”

So when he said “biggest,” he didn’t mean in terms of dollar amount, as most listeners would assume. He meant that it affected a broad swath of people, despite the fact the impact is still up for debate.

Kessler goes on to rip Obama on the false claim – and notes the president knew it was inaccurate when he made it:

Obama’s claim of having passed the “biggest middle-class tax cut in history” is ridiculous. He might have been on more solid ground if he had claimed the “broadest” tax cut, but that doesn’t sound very historic.

We went back and forth over whether this was a three or four Pinocchio violation, until we found evidence that Obama knew he was saying a whopper.  Here’s how he put it in his 2010 State of the Union speech: “We cut taxes for 95 percent of working families.”  That phrasing, at least, would not have been so misleading.

Middle-class tax cuts will likely be one of Obama’s top talking points once he starts lobbying Congress to pass his jobs plan. Because the plan reportedly includes a temporary extension to the payroll tax cuts – something many conservatives oppose because it doesn’t promote job creation – Obama will frame it as a middle-class issue. Republicans who fight against the plan will be painted as opponents of middle-class tax cuts, when they would actually argue the money should be spent on tax reductions that would be more effective at boosting job growth.

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Abbas’ Revealing Statement

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is routinely lauded as a “moderate” and a peace-seeker, because unlike Hamas, he generally refrains from openly calling for Israel’s destruction. But anyone who believes he doesn’t share this goal should pay close attention to what he told a group of journalists and Israeli intellectuals on Monday. Amid all the soothing bromides about continued security cooperation and the importance of negotiations was one highly revealing sentence: When the Palestinians seek UN recognition as a state later this month, “We are going to complain that as Palestinians we have been under occupation for 63 years.”

For anyone who needs reminding, Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza began 44 years ago, in 1967. What happened 63 years ago was Israel’s establishment – in the pre-1967 borders. In other words, as far as Abbas is concerned, the problem isn’t Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank, it’s Israel’s very existence: Even pre-1967 Israel constitutes an “occupation.”

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is routinely lauded as a “moderate” and a peace-seeker, because unlike Hamas, he generally refrains from openly calling for Israel’s destruction. But anyone who believes he doesn’t share this goal should pay close attention to what he told a group of journalists and Israeli intellectuals on Monday. Amid all the soothing bromides about continued security cooperation and the importance of negotiations was one highly revealing sentence: When the Palestinians seek UN recognition as a state later this month, “We are going to complain that as Palestinians we have been under occupation for 63 years.”

For anyone who needs reminding, Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza began 44 years ago, in 1967. What happened 63 years ago was Israel’s establishment – in the pre-1967 borders. In other words, as far as Abbas is concerned, the problem isn’t Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank, it’s Israel’s very existence: Even pre-1967 Israel constitutes an “occupation.”

Nor is this position uncommon among Palestinians: A Pew Global Attitudes poll in 2007 found that fully 77 percent of Palestinians think “Palestinians’ rights cannot be taken care of if Israel exists.”

The charitable might say Abbas was simply referring to the Palestinians’ 63 years without a state: At the same time Israel was established, in 1948, Jordan and Egypt occupied the West Bank and Gaza, respectively. But in reality, there has never been an independent Palestinian state; Palestinians have always lived under someone else’s rule. Before 1948 came the 31-year British occupation; before that came the 400-year Turkish occupation; before that came various Arab caliphates that ruled “Palestine” from Damascus; and so forth.

In short, 63 years doesn’t mark the start of Palestinian life under occupation –unless you think Israel’s very existence, and only that, constitutes an occupation. And in fact, that’s precisely what Palestinians do think. That’s why the PLO was founded in 1964, three years before Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza, with the explicit goal of eradicating pre-1967 Israel; that’s why Palestinians never demanded an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza during the 19 years when Jordan and Egypt controlled these areas; that’s why Palestinians rejected the UN partition plan in 1947 and every subsequent offer  of statehood; that’s why Palestinians still demand millions of “refugees” be relocated to Israel under any peace agreement, thereby eliminating the Jewish state demographically (see here, here, here, for instance); that’s why the PA systematically denies the truth of Judaism’s historical ties to this land; and that’s why Abbas still refuses to grant that a “Jewish” state – as opposed to an “Israel” that could be Palestinian-majority via an influx of refugees – has any right to exist.

Abbas, of course, is faithfully reflecting his people’s views – the views of that majority who think “Palestinians’ rights cannot be taken care of if Israel exists,” who see a two-state solution as a mere stepping-stone toward Israel’s eradication. And as long as that remains true, any possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian peace is a pipe dream.

 

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Obama’s $300 Billion Stimulus

If Obama’s plan for economic recovery sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Despite the 2009 Recovery Act’s failure to curtail unemployment or jumpstart the economic recovery as promised,  Obama will reportedly propose another $300 billion stimulus that includes many of the same ideas:

“To put Americans to work, we’ll create millions of new green jobs and invest in rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure,” Obama proclaimed in March 2008. “It’s an agenda that starts with providing a stimulus that will reach the most vulnerable Americans, including immediate relief to areas hardest hit by the housing crisis and a significant extension of unemployment insurance for those who are out of work.” …

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If Obama’s plan for economic recovery sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Despite the 2009 Recovery Act’s failure to curtail unemployment or jumpstart the economic recovery as promised,  Obama will reportedly propose another $300 billion stimulus that includes many of the same ideas:

“To put Americans to work, we’ll create millions of new green jobs and invest in rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure,” Obama proclaimed in March 2008. “It’s an agenda that starts with providing a stimulus that will reach the most vulnerable Americans, including immediate relief to areas hardest hit by the housing crisis and a significant extension of unemployment insurance for those who are out of work.” …

In his speech Thursday, Obama’s prescriptions will be in the same mold as they were in 2008 — infrastructure spending; housing aid, including an expanded refinance program; and new measures to assist the unemployed, administration officials say. They will also include tax cuts to give extra cash to workers and spur hiring, as well as aid for states and localities. The cost of the programs is likely to be at least $200 billion, and a reluctant Congress would have to approve many of the ideas.

Half of the $300 billion will reportedly fund a year-long payroll tax cut extension, a reduction that does little to spur job growth because it doesn’t provide long-term stability for employers. To pay for it all, Obama will reportedly press Congress to pass a deficit-reduction plan that includes tax hikes.

But will the public tolerate yet another stimulus, even if it’s reportedly “deficit neutral”? Obviously, we won’t know all the details of the plan until Thursday, but so far, there’s nothing new here: more job training, unemployment assistance, housing aid. And after the last failed stimulus, are Americans willing to gamble away another $300 billion? If the first $1 trillion didn’t work, why should they expect this to?

Plus, is there any chance this plan will make it through Congress without a serious, drawn-out brawl? There are already plenty of reasons for conservatives to hate the plan, but apparently Obama didn’t even consult with GOP leadership about it beforehand. Not that it matters much to the president, who would probably love to force a showdown with congressional Republicans to drive home his campaign message that the GOP is the sole obstacle to recovery.

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