President Obama continued his onslaught against Congress today, repeating the same “pass the bill!” mantra in the battleground state of Ohio. It’s a speech we’re becoming all too familiar with:
Calling out Congress while speaking at a modernized high school in Columbus, Obama asked, “What on earth are we waiting for?”
One of the key pieces of conventional wisdom about the Republican presidential race published in the mainstream media is the GOP “establishment” is leery of Rick Perry and is far more comfortable with Mitt Romney. That may be the case with some people in the party. Certainly, it sums up the feelings of some quoted in a New York Times analysis published yesterday about the unhappy “establishment.” But it begs the question of who exactly comprises that shadowy faction these days.
George Will provided the best answer to that question a few weeks ago when he pointed out on a segment of ABC’s “This Week” there had been no real Republican establishment for nearly half a century:
I don’t want to make too much of this – but neither do I want to make too little of this.
We’ve now had two consecutive GOP debates in which members of the audience have applauded death.
Eli Lake writes today in the Daily Beast the Obama administration has launched a “frantic, last-minute campaign” to head off a unilateral declaration of statehood from the Palestinian Authority next week at the United Nations. Though it is unlikely the PA will back off their plans, they’ve indicated the Americans’ offer of new peace talks with Israel doesn’t appeal to them.
That’s hardly surprising, considering they have gone to the UN precisely to avoid negotiating with Israel, not in order to get better terms from an antagonist that offered them a state in 2000, 2001 and 2008 only to be turned down each time. The impending passage of a resolution endorsing statehood in the General Assembly will be accompanied by an orgy of Israel-bashing. But the PA has set in motion a set of events that will do more to hurt them than Israel. Reports of an upsurge in Hamas activity in the West Bank indicate that the fallout from the failure of the PA to accomplish anything more than an upgrade in their observer status at the world body may well represent a deadly threat to Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah government orchestrating the UN circus.
Before we move on to the next round of verbal blood-letting by the Republican presidential candidates, it’s worthwhile to spend a moment recognizing the clear winner of the debate in Tampa last night: the Tea Party. The event was co-sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party Express, and much of the audience was comprised of Tea Partiers. Activists were able to ask questions of the candidates, including some in other locations where Tea Partiers gathered.
The result of all this exposure may not have done much to alter the outcome of the GOP race, but it ought to have debunked the oft-repeated liberal canard that seeks to portray the Tea Party as a band of lunatic racists.
House Foreign Affairs Chair Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is still working hard to rally attention for her United Nations reform bill, which would cut funding for the UN if it adopts a Palestinian unilateral statehood resolution. But at her press conference today, the main barrier for the legislation was clear: it still has no bipartisan support.
The 10 members of Congress who spoke in support of the bill at the press conference were all Republicans. And even though the legislation has 74 cosponsors, not a single House Democrat has signed on – suggesting it has virtually no shot of getting through the Senate, even if the GOP majority passes it in the House.
Here is the important point to keep in mind about the highly publicized attack most likely carried out by the Haqqani Network against the U.S. Embassy compound in Kabul: terrorism is the lowest form of warfare. I do not mean that pejoratively but rather analytically. It is a point I develop in greater depth in my book, Invisible Armies, a history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism, which should be out next year.
What do I mean by lowest? Not that it’s evil, although it usually is. Rather that it’s the least-demanding form of warfare. Carrying out conventional military operations requires a state with a complex bureaucracy, one able to recruit, train, and equip armies. Guerrilla warfare is similar to low-end conventional operations a la light infantry; it is typically carried out either by states (such as North Vietnam or Pakistan) facing a foe too powerful to defeat with conventional operations or by organizations (like the IRA, al-Qaeda, FARC, etc.) lacking a state structure altogether. The targets of guerrilla attacks tend to be the military forces of a state; the difference between guerrillas and regulars is that the former seldom if ever engage in frontal battle because they are too weak to do so. Terrorists are too weak to even engage in hit-and-run raids on enemy forces; therefore, they resort to targeting civilians, governmental leaders, off-duty soldiers and police, and other targets that may lack military value but have a considerable public-relations payoff.
There is little doubt, barring some unforeseen catastrophe in the coming year, the 2012 election will be decided solely on issues relating to the economy. That explains why so little time has been devoted to foreign policy during the Republican presidential debates. But while the failure of the major contenders to prioritize foreign policy is understandable, the void that is developing on questions of war and peace is not. As last night’s debate demonstrated, the Republicans are in danger of throwing away one of their party’s greatest strengths.
The only candidates on display in Tampa with coherent foreign policy approaches were the ones who can’t be elected president or shouldn’t be, like Jon Huntsman or the America-bashing Ron Paul. The failure of either Mitt Romney or Rick Perry to demonstrate a firm grasp of America’s foreign dilemmas or to articulate a strong critique of Obama’s failures abroad is a gift to the Democrats.
It’s worth reminding our readers that in addition to catching up on the latest about politics and foreign policy on Contentions, you also need to be reading our new Literary Commentary blog where D.G. Myers writes about books.
In recent days, Myers has debunked the myth of “literary fiction” (“There is good fiction, there is bad fiction, and there is fiction written in creative writing workshops.”), eviscerated the notion that Phillip Roth’s Plot Against America can tell us anything about the United States in the aftermath of 9/11, as well as giving us his take on the best sickroom reading and the best baseball books.
Visit Literary Commentary daily, and enjoy some of the best writing about books available today.
The Emergency Committee for Israel has been ramping up its criticism of the Obama administration, launching ad campaigns in the run-up to today’s NY-9 election and the Palestinian unilateral statehood declaration at the UN.
The group’s latest billboard ads, which went up today, feature a giant photo of President Obama and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas sharing a jovial handshake in front of a Palestinian flag. “Attacking Israel at the United Nations: Not Pro-Israel,” blares one of the billboards.
Just a quick word about Jon Huntsman (he doesn’t deserve much more than that). He has emerged as the most grating of the candidates. His attempts at humor come across as petty and mean-spirited. (When he announced his campaign he trumped the fact that he would major in civility and decency.) He’s supercilious. And he’s an asterisk in the polls (he’s fluctuating between one and two percent).
Veteran reporters I know told me at the outset of this contest to keep an eye on Huntsman, that he would prove to be a politician of impressive, even remarkable, skills. The former Utah governor has turned out to be very nearly the opposite. The GOP debates will be better once Huntsman either drops out of the race or joins Gary Johnson, Thaddeus McCotter, and Buddy Roemer where he belongs, on the sidelines, an observer of the debates rather than a participant in them (see Byron York’s story here).
Yesterday, the White House revealed how President Obama’s latest costly proposals to revive a sagging economy will be paid for. The answer included a plan first floated by the administration in the spring of 2009 when other expensive items such as Obamacare and the first stimulus were under consideration: limiting itemized deductions for charitable contributions. Though the president claimed at the time this was nothing more than one more tax on the rich, it signaled something more far-reaching than the standard class warfare tactics of the Democrats. It heralded a new war on philanthropy.
The devastating impact on philanthropic endeavors such a change in tax policy would have is not an accident. It is, as our former colleague David Billet explained in his July 2009 COMMENTARY article, every bit as important today as it was two years ago; an attempt to limit the role of private charitable initiatives and to expand the role of government. This is not, as Billet wrote, a question of “fairness” as the administration claims, but reflects a “liberal suspicion of charity that has gained tractions in recent years, and that withhold even two cheers from American philanthropy as it is now practiced.”
One theme of the campaign season thus far has been: underestimate Rick Perry at your peril. A particularly intriguing branch of this tree is the comparison not just of President Obama to Jimmy Carter, but also of Perry to Ronald Reagan.
At the Wall Street Journal, Gerald Seib notes that establishment Republicans were worried Reagan was too conservative, his criticism of entitlements too toxic, and his dissent from accepted climate science too damaging for his general election prospects—as many have said about Perry. And during last night’s debate Larry Sabato tweeted: “Perry’s opponents (D&R) sneer at Perry’s quips-for-policy, but that’s how Jimmy Carter felt about Ronald Reagan. Pay attention.” But I think the more apt comparison–and one that may be a better model for Perry to follow–is to Bill Clinton in 1992.
Last night, Michele Bachmann appeared on Fox News after the debate and continued her tirade against the Texas mandate for the Gardasil HPV vaccine. While many on the Right object to Perry mandating the vaccine from a parental rights or big government perspective, Bachmann took the issue a step farther, claiming the vaccine caused “mental retardation” to an audience member’s daughter.
As Dave Weigel notes over at Slate, “The CDC has recommended Gardasil, warning that the only verified side-effect has been rare cases of blood clots and an immune system disorder.” Despite some who claim the drug is dangerous, like all other drugs in the United States, it underwent rigorous drug trials before it was put on the open market.
My instinct is that Governor Perry is in more trouble than most people imagine right now. He may still be the front runner, but he’s significantly weaker after two debates than he was before them. And it’s not simply that his performances have been uneven, for reasons that Jonathan and John have documented. Or that Perry was worse the second time out than he was the first time out. Or that he sometimes struggles to provide substantive, coherent answers.
All of that hurts him, of course. But what is also working against the Texas governor is his surge of support after announcing he would run for president was based on people, the majority of whom had hardly ever seen him before and knew very little about him. It is not as if he has (like was the case with Ronald Reagan) built up much loyalty over the years, which can help candidates when they hit rough patches. For many conservatives, Rick Perry was essentially a tabula rasa. That isn’t the case anymore; and he’s proved to be less, arguably much less, than advertised.
As Ben Domenech writes on Twitter, “This is like Captain Insane-o territory. Holy cow.”
From Bachmann’s “Today Show” appearance this morning:
If Republican Bob Turner pulls off an upset in New York’s 9th district special election tonight, you can count on hearing one thing from Obama supporters: excuses. Despite evidence that Democrat David Weprin’s sinking poll numbers are linked to the president’s unpopularity in the district, there are many Obama fans out there who don’t want to hear it. Here are some of the explanations likely to be trotted out if the Democrats lose Anthony Weiner’s old seat:
1. Weprin is a weak candidate: