Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 13, 2011

Senate GOP Still Wondering How Stimulus Will be Funded

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?”

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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?”

As the crowd chanted, “Pass this bill,” the president added, “The next election is 14 months away and the American people don’t have the luxury of waiting that long.”

Speaking of “waiting,” Sen. Jeff Sessions is wondering why it’s taking the administration so long to come up with the details on how to pay for the plan. The senator sent a letter to Office of Management and Budget Chief Jacob Lew blasting the administration for its delays:

 When we received a copy of the legislation yesterday, we were expecting the Office of Management and Budget—which enjoys a five hundred person staff—to provide a precise and detailed estimate of the fiscal impact of the president’s proposal. But no such information was provided.

This is not satisfactory.

Perhaps even more troubling, however, is that despite the emphatic promise that we would learn yesterday how the bill would be offset, this information is missing too. …

OMB must provide to the Congress and the American people, at a minimum, the basic information that demonstrates in detail, as promised, how this bill will be funded. This information should be provided without delay.

Sessions is specifically seeking a table on the budgetary impact of the plan from FY2011 to FY2021, a schedule showing the added annual interest the federal government will have to pay on the debt, and the projected impact the bill will have on the deficit for the next decade.

Obama may hope he can generate enough public excitement for the bill that the cost won’t matter. But with just 16 percent of Americans believing Obama’s plan will help “a lot” –50 percent said it will help “a little” – the enthusiasm clearly isn’t there yet.

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What Republican Establishment?

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:

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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:

There is no Republican establishment. In 1966 its house organ — the Republican establishment’s – the New York Herald-Tribune died. The establishment itself died two years earlier in Cow Palace in San Francisco with the nomination of Barry Goldwater.”

Will is right. For decades, control of the Republican Party, which was once largely governed by a moneyed elite, has been contested by a variety of factions. When successful, the GOP has won with a diverse coalition of fiscal conservatives, conservative Christians and foreign policy hawks with many Republicans identifying with more than one of these loose groupings.

The idea any set of politicians in Washington or anywhere else is the “establishment” of the party simply flies in the face of reality. The most important Republican of the last half-century was Ronald Reagan, a man who could not be said to be part of an establishment. Some might argue, as Laura Ingraham did on the same show that produced Will’s statement, that perhaps the Bush family is what passes for a GOP establishment these days. But as Rick Perry’s rise makes clear, the Bushes and their ally Karl Rove don’t even control Texas politics, let alone those of Washington, D.C.

The people who like Romney and are scared by Perry may represent some of the party’s large donors and may like to think of themselves as the party establishment, but they are by no means dominant. Nor could they be said to be in control of the levers of party activism that have long been as much the province of the more conservative factions of the GOP, not the wealthy fundraisers or Washington lobbyists.

While Rick Perry may be, as we have seen in the debates, a flawed candidate, the idea a GOP establishment can stop him is ridiculous. That’s not because he can’t be beaten, but because there is no such thing as a Republican establishment.

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On Applauding Death During Debates

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.

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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.

In the first debate, the context was a question from NBC’s Brian Williams to Governor Rick Perry which mentioned that during his tenure Texas had executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. This elicited applause from the audience. Then, in last night’s CNN/Tea Party Express debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer pressed libertarian Ron Paul on what should happen to a person who has elected not to have medical insurance and is then struck gravely ill. In the course of the colloquy, Blitzer asked Paul, “Are you saying the society should just let him die?” To which a few people in the crowd responded with hoots of “Yeah!” as well as a smattering of applause.

The applause during the first debate is perhaps understandable; I suspect what people were expressing is a sense that justice had been done to people who had themselves committed heinous crimes. But the second incident is harder to justify, especially for a party that claims to be pro-life.

Sometimes deaths can be justified; other times they are merely tragic. But whatever the circumstances, there is a troubling coarsening of people’s moral sense when they begin to cheer the loss of life. Even if you believe in the death penalty, it strikes me as inappropriate to applaud hundreds of executions. And to cheer even the hypothetical death of a comatose individual because he decided against having health insurance is slightly sick.

I hope the next GOP audience will consist of people who find more uplifting things to applaud than the cessation of a life.

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Obama’s UN Push Matched by Hamas Surge

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.

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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.

The Jerusalem Post reports security experts have noted Hamas is gaining influence in the West Bank while still maintaining its iron grip on Gaza, where it already runs an independent Palestinian state in all but name. If, as many expect, demonstrations in favor of the UN resolution get out of hand, Hamas may exploit the resulting chaos. By the same token, if Palestinian disappointment over the purely symbolic nature of the exercise in New York explodes into unrest, Hamas may be ready to exploit that situation.

That may mean, as some warn, Hamas will resume their campaign of suicide bombings. That’s a scary proposition for Israelis. But such a decision would also mean hostilities that would undermine the economic progress made in the West Bank under PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and might destroy, perhaps for all time, the credibility and perhaps the power of the PA.

So as much President Obama is eager to avoid a veto of a Palestinian statehood resolution in the Security Council, it is still Abbas himself who has the most to lose from the diplomatic standoff he has created. That’s why Obama’s efforts to bribe the Palestinians with Israeli concessions to prevent them from blowing up any hopes for peace are an absurdity the Netanyahu government must not accept.

Though Obama and much of the mainstream media are always inclined to blame Netanyahu for the refusal of the Palestinians to make peace, the goal of the upcoming exercise is to win international recognition without making peace. The PA’s objective here was always to destroy the peace process, not to increase their leverage within it. But Abbas has forgotten his PA is the product of a peace process that began 18 years ago this month with the signing of the Oslo Accords. But now that they have sowed the wind and shucked off that process, they are about to reap a Hamas whirlwind that may destroy any hope of peace for the foreseeable future.

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The Real Debate Winner: The Tea Party

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.

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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.

Not all the questions posed by Tea Partiers were brilliant. One, which asked what the candidates would do to evict the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, was particularly foolish. But most were reasonable. More to the point, the Tea Partiers came across as normal Americans who care deeply about the country and its problems.

Indeed, unlike most of the other debates where the audience is largely comprised of groups brought in by the candidates, this was one GOP gathering in which the dedicated claque of Ron Paul acolytes was unable to dominate reactions to the debaters. That meant that for the first time since these debates began, Paul’s vicious America-bashing and rationalization of terror were loudly booed by the Tea Partiers in attendance (as they should have been).

It isn’t likely this one event televised by a cable news network that can’t be accused of being dominated by conservatives will change the minds of prejudiced liberals. But for at least one night, America got a look at a fair look at the Tea Party and saw it was as much a reflection of the real America as any other group of activists. That’s a clear win for the Tea Party by any standard of measurement.

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Democrats Absent on UN Reform Bill

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.

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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.

There’s no shortage of pro-Israel Democrats in Congress. But where are they on this bill? Ros-Lehtinen’s office says it’s not an issue of outreach; they’ve sought out Democratic support, but so far, nobody’s biting.

As Jonathan pointed out last month, the Obama administration has already taken a stance against the proposed reforms. And House Democrats are standing firmly in line behind the president. It raises an interesting question: Even if pro-Israel Democrats are willing to break with the Obama administration on issues that explicitly relate to Israel, are they averse to doing the same on legislation that only impacts Israel indirectly?

That’s a pretty daunting thought. But even though the bill’s prospects look dim at the moment, Ros-Lehtinen says she’s going to continue to fight for it.

“My legislation lays down a marker, it says ‘let’s work together.’ And I hope that we work together in a bipartisan way,” she said today. “So, yes, we can just say ‘This bill will never become law, therefore we won’t file a bill, and we won’t push for cosponsors and we won’t try to move it on the floor.’ But that’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to say this is what we stand for, these are the principles that we believe in.”

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Kabul Terror Attack Won’t Change Balance of Power on the Ground

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.

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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.

Thus, in the case of Afghanistan, the Taliban and Haqqani Network have not had much luck in dislodging coalition forces from the ground they have occupied in the past year, particularly in Helmand and Kandahar province. Unable to carry out successful guerrilla operations–much less conventional operations–they increasingly rely on spectacular terrorist attacks that can nab headlines even if they can’t change the balance of power on the ground.

The latest attack in Kabul–like others in the capital before it–is part of this strategy. Objectively, the attack was a complete failure; few people were killed, and no Americans (at least if early reports are accurate). This was nowhere close to the Tet Offensive when a Viet Cong suicide squad was actually able to penetrate the U.S. embassy grounds before being wiped out. Yet, even if they achieved no military objective, the attackers managed to seize the world’s attention and cast doubt on the narrative of success propagated by NATO. In that very limited sense, the attack was a success, but we should not magnify its significance. Kabul still remains safe, as Ambassador Ryan Crocker noted in a recent interview:

The situation he found in Kabul this summer, he said, is considerably better than what he saw in 2002, when he helped set up the first post-Taliban government.

“It’s better than I thought,” he said. “The biggest problem in Kabul is traffic. Out in the provinces, even in Kandahar, you see traffic jams there. Kabul is a more liveable city by far than the Baghdad I left in 2009.”

Crocker is right, and one terrorist attack changes nothing–unless it leads to a cracking of our will, which is what the attackers are aiming to accomplish.

 

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The GOP’s Foreign Policy Void

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.

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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.

For the last few decades, one of the standard tropes of American politics has been the ability of the GOP to portray itself as the party of security and the Democrats as weak on defense. The unpopularity of the war in Iraq erased that advantage in 2008. But Obama’s unwise decision to announce a withdrawal date in Afghanistan as well as his feckless pursuit of engagement with Iran and his decision to alienate allies such as Israel, still leaves the GOP with issues to run on.

Rick Perry was presented with a golden opportunity to show leadership when asked last night to respond to Jon Huntsman’s defense of a policy of abandoning Afghanistan to the Taliban. Instead of showing how his approach would differ from that of the president, Perry waffled. In the end, he put forth a position that not only didn’t sound much different from the isolationist tone of Huntsman but could be easily be mistaken for Obama’s stands.

Neither of Perry’s main rivals has done much better in other debates. Romney waffled on Afghanistan during the New Hampshire debate in June.  Pundits have ignored these shortcomings largely because the focus of the debates and the election is elsewhere, but this is a mistake for two reasons.

First is the fact that although Americans are obsessed about the economy, foreign policy and national defense issues remain the first and primary responsibility of any president. Barack Obama may have won in 2008 in no small measure because of a belief  he would transform the world through the power of his personality. But any Republican who expects to be elected must appear as a plausible commander-in-chief.

Second, Obama’s foreign policy failures are giving the GOP an opening they will squander if they nominate a candidate who can’t put forward a concise critique of the administration’s blunders, especially on the Middle East.  Though Democrats will be falling over themselves to deny it tomorrow, the special congressional election today in New York’s 9th district will be a referendum on Obama in which his antagonism toward Israel will be one (though not the only) factor. If Rick Perry or Mitt Romney hope to capitalize on this trend, they had better start making statements that show they understand its importance.

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Read Literary Commentary

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.

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.

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Pro-Israel, Anti-Obama Billboards Plastered Across NYC

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.

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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.

“Calling for a divided Jerusalem: Not Pro-Israel,” reads another.

The billboards have popped up at locations across the city, including 11th Avenue & 38th Street (Lincoln Tunnel entrance), Centre Street & Grand Street in SoHo, 11th Avenue & 38th Street at the Javits Center, the entrance to Queensboro Bridge, and the Long Island Expressway entrance to the Midtown tunnel. They direct New Yorkers to ECI’s new website, www.NotProIsrael.com.

Obama’s growing problem with Jewish voters has been in the forefront of the news with the NY-9 race. With the looming possibility of a unilateral Palestinian declaration at the UN, the Obama administration will likely be under even more scrutiny with Jewish and pro-Israel voters.

Check out the photos of the billboards below.

 

 

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Huntsman Belongs on the Sidelines

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).

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).

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Obama’s War on Philanthropy Revisited

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.”

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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.”

The liberal mindset that seeks to harm philanthropy sees the hodgepodge free market world of private philanthropy as too anarchic to suit the needs of the country. A world in which individual initiatives not checked by central planning operates is one in which government does not call the tune on every issue.

Back in 2009, then Budget Director Peter Orszag claimed the catastrophic impact cutbacks forced by these measures would have on a variety of causes helping the poor as well as the arts would be offset by the benefits to society that would accrue from the extra cash government could spend. To be more specific, Orszag said the creation of a national health care law would more than compensate the country for any negative fallout from the decimation of private charities.

That statement makes this issue more easily understood even by those with little interest in philanthropy or sympathy for those who donate large sums to charities. The cutting of charitable donations doesn’t so much hurt the rich as it does those persons and causes that benefit from their generosity. But even more than that, Obama’s war on philanthropy is an assault on the notion Washington need not run every aspect of our lives. By limiting the flow of funds to charities, Obama would be giving the government not only more money but also more power.

The war on philanthropy is yet another attempt to strengthen the role of government and to weaken the private sector. Congress will seek to find elements of Obama’s proposals to pass so as to undermine the White House’s efforts to place the blame for our sinking economy on anyone but the president. But whatever it does, it must reject the White House’s new war on philanthropy.

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The Model for Perry Is Clinton, Not Reagan

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.

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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.

True, there are two major differences between the two situations: the fact that in 1992 people paid far less attention to the early primary candidates and that Clinton had no real credible opponent in primary debates. (Paul Tsongas, who won twice the number of states Jerry Brown did, used his debate time to declare “the Cold War is over. Japan won.”) Mitt Romney, meanwhile, has quietly become a very good debater. And the contrast is hurting Perry.

But the fact of the matter is by the time the 1980 election had rolled around, Reagan had become proficient in discussing foreign affairs. In 1992, Clinton had to learn fast. This is where Perry can learn from Clinton.

On jobs and the economy, Perry is clearly in his element. But foreign policy matters too, because even when it’s not the primary issue on voters’ minds—today, like many election years, it’s the economy—it is the area a president has arguably the most control over. And in a year when we mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11, national security policy will not be ignored.

It’s important to note Perry has a better grasp of foreign policy than he’s shown in the debates. He’s no stranger to China-related issues or the Middle East. But he has to turn that knowledge into better debate answers. Clinton was able to mask his relative lack of knowledge of foreign affairs not only because his main opponent’s nickname was “Moonbeam.” By the general election, Clinton was able to give fluid answers to foreign policy questions. He didn’t have to come across as brilliant (even Clinton’s famous charisma couldn’t pull off that kind of miracle), just coherent and familiar.

Here, for example, was Clinton explaining in an October 1992 debate that non-invasion didn’t mean non-intervention:

I agree that we cannot commit ground forces to become involved in the quagmire of Bosnia or in the tribal wars of Somalia. But I think that it’s important to recognize that there are things that can be done short of that, and that we do have interests there. There are, after all, 2 million refugees now because of the problems in what was Yugoslavia, the largest number since World War II, and there may be hundreds of thousands of people who will starve or freeze to death in this winter. The U.S. should try to work with its allies and stop it. I urged the president to support this air cover, and he did–and I applaud that. I applaud the no-fly zone, and I know that he’s going back to the United Nations to try to get authority to enforce it. I think we should stiffen the embargo on the Belgrade government, and I think we have to consider whether or not we should lift the arms embargo now on the Bosnians, since they are in no way in a fair fight with a heavily armed opponent bent on “ethnic cleansing.” We can’t [get] involved in the quagmire, but we must do what we can.

Again, it’s nothing sensational, but it is a coherent explanation of a principle of foreign affairs that Perry seemed to be hinting at last night. And Perry should also improve his ability to turn foreign policy questions into economic questions, as Clinton did. (“Economic security is a whole lot of national security,” Clinton said at that same debate.)

There is a lot of time between now and the first general election debate, if Perry is the nominee. But if he’s going to reassure voters, taking a page from Clinton might be more helpful than commentators telling him he’s already Reagan.

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Why Is Michele Bachmann Channeling Jenny McCarthy?

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.

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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.

With Bachmann’s comments on the dangers of the HPV vaccine, she joins the ranks of celebrity Jenny McCarthy, who has famously linked her son’s autism to vaccinations. Even though the movement’s scientific research has been debunked, McCarthy has continued to use her position to encourage parents not to vaccinate their children.  Prior to McCarthy’s crusade against vaccines, she was best known for being a Playboy bunny and MTV host and personality.

The anti-vaccination crusade that McCarthy, and now Bachmann, have undertaken have serious implications for public safety. Last year, ten infants in California died from whooping cough, a disease that was made near extinct 60 years ago with the development of a vaccine. In ten months in 2010, California saw almost 6,000 cases of the disease.

Those who are crying “my [child’s] body, my choice” don’t seem to grasp the ramifications of their decisions impact the health and safety of everyone around them. Bachmann’s foray into McCarthy’s imagination land sets a dangerous and irresponsible example for the many fans who look to her for leadership and guidance. Michele, it’s time to get off the vaccination-truther train.

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Perry Proves Less Than Advertised

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.

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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.

I said after the first debate I don’t think Perry will wear all that well over time. Nothing that happened last night has changed that impression. And while I don’t think his support will collapse, I suspect many conservatives who had invested quite a bit of hope in Perry must be thinking, “Is this all there is?” They’ll give him another chance, and he may improve. But creeping doubts have replaced early enthusiasm.

 

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Bachmann Links HPV Vaccines to “Mental Retardation”

As Ben Domenech writes on Twitter, “This is like Captain Insane-o territory. Holy cow.”

From Bachmann’s “Today Show” appearance this morning:

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As Ben Domenech writes on Twitter, “This is like Captain Insane-o territory. Holy cow.”

From Bachmann’s “Today Show” appearance this morning:

“I will tell you that I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Fla., after the debate. She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter,” Bachmann said.

She continued: “The mother was crying when she came up to me last night. I didn’t know who she was before the debate. This is the very real concern and people have to draw their own conclusions.”

The criticism being lobbed at Rick Perry for promoting a Gardasil mandate is understandable. And it’s also understandable some people would choose not to take it because it’s such a new vaccine and the long-term effects haven’t been exhaustively studied. But to insinuate it may cause “mental retardation” (by the way, hasn’t that been considered a pejorative term for at least the last decade?) is completely baseless fear-mongering. Is Bachmann going to take a political stance against fluoridated water next? MMR immunizations?

Her attacks on Perry last night about the HPV issue were strong. There was absolutely no need to take it to another extreme.

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What They’ll Say if Turner Wins NY-9

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:

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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:

This one’s already started making the rounds, reports the NY Daily News:

Democratic finger-pointing has already started, with some campaign watchers blaming Queens Democratic Party Chairman Rep. Joseph Crowley for making a poor choice in Weprin.

“They wanted a weak placeholder who wouldn’t pose a problem if the district was eliminated. Well, now Crowley owns the loss if it goes that way,” said one disgruntled Democrat.

He certainly isn’t the strongest, though this didn’t start to become an issue until he started sliding in the polls. Weprin was even met with some praise from left-wing pundits when he entered the race. David Nir at the Daily Kos wrote in July:

Weprin seems like a strong candidate for us, while the Republicans are left with a quartet of second choices. It also seems like, as is often the case, the Conservative Party will serve as the tail that wags the dog: Queens Conservative chair Tom Long said his party will back 2010 candidate Bob Turner. If the GOP doesn’t get behind Turner as well, their already-not-great chances of nabbing this seat will get slimmer.

Even though some Democrats are now grumbling the Queens party chairman should have chosen a more charismatic candidate than Weprin, few would argue Turner is beating him in the charm department.

Both of the contenders have their flaws and their strong points. For example, Weprin’s prominent family and background in politics gave him a head start on name recognition. Then there’s the fact Democrats have tended to do very well in New York special elections recently, even in districts much less liberal-leaning than NY-9.

Public Policy Polling is also skeptical of the blame-Weprin argument. The Democratic polling company actually faults President Obama for the loss, noting that he won 55 percent of the vote in the district in 2008, but his approval rating has sunk to 31 percent.

“If Obama’s approval in the district was even 40 percent, Weprin would almost definitely be headed to Congress,” writes PPP. “He’s getting dragged down by something bigger than himself.”

2. It’s the negative fallout over the Anthony Weiner scandal:

There’s no doubt Anthony Weiner’s popularity has waned in the district. But that alone isn’t enough to explain the trajectory of the NY-9 race. When Weprin and Turner first announced, the Democrat had a comfortable lead in the polls. It wasn’t until late August that Turner started to close in on his opponent. If voters are still punishing the Democrats for Weiner’s scandal, wouldn’t they have been more likely to support Turner back in July, when the controversy was still fresh in everyone’s minds?

Plus, the sexting debacle didn’t seem to be that much of a concern for district voters. Back in June, 56 percent of Weiner’s constituents said they wanted him to remain in office despite the scandal.

3. Demographic changes:

One of the more compelling arguments is the demographics in NY-9 have shifted far to the right during the past few years due to population changes. But PPP found the current voter breakdown in its latest poll matches up with 2008:

One final note on the poll and what perhaps should concern Democrats most of all. 55 percent of voters in the district report having voted for Obama in 2008, which is the actual percentage of the vote he got in the district.  Last year, a lot of the races Democrats lost were because their voters didn’t show up and the electorate was far more conservative than for a presidential year.  When you lose that way you can say, well, our voters will come back out in 2012 and we’ll be fine.  But there is no enthusiasm gap here.  Obama voters are showing up in the same numbers they did in 2008.  But only 65 percent of them are voting Democratic.  That’s a really big cause for concern.

Along these lines, voters in the district are still largely supportive of state Democratic politicians. Andrew Cuomo and Chuck Schumer both get high marks in the polls. So the issue isn’t that NY-9 voters are opposed to Democratic policies in general. They’re just not fans of Obama.

 

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