Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 3, 2011

Power Has its Duties as Well as its Rights

What makes this particular moment in politics particularly interesting and important is that we’re engaged in a fundamental debate about the role of state in our lives. The Obama presidency has created something of an inflection point. We have to choose which path we want America to travel down — one that resembles the European welfare state or a return to constitutionalism and a federal government of limited and enumerated powers.

But during the weekend I was reminded about the danger of framing this debate in too binary a fashion. The reminder came in the form of an impromptu speech made by John Fletcher Moulton, a noted English judge, parliamentarian and administrator, which was reprinted in the July 1924 issue of The Atlantic Monthly.

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What makes this particular moment in politics particularly interesting and important is that we’re engaged in a fundamental debate about the role of state in our lives. The Obama presidency has created something of an inflection point. We have to choose which path we want America to travel down — one that resembles the European welfare state or a return to constitutionalism and a federal government of limited and enumerated powers.

But during the weekend I was reminded about the danger of framing this debate in too binary a fashion. The reminder came in the form of an impromptu speech made by John Fletcher Moulton, a noted English judge, parliamentarian and administrator, which was reprinted in the July 1924 issue of The Atlantic Monthly.

Lord Moulton sketches out what he calls the “three great domains of Human Action.” They include the domain of positive law, where our actions are prescribed by laws which must be obeyed. The second domain is of free choice, which includes all those actions to which we claim and enjoy complete freedom. But between these two there is a third large and important domain, which Moulton calls “Obedience to the Unenforceable.” This is “the obedience of a man to that which he cannot be forced to obey. He is the enforcer of the law upon himself.” The true test of a nation, its proof of greatness, is “the extent to which the individuals composing the nation can be trusted to obey self-imposed law.”

Lord Moulton illustrates his point by mentioning freedom of debate in the House of Commons. For centuries the members had unrestricted freedom of debate and no inconvenience was felt. But “in recent times,” he said, “some members of this House have said to themselves: ‘We have unrestricted freedom of debate. We will use it so as to destroy debate. The absence of imposed restriction enables us to do it.’ This obstruction was developed, and it has destroyed freedom of debate, and, indeed, all useful debate in practically every legislature.”

Those in possession of freedom delinked it from a sense of duty that they were bound to respect; as a result, “clumsy and even mischievous regulations have necessarily been introduced which fetter debate but prevent its being absolutely stifled.”

“The old freedom cannot now be entrusted to the members,” Moulton went on, “because when they possessed it they did not respond to it by the exercise of that moral sense which would have led them to treat it as a trust, and not as an absolute possession, unburdened by obligations which they should compel themselves to regard.”

Lord Moulton contrasts this example with the account of the Titanic disaster.

The men were gentlemen to the edge of death. “Ladies first.” Why was that? Law did not require it. Force could not have compelled it in the face of almost certain death. It was merely a piece of good manners in the sense in which I have used the phrase. The feeling of obedience to the unenforceable was so strong that at that terrible moment all behaved as, if they could look back, they would wish to have behaved.

Moulton connects the dots in his speech by pointing out that “If I were asked to define tyranny, I would say it was yielding to the lust of governing.” The tendency of modern legislation, he warned in the early part of the 20th century, was to extend the area ruled by positive law and to diminish the area of action which is determined by the decision of the individual himself. The danger he warned about is that by “the growth of the democratic spirit,” those who have newly come into much larger powers “have not yet learned that power has its duties as well as its rights.”

How to teach people about their duties as well as their rights is a debate at least as old as the American republic. Because men are not angels, James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51, we had to rely on “auxiliary precautions,” by which he meant our constitutional system of government, with its checks and balances and the separation of powers. But Madison also argued (in Federalist No. 55) that “republican government presupposes the existence of [virtue] in a higher degree than any other form.”

How to train hearts and minds to love the good — how to create social cohesion and a polity which can flourish in the absence of Leviathan — is one of the great questions of political philosophy. It touches on matters of religious faith and education, on habits and hard wiring, on inward sentiments and outward laws.

And so as we continue to debate where to draw the line between governing authority and liberty, those of us who are advocates for greater liberty must complete our argument. Liberty in the absence of a sense of duty and self-control, of manners and morals, is not enough. A free society also needs to engage in the task of shaping young souls. That is, I think, what Lord Moulton was getting at in his lovely remarks all those decades ago.

 

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Obama Shared Podium With Virulent Anti-Semite in ‘07

Andrew Breitbart may have scooped the mainstream media once again, publishing photos of then-Senator Obama appearing to share a stage with members of the New Black Panther Party and leader Malik Shabazz, during his presidential campaign in 2007:

Among those appearing with Obama was Shabazz, the Panther leader who was one of the defendants in the voter intimidation case that Attorney General Eric Holder dismissed. Also present was the Panthers’ “Minister of War,” Najee Muhammed, who had called for murdering Dekalb County, Georgia, police officers with AK-47s and then mocking their widows in this video (7:20 – 8:29).

Injustice includes a disturbing photo of Shabazz and the Panthers marching behind Obama with raised fists in the “Black Power” salute.

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Andrew Breitbart may have scooped the mainstream media once again, publishing photos of then-Senator Obama appearing to share a stage with members of the New Black Panther Party and leader Malik Shabazz, during his presidential campaign in 2007:

Among those appearing with Obama was Shabazz, the Panther leader who was one of the defendants in the voter intimidation case that Attorney General Eric Holder dismissed. Also present was the Panthers’ “Minister of War,” Najee Muhammed, who had called for murdering Dekalb County, Georgia, police officers with AK-47s and then mocking their widows in this video (7:20 – 8:29).

Injustice includes a disturbing photo of Shabazz and the Panthers marching behind Obama with raised fists in the “Black Power” salute.

I don’t buy into theories that Obama is a secret radical interested in pushing an extreme Panther agenda. But he does have an alarming pattern of association with anti-Semitic conspiracy peddlers, whether it’s for political gain or because he feels some sort of camaraderie with them.

Shabazz gained notoriety for leading anti-Semitic chants in the mid-90’s (“Who is it that controls the Federal Reserve? “The Jews!”). And in 2005 – just two years before Obama reportedly shared a stage with him at a campaign event – Shabazz penned the forward for a book entitled “Synagogue of Satan.” In case the title doesn’t give it away, it’s apparently a book full of noxious conspiracy theories about Jewish manipulation of foreign policy. From the Anti-Defamation League summary:

The book’s overarching theme is that unknown to most, the world is being manipulated and corrupted by Satanic powers led by Jewish elites.  In exposing these powers, the book trades heavily in Jewish conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial.  It alleges that these Satanic powers are influenced and guided by the theology of Judaism, and by an inherent Jewish predilection for immorality.

The ADL calls the New Black Panther Party “the most anti-Semitic and racist black militant group in the U.S.” The group hasn’t commented yet on the photos Breitbart published.

But the pictures could potentially set off more alarm bells with Jewish voters. Obama has already seen his popularity with Jewish voters slip, in part because of his Israel policies. At the very least, the photos are a reminder of the other Israel-bashing and anti-Semitic figures from Obama’s past.

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Cain Declares Open Season on Perry

The Rick Perry campaign is dealing with the fallout from the Washington Post story about the racist name of the hunting camp the candidate’s family leased for more than 20 years. But though some conservatives were ready to defend Perry from what they believed was a slanted and poorly documented attack from the mainstream media, the decision of rival Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain to jump on Perry over his association with the “Niggerhead” camp compounds the Texas governor’s problems.

Cain told Fox News Sunday, “There isn’t a more vile, negative word than the N-word and for him to leave it there as long as he did before, I hear, that they finally painted over it, is just plain insensitive to a lot of black people in this country.”

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The Rick Perry campaign is dealing with the fallout from the Washington Post story about the racist name of the hunting camp the candidate’s family leased for more than 20 years. But though some conservatives were ready to defend Perry from what they believed was a slanted and poorly documented attack from the mainstream media, the decision of rival Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain to jump on Perry over his association with the “Niggerhead” camp compounds the Texas governor’s problems.

Cain told Fox News Sunday, “There isn’t a more vile, negative word than the N-word and for him to leave it there as long as he did before, I hear, that they finally painted over it, is just plain insensitive to a lot of black people in this country.”

Cain’s attack could help legitimize Democratic efforts to try and demonize Perry. Cain’s statement may well be a reflection of the Godfather Pizza exec’s own convictions about the need to oppose racism. But coming as it does at a time when many conservatives are starting to think of Cain as a serious contender rather than a curiosity, the decision to pile on Perry rather than to cut him some slack must also be understood as an attempt to knock off a man with whom he is competing for Tea Party and social conservative votes. With Perry fading badly as a result of his awful debate performances and his moderate stand on immigration, second tier candidates such as Cain and Rick Santorum are trying to position themselves as viable GOP alternatives. The camp story undercuts Perry’s efforts to go on the attack against Mitt Romney and to change the conversation from one about his own shortcomings. While conservatives tend to rally around any one of their own who is under siege from the liberal press, Cain’s frontal attack on the issue may make it harder for Perry’s camp to portray him as a victim of media bias.

That makes the help from Texas Democrats swearing to Perry’s fair-mindedness all the more necessary to his survival. As the liberal Texas Tribune reported today:

Even some of Perry’s fiercest Texas critics say they do not believe he is racist. They point to his record of appointments as evidence: He appointed the state’s first African-American State Supreme Court justice, Wallace Jefferson, and later made him chief justice. (Jefferson’s great grandfather was a slave, “sold like a horse,” Perry once said with disgust.) Perry’s former general counsel and former chief of staff, Brian Newby, is black; so is Albert Hawkins, the former Health and Human Services Commissioner who Perry handpicked to lead the massive agency in 2002.

“He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,” said former Democratic State Rep. Ron Wilson, who is black and served with Perry in his early years in the legislature. “He didn’t then, and he doesn’t now. Added Dallas Democratic Sen. Royce West, who is also black: “I don’t agree with him on policy issues, but you can point to many things he has done that were sensitive to ethnic minorities.”

Indeed, in his 11-year gubernatorial tenure, Perry has appointed more minorities to statewide posts — including university regents and secretaries of state — than any governor in Texas history. [What is] the biggest beating he’s taken on the campaign trail so far? His unwavering support for granting in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants in Texas.

But the testimonials from his erstwhile opponents may not save Perry if Cain’s perspective gets more play. Even worse, the decision of some Texas Democrats who are not political allies of the governor to defend him against charges of racism may be a sign Texans think the chances of him leaving Austin are minimal.

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Is Christie the High-Risk, High-Reward Candidate?

In his column comparing Chris Christie to Hillary Clinton as she agonized over whether to run for president in 2004, John Heilemann makes a strong point about a politician’s “moment,” but loses control of his analogy as he attempts to render a final judgment on Clinton’s ultimate decision. I think many are making a similar mistake with Christie. Heilemann writes:

Clinton weighed the possibility all the way into November. In the end, however, Hillary concluded it was just too soon for her to make a presidential run. That voters would punish her for breaking a campaign vow to serve her first Senate term in full. That 2004 was not, in fact, her time—2008 or 2012 would be. Clinton’s assessment was rational, conventional, and highly prudent. But then the big wheel of history turned and rendered it mistaken.

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In his column comparing Chris Christie to Hillary Clinton as she agonized over whether to run for president in 2004, John Heilemann makes a strong point about a politician’s “moment,” but loses control of his analogy as he attempts to render a final judgment on Clinton’s ultimate decision. I think many are making a similar mistake with Christie. Heilemann writes:

Clinton weighed the possibility all the way into November. In the end, however, Hillary concluded it was just too soon for her to make a presidential run. That voters would punish her for breaking a campaign vow to serve her first Senate term in full. That 2004 was not, in fact, her time—2008 or 2012 would be. Clinton’s assessment was rational, conventional, and highly prudent. But then the big wheel of history turned and rendered it mistaken.

But the assumption that history rendered her decision not to run a mistake may be exactly backwards. The underlying theory seems to be that there is nothing to lose by running for president, or at least that the risks are worth it. This assumption has been plaguing the speculation surrounding Christie as well.

If Clinton had run in 2004, she probably would have lost. Heilemann says Clinton didn’t rule out a presidential campaign until November 2003. If that’s the case, had she declared then (and in all likelihood it would have been earlier if she wanted to run), she would have made her announcement 34 months after her husband left office.

She, too, was in the White House until January 2001. Like her husband, she was a divisive political figure. Unlike her husband, she wasn’t president; she lacked charisma; and she had one major attempt at policymaking, and no one needs to be reminded of the spectacular nature of that failure. She had not yet spent much time in the Senate nor sanded the edges of her personality.

Was she better than John Kerry? Probably. But how much does that say? On the other hand, her loss to Obama in 2008 was painful, but after a rough start she has become a quite capable secretary of state while many on the left (and on the right and in the center) have been forced to admit she would have made a better president than Obama. We’ll never know, but that’s probably to her advantage.

With Christie, there is much to lose by running for president and losing to Obama–or, far worse, losing the nomination fight. It will damage his re-election bid in New Jersey. It would probably put his reform agenda on hold during the election–a hold from which it may never resume.

It may be Christie’s moment. If he runs and wins, it will be a remarkable victory for the conservative movement. And he would certainly be serious about debt and spending. The upside is obvious–so obvious it might be obscuring the risk. In many ways, he seems the perfect candidate for this election. But it must be asked: What if he loses?

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Study: Voter ID Laws Could Impact Millions

This report by the Brennan Center is making the rounds on liberal blogs today, with its sensational finding that new voting laws could disenfranchise five million eligible voters. According to the study:

•   These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.

•   The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012– 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.

•   Of the 12 likely battleground states, as assessed by an August Los Angeles Times analysis of Gallup polling, five have already cut back on voting rights (and may pass additional restrictive legislation), and two more are currently considering new restrictions.

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This report by the Brennan Center is making the rounds on liberal blogs today, with its sensational finding that new voting laws could disenfranchise five million eligible voters. According to the study:

•   These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.

•   The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012– 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.

•   Of the 12 likely battleground states, as assessed by an August Los Angeles Times analysis of Gallup polling, five have already cut back on voting rights (and may pass additional restrictive legislation), and two more are currently considering new restrictions.

Opponents of the voting laws are specifically concerned about new rules that require voters to show photo ID at the polls, pointing out that roughly 11 percent of potential voters don’t own valid identification cards. But the figures cited in the report are questionable. Brennan maintains that 11 percent of the voting age population don’t have photo ID, a statistic it concluded from a previous study. However, the “voting age population” includes non-citizens, illegal immigrants and felons who are barred from voting, according to the Census Bureau. Also, a hefty portion of the voting age population do not even vote – just 56 percent cast a ballot in 2008.

Other reports that looked at registered voters, as opposed to the general voting age population, conflict with Brennan’s findings. An American University study of registered voters in Indiana, Maryland, and Mississippi found that just 1.2 percent lacked government-issued photo IDs.

There’s definitely a debate to be had about whether voter ID laws will actually help prevent voting fraud. There are other ways to game the system that ID laws can’t thwart. And there are also questions about whether voting fraud is actually rampant enough to have an impact on elections, and whether having these laws in place is really necessary. Unfortunately, it’s hard to gather credible statistics on election fraud simply because IDs aren’t checked in the first place. But the widespread voter disenfranchisement Brennan’s report warns about is far from conclusive.

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The Psychodrama of the Obama Presidency

According to President Obama, America has “gotten a little soft” during the last few decades. That revelation is a relatively new one for Obama, who during the campaign assured us that “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” As Obama hop-scotched around the country, he informed us that “We are the hope of the future – the answer to the cynics who tell us … we cannot remake this world as it should be.” Back then, “what began as a whisper has now swelled to a chorus that cannot be ignored, that will not be deterred, that will ring out across this land as a hymn that will heal this nation, repair this world, make this time different than all the rest.” (I’d urge you to take a look at this campaign video and see if you miss the reference to America having gone a “little soft.”)

Let’s see if we can make sense of this, shall we?

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According to President Obama, America has “gotten a little soft” during the last few decades. That revelation is a relatively new one for Obama, who during the campaign assured us that “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” As Obama hop-scotched around the country, he informed us that “We are the hope of the future – the answer to the cynics who tell us … we cannot remake this world as it should be.” Back then, “what began as a whisper has now swelled to a chorus that cannot be ignored, that will not be deterred, that will ring out across this land as a hymn that will heal this nation, repair this world, make this time different than all the rest.” (I’d urge you to take a look at this campaign video and see if you miss the reference to America having gone a “little soft.”)

Let’s see if we can make sense of this, shall we?

When Obama was extremely popular, a kind of celebrity-politician, the American people were lavished with praise, presumably for our profound insight and wisdom when it came to choosing our political leaders. As Michelle Obama put it during the campaign, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.”

But now that Obama’s approval ratings are collapsing and his policies are deeply unpopular, the American people have “gotten a little soft.” Suddenly, we’re not the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence. Or perhaps what’s happening is we’re seeing another manifestation of the president’s extraordinary self-regard. Because to some of us, it looks all the world as if Obama heaped lavish praise on the American people when they were in his corner, before they had anything tangible to judge him by. But now that they are turning against him and his policies, he’s decided we’re not quite as special as he thought. In fact, he’s decided to blame us for his problems. And why not? After all, the man who has mastered but one skill during his tenure in office – blaming others for his failures – has already pointed an accusatory finger at the Arab Spring, the Japanese tsunami, Europe, ATMs, Wall Street, George W. Bush, the GOP, the Tea Party, and countless others. It was only a matter of time, and not much time, before the American people as a whole would be indicted.

Even now, the president is re-writing the script. The American people have gone from being the greatest generation to mediocrity. Right now, while he’s still trying to reclaim our support in order to win re-election, Obama is restraining himself. So we’ve only “gotten a little soft.” But can you imagine what we’ll be accused of if we dare turn Obama out of office after a single term? Can charges of endemic, widespread racism be far behind? After all, the president has already taken this particular slander out for a trial run [see here:]

It isn’t all that difficult to understand what’s going on here. The more unpopular he becomes, the more the president is being consumed by his grievances, by a sense of victimhood, by his belief that some great cosmic injustice is being perpetrated against him. Nothing can shake Obama’s conviction that he is a world-historical figure worthy of our adoration and allegiance. If he loses that, it is because we are not worthy of him.

The psychological drama of the Obama presidency continues to play itself out. I wonder where it will finally end.

 

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Obama’s Polling Compared to Predecessors

It’s a bad sign when Jimmy Carter’s poll numbers actually start to look respectable. From AEI’s public opinion expert Karlyn Browman and researcher Andrew Rugg:

President Obama looks worse than any recent incumbent president when the public assesses the country’s direction, consumer confidence, personal financial appraisals, and job approval at this point in time.

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It’s a bad sign when Jimmy Carter’s poll numbers actually start to look respectable. From AEI’s public opinion expert Karlyn Browman and researcher Andrew Rugg:

President Obama looks worse than any recent incumbent president when the public assesses the country’s direction, consumer confidence, personal financial appraisals, and job approval at this point in time.

  • Obama       11% satisfied with the way things are going; 20% country heading in the right direction
  • Bush 43     44% satisfied; 52% right direction
  • Clinton       33% satisfied; 21% right direction
  • Bush 41     35% satisfied; 24% right direction
  • Reagan      35% satisfied; 51% right direction
  • Carter       19% satisfied; 16% right direction
  • Nixon         N/A satisfied; 26% right direction

Amazingly, nearly twice as many Americans were satisfied with the way things were going at this point in the Carter presidency than they currently are under Obama. Consumer confidence was also eight percent higher. And that was after Carter’s malaise speech, after he fired his cabinet, with stagflation and an oil crisis hitting the country.

Obama’s job approval isn’t at the Carter-level yet, but it’s lower than all of his other recent predecessors at this point in their presidencies. In August, I compared Obama’s approval rating to the previous five presidents. Those who won a second term all had approval ratings above 50 percent a year before their reelection. It looks increasingly unlikely Obama will improve his ratings to that point by November, since his numbers have stagnated in the low-40s since the beginning of August.

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Panetta’s Pointless Warning to Israel

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Israel yesterday that its increasing isolation in the region means it must take “risks for peace.” This shot fired over the bow of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was made in comments to reporters traveling with Panetta, who is on his first trip to the Jewish state since assuming the leadership of the Pentagon.

But it is not likely to make much of an impression with the Israeli people for the simple reason that, unlike either the Obama administration and the international press corps, they understand Israel has been taking risks for peace for 18 years. Panetta’s statement, like so much of the rhetoric that has come out of the administration, seems to reflect a mindset that treats the events of the last 18 years as meaningless. After the Oslo Accords, the peace offers that both Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas rejected and the withdrawal from Gaza that turned that area into a terrorist state, how can any American speak as if Israel has stood pat all this time rather than, as the historical record proves, taken terrible risks for which it has gotten little reward?

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Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Israel yesterday that its increasing isolation in the region means it must take “risks for peace.” This shot fired over the bow of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was made in comments to reporters traveling with Panetta, who is on his first trip to the Jewish state since assuming the leadership of the Pentagon.

But it is not likely to make much of an impression with the Israeli people for the simple reason that, unlike either the Obama administration and the international press corps, they understand Israel has been taking risks for peace for 18 years. Panetta’s statement, like so much of the rhetoric that has come out of the administration, seems to reflect a mindset that treats the events of the last 18 years as meaningless. After the Oslo Accords, the peace offers that both Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas rejected and the withdrawal from Gaza that turned that area into a terrorist state, how can any American speak as if Israel has stood pat all this time rather than, as the historical record proves, taken terrible risks for which it has gotten little reward?

The Panetta visit is meant to reassure the Israelis who are understandably worried about the way in which the Arab Spring has led to more hate for the Jewish state rather than democracy for the Arabs. It is an unfortunate fact that there is nothing Israel can do to repair relations with countries like Turkey and Egypt, whose governments are whipping up antagonism for reasons that have little to do with the policies of the Netanyahu government. As dangerous as this is, it is the helplessness of the United States in the face of these trends that is most troubling.

President Obama came into office hoping to curry favor with the Arab and Muslim world by distancing the United States from Israel. While that policy shift helped fuel Palestinian intransigence and doomed the already slim hopes for Middle East peace, it did nothing to make America loved. But as the situation in the region deteriorates, Obama still has no answers other than to blame Israel and to demand it take “risks.”

While it is to be hoped Panetta will reaffirm the U.S. security cooperation with Israel that has survived Obama’s predilection for picking fights with Netanyahu, there is reason to worry the administration is looking to set the stage for a new round of pressure on the prime minister. Despite the pledges that the United States will work to preserve Israel’s military edge over its hostile neighbors, the timing of the visit may mean Washington is looking to demand payment for its veto of Palestinian independence at the United Nations.

But even if Netanyahu were to make the concessions on settlements and Jerusalem that Obama wants, there is little reason to believe the Palestinian Authority is interested in signing any peace deal. Rather than muscling Israel, the administration needs to make it clear to the Palestinian Authority, whom Panetta is said to be hoping to “re-engage,” that they cannot continue to be the beneficiaries of American largesse while at the same time doing everything in their power to torpedo the peace process.

Weakening Israel or creating the impression the United States is seeking to undermine its government only makes it less likely the Palestinians and other nations in the region will work for peace. By arriving in the region demanding Israel take “risks” they have already undertaken, rather than making it clear to the PA they will get nothing from their refusal to talk, Panetta has only ensured the standoff will continue.

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Obama Campaign: Christie Lacks Experience

The fact that the “inexperience” argument is being made by Obama campaign surrogate Gov. Deval Patrick, who was pilloried for his own thin resume when he ran for governor, makes it all the more interesting. It’s hard to imagine this attack line working for the Obama campaign, especially after it spent most of the 2008 election touting his “outsider” status and downplaying the importance of political experience.

From Meet the Press yesterday:

GOV. PATRICK: Sure. I like Chris [Christie]. He’s, he’s, he’s one of my favorites. I’m not going to–I don’t, you know, I wish him well. Not that well.

GOV. McDONNELL: You hear that endorsement?

GOV. PATRICK: No, that’s not what that was. But I–look, you know, he’s been governor for, what is it, a year and a half, two years?

GOV. McDONNELL: Yeah.

GOV. PATRICK: I think unemployment in New Jersey is higher even than, than the national average. It’s some unfinished work in New Jersey in order to have proof points for the case he wants to make.

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The fact that the “inexperience” argument is being made by Obama campaign surrogate Gov. Deval Patrick, who was pilloried for his own thin resume when he ran for governor, makes it all the more interesting. It’s hard to imagine this attack line working for the Obama campaign, especially after it spent most of the 2008 election touting his “outsider” status and downplaying the importance of political experience.

From Meet the Press yesterday:

GOV. PATRICK: Sure. I like Chris [Christie]. He’s, he’s, he’s one of my favorites. I’m not going to–I don’t, you know, I wish him well. Not that well.

GOV. McDONNELL: You hear that endorsement?

GOV. PATRICK: No, that’s not what that was. But I–look, you know, he’s been governor for, what is it, a year and a half, two years?

GOV. McDONNELL: Yeah.

GOV. PATRICK: I think unemployment in New Jersey is higher even than, than the national average. It’s some unfinished work in New Jersey in order to have proof points for the case he wants to make.

Yeah, that year-and-a-half is paltry, compared to the, um, two years and one month Obama served in the Senate before announcing his presidential bid. Just for the sake of comparison, here’s what Patrick said about Obama’s inexperience back in 2007:

“I don’t care if the next president is a Washington insider. I care about what’s in his heart. I don’t care whether the next president has experience in the White House. I care whether he understands life in your house,” Patrick said.

Quotes like that will make it difficult for Democrats to make the case Christie lacks credentials. The 2008 debate over inexperience could be a double-edged sword, making it harder for Republicans who attacked Obama’s newness to politics to defend Christie’s, if he decides to run.

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Survey Says: Advantage GOP

According to a new Gallup survey, Americans see the Republican Party as better able than the Democratic Party to protect the country from terrorism and military threats, which is not all that unusual (the margin is 49 percent v. 38 percent). But they also see the GOP as better able than the Democratic Party to keep the country prosperous during the next few years, and that is unusual.

Democrats held the advantage over the Republican Party on the “prosperous” dimension from 2003 through 2009 – including by 20 points as recently as three years ago. But the advantage switched to the GOP last year and remains so this year, by 48 percent to 39 percent.

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According to a new Gallup survey, Americans see the Republican Party as better able than the Democratic Party to protect the country from terrorism and military threats, which is not all that unusual (the margin is 49 percent v. 38 percent). But they also see the GOP as better able than the Democratic Party to keep the country prosperous during the next few years, and that is unusual.

Democrats held the advantage over the Republican Party on the “prosperous” dimension from 2003 through 2009 – including by 20 points as recently as three years ago. But the advantage switched to the GOP last year and remains so this year, by 48 percent to 39 percent.

As a reference point, by the time of the 2010 midterms, in which Republicans gained 63 seats in the House and unprecedented gains among state legislators, the GOP held a 48/40 advantage. And after nine months of Republican control of the House, that margin has increased a bit.

What this survey indicates is that the Republican Party has re-asserted its long-time advantage on national security matters and jumped to an unusually large lead (by historical standards) when it comes to which party will do a better job at keeping the nation prosperous. (The public also rates the GOP as doing a better job than the Democratic Party at handling the most important issues facing the nation.)

This is simply the latest in a long line of metrics which shows just how much damage Barack Obama is doing to the “brand” of the Democratic Party. As support for the president continues to slide, inevitably, so does support for his party.

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Time to Get Tough With Pakistan

In an editorial in the new Weekly Standard, I argue that, following Admiral Mike Mullen’s revelations about Pakistani involvement in the Haqqani network’s attacks on the U.S. embassy in Kabul and other American targets, it is time to get tough with Pakistan. I suggest we start treating Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency the way we treated Iran’s Quds Force in Iraq. That is to say, apply the full range of our power–everything from diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions, to kinetic military action–to curb the menace posed by this group. The case for such action is made stronger by this report in USA Today:

Pakistan is the source of explosives in the vast majority of makeshift bombs insurgents in Afghanistan planted this summer to attack U.S. troops, according to U.S. military commanders.

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In an editorial in the new Weekly Standard, I argue that, following Admiral Mike Mullen’s revelations about Pakistani involvement in the Haqqani network’s attacks on the U.S. embassy in Kabul and other American targets, it is time to get tough with Pakistan. I suggest we start treating Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency the way we treated Iran’s Quds Force in Iraq. That is to say, apply the full range of our power–everything from diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions, to kinetic military action–to curb the menace posed by this group. The case for such action is made stronger by this report in USA Today:

Pakistan is the source of explosives in the vast majority of makeshift bombs insurgents in Afghanistan planted this summer to attack U.S. troops, according to U.S. military commanders.

From June through August, U.S. troops detected or were hit by 5,088 improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the most for any three-month period since the war began in 2001. Those bombs killed 63 troops and wounded 1,234, Defense Department records show. More than 80 percent of the IEDs are homemade explosives using calcium ammonium nitrate fertilizer produced in Pakistan, said Navy Capt. Douglas Borrebach, deputy director for resources and requirements at the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization.

These facts have long been known to U.S. military commanders, and they have been made known to Pakistan, along with demands the government in Islamabad do something to shut down these IED factories. Nothing has been done, and American troops continue to pay the price. I realize there will be costs to tougher action against Pakistan, including the possibility a NATO supply line through Pakistan could be shut, but the status quo is simply untenable.

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Why did the State Department Give Ahmadinejad’s Son a Visa?

It has become common for foreign leaders to invite large delegations to New York for the United Nations General Assembly. Most delegation members are not diplomats, have no business at the UN, and are in New York only for the shopping and partying. For friendly countries, providing these add-on delegates visas is both a courtesy and good for business. Adversaries, however, should receive no such courtesy. While the United States must as host provide enemy leaders and aides with visas, there is no reason why the State Department should allow the abuse of this privilege.

Alas, no one told the good folks at Foggy Bottom. The State Department evidently granted not only Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s son but also his daughter-in-law a visa. Here are pictures of them in New York courtesy of the Iranian website Asr-e Iran. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton owes the American people an explanation.

It has become common for foreign leaders to invite large delegations to New York for the United Nations General Assembly. Most delegation members are not diplomats, have no business at the UN, and are in New York only for the shopping and partying. For friendly countries, providing these add-on delegates visas is both a courtesy and good for business. Adversaries, however, should receive no such courtesy. While the United States must as host provide enemy leaders and aides with visas, there is no reason why the State Department should allow the abuse of this privilege.

Alas, no one told the good folks at Foggy Bottom. The State Department evidently granted not only Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s son but also his daughter-in-law a visa. Here are pictures of them in New York courtesy of the Iranian website Asr-e Iran. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton owes the American people an explanation.

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Axelrod: Voter Apathy Led Us Into Iraq

So if the war in Iraq was simply a matter of voter apathy, what does that say about voter “enthusiasm” in 2008? We’re still in Iraq, and likely to remain there past the January 2012 deadline President Obama set during his campaign. And yet Americans aren’t concerned about that – they’re far more worried about the economy.

David Axelrod’s outreach to the anti-war movement during an interview with the Harvard Crimson might also be slightly less ridiculous if movement leaders weren’t calling for Obama’s arrest for “war crimes”:

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So if the war in Iraq was simply a matter of voter apathy, what does that say about voter “enthusiasm” in 2008? We’re still in Iraq, and likely to remain there past the January 2012 deadline President Obama set during his campaign. And yet Americans aren’t concerned about that – they’re far more worried about the economy.

David Axelrod’s outreach to the anti-war movement during an interview with the Harvard Crimson might also be slightly less ridiculous if movement leaders weren’t calling for Obama’s arrest for “war crimes”:

[Harvard Crimson]: If you look at students at this stage during the last election, people were a little more riled up. There is a certain amount of apathy around college campuses. Is it troubling to you?

[Axelrod]: Obviously we need to organize all over the country, but my admonition to students is to get involved because there is so much at stake, and [students] have more at stake than anyone else. We’ve had other periods of apathy in our country. There was apathy in 2000, and Al Gore lost that election to George W. Bush by 300 votes, and as a result we wound up in Iraq …[and] we took a big step back in terms of climate change. Much of the world would have been different had that election gone the other way.

Axelrod is right to worry about young voter apathy in 2012. But he ignores what’s causing it. Obama reneged on many of the left-wing policies he promised during his campaign – and his economic policies have been flops, with detrimental impacts on young voters.

Sure, young people are more likely to lean left. But if they can’t trust Obama to make good on his promises, they’re more likely to back a third-party candidate or simply stay home on Election Day. Not to mention, a plurality of young voters disapprove of the president’s economic policies. That’s the reason for the disillusionment, and it’s why the GOP sees a prime opportunity to court more moderate youth voters for the next election.

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Peter Gent, 1942–2011

Peter Gent, a backup wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys who went on to write novels about professional football, has died in Bangor, Michigan, of pulmonary disease. He was 69.

After a five-year career in Dallas, during which he caught 68 passes for 989 yards and four touchdowns, Gent retired to write North Dallas Forty, a 1973 exposé in fiction. Life in the NFL had left Gent deeply divided. “In one sense, you’re a folk hero,” he said. “But you’re really someone else’s property: your life subject to change by a single phone call.”

North Dallas Forty was about eight days in the declining football career of Phil Elliott, a receiver for the North Dallas Bulls. Before he is suspended by the NFL commissioner for drug use, Elliott is benched in favor of a young hotshot, although he knows he is the better pass-catcher. From that vantage point, Elliott serves up reflections about his teammates and their fans:

Looking up into the stands at the mass of gray dots that were faces, perched atop flashes of colors that expressed their egos, I suddenly realized how peculiar we [players] must look. I thought of Al Capp paying six dollars a head to watch and scream while trained mice scurried around in panic.

The novel was widely read as a roman à clef rather than an exposé — the fast-living quarterback was obviously modeled on the Cowboys’ Don Meredith, the robotic coach on Tom Landry — and though it was later filmed with Nick Nolte playing Gent’s role, North Dallas Forty was a victim of its own timeliness. It ceased being a scandal when Meredith and Landry ceased being gossiped about. Its social commentary wasn’t original or particularly sharp even when its football was still news.

In 1984, in one of my first published reviews, I briefly summarized Gent’s third novel The Franchise in the New York Times Book Review:

Peter Gent, who used to catch passes for the Dallas Cowboys, now writes novels full of rage and bitterness at pro football. “I don’t want revenge, I want the truth known,” one of his characters says. That could serve as Mr. Gent’s motto. The Franchise, his third novel, is a long and thickly woven work — his most ambitious to date. Its title refers to both an expansion football team named the Texas Pistols and to Taylor Rusk, the quarterback who within three seasons turns his team into a Super Bowl contender. The story is focused primarily on the behind-the-scenes struggle to control the new Texas franchise and the league. Characters barter and cheat and sell each other out, engage in “creative financing” and obtain stolen game plans, but there is remarkably little depiction of action on the field. In fact, the central puzzle about The Franchise is the question, for whom is it intended? Football fans will be disappointed by the lack of football and dismayed by Mr. Gent’s relentlessness in tracing the corruption of a sport that finances itself upon “the working stiffs,” that is, the players and fans. Those who love literature will wince as the book alternately reads like a screed, then like an attempt to resurrect the proletarian novel. But the authority and command with which Mr. Gent writes are nonetheless impressive. Unfortunately, in The Franchise he has not submitted that talent to the strictures of plot and selectivity that might have made this a more satisfying novel.

Gent’s best book is probably his touching memoir The Last Magic Summer: A Season with My Son (1996). Although he was in position to do so, he never wrote the definitive football novel, which, indeed, remains to be written. Rest in peace.

Peter Gent, a backup wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys who went on to write novels about professional football, has died in Bangor, Michigan, of pulmonary disease. He was 69.

After a five-year career in Dallas, during which he caught 68 passes for 989 yards and four touchdowns, Gent retired to write North Dallas Forty, a 1973 exposé in fiction. Life in the NFL had left Gent deeply divided. “In one sense, you’re a folk hero,” he said. “But you’re really someone else’s property: your life subject to change by a single phone call.”

North Dallas Forty was about eight days in the declining football career of Phil Elliott, a receiver for the North Dallas Bulls. Before he is suspended by the NFL commissioner for drug use, Elliott is benched in favor of a young hotshot, although he knows he is the better pass-catcher. From that vantage point, Elliott serves up reflections about his teammates and their fans:

Looking up into the stands at the mass of gray dots that were faces, perched atop flashes of colors that expressed their egos, I suddenly realized how peculiar we [players] must look. I thought of Al Capp paying six dollars a head to watch and scream while trained mice scurried around in panic.

The novel was widely read as a roman à clef rather than an exposé — the fast-living quarterback was obviously modeled on the Cowboys’ Don Meredith, the robotic coach on Tom Landry — and though it was later filmed with Nick Nolte playing Gent’s role, North Dallas Forty was a victim of its own timeliness. It ceased being a scandal when Meredith and Landry ceased being gossiped about. Its social commentary wasn’t original or particularly sharp even when its football was still news.

In 1984, in one of my first published reviews, I briefly summarized Gent’s third novel The Franchise in the New York Times Book Review:

Peter Gent, who used to catch passes for the Dallas Cowboys, now writes novels full of rage and bitterness at pro football. “I don’t want revenge, I want the truth known,” one of his characters says. That could serve as Mr. Gent’s motto. The Franchise, his third novel, is a long and thickly woven work — his most ambitious to date. Its title refers to both an expansion football team named the Texas Pistols and to Taylor Rusk, the quarterback who within three seasons turns his team into a Super Bowl contender. The story is focused primarily on the behind-the-scenes struggle to control the new Texas franchise and the league. Characters barter and cheat and sell each other out, engage in “creative financing” and obtain stolen game plans, but there is remarkably little depiction of action on the field. In fact, the central puzzle about The Franchise is the question, for whom is it intended? Football fans will be disappointed by the lack of football and dismayed by Mr. Gent’s relentlessness in tracing the corruption of a sport that finances itself upon “the working stiffs,” that is, the players and fans. Those who love literature will wince as the book alternately reads like a screed, then like an attempt to resurrect the proletarian novel. But the authority and command with which Mr. Gent writes are nonetheless impressive. Unfortunately, in The Franchise he has not submitted that talent to the strictures of plot and selectivity that might have made this a more satisfying novel.

Gent’s best book is probably his touching memoir The Last Magic Summer: A Season with My Son (1996). Although he was in position to do so, he never wrote the definitive football novel, which, indeed, remains to be written. Rest in peace.

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