Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 4, 2011

Draft Cantor?

Now that Chris Christie’s presser today conclusively dashed Republican hopes and exhausted the campaign media, who’s next on the list of increasingly unrealistic dream candidates to be courted for the GOP race? Place your bets on Eric Cantor, writes Ben Smith:

 “You’ve got a lot of the same guys who were looking at Christie who still think there’s an opening,” said a prominent Republican operative. “A lot of their attention is focused on Eric. He’s telegenic, the president is elevating his profile, and he’s somebody that serious people feel could enter into this race and fill some of the gaps.”

Cantor’s base among pro-Israel and Jewish donors — many of whom were holding out hope for Christie — is particularly enthused.

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Now that Chris Christie’s presser today conclusively dashed Republican hopes and exhausted the campaign media, who’s next on the list of increasingly unrealistic dream candidates to be courted for the GOP race? Place your bets on Eric Cantor, writes Ben Smith:

 “You’ve got a lot of the same guys who were looking at Christie who still think there’s an opening,” said a prominent Republican operative. “A lot of their attention is focused on Eric. He’s telegenic, the president is elevating his profile, and he’s somebody that serious people feel could enter into this race and fill some of the gaps.”

Cantor’s base among pro-Israel and Jewish donors — many of whom were holding out hope for Christie — is particularly enthused.

As far-fetched as a Draft Cantor movement may sound, it’s not a total surprise. Cantor supporters point out several reasons why he would be competitive: he has a lot of support in the pro-Israel community, particularly with donors. He’s smart, articulate and telegenic. And he’s from a swing-state.

But unlike Christie, Cantor is tied up with the jobs and budget fights in Congress and seems unlikely to entertain the idea of running. He also has a young family, and hasn’t shown any interest in pulling them into a rigorous presidential race.

More importantly: it seems way too late for someone with Cantor’s low national name recognition to start a campaign at this point. So while we probably won’t see the first Jewish Republican presidential candidate this election, at least Cantor’s supporters can rest assured he’s giving Obama plenty of grief from his spot in Congress.

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Roland Merullo

In my inaugural fiction chronicle this month for COMMENTARY, I single out Roland Merullo’s new novel The Talk-Funny Girl for special praise.

Merullo has been one of my favorites for some time. Fidel’s Last Days, his last book, was a political thriller about a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro. He is not a political animal; at worst he is a conventional liberal. What is striking about him, though, is that Merullo does not share the literary left’s romantic illusions about Castro. While not an anti-Communist novel, Fidel’s Last Days remorselessly shows that the fear and distrust of ordinary life in Castro’s Cuba is “no way to live.” That’s more than enough to make it unusual.

In 2008 — two books ago — Merullo wrote a satire in which Jesus of Nazareth returns to earth and decides to run for president of the United States. In an interview, Merullo explained that he first began to write about religion because he

felt there was some space . . . between the dogmatists and the atheists. Most of my friends fall into that space, as do my wife and I, so I tried to explore it in fiction, the medium I know best. I also tried to do it with a sense of humor, something that seems to me often lacking when we talk about meaning of life issues.

American Savior, subtitled A Novel of Divine Politics, is pretty funny about politics. At one point, Jesus asks his political consultants why he is doing so badly in the polls. They are flabbergasted. “We’re up eight points in today’s poll,” one says. “Everybody should be voting for me,” Jesus observes. “Why isn’t everybody voting for me?” “Some of them are Jewish,” a campaign worker points out. About religion, though, the novel is tentative, probably because it is suspended between dogmatism and atheism.

At a news conference, Jesus is asked about abortion. He says that he has no position on it; it is right and wrong. When that satisfies no one, he announces:

[W]ith full respect for the complexity of this matter, as president, within the first two months of my first term, I will convene a national conference on the question of abortion. Held here in Kansas, the heart of the nation, televised nationally. It will not be a debate. Hate speeches will not be allowed. It will be a conference, with speakers representing each position given equal time. This will not satisfy everyone, I realize that.

No kidding. It didn’t even solve the fundamental literary problem that Merullo faced in asking his readers to suspend disbelief at the idea of Jesus running for president. He succeeded only in making the Christian savior sound like any other politician.

In The Talk-Funny Girl, Merullo takes a different approach. As he says in an author’s note, the novel is a “glimpse into the hidden world of New England’s poor.” Moreover, the title character inhabits a hidden world within that hidden world. Marjorie Richards lives with her parents in a small cabin on four acres in the woods, shut in upon themselves “as if enemies surrounded them on all sides.” She did not even attend school until she was nine, and her odd speech puts an even greater distance between her and the world outside her family. If she is not quite a feral child, she is not entirely socialized either. The strangeness of her circumstances makes her story intrinsically interesting.

Her gradual socialization is a religious experience, but Merullo softens the edges of the experience. If Marjorie gets religion, it is something like the Quaker religion that she gets. My only complaint about the novel, in fact, is that Merullo shies from a more unblushing affirmation of her discovery that life is a gift from God — that is the novel’s own language for it. In a literary age that is impatient with religion, perhaps any treatment of the theme, any suggestion that a good life is a worthy goal, runs the risk of being dismissed as dogmatic. And in any event, someone else once said somewhere that God is not in earthquake and fire but in a still small voice. Merullo is in very good company.

Among his other works, his autobiographical novels Revere Beach Boulevard (1998) and In Revere, in Those Days (2002), about growing up in a working-class town just outside Boston, stand out for their strong prose and lack of nostalgia. In a blurb on the jacket of his most recent novel, Anita Shreve says that The Talk-Funny Girl is one of the best novels she has ever read. I never thought I’d found myself nodding in enthusiastic agreement with a jacket blurb, but Roland Merullo writes a nearly flawless hand. If you haven’t ever read him, you should.

In my inaugural fiction chronicle this month for COMMENTARY, I single out Roland Merullo’s new novel The Talk-Funny Girl for special praise.

Merullo has been one of my favorites for some time. Fidel’s Last Days, his last book, was a political thriller about a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro. He is not a political animal; at worst he is a conventional liberal. What is striking about him, though, is that Merullo does not share the literary left’s romantic illusions about Castro. While not an anti-Communist novel, Fidel’s Last Days remorselessly shows that the fear and distrust of ordinary life in Castro’s Cuba is “no way to live.” That’s more than enough to make it unusual.

In 2008 — two books ago — Merullo wrote a satire in which Jesus of Nazareth returns to earth and decides to run for president of the United States. In an interview, Merullo explained that he first began to write about religion because he

felt there was some space . . . between the dogmatists and the atheists. Most of my friends fall into that space, as do my wife and I, so I tried to explore it in fiction, the medium I know best. I also tried to do it with a sense of humor, something that seems to me often lacking when we talk about meaning of life issues.

American Savior, subtitled A Novel of Divine Politics, is pretty funny about politics. At one point, Jesus asks his political consultants why he is doing so badly in the polls. They are flabbergasted. “We’re up eight points in today’s poll,” one says. “Everybody should be voting for me,” Jesus observes. “Why isn’t everybody voting for me?” “Some of them are Jewish,” a campaign worker points out. About religion, though, the novel is tentative, probably because it is suspended between dogmatism and atheism.

At a news conference, Jesus is asked about abortion. He says that he has no position on it; it is right and wrong. When that satisfies no one, he announces:

[W]ith full respect for the complexity of this matter, as president, within the first two months of my first term, I will convene a national conference on the question of abortion. Held here in Kansas, the heart of the nation, televised nationally. It will not be a debate. Hate speeches will not be allowed. It will be a conference, with speakers representing each position given equal time. This will not satisfy everyone, I realize that.

No kidding. It didn’t even solve the fundamental literary problem that Merullo faced in asking his readers to suspend disbelief at the idea of Jesus running for president. He succeeded only in making the Christian savior sound like any other politician.

In The Talk-Funny Girl, Merullo takes a different approach. As he says in an author’s note, the novel is a “glimpse into the hidden world of New England’s poor.” Moreover, the title character inhabits a hidden world within that hidden world. Marjorie Richards lives with her parents in a small cabin on four acres in the woods, shut in upon themselves “as if enemies surrounded them on all sides.” She did not even attend school until she was nine, and her odd speech puts an even greater distance between her and the world outside her family. If she is not quite a feral child, she is not entirely socialized either. The strangeness of her circumstances makes her story intrinsically interesting.

Her gradual socialization is a religious experience, but Merullo softens the edges of the experience. If Marjorie gets religion, it is something like the Quaker religion that she gets. My only complaint about the novel, in fact, is that Merullo shies from a more unblushing affirmation of her discovery that life is a gift from God — that is the novel’s own language for it. In a literary age that is impatient with religion, perhaps any treatment of the theme, any suggestion that a good life is a worthy goal, runs the risk of being dismissed as dogmatic. And in any event, someone else once said somewhere that God is not in earthquake and fire but in a still small voice. Merullo is in very good company.

Among his other works, his autobiographical novels Revere Beach Boulevard (1998) and In Revere, in Those Days (2002), about growing up in a working-class town just outside Boston, stand out for their strong prose and lack of nostalgia. In a blurb on the jacket of his most recent novel, Anita Shreve says that The Talk-Funny Girl is one of the best novels she has ever read. I never thought I’d found myself nodding in enthusiastic agreement with a jacket blurb, but Roland Merullo writes a nearly flawless hand. If you haven’t ever read him, you should.

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Univision Accused of Blackmailing Rubio

This sordid story about Spanish-language news outlet Univision allegedly blackmailing Sen. Marco Rubio is a few days old, but it’s getting renewed attention now that Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Jon Hunstman announced they’re boycotting Univision’s GOP debate as a protest.

Here’s a quick recap: Over the summer, Univision reportedly contacted Rubio and tried to persuade him to appear on Al Punto, a show hosted by illegal immigration advocate Jorge Ramos. Ramos is a vocal supporter of the DREAM Act; Rubio is a vocal opponent. To make the TV appearance more attractive to Rubio, Univision allegedly sent its investigative team to dig up dirt on the senator’s brother-in-law’s decades-old drug arrest. The station’s executives reportedly suggested if Rubio appeared on the show, the news report on his brother-in-law would disappear.

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This sordid story about Spanish-language news outlet Univision allegedly blackmailing Sen. Marco Rubio is a few days old, but it’s getting renewed attention now that Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Jon Hunstman announced they’re boycotting Univision’s GOP debate as a protest.

Here’s a quick recap: Over the summer, Univision reportedly contacted Rubio and tried to persuade him to appear on Al Punto, a show hosted by illegal immigration advocate Jorge Ramos. Ramos is a vocal supporter of the DREAM Act; Rubio is a vocal opponent. To make the TV appearance more attractive to Rubio, Univision allegedly sent its investigative team to dig up dirt on the senator’s brother-in-law’s decades-old drug arrest. The station’s executives reportedly suggested if Rubio appeared on the show, the news report on his brother-in-law would disappear.

Rubio declined, and Univision ran with the drug story, hyping it for days. The report wasn’t damaging to Rubio’s career – prominent mainstream outlets refused to pick it up because it was stale, irrelevant, and had happened when Rubio was only 16-years-old. But it was apparently devastating for his family, especially Rubio’s sister, whose husband was suddenly all over the news for a drug arrest that took place in 1987.

The Miami Herald first reported on the details of the conference call between Rubio’s office and Univision executives when the quid pro quo was allegedly offered:

On July 7, Alex Burgos, Rubio’s communications director, and Rubio’s political advisor, Todd Harris, held a 45-minute conference call with a handful of top Univision editorial staffers, including Lee, the news chief who handled most of the discussions for Univision. …

Toward the end of the conversation, Lee brought up Ramos’ show and suggested the drug-bust story could change — or not run at all, according to Harris and Burgos’ notes.

Said Harris: “You’re saying that if Marco does an interview with Ramos, that you will drop this investigation into his family and the story will never air?”

Lee, they say, responded with this statement: “While there are no guarantees, your understanding of the proposal is fair.”

Univision’s President of News Isaac Lee denied this account of the conversation. But other Univision staffers vouched for it to the Herald off the record:

But the Univision sources, with knowledge of the discussions, affirmed Harris’ version of events.

“We were stunned,’’ one Univision executive said. “Can you imagine how embarrassing it is?” …

It was also dispiriting. The employees said the story cast a pall over the Doral newsroom because this was its first investigative project, and many questioned the story’s news value.

Horrible. This has to be one of the worst ethical lapses someone could possibly commit in journalism. If true, Univision will not – and should not – recover from this scandal without internal changes and a lot of contrition. Based on the reports so far, the Republican candidates seem justified in skipping the debate. And until Univision takes steps to investigate and deal with the accusations, other political figures and journalists might consider steering clear as well.

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Smart Diplomacy Strikes Again

A Reuters dispatch reports the Obama administration is “scrambling” to keep aid flowing to the Palestinian Authority, in the face of congressional holds on about $200 million in economic assistance to the PA. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said yesterday the administration is in “intensive consultations” with Congress seeking to have the money released.

The administration seems bent on demonstrating there are no practical consequences for the repeated Palestinian attempts to have the UN determine final status issues that are supposed to be negotiated with Israel. Earlier this year, President Obama warned the PA there would be consequences if it proceeded with its UN settlements resolution. The PA proceeded anyway, and suffered no consequences. The PA is proceeding with its latest UN petition – and the administration is now actively trying to prevent any consequences.

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A Reuters dispatch reports the Obama administration is “scrambling” to keep aid flowing to the Palestinian Authority, in the face of congressional holds on about $200 million in economic assistance to the PA. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said yesterday the administration is in “intensive consultations” with Congress seeking to have the money released.

The administration seems bent on demonstrating there are no practical consequences for the repeated Palestinian attempts to have the UN determine final status issues that are supposed to be negotiated with Israel. Earlier this year, President Obama warned the PA there would be consequences if it proceeded with its UN settlements resolution. The PA proceeded anyway, and suffered no consequences. The PA is proceeding with its latest UN petition – and the administration is now actively trying to prevent any consequences.

During the past year, as the Palestinians have been refusing to negotiate, the administration has nevertheless (1) presented a vision of a Palestinian state by September, (2) upgraded the PLO office in Washington to the equivalent of an embassy, and (3) reacted mildly to the PA “reconciliation” agreement with Hamas, suggesting only that it raised questions for Israel.

The hold on PA funds needs to be viewed in light of the bipartisan message the House Foreign Affairs Committee sent during its September 14 hearing on Palestinian aid. At that hearing, Howard Berman (D-CA), the ranking member on the committee and the most prestigious House Democrat on foreign policy, said the Palestinian UN action ran counter “to repeated U.S. requests and to prior Palestinian commitments” and that “hundreds of millions of dollars in annual assistance … will likely be terminated” if the Palestinians pursued that course. More importantly, Berman personally endorsed an aid cutoff if the Palestinians proceeded:

President Abbas’ Palestinian Authority should not be rewarded with American taxpayer dollars for actions that defy Palestinian commitments, threaten to destabilize the region, and run counter to U.S. interests. Those dollars can be better spent elsewhere.

Berman quoted House Resolution 268, passed two months before, which promised “serious implications” for Palestinian assistance programs if the PA pursued unilateral statehood recognition. Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) said he was not prepared “to send one more red cent” to the PA if they could not prove they were serious about peace with Israel. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) said the approaching moment was a “watershed moment in U.S.-Palestinian relations.” Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) had the following colloquy with Elliott Abrams:

POE: Is there something we can do to be proactive, rather than reactive, about this situation? The United States of America. What should we do now?

ABRAMS: I think this hearing is important, because they’re listening. They’re listening to this and they are hearing all of you say if they go ahead with the resolution, and particularly with the resolution that has terrible content, that you’re going to cut them off.

The Palestinians listened, they heard, and they went ahead anyway, just like last time … and the Obama administration is scrambling to protect them from the promised consequences. Smart diplomacy.

 

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More Dismal Numbers for Obama

The American Enterprise Institute’s Political Report provides data showing how incumbent presidents (Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama) were faring in the late summer and fall as their reelection campaigns began in earnest. The findings are pretty dismal for America’s 44th president.

Among other things, the proportion of the country that is satisfied with the way things are going in the country is lower for Obama (11 percent) than it was for anyone else, including Carter (19 percent). The numbers were in the 30s for Messrs. Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, and Clinton, while it was in the 40s for George W. Bush.

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The American Enterprise Institute’s Political Report provides data showing how incumbent presidents (Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama) were faring in the late summer and fall as their reelection campaigns began in earnest. The findings are pretty dismal for America’s 44th president.

Among other things, the proportion of the country that is satisfied with the way things are going in the country is lower for Obama (11 percent) than it was for anyone else, including Carter (19 percent). The numbers were in the 30s for Messrs. Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, and Clinton, while it was in the 40s for George W. Bush.

Consumer confidence is also lower for Obama (55.7) than it was for Carter (63.3).

On whether the country is heading in the right direction, only 20 percent say yes today; 16 percent said yes under Carter (for Reagan the figure was 51 percent and for George W. Bush it was 52 percent).

As for job approval at this stage: Carter was at 33 percent. Obama is at 40 percent. Nixon was at 49 percent. Clinton was at 52 percent. Reagan was at 53 percent. And George W. Bush was at 54 percent.

This data confirms what everyone, including the president, now acknowledge: He’s an underdog in this election. Thirteen months away from election day, Barack Obama is a badly wounded incumbent. And right now there is no reason to believe things will get significantly better for him.

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Shameful Follow-Up on Perry and Race

If you were wondering whether the Washington Post would double-down on or retreat in shame from its blockbuster story alleging that Rick Perry lives in the same state as a formerly offensive rock, the paper has answered that question in style today.

Here is the blaring headline: “Perry built complicated record on matters of race.” What would normally follow such a headline is a story backing up that vague allegation. What readers are treated to instead is a story about how yesterday the Post ran a story calling Perry a racist. This paragraph has to be read to be believed:

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If you were wondering whether the Washington Post would double-down on or retreat in shame from its blockbuster story alleging that Rick Perry lives in the same state as a formerly offensive rock, the paper has answered that question in style today.

Here is the blaring headline: “Perry built complicated record on matters of race.” What would normally follow such a headline is a story backing up that vague allegation. What readers are treated to instead is a story about how yesterday the Post ran a story calling Perry a racist. This paragraph has to be read to be believed:

The governor’s record on matters of race is attracting new scrutiny after The Washington Post’s account of a secluded West Texas hunting property that Perry and his father leased that has long been known by a name containing a racial epithet.

A classic of the genre, as they say. The governor’s record on race, as the article goes on to show, happens to be stellar. We learn that Perry appointed the first African American state Supreme Court justice–one of his many such appointments. He’s hired minorities to top positions in his administration. As one would expect, Perry “enjoys warm associations with many black leaders.” But then the clouds roll in:

But many of those minority legislators say Perry has a long history — dating to his first race for statewide office more than 20 years ago — of engaging in what they see as racially tinged tactics and rhetoric to gain political advantage.

The list of such “racially tinged tactics” that the Post provides us with has exactly one item on it. In 1990, Perry ran for agriculture commissioner, and his campaign ran an ad that showed his opponent with Jesse Jackson. That’s it. The Post follows up by getting some quotes from people who think showing Jesse Jackson on TV is kind of racist.

As for other examples of Perry’s “complicated” record on race, the Post has two: “Black lawmakers have been particularly troubled by Perry’s recent embrace of the Tea Party movement, elements of which they regard as racially antagonistic, and by his championing of states’ rights and his call for Texas to consider seceding if federal policies didn’t change.”

How many black lawmakers expressed this concern to the Post? One. That might be because the Tea Party isn’t racist and neither was Perry’s secession comment. But the most revealing line of the story comes during the Post’s introduction to the section on that 1990 ad with Jesse Jackson. “Perceptions linger among African Americans that, although they like Perry, he has long engaged in that practice,” the Post writes.

No examples, just lingering perceptions. Accusations of racism linger. That’s what makes the Post’s reporting so repugnant. Twice now they have investigated their own “perceptions” of Perry’s record on race, and twice come up with nothing. If Perry ends up getting damaged by two stories that essentially prove him to be a model governor when it comes to inclusion of minorities, it will at least help explain the public’s “lingering perceptions” about the media.

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Obama’s Chilly Relationship with Senate Dems

President Obama’s populist, “do-nothing-Congress” rhetoric – which attacks both Republicans and Democrats alike – is starting to create resentment with lawmakers from his own party, The Hill reports. And that’s not the only thing Democrats are angry about. The president has had a long-time problem building relationships with members of Congress, and the built-up frustration over that is starting to boil over.

The final straw for some top Senate Democrats was when the White House officials left them waiting on a conference call for nearly 20 minutes, before coming onto the line unprepared for the meeting:

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President Obama’s populist, “do-nothing-Congress” rhetoric – which attacks both Republicans and Democrats alike – is starting to create resentment with lawmakers from his own party, The Hill reports. And that’s not the only thing Democrats are angry about. The president has had a long-time problem building relationships with members of Congress, and the built-up frustration over that is starting to boil over.

The final straw for some top Senate Democrats was when the White House officials left them waiting on a conference call for nearly 20 minutes, before coming onto the line unprepared for the meeting:

Obama left his party’s top senators, who had assembled for a conference call, hanging on the phone for nearly 20 minutes before National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling came on the line with a seemingly vague notion of what the call was supposed to be about, Democratic sources said. …

Obama and Reid speak frequently on the phone, but the conversations can be terse. One Democratic source quipped that it’s often a contest to guess who will hang up on the other first. Reid, as it turns out, doesn’t have a habit of saying goodbye when he ends a call.

These are seemingly minor issues, but Democrats are facing tough reelections next year and are undoubtedly on edge. Many of them took political risks by supporting Obama’s legislative agenda, and the president’s attacks on Congress aren’t exactly a show of appreciation.

Beyond the bruised egos, Democratic leaders are also finding their political priorities are out of sync with the president’s. And they seem to be more willing to break with the White House on these issues.

I recently wrote that Sen. Harry Reid might make legislation on Chinese currency manipulation a precondition to supporting the free trade agreements Obama has been promoting since mid-summer. The White House finally got around to sending the trade deals to Congress this week, and now it sounds like Reid is shelving them:

In a pointed show of independence, Reid scheduled a vote Monday to take up legislation addressing Chinese currency manipulation, which the administration does not support. The leader has put two of the president’s priorities, free-trade agreements and a $447 billion jobs package, on the backburner to deal first with China. …

Reid’s insistence on giving priority to the China legislation stems less from his belief in congressional prerogatives. It’s a simple calculation that the political needs of his caucus are diverging from the president’s.

On the one hand, a fight with both congressional Democrats and congressional Republicans could play into Obama’s attempts to depict himself as a middle-ground president fighting against an obstinate Congress. On the other hand, it further discredits his leadership ability. In a way, it would be a fulfillment of Obama’s promise to be a “uniter,” but in the worst way possible. Instead of bringing both sides together behind him, he’s bringing both sides together against him.

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Qasim Surges in Nobel Betting

Although some readers still cannot bring themselves to believe that I am serious in predicting that the Palestinian “resistance poet” Samih al-Qasim will win the 2011 Nobel Prize in literature, the betting public is listening.

Qasim is now getting odds of 50-to-one at the British-based gambling site taking bets on the Prize. He has pulled even with Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Umberto Eco, and William Trevor (the only one of the four deserving of the Prize), but Qasim still badly trails the favorites — Syrian poet Adonis, the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, and the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. (Murakami has an advantage the other two frontrunners lack: he too is conveniently anti-Zionist.)

Last year, when I predicted that he would take home the Prize, the Argentine poet Juan Gelman came out of nowhere to get 15-to-one odds. (Mario Vargas Llosa, another South American writer, won instead.) Now is the moment to put money on Qasim. This is the year for an Arabic poet. Adonis is the greater writer, and he spoke out in condemnation of Bashar al-Assad’s regime three months ago. Even so, Adonis believes deeply that poetry must be separated from politics. Moreover, he left his native Syria for the more cosmopolitan Beirut in 1961, and when Lebanon was consumed by the madness of Middle Eastern politics, he relocated again — this time to Paris, where he now lives as an expatriate.

Qasim, by contrast, is a poet engagé:

No monument raised, no memorial, and no rose.
Not one line of verse to ease the slain
Not one curtain, not one blood-stained
Shred of our blameless brothers clothes.
Not one stone to engrave their names.
Not one thing. Only the shame.

Their ghosts are gyring even now, their groaning shades
Digging through Kafr Qasim’s wreckage for graves.

This poem refers to a shameful massacre in 1956, in which a detachment of the Israeli Border Police gunned down 48 Arabs, including women and children, for violating curfew. Although you would never know it from Qasim’s poem, the massacre sickened and outraged all quarters of Israeli society. The soldiers involved in the shooting were sentenced to prison terms between seven and 17 years. In delivering its verdict, the court rejected the defense argument that the soldiers were merely following orders. The orders, the court found, were manifestly illegal:

Illegality that pierces the eye and revolts the heart, if the eye is not blind and the heart is not impenetrable or corrupt — this is the measure of manifest illegality needed to override the solider’s duty to obey and to impose on him criminal liability for his actions.

That Israel imprisons the murderers of Palestinians, while the “blameless brothers” celebrated by Qasim prefer to name squares and streets after the Palestinian murderers of Israelis, must be too complicated to work into eight lines of Arabic verse. The Nobel Prize committee is unlikely to notice the omission, however — or to object, even if they notice.

Update: In the Weekly Standard’s blog, Lee Smith observes that “Adonis’s support for the Syrian uprising, as well as the Arab Spring in general, is qualified.” Qasim’s support for the Palestinian “resistance,” by contrast, is unqualified and unchecked.

Although some readers still cannot bring themselves to believe that I am serious in predicting that the Palestinian “resistance poet” Samih al-Qasim will win the 2011 Nobel Prize in literature, the betting public is listening.

Qasim is now getting odds of 50-to-one at the British-based gambling site taking bets on the Prize. He has pulled even with Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Umberto Eco, and William Trevor (the only one of the four deserving of the Prize), but Qasim still badly trails the favorites — Syrian poet Adonis, the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, and the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. (Murakami has an advantage the other two frontrunners lack: he too is conveniently anti-Zionist.)

Last year, when I predicted that he would take home the Prize, the Argentine poet Juan Gelman came out of nowhere to get 15-to-one odds. (Mario Vargas Llosa, another South American writer, won instead.) Now is the moment to put money on Qasim. This is the year for an Arabic poet. Adonis is the greater writer, and he spoke out in condemnation of Bashar al-Assad’s regime three months ago. Even so, Adonis believes deeply that poetry must be separated from politics. Moreover, he left his native Syria for the more cosmopolitan Beirut in 1961, and when Lebanon was consumed by the madness of Middle Eastern politics, he relocated again — this time to Paris, where he now lives as an expatriate.

Qasim, by contrast, is a poet engagé:

No monument raised, no memorial, and no rose.
Not one line of verse to ease the slain
Not one curtain, not one blood-stained
Shred of our blameless brothers clothes.
Not one stone to engrave their names.
Not one thing. Only the shame.

Their ghosts are gyring even now, their groaning shades
Digging through Kafr Qasim’s wreckage for graves.

This poem refers to a shameful massacre in 1956, in which a detachment of the Israeli Border Police gunned down 48 Arabs, including women and children, for violating curfew. Although you would never know it from Qasim’s poem, the massacre sickened and outraged all quarters of Israeli society. The soldiers involved in the shooting were sentenced to prison terms between seven and 17 years. In delivering its verdict, the court rejected the defense argument that the soldiers were merely following orders. The orders, the court found, were manifestly illegal:

Illegality that pierces the eye and revolts the heart, if the eye is not blind and the heart is not impenetrable or corrupt — this is the measure of manifest illegality needed to override the solider’s duty to obey and to impose on him criminal liability for his actions.

That Israel imprisons the murderers of Palestinians, while the “blameless brothers” celebrated by Qasim prefer to name squares and streets after the Palestinian murderers of Israelis, must be too complicated to work into eight lines of Arabic verse. The Nobel Prize committee is unlikely to notice the omission, however — or to object, even if they notice.

Update: In the Weekly Standard’s blog, Lee Smith observes that “Adonis’s support for the Syrian uprising, as well as the Arab Spring in general, is qualified.” Qasim’s support for the Palestinian “resistance,” by contrast, is unqualified and unchecked.

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Bad Day at Racist Rock

I am still trying to figure out why the “news” that Rick Perry’s father once held a deer lease on a 1,700-acre hunting camp known to locals as “Niggerhead” is a national story. By the Washington Post’s own account, “the name does not appear on U.S. topographic maps” and could not be found “in a database maintained by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.” No one can remember Perry’s using the name, although it was evidently painted on a five-foot-by-three-foot rock beside the entrance to the camp. When he was a state legislator in the mid- to late-1980s, according to the Post, Perry “began hosting spring turkey shoots and other hunts for supporters and fellow legislators.” By then, however, the name had been painted over and the rock turned flat. On that score, pretty much everyone is in agreement.

Nevertheless, Gawker was “not surprised” to learn about “Perry’s old hunting ground.” The Huffington Post raised the inevitable question whether Perry is “racially insensitive.” The Village Voice chortled that “the phrase ‘Niggerhead’ will now always be associated with the Perry campaign,” and ran a photo with a caption that was far more “racially insensitive” than anything Perry is accused of.

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I am still trying to figure out why the “news” that Rick Perry’s father once held a deer lease on a 1,700-acre hunting camp known to locals as “Niggerhead” is a national story. By the Washington Post’s own account, “the name does not appear on U.S. topographic maps” and could not be found “in a database maintained by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.” No one can remember Perry’s using the name, although it was evidently painted on a five-foot-by-three-foot rock beside the entrance to the camp. When he was a state legislator in the mid- to late-1980s, according to the Post, Perry “began hosting spring turkey shoots and other hunts for supporters and fellow legislators.” By then, however, the name had been painted over and the rock turned flat. On that score, pretty much everyone is in agreement.

Nevertheless, Gawker was “not surprised” to learn about “Perry’s old hunting ground.” The Huffington Post raised the inevitable question whether Perry is “racially insensitive.” The Village Voice chortled that “the phrase ‘Niggerhead’ will now always be associated with the Perry campaign,” and ran a photo with a caption that was far more “racially insensitive” than anything Perry is accused of.

Even Perry’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination piled on. Herman Cain said Perry showed a “lack of sensitivity.” Mitt Romney told Sean Hannity the name is “offensive.”

I am still trying to figure out what Perry was supposed to do. Rebuke his father for signing the original lease? Refuse to have anything to do with the place? The Perry family did not own the hunting camp and could not “rename” it by some kind of magical authority, as Cain and others are suggesting. Nor is there any evidence Perry or his father even referred to the camp by that name. That others did so, and that the Perrys did not take some unspecified action to stop them, are sufficient grounds for insinuating racism, I guess.

The whole episode reminds me of The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield, the phoniness-sniffing hero, sees “F–k you” written on a wall and tries to rub it out with his hand. It won’t come off. “If you had a million years to do it in,” he says in resignation, “you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘F–k you’ signs in the world.” All Holden succeeded in doing was to earn a reputation for “profanity” and “obscenity.”

American culture has become so hypersensitive to certain offensive words, spotted in isolation like rare birds, that all feeling for language, all sense of moral proportion, is being lost.

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Obama vs. Obama

Any guesses as to which candidate President Obama would most love to run against in 2012? Here’s a hint: it’s the same guy who’s presiding over a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, a looming double-dip recession, and consumer confidence rates lower than the Carter administration.

But why worry about successfully running Washington, when you can run against Washington? From that logic, Obama declared himself an “underdog” and argued that Americans aren’t better off than they were four years ago, during an interview yesterday with George Stephanopoulos:

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Any guesses as to which candidate President Obama would most love to run against in 2012? Here’s a hint: it’s the same guy who’s presiding over a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, a looming double-dip recession, and consumer confidence rates lower than the Carter administration.

But why worry about successfully running Washington, when you can run against Washington? From that logic, Obama declared himself an “underdog” and argued that Americans aren’t better off than they were four years ago, during an interview yesterday with George Stephanopoulos:

President Obama bluntly conceded the uphill battle he faces in winning re-election next year, acknowledging Monday that the American people are “not better off” today than they were four years ago.

“They’re not better off than they were before Lehman’s collapse, before the financial crisis, before this extraordinary recession that we’re going through,” Obama told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an interview that streamed on Yahoo.com.…

Asked if he’s the “underdog” heading into 2012, the president had a quick response. “Absolutely,” Obama declared. “I’m used to being the underdog. But at the end of the day, people are going to ask, ‘Who’s got a vision?'”

Typically, an underdog is someone who lacks the advantages of the frontrunner candidate. Obama doesn’t even have a clear opponent to run against, let alone a frontrunner. And considering his ability to demand joint sessions of Congress for campaign speeches, outraise all of his Republican rivals combined, and put his swing-state tour on the taxpayer tab, he’s hardly the underdog in the race. Maybe what Obama meant to say was “underachiever” – he certainly failed to live up to the mammoth expectations his supporters had for him.

Meanwhile, the RNC seems happy to lend support to Obama’s campaign against himself.

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Enough Attacks and Vicious Rhetoric

What would a day be like without commenting on a stupid comment made by a country music singer?

I have in mind what Hank Williams, Jr. said  on Fox and Friends yesterday, comparing Barack Obama to Hitler and referring to the president as the “enemy.” As a result, Williams, who has provided the opening song to Monday Night Football since the early 1990s, was dropped from last night’s game.

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What would a day be like without commenting on a stupid comment made by a country music singer?

I have in mind what Hank Williams, Jr. said  on Fox and Friends yesterday, comparing Barack Obama to Hitler and referring to the president as the “enemy.” As a result, Williams, who has provided the opening song to Monday Night Football since the early 1990s, was dropped from last night’s game.

What ESPN did is completely appropriate (it happens to be a lousy theme song anyway). I understand it’s impossible to police every inappropriate thing said by every person commenting on American politics. But can’t we have a moratorium on comparing Democrats and Republicans to Hitler? It’s not only terribly inappropriate for all the obvious reasons; it’s a sign of incredible intellectual laziness. People think they can avoid making serious arguments and critiques simply by dismissing their opponent as comparable to a moral monster. And promiscuously invoking Hitler has the effect of domesticating a uniquely evil figure.

This kind of thing, from either side of the political aisle, is unbelievably tiresome. I realize American history is filled with ad hominem attacks and vicious rhetoric. But that doesn’t mean we have to appropriate the worst from our history while neglecting the best from it.

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The ISI Threat in Pakistan Is Serious

Pakistani military leaders play a good double game, assuring the West of their eternal allegiance while at the same time sponsoring terrorist groups such as the Haqqani network which attacked the U.S. embassy in Kabul. But the mask often slips. To get a true sense of the thinking of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency–which has emerged as one of the two biggest state sponsors of terrorism in the world (its only rival is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard)–just read these recent interviews with its former director, retired Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, who is known for his close links to the Taliban and the Haqqani network, among other terrorist groups. As translated by the invaluable MEMRI, here is some of what Gul had to say:

“The goals that the U.S. wants to achieve are not in Pakistan’s interest. The U.S. wants Indian supremacy in Afghanistan.”

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Pakistani military leaders play a good double game, assuring the West of their eternal allegiance while at the same time sponsoring terrorist groups such as the Haqqani network which attacked the U.S. embassy in Kabul. But the mask often slips. To get a true sense of the thinking of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency–which has emerged as one of the two biggest state sponsors of terrorism in the world (its only rival is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard)–just read these recent interviews with its former director, retired Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, who is known for his close links to the Taliban and the Haqqani network, among other terrorist groups. As translated by the invaluable MEMRI, here is some of what Gul had to say:

“The goals that the U.S. wants to achieve are not in Pakistan’s interest. The U.S. wants Indian supremacy in Afghanistan.”

“9/11 was basically a pretext for the Americans to establish a permanent presence in Afghanistan, as this is a central strategic location. From here, the Americans can contain China, control the Middle East and South Asia, and keep an eye on Central Asia. Pakistan represents their central target.”

“Our problem was that we didn’t have any alternative [to the U.S.]. Luckily we now have an alternative in the form of China. China will become an economic superpower without firing a single bullet. China will be the biggest beneficiary when U.S. troops leave the region.”

“The U.S. divided the Pakistani nation and has asked India to provide weapons to Tehreek-e-Taliban in Pakistan. They are the ones responsible for destabilizing Karachi. In addition to this, India is fragmenting. Take it from me, their democracy is falling apart and voices of revolution are coming out of India. An alternative to the democratic system has to emerge, and that can come from Islamic sources.”

That, I fear, is the authentic voice of ISI speaking: rabidly anti-American, anti-Indian, anti-democratic, conspiratorial, and Islamist. It is about time we took this threat seriously. That doesn’t mean invading Pakistan. It does mean applying real pressure on ISI. Its points of vulnerability are surely its finances (it has stakes in many companies that could be sanctioned; its leaders also have bank accounts that could be frozen) and the travel of its leaders and their offspring and relatives (which could be restricted when it comes to visiting the West). It is unpleasant to have to take such stern steps against a putative ally, but also
necessary. The longer we turn a blind eye, the more American servicemen will lose their eyes in Afghanistan–and their limbs and their lives–to ISI-sponsored attacks.

 

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Even the Most Moderate Palestinian Won’t Accept a Jewish State

Anyone looking for reasons to despair about the prospects of peace in the Middle East need only listen to the endless stream of incitement and denial of Jewish history and rights that comes from the Palestinian Authority’s leadership and official media. But genuine perspective about the political culture of the Palestinians can also come from paying attention to what their moderates are saying. Unfortunately, that gives us just as little comfort.

Thus, Sari Nusseibeh’s polemic against the idea of a Jewish state ought to provide sobering reading for hawks and doves alike. Nusseibeh is a philosopher and peace activist who is well-respected internationally as well as by Israelis. Yet in his essay published last week on the Al Jazeera website, even he seems willing to indulge in rhetoric that not only disparages Jewish rights to share the land but also Jewish history. If the phrase “Jewish state” sticks in the craw of such a worldly intellectual, there seems little hope ordinary Palestinians will be able to accept it.

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Anyone looking for reasons to despair about the prospects of peace in the Middle East need only listen to the endless stream of incitement and denial of Jewish history and rights that comes from the Palestinian Authority’s leadership and official media. But genuine perspective about the political culture of the Palestinians can also come from paying attention to what their moderates are saying. Unfortunately, that gives us just as little comfort.

Thus, Sari Nusseibeh’s polemic against the idea of a Jewish state ought to provide sobering reading for hawks and doves alike. Nusseibeh is a philosopher and peace activist who is well-respected internationally as well as by Israelis. Yet in his essay published last week on the Al Jazeera website, even he seems willing to indulge in rhetoric that not only disparages Jewish rights to share the land but also Jewish history. If the phrase “Jewish state” sticks in the craw of such a worldly intellectual, there seems little hope ordinary Palestinians will be able to accept it.

First, Nusseibeh’s claim Israel is “moving the goalposts” by demanding the Palestinians accept a Jewish state is absurd. Though he cites the decision of an Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry about the future of Palestine that wrongly claimed the British Mandate need not create a Jewish state as part of its obligations to fulfill the Balfour Declaration, he fails to note the following year, the United Nations General Assembly overrode that decision. Despite their obsession with the world body, Palestinians tend to forget the 1947 partition resolution explicitly demanded the creation of a Jewish state alongside an Arab one.

The reason for Israel’s demand is simple. Unless and until the Palestinians specifically accept that the part of the country they do not control is forever Jewish, the conflict will not be over. Nusseibeh and other Palestinians are right when they say it is not for them to determine the nature of the Jewish state. But no one is asking them to do that. Jewish identity is complex, and Israelis may well spend the rest of eternity trying to define themselves. But, whatever their ultimate answer, the fact that Israel will be the state of the Jewish people cannot be questioned without unleashing the dogs of war that have doomed the Palestinians to tragedy during the last century.

Though he seems to believe in some sort of two-state solution (a departure from his recent book that was reviewed in COMMENTARY back in January in which he indicated Palestinians might be incapable of self-rule), Nusseibeh’s attempt to split hairs over the meaning of Jewish statehood is deeply troubling. He knows very well that accepting Israel as a Jewish state does not mean it is a theocracy. Nor will it invalidate the citizenship of the country’s Arab minority. His citing of biblical texts about the slaughter and dispossession of the Canaanites seems designed merely to provoke. The idea that recognizing a Jewish state would mean, as he claims, Palestinians will be legitimizing their own destruction is simply an absurdity that has no place in a reasonable discussion of contemporary problems.

As bad as that might be, far more troubling is Nusseibeh’s unwillingness to let go of the so-called right of return for the descendants of Palestinian refuges. Any mention of the this right is simply a signal that Palestinians are not interested in ending the century-old war over this small patch of land. Just as worrisome is Nusseibeh’s attempt to incite Christians to oppose a unified Jerusalem. While disturbing, any such effort is doomed to failure because the only time that there has been genuine religious freedom and access to all holy sites in the city has been during the last 44 years of undivided Jewish sovereignty.

After more than 2,500 words of dishonest incitement, Nusseibeh concludes by saying that Israel should be a democratic country with a Jewish majority and a Jewish state religion. But that is what it is now and what Israelis and those who support it understand to be a Jewish state. Palestinians who haven’t been able to create their own democratic culture can’t credibly claim that they are, as Nusseibeh says, merely worried about the future of Israeli democracy. Why then is it so hard for even a member of that small majority of Palestinians who actually believe in living in peace with the Jews to say the phrase “Jewish state?” Perhaps because to do so invokes finality to the conflict that gives even moderates like Nusseibeh pause. If even someone like him is moved to this level of invective by those words then it is hard to imagine when the rest of Palestinian society will accept them and the permanence of their Jewish neighbors’ hold on even part of the land.

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Obama Admits We’re Not Better Off Than We Were Four Years Ago

George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, in an interview with President Obama, said there are “so many people who simply don’t think they’re better off than they were four years ago. How do you convince them that they are?” President Obama replied: “Well, I don’t think they’re better off than they were four years ago.”

Now compare this statement to what Obama said at the dawn of his presidency, in an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer: “I will be held accountable. I’ve got four years… If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.”

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George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, in an interview with President Obama, said there are “so many people who simply don’t think they’re better off than they were four years ago. How do you convince them that they are?” President Obama replied: “Well, I don’t think they’re better off than they were four years ago.”

Now compare this statement to what Obama said at the dawn of his presidency, in an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer: “I will be held accountable. I’ve got four years… If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.”

Obama is correct in what he said. We aren’t better off than we were four years ago. He will be held accountable. And if he doesn’t have this done in three years, it is going to be a one-term proposition.

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Ambassador Ford is a Profile in Courage

The Senate made the right call by voting to confirm Robert Ford as U.S. ambassador to Damascus. I could understand the initial skepticism of many Republicans, which led President Obama to send Ford to Syria with a recess appointment: They did not want to confer legitimacy on the Assad regime. But that’s not what Ford has been doing. Instead, he has emerged as a brave and principled champion of the anti-Assad protests at considerable risk to himself. This is from one of his latest Facebook posts, describing what happened during one of his recent meetings with a Syrian opposition leader:

[T]he September 29 incident in front of Hassan Abdul Azim’s office was not peaceful. Look at the photos of the U.S. embassy vehicles – eggs and tomatoes do not do such damage. Protesters threw concrete blocks at the windows and hit the cars with iron bars. One person jumped on the hood of the car, tried to kick in the windshield and then jumped on the roof. Another person held the roof railing and tried to break the car’s side window. When the embassy car moved through the crowd, the man fell off the car.

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The Senate made the right call by voting to confirm Robert Ford as U.S. ambassador to Damascus. I could understand the initial skepticism of many Republicans, which led President Obama to send Ford to Syria with a recess appointment: They did not want to confer legitimacy on the Assad regime. But that’s not what Ford has been doing. Instead, he has emerged as a brave and principled champion of the anti-Assad protests at considerable risk to himself. This is from one of his latest Facebook posts, describing what happened during one of his recent meetings with a Syrian opposition leader:

[T]he September 29 incident in front of Hassan Abdul Azim’s office was not peaceful. Look at the photos of the U.S. embassy vehicles – eggs and tomatoes do not do such damage. Protesters threw concrete blocks at the windows and hit the cars with iron bars. One person jumped on the hood of the car, tried to kick in the windshield and then jumped on the roof. Another person held the roof railing and tried to break the car’s side window. When the embassy car moved through the crowd, the man fell off the car.

When I talked to Ford recently he told me, ultra-modestly, he assumed any diplomat in his position would do what he’s doing. Not likely. Ford has been a profile in courage, and now he can continue to rally the Syrian opposition as long as Assad doesn’t toss him out of the country–or do him real physical harm.

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ABC/WaPo Poll: Perry Tanks, Leaving Room for Christie

Rick Perry’s support has been cut in half since last month, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll. In September, Perry led the field with 29 percent in September, but since then he’s dropped to 16 percent, and now ties Herman Cain.

The rest of the field has remained fairly steady, which seems to indicate that a lot of Perry’s supporters switched to Cain in the last month. The businessman shot up an astounding 12 points since September, going from an also-ran to a credible contender.

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Rick Perry’s support has been cut in half since last month, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll. In September, Perry led the field with 29 percent in September, but since then he’s dropped to 16 percent, and now ties Herman Cain.

The rest of the field has remained fairly steady, which seems to indicate that a lot of Perry’s supporters switched to Cain in the last month. The businessman shot up an astounding 12 points since September, going from an also-ran to a credible contender.

Initially, there was speculation if Chris Christie entered the race then he would pull votes away from Romney, leaving the former frontrunner Perry a clear path to victory. But the fact Perry supporters are defecting to Cain complicates this theory, and shows many of them may still be wavering. Christie already polls with 11 percent support in the race, despite the fact he hasn’t entered yet. According to the poll, the New Jersey governor pulls in voters whose second preferences are split fairly evenly between Romney, Perry and Cain. So he could be competitive beyond the more moderate, East Coast Republican crowd.

The takeaway from the poll is the field is far from settled. Voters are still jumping from candidate to candidate, leaving room for a new contender. And the contestant who Christie would be most competitive against – Romney – is now back in the lead, as Perry continues to tank fast. For Christie, there could be no better time to jump into the race than now.

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Beware Missile Stockpile in Libya

What’s wrong with this picture? On the one hand, Gen. Carter Ham, head of U.S. Africa Command, says (as the Associated Press puts it) that “the military mission in Libya is largely complete and NATO’s involvement could begin to wrap up as soon as this coming week after allied leaders meet in Brussels.” On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal reports:

Spread across the desert here off the Sirte-Waddan road sits one of the biggest threats to Western hopes for Libya: a massive, unguarded weapons depot that is being pillaged daily by anti-Gadhafi military units, hired work crews and any enterprising individual who has the right vehicle and chooses to make the trip.

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What’s wrong with this picture? On the one hand, Gen. Carter Ham, head of U.S. Africa Command, says (as the Associated Press puts it) that “the military mission in Libya is largely complete and NATO’s involvement could begin to wrap up as soon as this coming week after allied leaders meet in Brussels.” On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal reports:

Spread across the desert here off the Sirte-Waddan road sits one of the biggest threats to Western hopes for Libya: a massive, unguarded weapons depot that is being pillaged daily by anti-Gadhafi military units, hired work crews and any enterprising individual who has the right vehicle and chooses to make the trip.

In one of dozens of warehouses the size of a single-family home, Soviet-era guided missiles remain wrapped inside crates stacked to the 15-foot ceiling. In another, dusted with sand, are dozens of sealed cases labeled “warhead.” Artillery rounds designed to carry chemical weapons are stashed in the back of another. Rockets, antitank grenades and projectiles of all calibers are piled so high they defy counting….

Convoys of armed groups from all over Libya have made the trek here and piled looted weapons into trailer trucks, dump trucks, buses and even empty meat trucks….

A Western security contractor who examined photographs of the storage site estimated it contained enough ammunition to enable “an insurgent or an al-Qaeda-type group to wage a ground-to-air war” and sufficient explosives to plant roadside bombs every 10 miles along Libya’s 1,100-mile coastline.

Given that Libya’s borders appear to be unguarded, there is no telling where all this weaponry could go. Some of it could wind up in the right hands–e.g., being used to help anti-Assad rebels in Syria battle for freedom. But some of it could also wind up in the hands of jihadist terrorist groups who might even acquire the capacity to shoot down civilian airliners with looted surface-to-air missiles. And with NATO refusing to take an active role in shaping post-Qaddafi Libya, we have scant influence to affect the outcome.

Perhaps it will all work out all right; I certainly hope so. But, as I have repeatedly argued ever since the start of this intervention, I fear the Obama administration might be repeating the same mistakes made by George W. Bush–declaring victory too soon, being overly focused on deposing a dictator, and not doing enough to secure an adequate end-state.

 

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Occupy Wall Street Could be Disaster for Democrats

You know real change is upon us because the celebrity left has come together. Susan Sarandon, Russell Simmons, Michael Moore, Roseanne Barr, Mark Ruffalo, Yoko Ono, and Alec Baldwin are speaking out. And when this many famous millionaires get preachy at the same time it can only mean one thing: they’ve had it up to here with the rich.

Just as when hundreds of protestors claim police brutality their next logical step is to demand a larger and more powerful state, of course.

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You know real change is upon us because the celebrity left has come together. Susan Sarandon, Russell Simmons, Michael Moore, Roseanne Barr, Mark Ruffalo, Yoko Ono, and Alec Baldwin are speaking out. And when this many famous millionaires get preachy at the same time it can only mean one thing: they’ve had it up to here with the rich.

Just as when hundreds of protestors claim police brutality their next logical step is to demand a larger and more powerful state, of course.

If you’re having problems grasping the nuances of the Occupy Wall Street movement, you haven’t been paying attention to the present-day left. And good for you.

The self-demonizing millionaires and state-worshipping police haters barely scratch the surface of the ideological dyslexia at work. One Occupy Wall Street member’s proposed “list of demands” calls first for nativist “trade tariffs on all imported goods entering the American market,” and then for one-worldist “open borders migration,” so that “anyone can travel anywhere to work and live.” The document, like the motivation behind it, is a hodgepodge of paranoia, entitlement, self-pity, self-righteousness, class warfare, and economic illiteracy. If this spotty protest moment becomes broad-based and loud the thorough airing of modern-day leftism will prove to be a conservative’s election-year dream come true.

On Monday, with Occupy Wall Street spawning copycat demonstrations in Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and elsewhere, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne asked hopefully, “Can the left stage a Tea Party?” I don’t know if it can but if I were a GOP strategist I’d be praying that it does.

The true leftist agenda is so surreal Republicans couldn’t satirize it if they tried. (“Demand seven: One trillion dollars in ecological restoration planting forests, reestablishing wetlands and the natural flow of river systems and decommissioning of all of America’s nuclear power plants.”) These leftists are so reckless that an extended, high profile “occupation” movement of national reach would bury liberalism months before November 2012. It would, in short, function for Democrats exactly as Democrats had hoped (in vain) that the Tea Party would function for Republicans in 2010. In unhinged “Occupiers,” conservatives would find an easy and clean target to run against and destroy. What’s more, this would force Barack Obama either to publicly walk back all the class-warfare rhetoric that the protesters have taken to heart or to sink as one of their number. He has long nurtured dual personae, vacillating in political style between inflammatory community-organizer and conciliatory high-office holder. A large national Occupier movement would require him to end that game once and for all.

Tea Partiers didn’t dash conservative hopes in 2010 because they were on the right side of history. While they demanded smaller government and less spending we watched Europe nearly collapse under the weight of regulation and entitlements. Their message made sense to Americans. But watching Russell Simmons—the anti-capitalist zillionaire—meditate with nose-pierced 20-somethings on the hope that more stimulus will fall like rain is unlikely to sway independent voters. In the age of Solyndra, the Occupiers’ call for “a fast track process” to bring “the alternative energy economy up to energy demand,” (Demand Five) isn’t going to resonate. Protestors’ appeal for the U.S. to stop supporting Israel is a non-starter in an America where Christian conservatives and Jewish liberals have been holding Obama’s feet to the fire on his hostility to the Jewish state.

With all these ill-suited messages and hypocritical messengers it’s easy to overlook the one timely half-truth among the Occupiers’ gripes: government and big business have grown entirely too close. I say half-truth because the protestors fail to understand that the road to change runs through Washington and not Wall Street. As long as government tries to pick private-sector winners, green or otherwise, corporatism endures. And as long as regulatory regimes prohibit large-scale investment by all but the most seasoned lobbyists, the market will remain less open than it should be. Those have never been easy points for conservatives to make, but with the incoherent Occupy Wall Street taking the opposite position the American public might first be more open to a little counterintuitive analysis.

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