Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 24, 2011

Barack Obama, Then and Now

“I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over. I have done more than any other candidate in this race to take on lobbyists — and won. They have not funded my campaign, they will not get a job in my White House, and they will not drown out the voices of the American people when I am president. I’m in this race to take those tax breaks away from companies that are moving jobs overseas and put them in the pockets of hard working Americans who deserve it.” – Barack Obama, in a speech to the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, November 10, 2007.

“President Obama’s reelection campaign has hired a former lobbyist to serve as a senior adviser to the 2012 team. The Obama campaign announced Monday the hiring of Broderick Johnson, a veteran of the Clinton White House and Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) 2004 presidential campaign… Johnson is a former partner at the law firm Bryan Cave and was registered to lobby up until April 2011 for several major companies and trade groups, including the Financial Services Forum, Comcast Corporation, and Microsoft, according to lobbying disclosure records…. Johnson was also a lobbyist for AT&T before he joined Bryan Cave, according to lobbying disclosure records.”– The Hill, October 24, 2011.

 

“I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over. I have done more than any other candidate in this race to take on lobbyists — and won. They have not funded my campaign, they will not get a job in my White House, and they will not drown out the voices of the American people when I am president. I’m in this race to take those tax breaks away from companies that are moving jobs overseas and put them in the pockets of hard working Americans who deserve it.” – Barack Obama, in a speech to the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, November 10, 2007.

“President Obama’s reelection campaign has hired a former lobbyist to serve as a senior adviser to the 2012 team. The Obama campaign announced Monday the hiring of Broderick Johnson, a veteran of the Clinton White House and Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) 2004 presidential campaign… Johnson is a former partner at the law firm Bryan Cave and was registered to lobby up until April 2011 for several major companies and trade groups, including the Financial Services Forum, Comcast Corporation, and Microsoft, according to lobbying disclosure records…. Johnson was also a lobbyist for AT&T before he joined Bryan Cave, according to lobbying disclosure records.”– The Hill, October 24, 2011.

 

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“Unity Pledge” for Israel Doesn’t Pass the Political Smell Test

Israel’s foes understand the greatest obstacle to their efforts is the existence of a broad bipartisan consensus in the United States on behalf of support for the Jewish state of Israel. This fact has inspired conspiracy theories about a vast organized cabal whose goal is to subvert American foreign policy for the sake of the Jews that is a thinly veiled recycled version of traditional anti-Semitism that most Americans rightly reject out of hand. But the existence of this consensus is no reason for friends of Israel to stifle discussion about the alliance or to grant some politicians an exemption from scrutiny about their records on the issue.

Yet unfortunately that appears to be the one of the purposes of a new “National Unity Pledge for Israel” that is being circulated by both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee. While the cause of Jewish unity is noble and much of the language of the pledge is unexceptionable, certain elements of it as well as the way it has been promoted by ADL head Abe Foxman seems aimed more at silencing any effort to hold the Obama administration accountable for some of its attacks on Israel’s government and determination to tilt the diplomatic playing field in favor of the Palestinians.

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Israel’s foes understand the greatest obstacle to their efforts is the existence of a broad bipartisan consensus in the United States on behalf of support for the Jewish state of Israel. This fact has inspired conspiracy theories about a vast organized cabal whose goal is to subvert American foreign policy for the sake of the Jews that is a thinly veiled recycled version of traditional anti-Semitism that most Americans rightly reject out of hand. But the existence of this consensus is no reason for friends of Israel to stifle discussion about the alliance or to grant some politicians an exemption from scrutiny about their records on the issue.

Yet unfortunately that appears to be the one of the purposes of a new “National Unity Pledge for Israel” that is being circulated by both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee. While the cause of Jewish unity is noble and much of the language of the pledge is unexceptionable, certain elements of it as well as the way it has been promoted by ADL head Abe Foxman seems aimed more at silencing any effort to hold the Obama administration accountable for some of its attacks on Israel’s government and determination to tilt the diplomatic playing field in favor of the Palestinians.

Foxman’s statement in support of the pledge is damning evidence of a desire to squelch the debate about the administration’s record:

We want the discourse on U.S. support for Israel to avoid the sometimes polarizing debates and political attacks that have emerged in recent weeks, as candidates have challenged their opponents’ pro-Israel bone fides or questioned the current administration’s foreign policy approach vis-à-vis Israel. The last thing America and Israel need right now is the distractions of having Israel bandied about as a tool for waging political attacks.

For years, Democrats have been angry at the efforts of some Jewish Republicans to highlight the strong support of Israel by the Bush administration and the GOP and contrasting it with the fact that some elements of the Democratic Party are not so friendly to the Jewish state. They have claimed that injecting the question of support for Israel into election campaigns is both counterproductive and a threat to the bipartisan consensus Israel has relied upon. But the effort to impose a ban on discussions of whether certain candidates or even the current administration has done right by Israel is itself something of a partisan argument. Since the overwhelming majority of Jews are Democrats, it is in that party’s interest to stifle debate on Israel, as that removes the GOP’s best argument for attracting Jewish votes.

It would be wrong, if not crazy, for Republicans to claim all Democrats are not friends of Israel. As President Obama learned to his sorrow in the aftermath of his ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu last May, some of the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate were just as eager to distance themselves from the White House on Israel as the GOP. But to impose, as this pledge seems to hint, a gag rule on all discussion of Israel in a political context simply allows those politicians, be they Republican or Democrat, impunity for any destructive stands or behavior. To demand, as the pledge does of those who support it that “U.S.-Israel friendship should never be used as a political wedge issue” is to effectively remove the question of whether policies enacted by a particular administration or individual politicians are helping or hurting Israel from the public square.

That would be bad enough in the abstract. But coming as this does on the eve of a presidential campaign in which the often-troubling record of Barack Obama on Israel will necessarily be subjected to scrutiny, the inclusion of that language in the pledge seems a shameless ploy by liberal supporters of the administration to pre-empt any effort to hold the president accountable for three years of squabbles and controversies. Obama supporters can and should make their arguments that shows his record is not as bad as some would say, but given the growing disgruntlement with the president’s handling of Israel, those who point out his determination to distance the United States from Israel and to undermine the Jewish state’s hold on Jerusalem must also be given a fair hearing. It is up to the voters and not the ADL or the AJC or anyone else to judge who is in the right.

The consistent rejection of peace by the Palestinians renders the traditional left-right arguments about the peace process moot. Under these circumstances, this is exactly the moment for Americans to unite behind a platform of support for Israel and opposition to the international campaign to delegitimize and isolate it. That ought to mean that we should welcome not only pledges of support for Israel from office seekers but accountability on the issue from those in power. The clear intent of the petition’s backers to shut down the latter means this doesn’t pass the political smell test.

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The GOP’s Weak Field

One of the GOP presidential candidates (Ron Paul) believes the United States is responsible for triggering the 9/11 attacks. Another (Rick Santorum) has said he would use the presidential bully pulpit to speak out against the dangers of contraception and its role in the moral decline of America (“One of the things that I will talk about that no president has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the sexual liberty idea and many in the Christian faith have said, you know contraception is OK. It’s not OK because it’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”)

Yet another (Herman Cain), has dramatically shifted his positions on negotiating with terrorists and legalizing abortion within a matter of hours, after having said he would (contra the Constitution) impose a religious test on Muslim Americans. And now Governor Rick Perry has indicated he’s not quite sure whether Barack Obama was born in the USA, citing Donald Trump as an authority.

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One of the GOP presidential candidates (Ron Paul) believes the United States is responsible for triggering the 9/11 attacks. Another (Rick Santorum) has said he would use the presidential bully pulpit to speak out against the dangers of contraception and its role in the moral decline of America (“One of the things that I will talk about that no president has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the sexual liberty idea and many in the Christian faith have said, you know contraception is OK. It’s not OK because it’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”)

Yet another (Herman Cain), has dramatically shifted his positions on negotiating with terrorists and legalizing abortion within a matter of hours, after having said he would (contra the Constitution) impose a religious test on Muslim Americans. And now Governor Rick Perry has indicated he’s not quite sure whether Barack Obama was born in the USA, citing Donald Trump as an authority.

For reasons I have explained for well over a year now, the 2012 presidential race is the Republican Party’s to lose. But this kind of thing, if it keeps up, will allow the GOP to do just that.

This isn’t complicated. The public is very much inclined to jettison Barack Obama in 2012, much like they were inclined to jettison Jimmy Carter in 1980. But inclinations are not enough; the challenger has to close the sale by reassuring voters he is responsible and sober, thoughtful and wise, and up to the task of governing the most powerful nation on earth. Those qualities are shown in a myriad of ways, including policy proposals. But they are also demonstrated in what candidates say and how they conduct themselves. And right now a majority of the GOP presidential candidates are saying things that would damage them in a general election and staking out positions that will come across to many people, including many Republicans, as ranging from odd and exotic to downright weird.

I understand the caveats. The media is more inclined to jump on Republican misstatements than Democratic ones. Individuals always look more attractive when they’re on the sidelines than when they’re in the arena. A campaign that includes nine candidates will feature some loopy statements. And what matters at the end of the day is what the nominee of the party says, not those who unsuccessfully challenged him. Still, one cannot help but feel that this is not (nearly) the best team the Republican Party could have fielded and that these comments, if they persist, will take a toll.

That so many genuinely impressive Republican figures decided not to run in a year in which the incumbent Democratic president is so badly weakened remains something of a mystery to me. And if Barack Obama somehow succeeds in pulling this election out, that mystery will become a catastrophe.

 

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The Looming Student Loan Brawl

As President Obama prepares to issue an unspecified executive order on student loan debt – which is now just shy of $1 trillion – Bill Frezza explains why the left is dying for a partisan fight on this issue:

In the realm of economic stimulus proposals, none is as audacious, as Machiavellian, and as transparently designed to buy the votes of a critical electoral demographic than the proposal to forgive all student loans. Even if it fails, as it likely will, the seamless coordination between members of Congress, leftist advocacy groups, and the media to try to sell this idea is a perfect example of how brilliantly certain factions play their hand in the high-stakes game of crafting the dominant political narrative.

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As President Obama prepares to issue an unspecified executive order on student loan debt – which is now just shy of $1 trillion – Bill Frezza explains why the left is dying for a partisan fight on this issue:

In the realm of economic stimulus proposals, none is as audacious, as Machiavellian, and as transparently designed to buy the votes of a critical electoral demographic than the proposal to forgive all student loans. Even if it fails, as it likely will, the seamless coordination between members of Congress, leftist advocacy groups, and the media to try to sell this idea is a perfect example of how brilliantly certain factions play their hand in the high-stakes game of crafting the dominant political narrative.

Obama’s upcoming student loan order obviously isn’t going to be anywhere near as radical as a $1 trillion debt forgiveness plan. If his mortgage refinancing proposals today were any indication, his actions on student loans will probably be pretty underwhelming. But the student loan problem is only likely to grow in the coming years, and left-wing groups like MoveOn.Org are jumping on the debt amnesty bandwagon. It could easily become the new rallying cry of the left as student debt climbs into the 10-digits.

Whatever student loan restructuring Obama is likely to propose later this week, he also needs to be cautious about creating the same atmosphere as the one that drove the housing crisis. At IBT, David Magee writes:

Obama is trying to get America’s economy moving again in part by passing more debt burden to debt-laden American consumers.

That’s really no different than the tool that helped America’s economy grow in the past decade, inflating into a bubble. The idea then was to make it easy for Americans to get debt, since money in their hands stimulates the economy. But that doesn’t mean the people can afford it. That doesn’t mean it’s truly best for them.

A better plan might be to use more caution when granting student loans to begin with. Obviously there is no perfect method, but requiring borrowers to show some indication the loan can be paid back would be more practical.

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Isn’t This Where We Came in on Housing?

As Alana has written, the Obama administration’s announcement that it is implementing new rules that will enable “underwater” homeowners to reduce monthly payments and cheaply refinance their mortgages will probably have a minimal effect on both the housing situation and the economy. It’s all part of an all-out push to circumvent Congress and portray the president as the man trying to help struggling Americans while Republicans are fiddling as the country burns. But as much as helping people avoid foreclosure is an easy win for the Democrats, if we stop and think about it, this is exactly what helped get the country in bad economic shape in the first place.

The 2008 recession was set off, after all, by the floating of too many bad mortgages via heavily subsidized federal loans that were turned into junk securities. Though sympathy for those trying to hold onto their homes in tough times is almost universal, it’s far from clear this extra help will make much of a difference in the long run for many of these mortgages that may be heading inevitably toward foreclosure. The real beneficiary will be the banks — which Obama has been bashing non-stop —holding these potentially bad loans. Though this might give the nation a short-term jolt, it remains to be seen whether Obama’s move towards a more imperial presidency in which he uses regulations to direct more of the economy will benefit the economy or his sinking chances of re-election.

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As Alana has written, the Obama administration’s announcement that it is implementing new rules that will enable “underwater” homeowners to reduce monthly payments and cheaply refinance their mortgages will probably have a minimal effect on both the housing situation and the economy. It’s all part of an all-out push to circumvent Congress and portray the president as the man trying to help struggling Americans while Republicans are fiddling as the country burns. But as much as helping people avoid foreclosure is an easy win for the Democrats, if we stop and think about it, this is exactly what helped get the country in bad economic shape in the first place.

The 2008 recession was set off, after all, by the floating of too many bad mortgages via heavily subsidized federal loans that were turned into junk securities. Though sympathy for those trying to hold onto their homes in tough times is almost universal, it’s far from clear this extra help will make much of a difference in the long run for many of these mortgages that may be heading inevitably toward foreclosure. The real beneficiary will be the banks — which Obama has been bashing non-stop —holding these potentially bad loans. Though this might give the nation a short-term jolt, it remains to be seen whether Obama’s move towards a more imperial presidency in which he uses regulations to direct more of the economy will benefit the economy or his sinking chances of re-election.

On the surface, this is a win-win idea for Obama. His liberal critics have been longing for him to act as if he is in charge and to seize the initiative from Congress. Since the thrust of the president’s counter-attack against Republicans these days is to portray an already unpopular Congress as a “do nothing” body, this is the sort of gesture that might boost his sagging popularity. Yet by injecting the government even further into a housing sector that has already been distorted by past interventions, Obama could be setting the stage for more trouble, as this program may merely help to put off the moment when the housing market hits bottom, which is when recovery can begin. It will only be then that the banks Obama has been pounding for their reluctance to throw good money after bad can start lending more money again.

Programs that provide the illusion of action while doing nothing to deal with underlying issues are a mainstay of struggling incumbent politicians. But the fact remains the president is stuck with a bad economy he has made worse by profligate spending. Government action, whether it is helpful or not, seems to be the spirit of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations that Obama has embraced, but it’s not clear a presidential power grab is sustainable either economically or politically.  Throwing a life preserver to sinking homeowners may seem like the right thing to do, but if the swimmers wind up drowning anyway, this won’t have helped the country or Obama next November.

That the only real winners in this transaction are the very financial institutions Obama has been attacking shows how out of touch the president’s rhetoric is from economic reality.

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Irony Alert: WikiLeaks Thinks System It Attacks Should Help Finance It

The news that the WikiLeaks organization is on the brink of collapse due to financial problems caused by the crackdown against contributions given the group via American financial institutions is ironic indeed. That an anarchist organization would rail at the unwillingness of the economic system to help it subvert western democracies is a delicious paradox that seems to have eluded WikiLeaks’ self-aggrandizing leader Julian Assange at his press conference today.

Having acted throughout its short but destructive life as if no one’s interests — or safety — ought to have any impact on their decisions, WikiLeaks’ whiny cry for help now that their cash flow has been impacted ought to result in nothing but chortles throughout the western world. After undertaking a mission whose purpose is nothing less than the undermining of the ability of government and industry to conduct its business with any degree of legal confidentiality, Assange thinking he is entitled to use the financial system as if he were not a destructive anarchist is more evidence of his distorted vision of reality.

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The news that the WikiLeaks organization is on the brink of collapse due to financial problems caused by the crackdown against contributions given the group via American financial institutions is ironic indeed. That an anarchist organization would rail at the unwillingness of the economic system to help it subvert western democracies is a delicious paradox that seems to have eluded WikiLeaks’ self-aggrandizing leader Julian Assange at his press conference today.

Having acted throughout its short but destructive life as if no one’s interests — or safety — ought to have any impact on their decisions, WikiLeaks’ whiny cry for help now that their cash flow has been impacted ought to result in nothing but chortles throughout the western world. After undertaking a mission whose purpose is nothing less than the undermining of the ability of government and industry to conduct its business with any degree of legal confidentiality, Assange thinking he is entitled to use the financial system as if he were not a destructive anarchist is more evidence of his distorted vision of reality.

Of course, WikiLeaks’ dire financial situation isn’t Assange’s only problem. He’s still fighting extradition from Britain to Sweden, where he faces sex crime charges. While it is entirely possible wealthy fans of the group will save it and that Assange may also evade the rape accusations lodged against him, the chances that Assange’s destructive career may be at an end can only be good news. The bad news is the damage his disclosures have done to the ability of democratic governments to conduct diplomacy or war will almost certainly outlive his organization.

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Obama’s New Housing Plan Purely Political

The same day the Washington Post published an unflattering investigation into Obama’s ineffective housing programs, the president announced he will bypass Congress to revamp the government’s mortgage-refinancing program. It’s interesting timing, to say the least:

With recovery in the housing market tied to economic recovery, Obama will today announce what senior officials are calling a “major overhaul” of the government’s underused refinance program for federally guaranteed mortgages, in order to aid homeowners having difficult refinancing their housing loan.

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The same day the Washington Post published an unflattering investigation into Obama’s ineffective housing programs, the president announced he will bypass Congress to revamp the government’s mortgage-refinancing program. It’s interesting timing, to say the least:

With recovery in the housing market tied to economic recovery, Obama will today announce what senior officials are calling a “major overhaul” of the government’s underused refinance program for federally guaranteed mortgages, in order to aid homeowners having difficult refinancing their housing loan.

The initiative will open up the government’s Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) to homeowners who didn’t previously qualify. Under the old rules, homeowners had to owe less than 125 percent of the value of their house.

The new rules are an attempt to reach Americans whose homes have lost significant value during the past few years. But analysts are skeptical that the changes will have a notable impact:

But analysts pointed to the relaxed stipulation of an eligible HARP borrower having not missed a payment in the last six months nor more than one in the last year. Chase analysts said this change would add only 3 percent to 5 percent more possible borrowers to the program.

Considering the nominal number of homeowners the administration has been able to help so far, the effect of Obama’s plan seems negligible. The Washington Post reported today that “[t]o date, administration programs have permanently reduced the debt of just one tenth of 1 percent of underwater borrowers.”

Then there are reports of a politically-charged conference call the administration had with reporters this morning, which makes it seem like campaigning – not good policy – was the driver behind this. Times’ Massimo Calabresi writes:

The last explanation for the program’s limits is a more cynical one. It is designed to help just enough people to claim movement on the issue, but not to do the politically challenging work of actually resolving the larger threat housing poses to the economy. The reason for doing the bare minimum: to give Obama a political weapon against Republicans in 2012.

As with most of the Obama administration’s proposals this fall, it all boils down to partisan politics.

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RomneyCare Funded Health Care for Illegal Immigrants

That’s according to the L.A.Times. Apparently, the provision to pay for the medical care of illegal immigrants wasn’t specifically spelled out in RomneyCare, but the law was understood that way by Massachusetts officials. This story pretty much neutralizes Romney’s attack on Perry’s college tuition subsidies for illegal immigrants:

Although [RomneyCare] explicitly bars undocumented immigrants from getting certain health benefits, it does not prohibit them from receiving aid through the Health Safety Net.

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That’s according to the L.A.Times. Apparently, the provision to pay for the medical care of illegal immigrants wasn’t specifically spelled out in RomneyCare, but the law was understood that way by Massachusetts officials. This story pretty much neutralizes Romney’s attack on Perry’s college tuition subsidies for illegal immigrants:

Although [RomneyCare] explicitly bars undocumented immigrants from getting certain health benefits, it does not prohibit them from receiving aid through the Health Safety Net.

For example, the law mandates that only noncitizens “permanently residing in the United States under color of law” may receive government subsidies to buy health insurance.

The law also spells out that undocumented immigrants aren’t eligible for the state’s Medicaid insurance program for the poor, known as MassHealth.

But the Health Safety Net, in contrast, is off-limits only to people who “moved into the commonwealth for the sole purpose of securing health insurance” or who are eligible for another insurance plan.

The report shines even more unflattering light on Massachusetts health care reform, a topic Romney undoubtedly wants to avoid. In a way, it’s fortunate for his campaign that RomneyCare was already so unpopular that nothing can really make it look any worse. If Romney’s conservative supporters can get over the mandate issue, certainly they can overlook the illegal immigrant one as well.

But it does make Romney look particularly hypocritical after his attacks on Perry’s illegal immigration record. What I don’t get is that this information is out there, and yet Rick Perry decided to attack Romney with the old-and-tired illegal gardener non-scandal at the last debate? Was the Perry campaign just not aware of this yet? It probably would have made for a much cleaner hit.

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Obama’s UN Infatuation May Save UNESCO

Earlier this month, the executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to admit “Palestine” as a new member-state. At that time, I wrote this decision provided a major test of the Obama administration’s conflicting loyalties. There has been no bigger supporter of the UN in the White House in decades. But Obama knows if he tries to circumvent the U.S. law that mandates a withdrawal of American funding to UNESCO if it follows through in recognizing the Palestinians as a member-state it will seriously damage his re-election prospects.

But as I feared, a report in the New York Times this morning points to a desperate effort by the administration to try and find a way out of this fix that may send the UN and its anti-Israel majority the wrong message about American resolve. The other problem is that UNESCO and its supporters in the administration — and the press — have embarked on a campaign to portray it as not being part of the UN’s culture of corruption and anti-Semitism, even though the “new” UNESCO is as dedicated to attacking Israel as the “old” one.

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Earlier this month, the executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to admit “Palestine” as a new member-state. At that time, I wrote this decision provided a major test of the Obama administration’s conflicting loyalties. There has been no bigger supporter of the UN in the White House in decades. But Obama knows if he tries to circumvent the U.S. law that mandates a withdrawal of American funding to UNESCO if it follows through in recognizing the Palestinians as a member-state it will seriously damage his re-election prospects.

But as I feared, a report in the New York Times this morning points to a desperate effort by the administration to try and find a way out of this fix that may send the UN and its anti-Israel majority the wrong message about American resolve. The other problem is that UNESCO and its supporters in the administration — and the press — have embarked on a campaign to portray it as not being part of the UN’s culture of corruption and anti-Semitism, even though the “new” UNESCO is as dedicated to attacking Israel as the “old” one.

It should be recalled Ronald Reagan withdrew the United States from UNESCO in the 1980s because it was among the worst examples of the world body’s incompetence and due to its disgusting anti-Jewish and anti-Western bias. The institution went through a period of reform, and the United States rejoined UNESCO after 9/11 during the Bush administration’s push for support for its objectives at the UN. At the time, we were assured that UNESCO’s new support for human rights would make it a worthwhile recipient of U.S. funds.

UNESCO’s work on some issues has been praised, but the problem is that it is just as much a part of the UN’s anti-Israel consensus as ever. In recent years, it has taken sides in disputes in Jerusalem, criticizing the work of Israeli archaeologists who have uncovered ancient Jewish sites in the city while saying nothing about the Palestinian Authority’s support for vandalism of antiquities on the Temple Mount by the Muslim body that administers the site. It has also declared ancient Jewish shrines such as the Tomb of Rachel near Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron to be mosques. Should UNESCO follow through on its recognition of Palestine as a member-state, the rush to delegitimize Jewish heritage will be re-doubled. Thus, any compromise that allows the administration to keep funding UNESCO by some subterfuge will still undermine Israel.

Pro-UN talking heads are lamenting the fact that laws passed by Congress allow Obama no wiggle room on UNESCO. That is all to the good, as both the State Department and the White House would prefer to ignore UNESCO’s anti-Israel stands in order to continue sending American taxpayer money to an agency they like.

Rather than an example of how the world body can serve the interests and values America supports, UNESCO remains thoroughly compromised by the world body’s biases. If, as seems likely, the Palestinians are given their seat at the table at the agency’s meetings this week, then Obama must obey the law and withdraw American funding and participation. If he finds a way to avoid doing so, this should be treated as one more indication of the administration’s foolish infatuation with the UN and its faulty record on Israel.

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“What al-Qaeda is to the West, the PKK is to Turkey”

So said Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s Minister for European Union Affairs, last night at a British function. There are two problems with this statement, and they say a lot about both Bağış and Turkey.

  • What al-Qaeda is to the West, it should also be to Turkey. Alas, Bağış did not misspeak. Cuneyd Zapsu, an adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, donated money to an Al Qaeda financier, whom Erdoğan subsequently endorsed.
  • Bağış is a cheerleader for Hamas. It is impossible to define the PKK as a terrorist group and yet exculpate Hamas. Read More

So said Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s Minister for European Union Affairs, last night at a British function. There are two problems with this statement, and they say a lot about both Bağış and Turkey.

  • What al-Qaeda is to the West, it should also be to Turkey. Alas, Bağış did not misspeak. Cuneyd Zapsu, an adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, donated money to an Al Qaeda financier, whom Erdoğan subsequently endorsed.
  • Bağış is a cheerleader for Hamas. It is impossible to define the PKK as a terrorist group and yet exculpate Hamas.

Bağış has never been known for his consistency. Rather than ignore it, however, it is time that any government serious about counter-terrorism tells Turkey that if it wants sympathy and cooperation, it must itself first stop legitimizing and funding terrorism.

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Will Iran Force a Saigon Moment in Iraq?

With President Obama announcing a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, what comes next?

The nightmare scenario for me isn’t simply a huge rise in Iranian influence. That’s a given, now that the Iraqis will not be able to balance the Iranians and Americans off each other to preserve space for themselves. Nor is it the simple abandonment of all those who allied themselves with the United States–a mistake, Obama seems determined to emphasize, that no one should ever again make.

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With President Obama announcing a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, what comes next?

The nightmare scenario for me isn’t simply a huge rise in Iranian influence. That’s a given, now that the Iraqis will not be able to balance the Iranians and Americans off each other to preserve space for themselves. Nor is it the simple abandonment of all those who allied themselves with the United States–a mistake, Obama seems determined to emphasize, that no one should ever again make.

Rather, with perhaps 160 troops defending the largest U.S. embassy in the world, the danger is what happens should Iranian forces and their proxies want to humiliate the United States completely? Will the State Department sit idly by while Muqtada al-Sadr’s forces rain mortars down on the compound? Or when they begin to fire on the checkpoints? While the United States will maintain forces in Kuwait, these will by no means be rapid reaction in case of a crisis at the embassy.

If the Iranian leadership wills it to be so, it is quite possible 2012 will be the year when American diplomats and contractors abandon the U.S. embassy in droves, adding an exclamation point to Obama’s self-inflicted wound and creating an iconic image to replace the withdrawal from Saigon.

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Romney’s Anyone-But-Perry Strategy

During the weekend, Nate Silver chided Mitt Romney for going negative against Rick Perry, thus offering Perry the prized status of Not Romney. In addition, he wrote, “any type of negative campaigning tends to entail more risk than positive campaigning”–something the Romney campaign, currently in the lead, should keep in mind.

Silver is right that Romney should avoid risky moves, but negative advertising, while sometimes risky, also generally works. Romney understands, as Silver notes, that Perry still poses the biggest threat to Romney’s candidacy. Herman Cain, while still on a hot streak, is likely to fade. But Romney’s campaign also seems to have grasped a key distinction that Silver misses.

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During the weekend, Nate Silver chided Mitt Romney for going negative against Rick Perry, thus offering Perry the prized status of Not Romney. In addition, he wrote, “any type of negative campaigning tends to entail more risk than positive campaigning”–something the Romney campaign, currently in the lead, should keep in mind.

Silver is right that Romney should avoid risky moves, but negative advertising, while sometimes risky, also generally works. Romney understands, as Silver notes, that Perry still poses the biggest threat to Romney’s candidacy. Herman Cain, while still on a hot streak, is likely to fade. But Romney’s campaign also seems to have grasped a key distinction that Silver misses.

Running negative television ads is not quite the same thing as running a negative campaign. Barack Obama, as a candidate, perfected the routine of running vicious (and thoroughly dishonest) ads against John McCain while serenading the love-struck left with lofty rhetoric about ending divisive politics.

Romney’s squeaky-clean image is an asset, and he should be careful not to expect the media to overlook any negative turn the way they did with Obama. But a candidate’s image is usually cultivated in public appearances. Every so often a candidate goes overboard and is roundly condemned for it (think Jack Conway’s ad against Rand Paul in 2010). And as a Republican, Romney is susceptible to even ingenuous tsk-tsking from newspaper columnists (though that will inevitably occur regardless of his campaign strategy).

But Romney has a golden opportunity right now, and that is to do what Cain has thus far been unable to: keep Perry from getting too far back in the game. Laying off Perry is probably riskier than attacking him at this point. And that’s the reason Romney isn’t attacking Cain. Every vote Perry gets now will be coming from Cain’s share. If Cain implodes too soon, Perry will have a real shot at winning the Iowa caucuses, and the attendant free media will give his campaign much needed momentum. If Romney gets arrogant and decides he’s already won the nomination two and a half months before the first contest, he’ll let his rivals control their own media cycles (which have been, so far, to Romney’s detriment).

Perry won his initial popularity by capitalizing on the anyone-but-Romney vote, and Romney is clearly sticking to his anyone-but-Perry strategy.

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Saddam, the Arab Spring, and Iranian Influence

Was Saddam’s ouster a good thing? Not according to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Les Gelb, who writes:

Frankly, if anyone lost Iraq to Iran, it was the neocons. It was they who pressed to crush Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and when they did, they destroyed the only regional counterweight to Iran. Take a bow, neocons.

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Was Saddam’s ouster a good thing? Not according to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Les Gelb, who writes:

Frankly, if anyone lost Iraq to Iran, it was the neocons. It was they who pressed to crush Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and when they did, they destroyed the only regional counterweight to Iran. Take a bow, neocons.

A few thoughts:

  • Against the backdrop of the Arab Spring protests, it is quite disappointing that Gelb, like so many liberals and progressives, seems to still believe that American national security would be better served by relying on the preservation of Saddam’s rule. While Richard Haass, the current president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has called the Iraq war a “war of choice,” the reality is that the status quo was falling apart, leaving Bush with one of two choices: Unseat Saddam or let sanctions collapse and let Saddam reconstitute his programs.
  • The very fact that Gelb is making the argument that Iraq is now lost to the Iranians acknowledges that Obama’s decision to withdraw completely is a very bad decision.
  • Bush did sign the Strategic Framework Agreement, and it was a mistake for him to have the 2011 timeline in it. I suspect he did this as a matter of personal honor to give his successor a blank slate with which to start. This does not exculpate Bush, however.  Nevertheless, Obama’s team must have recognized once they came into office what it would be to create a vacuum; hence, they began negotiations on a formal Status of Forces Agreement.
  • Obama and his team have no concept of how Iraqis negotiate. Time and time again, extreme positions are enunciated and deadlines pass. It is only then the serious negotiations begin.
  • It is silly for Gelb and some of his fellow travelers to blame neoconservatives for filling the vacuum in Iraq. After all, from the very beginning, various conservatives and neoconservatives have been warning about the dangers Iran posed and would pose to Iraq. And yet, Gelb, the politicians he supported, and many working beneath him at CFR, did everything to naively embrace the Iranian position and bash Bush for his distrust of Tehran. It’s hard to bash Bush and his “neocon” supporters for “The Axis of Evil” and simultaneously accuse them of being too soft on Tehran.

The most depressing thing about Gelb’s article is it represents a slow motion train wreck, with no one willing to apply the brakes. Here’s something both neoconservatives and liberal realists should agree on: Create or enable a vacuum and bad forces will fill it. The policy prescription? Do not enable the vacuum.  The wrong policy to take? A 100 percent effort to write the first draft of history when there’s still time to rectify the mistake that even Gelb acknowledges.

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Too Many College Graduates?

Two of the top grievances of the Occupy Wall Streeters are seemingly contradictory. The first is that it’s not easy enough to obtain a college education – it’s too expensive, the system is stacked against lower income communities, and so on. The second is that it’s too difficult for college graduates to find jobs.

There is some truth in both complaints. But they also clash with each other. If a college degree can’t get you a job, what’s the point of making it easier to get? President Obama has been touting the education systems of countries like South Korea, which have high percentages of college graduates, on his latest jobs tour. But, as Fred Hiatt writes today, South Koreans are finding that there might be such a thing as too many college graduates:

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Two of the top grievances of the Occupy Wall Streeters are seemingly contradictory. The first is that it’s not easy enough to obtain a college education – it’s too expensive, the system is stacked against lower income communities, and so on. The second is that it’s too difficult for college graduates to find jobs.

There is some truth in both complaints. But they also clash with each other. If a college degree can’t get you a job, what’s the point of making it easier to get? President Obama has been touting the education systems of countries like South Korea, which have high percentages of college graduates, on his latest jobs tour. But, as Fred Hiatt writes today, South Koreans are finding that there might be such a thing as too many college graduates:

Much of the pressure arises because Koreans believe their children must go to college to guarantee themselves a middle-class future. As a result, Korea has one of the highest college-going rates of any nation — a category in which, as Obama has complained, the United States has slipped to 12th. More than 60 percent of Koreans ages 25 to 34 have higher educations, compared with about 40 percent in the United States, and the gap is growing.

But Korean officials are alarmed that many graduates are not finding jobs — more than 40 percent in the past year, even though the Korean economy was doing pretty well. That is why President Lee Myung-bak is promoting alternatives.

The idea that too many college graduates can lead to economic instability isn’t new, but it’s been sparking debates recently, as the U.S. deals with high unemployment. And as Occupy Wall Street is proving, this isn’t an issue that will go away quietly on its own.

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Force, Not Law, Got Qaddafi

Daniel Pipes observes that Qaddafi is the sixth former tyrant to be tracked down like a common criminal in the past decade – Milosevic, Karadzic, and Mladic from Serbia, Hussein in Iraq, bin Laden in Pakistan, and now Qaddafi. Very true, but what stands out to me about this list is that none of these successes had much to do with Nuremberg-like processes, the International Criminal Court, or the UN, no matter how much responsibility is attributed to them.

In the former Yugoslavia, the U.S. and its allies did not even seek the UN’s sanction; in Libya, they bent it into a mandate for regime change; and in Pakistan, the U.S. acted in response to the attack of 9/11. When the courts got involved (as they did for Milosevic, Hussein, Karadzic, and Mladic) it was to try captives, not to bring down regimes. That work has rested, in all cases, with the armed forces of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the NATO allies.

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Daniel Pipes observes that Qaddafi is the sixth former tyrant to be tracked down like a common criminal in the past decade – Milosevic, Karadzic, and Mladic from Serbia, Hussein in Iraq, bin Laden in Pakistan, and now Qaddafi. Very true, but what stands out to me about this list is that none of these successes had much to do with Nuremberg-like processes, the International Criminal Court, or the UN, no matter how much responsibility is attributed to them.

In the former Yugoslavia, the U.S. and its allies did not even seek the UN’s sanction; in Libya, they bent it into a mandate for regime change; and in Pakistan, the U.S. acted in response to the attack of 9/11. When the courts got involved (as they did for Milosevic, Hussein, Karadzic, and Mladic) it was to try captives, not to bring down regimes. That work has rested, in all cases, with the armed forces of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the NATO allies.

There is a good deal of nonsense being said now about Libya serving as the new template for war, a thought that only makes sense if you are silly enough to believe war can be conducted by template. My hope is Libya will induce a bit of restraint about the power of international law to actually shape events instead of responding to them, as well as the utility of a one-size fits-all model of intervention. But as Qaddafi’s timely demise suggests, restraint is not the kind of thing associated with a victory.

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Perry Dabbling in Birtherism?

If there were any establishment conservatives thinking about giving Rick Perry a second look after his improved debate performance last week, he may have just set himself back tremendously with this Parade magazine interview. Most Republicans were relieved to see the birther issue die along with Donald Trump’s political ambitions last spring, and will be unpleasantly surprised to see it resurrected by a top-tier candidate like Perry:

Governor, do you believe that President Barack Obama was born in the United States?
I have no reason to think otherwise.

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If there were any establishment conservatives thinking about giving Rick Perry a second look after his improved debate performance last week, he may have just set himself back tremendously with this Parade magazine interview. Most Republicans were relieved to see the birther issue die along with Donald Trump’s political ambitions last spring, and will be unpleasantly surprised to see it resurrected by a top-tier candidate like Perry:

Governor, do you believe that President Barack Obama was born in the United States?
I have no reason to think otherwise.

That’s not a definitive, “Yes, I believe he”—
Well, I don’t have a definitive answer, because he’s never seen my birth certificate.

But you’ve seen his.
I don’t know. Have I?

You don’t believe what’s been released?
I don’t know. I had dinner with Donald Trump the other night.

And?
That came up.

And he said?
He doesn’t think it’s real.

And you said?
I don’t have any idea. It doesn’t matter. He’s the president of the United States. He’s elected. It’s a distractive issue.

That’s some seriously muddled banter right there. Perry sounds like he’s intentionally trying to obscure his position – sending dog whistles out to the crazies, without perking up the ears of mainstream supporters – but can’t quite keep it all balanced.

Does Perry believe Obama was born in the U.S.? No more Trump-theories or evasive tactics – he needs to just answer the question. The evidence is easily accessible, so saying he’s not sure isn’t an acceptable excuse. In the end, that sort of “soft birtherism” is just as toxic to the conservative movement as the heavier stuff.

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Comparing Qaddafi and Mussolini

A part – a considerable part – of me shares the relish that commentators here and elsewhere have shown for the ignominious way that Muammar Qaddafi met his end. The Sun is predictably forthright in its good riddance to the Libyan dictator, seeing his death as revenge for the Lockerbie bombing, among much else. If Lockerbie was the least of his crimes, that would have been bad enough, but since Qaddafi’s regime was brutal, repressive, violent, and malevolent in a way surpassed only by North Korea, he had many more sins on his non-existent conscience.

But the sight of crowds dragging Qaddafi’s corpse does give me pause. In Libya, Qaddafi’s killers are as likely as not to become part of the next Libyan Cabinet, presuming that august body ever comes into existence. Thus, Rich Lowry observes that “the brutal and lawless way he met his end doesn’t bode well for Libya’s future.” And Victor Davis Hanson asks if “the horrific murder of the loathsome Qaddafi is a sign of things to come or an aberration of the mob?”

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A part – a considerable part – of me shares the relish that commentators here and elsewhere have shown for the ignominious way that Muammar Qaddafi met his end. The Sun is predictably forthright in its good riddance to the Libyan dictator, seeing his death as revenge for the Lockerbie bombing, among much else. If Lockerbie was the least of his crimes, that would have been bad enough, but since Qaddafi’s regime was brutal, repressive, violent, and malevolent in a way surpassed only by North Korea, he had many more sins on his non-existent conscience.

But the sight of crowds dragging Qaddafi’s corpse does give me pause. In Libya, Qaddafi’s killers are as likely as not to become part of the next Libyan Cabinet, presuming that august body ever comes into existence. Thus, Rich Lowry observes that “the brutal and lawless way he met his end doesn’t bode well for Libya’s future.” And Victor Davis Hanson asks if “the horrific murder of the loathsome Qaddafi is a sign of things to come or an aberration of the mob?”

Comparisons between Qaddafi and Mussolini are multiplying – the invaluable Michael J. Totten was one of the first to make it – and as historical analogies go, this one is pretty good. It’s not just that they met their end in the same way. They were both centers of cults of personality, relentlessly occupied in trying to stir up trouble, bitterly hostile to democracy and to every manifestation of liberalism, with an overblown crackpot semi-socialist ideology that masqueraded as a self-sufficient cure for all ills, and a brutal regime that was treated far more seriously than its accomplishments or the skills of its leader merited. If you want a good biography of Mussolini, I recommend Dennis Mack Smith’s: I have never read a biography that sustains its hostility to its subject so continuously and convincingly.

But in light of the comparison between these dangerous clowns, I thought it might be interesting to see what Churchill had to say about the way Mussolini met his end. The answer is in volume six of his Second World War memoirs. After Churchill saw the famous photo of Mussolini dangling from a meat-hook, he wrote to Field Marshall Alexander, commander of Allied Armies in Italy. Describing himself as “profoundly shocked,” Churchill noted that:

The man who murdered Mussolini made a confession, published in the Daily Express, gloating over the treacherous and cowardly method of his actions. In particular he said he shot Mussolini’s mistress. Was she on the list of war criminals? Had he any authority from anybody to shoot this woman? It seems to me the cleansing hand of British military power should make inquiries on these points.

The death of Clara Petacci has a parallel in the revenge killings in Libya during the past several months, and there is no cleansing hand of British military power conveniently available in Libya today. Nor was the post-war history of Italian politics particularly placid, a fact that owed much to Mussolini’s crimes and was reflected in the manner of his death.

Churchill was not entirely sorry to see Mussolini elude formal justice. He closed his reflections on the episode with a single sentence: “But at least the world was spared an Italian Nuremberg.” Opinions on Nuremberg have shifted since Churchill wrote his account. Perhaps in future years we will have cause to regret Qaddafi never stood trial for his crimes in front of the Libyan people.

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Is Santorum About to Get His Close-Up?

Candidates seeking to fill the role of conservative alternative to frontrunner Mitt Romney have not been in short supply, but as one by one they fall by the wayside, there always appear to be more waiting for their close-up. If, as expected, Herman Cain’s weak defense of his 9-9-9 plan and his ridiculous confusion about abortion sends his poll numbers plummeting, the question is whether Republicans will decide to give any of the others in the race another look in the upcoming weeks. After Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and then Cain all had their moments in the spotlight, can Rick Santorum actually have a chance?

If so, it will be more the result of his rivals’ failures than anything else. Nevertheless, if Tea Partiers and social conservatives who have rejected the other possibilities but still can’t abide Romney are looking for an alternative, Santorum is hoping his moment is about to arrive.

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Candidates seeking to fill the role of conservative alternative to frontrunner Mitt Romney have not been in short supply, but as one by one they fall by the wayside, there always appear to be more waiting for their close-up. If, as expected, Herman Cain’s weak defense of his 9-9-9 plan and his ridiculous confusion about abortion sends his poll numbers plummeting, the question is whether Republicans will decide to give any of the others in the race another look in the upcoming weeks. After Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and then Cain all had their moments in the spotlight, can Rick Santorum actually have a chance?

If so, it will be more the result of his rivals’ failures than anything else. Nevertheless, if Tea Partiers and social conservatives who have rejected the other possibilities but still can’t abide Romney are looking for an alternative, Santorum is hoping his moment is about to arrive.

In Santorum’s favor is the fact that despite barely registering in the national polls, he has done fairly well in all of the debates. Even more important is the fact that unlike Herman Cain, who seems to have devoted more energy to promoting his ghost-written campaign autobiography than in retail politics in the crucial early primary and caucus states, Santorum has invested what little resources he has in developing a viable ground game in Iowa. As Politico reports, Santorum’s quiet but effective work there may give him a solid chance for a good showing in the state’s caucus if not the possibility of an outright upset.

Santorum is also well placed to take advantage of Cain’s abortion confusion. Though the former Pennsylvania senator’s hard core stand on social issues may not work everywhere, it could be effective in Iowa. Though Cain has been leading in Iowa state polls, it is to be expected that social conservatives, whose backing has been crucial to the victory of virtually every Republican to win the caucus, will not stick with a candidate like Cain, who doesn’t know the difference between “pro-life” and “choice.”

Can Santorum’s patience be vindicated? The answer is that it is unlikely but entirely possible.

After all, Michele Bachmann, who was riding high in early August and was thought then to be a lock in Iowa, has run out of steam and money (her campaign workers haven’t been paid for weeks). Cain’s “flavor of the month” tag is about to expire. And nobody takes Newt Gingrich seriously as anything but an entertaining debater (taking part in the debates appears to be the former speaker’s main reason for running). If you assume Rick Perry won’t get back those who dumped him after his debate fiascos, that does leave Santorum as the next in line.

However, the main obstacle to Santorum’s improbable scenario for a victory in Iowa is still Perry. The Texas governor has one resource that has always eluded Santorum’s campaign: cash. Perry has raised enough money to carry on his quest for the presidency beyond the early primaries despite the setbacks he has already encountered.

While Romney could put a quick end to the GOP race if he is able to sneak in and take Iowa while his rivals divide the conservative vote, if one of the others is able to squeak out a win in the Hawkeye state, they will get the mantle of 2012’s Mike Huckabee, the right-winger who hung around the longest of any of the losing Republican contenders in 2008.

If Cain is crashing and Perry’s second wind is unable to propel him back into the first tier, it may be that conservatives will finally get around to giving Santorum a second look. While the notion of the abrasive Northeasterner being the folksy Huckabee’s successor may be a stretch, Cain’s abortion foolishness may be just the opening to give him a long shot’s chance at staying in the race.

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