Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 11, 2011

Live Blogging the GOP Foreign Policy Debate Saturday Night

Join us Saturday night as senior online editor Jonathan Tobin live blogs the latest Republican presidential debate on foreign policy in South Carolina. Tune in to CBS at 8pm and then log on to commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the GOP contenders have at each other yet again.

Join us Saturday night as senior online editor Jonathan Tobin live blogs the latest Republican presidential debate on foreign policy in South Carolina. Tune in to CBS at 8pm and then log on to commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the GOP contenders have at each other yet again.

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PA TV: Rain Cleanses the Impurity of Jews in Jerusalem so Muslims Can Pray

The Obama approach to Middle East peacemaking, it can’t be emphasized enough, is premised on the gamble that if Israel stops building schools and homes in the West Bank, then this will go away. Other people have suggested that broadcasting primitive “nature provides rain to cleanse away the filthiness of Jews” incitement is evidence of deeply-seated cultural bigotry. So there are arguments on both sides.

The theory was broadcast on Fatah-controlled PA TV last Sunday. The key part goes:

The golden dome [of the mosque] shines with colors of the sky, with the white of clouds, while the joyous holiday [Eid Al-Adha] is good to the residents. The light rain cleanses the steps of the foreigners [Jews] so that the feet [of Muslims] in prayer will not step on impurity.

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The Obama approach to Middle East peacemaking, it can’t be emphasized enough, is premised on the gamble that if Israel stops building schools and homes in the West Bank, then this will go away. Other people have suggested that broadcasting primitive “nature provides rain to cleanse away the filthiness of Jews” incitement is evidence of deeply-seated cultural bigotry. So there are arguments on both sides.

The theory was broadcast on Fatah-controlled PA TV last Sunday. The key part goes:

The golden dome [of the mosque] shines with colors of the sky, with the white of clouds, while the joyous holiday [Eid Al-Adha] is good to the residents. The light rain cleanses the steps of the foreigners [Jews] so that the feet [of Muslims] in prayer will not step on impurity.

This broadcast is a kind of follow-up to one from September. That one described Jews praying at the Western Wall as “sin and filth” and asserted that the Jewish connection to Jerusalem was a “false history.” So you can already tell that the Palestinians’ UNESCO ascension – which was meant to set up an international campaign against Israeli control of its capital, and which is already getting started – is going to be delightful.

There’s no news yet on whether the Palestinian Authority will be arguing that nature itself wants to cleanse Jews from Jerusalem, or whether they’ll settle for more quotidian arguments while reserving that insight for domestic consumption. At this point it’s a tossup which would work better at the United Nations.

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“Zuccotti Lung” Sickness Sweeping Through Occupy Wall Street

So this phrase now exists:

With wintry weather poised to swoop into the cramped outdoor quarters of Occupy Wall Street protesters, it may not be long before more campers catch what’s being called Zuccotti lung.” That’s what demonstrators have dubbed the sickness that seems to be spreading among them at an unpleasantly high rate these days: “It’s a real thing,” Willie Carey, 28, told the New York Times.

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So this phrase now exists:

With wintry weather poised to swoop into the cramped outdoor quarters of Occupy Wall Street protesters, it may not be long before more campers catch what’s being called Zuccotti lung.” That’s what demonstrators have dubbed the sickness that seems to be spreading among them at an unpleasantly high rate these days: “It’s a real thing,” Willie Carey, 28, told the New York Times.

Other words and phrases in the article: “respiratory viruses,” “norovirus,” “winter vomiting virus,” and “tuberculosis.”

Doctors are trying to circulate through the park, treat the ill, and inoculate the still healthy. But progress has been uneven because many of the Occupy Wall Street people are feverish cranks who think that vaccinations are a “government conspiracy” to undermine the 99%’s glorious vanguard. Sexually transmitted diseases are of course also spreading, and some protesters are even suffering hearing damage from the drum circle. One wonders how much of this is really necessary for creating the “vibrant brand of urbanism” that the Washington Post laughingly declared Occupy centers have become.

You’d really think either the professional activists who are behind the protests or the closet ACORN activists who are pitching in would have stocked the medical tents with penicillin. Maybe there’s a working group or five on it, or maybe Chavez can send them some.

Rape and rape coverups haven’t been enough to get officials to intervene in the Lord of the Flies dystopias that various protesters have set up. But if Occupy Oakland is getting shut down on account of people dying – in that case by gunfire – then having a convulsing, vomiting petri dish in the center of Manhattan might finally force Bloomberg’s hand.

And while all those crimes and dangers might seem substantive to us, obviously the Occupy movement’s real is messaging. That’s why “framing is everything” liberal leading light George Lakoff has written a guide to protesters who want to reach Middle America. It repeats almost verbatim the notoriously incoherent and anti-scientific drivel that constituted his previous work, but who knows? Maybe the protesters can reframe their rape cover-ups as “community solidarity,” and their anti-vaccination craziness as “freedom from health.” Convinced yet?

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Unions Slam Obama for Pipeline Delay

Obama’s non-decision on the Keystone XL pipeline yesterday was supposed to mollify both the unions and the environmentalists, encouraging them to play nice until after the election. But the move may have come too late. The project seemed like a certainty, so when Obama put the kibosh on it the green groups saw it as a victory, and the labor unions took it as a stunning rebuke.

Terry O’Sullivan, head of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, didn’t hold back in a statement slamming the Obama administration yesterday:

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Obama’s non-decision on the Keystone XL pipeline yesterday was supposed to mollify both the unions and the environmentalists, encouraging them to play nice until after the election. But the move may have come too late. The project seemed like a certainty, so when Obama put the kibosh on it the green groups saw it as a victory, and the labor unions took it as a stunning rebuke.

Terry O’Sullivan, head of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, didn’t hold back in a statement slamming the Obama administration yesterday:

Environmentalists formed a circle around the White House and within days the Obama Administration chose to inflict a potentially fatal delay to a project that is not just a pipeline, but is a lifeline for thousands of desperate working men and women. The Administration chose to support environmentalists over jobs – job-killers win, American workers lose.

Environmental groups from the Natural Resources Defense Council to the Sierra Club may be dancing in the streets, having delayed and possibly stopped yet another project that would put men and women back to work. While they celebrate, pipeline workers will continue to lose their homes and livelihoods.

We had hoped the decision would have been made on the basis of economics, facts and the best interests of the nation, not on the basis of a political calculation.

Is this just labor slapping Obama on the wrist to placate their members? It’s hard to see unions, even pro-Keystone XL ones, actually turning their backs on Obama during the election. But maybe they feel they can’t trust him to take their side on the pipeline even if he does win a second term.

Not all labor groups are in favor of Keystone. The major transit workers groups strongly oppose it. But the Laborers’ International Union of North America is strong enough on its own to really cause problems for Obama if it so chooses. In 2008, the LIUNA endorsed Obama and threw a lot of muscle – 500,000 members and a $15 million election budget – behind his campaign. Even if LIUNA doesn’t come out in support of the Republican candidate in 2012, it can do enough damage to Obama by simply withholding money and ground troops.

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Iran Lobbyist Trita Parsi: Anti-Iran Calls “Must Be Punishable”

There are several longish posts to be written about the meltdown currently taking place on the anti-Israel and pro-Iran foreign policy left. In the span of a month they’ve had to explain why the oh-so-rational Iranians – who, on account of said rationality, were ostensibly amenable to engagement – tried to commit an act of war on U.S. soil. Then they had to explain why the oh-so-not-developing-nukes Iranians – who, on account of not developing nukes, did not have to be confronted – were declared by the IAEA to be developing nukes.

Their efforts on both of those specific issues were kind of magical – the clinical description would label them as “symptomatic outbursts” – but it’s also important to keep an eye on the general meltdown taking place.

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There are several longish posts to be written about the meltdown currently taking place on the anti-Israel and pro-Iran foreign policy left. In the span of a month they’ve had to explain why the oh-so-rational Iranians – who, on account of said rationality, were ostensibly amenable to engagement – tried to commit an act of war on U.S. soil. Then they had to explain why the oh-so-not-developing-nukes Iranians – who, on account of not developing nukes, did not have to be confronted – were declared by the IAEA to be developing nukes.

Their efforts on both of those specific issues were kind of magical – the clinical description would label them as “symptomatic outbursts” – but it’s also important to keep an eye on the general meltdown taking place.

For instance here’s a tweet from Trita Parsi, president and founder of the National Iranian American Council:

When he could get away with it, Parsi advocated engagement with the Iranian regime because it was rational and stable. When that pretext became impossible to sustain, he advocated engagement with the Iranian regime because it was irrational and crumbling. It’s almost as if Parsi – who once founded and ran a group to “safeguard Iran’s and Iranian interests” – is willing to say anything to safeguard Iran’s and Iranian interests.

The Obama years, of course, have been quite good for Parsi and NIAC:

Mr. Parsi’s history suggests a continuing commitment to changing U.S. policy on Iran, and he has clearly become more influential in Washington since the change of administrations. Mr. Parsi has been called to the White House, lectured at the CIA and visited Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. He boasted in internal e-mails that he learned of Mr. Obama’s speech to Iranians on the occasion of the Persian New Year in March several hours before it was posted on the Internet.

You can’t help but wonder if Parsi has floated his “let’s punish these anti-Iran lunatics” to his new friends at the White House.

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Veterans Day and Veterans’ Novels

The strange career of Veterans Day from its origins after the First World War as a day on which America could (in the words of Woodrow Wilson) “show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations” to a day on which America could (as Ronald Reagan said nearly seven decades later) “pay tribute to all those men and women who throughout our history, have left their homes and loved ones to serve their country” is neatly traced by Leon R. Kass at the Weekly Standard’s blog this morning.

What has always interested me, as a literary critic, is the degree to which American literature is a veterans’ literature. Not merely because so many American writers “left their homes . . . to serve their country,” especially during the Second World War. Even more importantly, because so many who did not serve in uniform made combat veterans their heroes.

Four American novels in particular take on renewed and deepened significance when they are read, correctly, as veterans’ novels — The American (1877) by Henry James, The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henderson the Rain King (1959) by Saul Bellow, and The Moviegoer (1961) by Walker Percy.

James’s hero Christopher Newman is a veteran of the Civil War, a former brigadier-general, whose “four years in the army had left him with an angry, bitter sense of the waste of precious things” and had fired him with a “passionate zest and energy” for the postwar “pursuits of peace.” His military service was the pivotal experience in his life. It leads him first to success in business and then to Europe, where he goes in search of “something else.”

Fitzgerald’s narrator is a veteran of the Great War (“that delayed Teutonic migration”), and so is the title character, an officer and decorated war hero. Jay Gatsby came back, like James’s Newman, with a sense of purpose — a “creative passion,” an “incorruptible dream,” which he nurtured during his years in the army. Although he may have been shady and not entirely law-abiding, Gatsby was like no one else in the whole “rotten crowd” of the postwar boom. Compared to the “careless” rich, who avoided military service and “smashed up things and creatures,” he really was a great man — or at least as great as a man could be in such a lost generation.

Bellow’s hero is a veteran of the Second World War, one of only two soldiers in his unit who survived the Italian campaign, although he was wounded by a land mine and received the Purple Heart. “The whole experience gave my heart a large and real emotion,” Eugene Henderson says. “Which I continually require.” The voice within that ceaselessly chants I want, I want, I want, oh, I want formed its first words when Henderson was in the army. His search, like Newman’s and Gatsby’s, commences upon demobilization.

Walker Percy’s hero and narrator is a veteran of the Korean War, who is also on a search (“what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life”). Binx Bolling’s is an existential search, a religious search, a search for meaning. And the first time the search occurred to him was in 1951. Knocked unconscious in battle, he came to with a “queasy-quince taste” in his mouth, his shoulder pressed into the ground, and the vow that, if he ever got out of this fix, he would relentlessly pursue the search.

None of these novelists served in the military, but when thinking about the kind of experience that would turn a man around — that would even create him anew — they immediately thought of what Kass calls the one percent who guard and protect the 99 percent. Except for the crazed Vietnam vet, the soldier who becomes an adult in the military — who learns the responsibilities of adulthood, defined by the U.S. Army as loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage — has now largely disappeared from American literature. James, Fitzgerald, Bellow, and Percy demonstrate what has been lost.

Today is the day we honor the ordinary heroes who are better than 99 percent of us.

The strange career of Veterans Day from its origins after the First World War as a day on which America could (in the words of Woodrow Wilson) “show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations” to a day on which America could (as Ronald Reagan said nearly seven decades later) “pay tribute to all those men and women who throughout our history, have left their homes and loved ones to serve their country” is neatly traced by Leon R. Kass at the Weekly Standard’s blog this morning.

What has always interested me, as a literary critic, is the degree to which American literature is a veterans’ literature. Not merely because so many American writers “left their homes . . . to serve their country,” especially during the Second World War. Even more importantly, because so many who did not serve in uniform made combat veterans their heroes.

Four American novels in particular take on renewed and deepened significance when they are read, correctly, as veterans’ novels — The American (1877) by Henry James, The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henderson the Rain King (1959) by Saul Bellow, and The Moviegoer (1961) by Walker Percy.

James’s hero Christopher Newman is a veteran of the Civil War, a former brigadier-general, whose “four years in the army had left him with an angry, bitter sense of the waste of precious things” and had fired him with a “passionate zest and energy” for the postwar “pursuits of peace.” His military service was the pivotal experience in his life. It leads him first to success in business and then to Europe, where he goes in search of “something else.”

Fitzgerald’s narrator is a veteran of the Great War (“that delayed Teutonic migration”), and so is the title character, an officer and decorated war hero. Jay Gatsby came back, like James’s Newman, with a sense of purpose — a “creative passion,” an “incorruptible dream,” which he nurtured during his years in the army. Although he may have been shady and not entirely law-abiding, Gatsby was like no one else in the whole “rotten crowd” of the postwar boom. Compared to the “careless” rich, who avoided military service and “smashed up things and creatures,” he really was a great man — or at least as great as a man could be in such a lost generation.

Bellow’s hero is a veteran of the Second World War, one of only two soldiers in his unit who survived the Italian campaign, although he was wounded by a land mine and received the Purple Heart. “The whole experience gave my heart a large and real emotion,” Eugene Henderson says. “Which I continually require.” The voice within that ceaselessly chants I want, I want, I want, oh, I want formed its first words when Henderson was in the army. His search, like Newman’s and Gatsby’s, commences upon demobilization.

Walker Percy’s hero and narrator is a veteran of the Korean War, who is also on a search (“what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life”). Binx Bolling’s is an existential search, a religious search, a search for meaning. And the first time the search occurred to him was in 1951. Knocked unconscious in battle, he came to with a “queasy-quince taste” in his mouth, his shoulder pressed into the ground, and the vow that, if he ever got out of this fix, he would relentlessly pursue the search.

None of these novelists served in the military, but when thinking about the kind of experience that would turn a man around — that would even create him anew — they immediately thought of what Kass calls the one percent who guard and protect the 99 percent. Except for the crazed Vietnam vet, the soldier who becomes an adult in the military — who learns the responsibilities of adulthood, defined by the U.S. Army as loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage — has now largely disappeared from American literature. James, Fitzgerald, Bellow, and Percy demonstrate what has been lost.

Today is the day we honor the ordinary heroes who are better than 99 percent of us.

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Political Discourse and Impugning Motives

The Herman Cain sexual harassment charges have raised an interesting issue beyond the charges themselves: political discourse and personal motivations. An intra-conservative dispute that’s arisen in the last two weeks helps shed some light on this matter.

Some on the right have decided that the charges against Cain are false, and he’s the target of a smear campaign. They are so convinced of Cain’s innocence they cannot fathom how other conservatives don’t rally to support him. The case is so open-and-shut, in fact, that Cain’s lack of support among conservatives can only be explained by factors other than the evidence. And so it’s said that those on the right who have concerns about Cain – either as they relate to the charges or in how Cain has handled the story – must have a rooting interest against him. The other possibilities are that these conservatives are cowardly, RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), part of the “establishment.” They’re afraid to defend Cain because, this argument goes, they want to ingratiate themselves with the dominant, liberal press. They are ashamed of true conservatives like Cain and the Tea Party more broadly. And if these (nominal) conservatives want to be invited to dinners and cocktail parties in Georgetown, they have to show their independence from true conservatives. They are even willing to leave the wounded on the battlefield in order to win favor with the political class.

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The Herman Cain sexual harassment charges have raised an interesting issue beyond the charges themselves: political discourse and personal motivations. An intra-conservative dispute that’s arisen in the last two weeks helps shed some light on this matter.

Some on the right have decided that the charges against Cain are false, and he’s the target of a smear campaign. They are so convinced of Cain’s innocence they cannot fathom how other conservatives don’t rally to support him. The case is so open-and-shut, in fact, that Cain’s lack of support among conservatives can only be explained by factors other than the evidence. And so it’s said that those on the right who have concerns about Cain – either as they relate to the charges or in how Cain has handled the story – must have a rooting interest against him. The other possibilities are that these conservatives are cowardly, RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), part of the “establishment.” They’re afraid to defend Cain because, this argument goes, they want to ingratiate themselves with the dominant, liberal press. They are ashamed of true conservatives like Cain and the Tea Party more broadly. And if these (nominal) conservatives want to be invited to dinners and cocktail parties in Georgetown, they have to show their independence from true conservatives. They are even willing to leave the wounded on the battlefield in order to win favor with the political class.

This technique of calling into question the motivations of those with whom we disagree certainly isn’t confined to conservatives. President Obama, for example, does it on a routine basis. He has said time and time again that Republicans, in opposing his agenda, are putting their party ahead of their country. No rational person could possibly oppose his policies; they are self-evidently correct. And so the motivations of Republicans are always suspect, unlike Obama himself, who cares only for the country and has not a concern in the world about his re-election. He, and he alone, puts the common good ahead of narrow partisan interests. Or so the Obama story goes.

What are we to make of this tactic?

It’s important to concede at the outset that in fact motivations sometimes are worth calling into question. Some individuals are weak and unprincipled; others do put their interests ahead of those of the nation. It would be silly to deny that in some instances, motivations are both transparent and dishonorable. In addition, and to complicate matters a bit more, none of us is blessed with untainted motivations. The human heart is constantly divided against itself; our decision-making process is the product of different, and sometimes competing, considerations. And any person who finds himself in elected office takes into account how certain decisions will affect his career. That doesn’t mean it will necessarily be the main factor in how one decides on an issue. But it would be naïve to pretend that various (and less-than-selfless) factors don’t enter into the calculations of politicians — and for that matter non-politicians.

With that said, though, the words of the philosopher Sidney Hook are worth taking into account. “Before impugning an opponent’s motives, even when they may rightly be impugned, answer his arguments.”

The truth is that often it’s much easier to attack another person’s motivations than it is to answer his arguments (especially when the arguments are compelling and difficult to refute). The tendency to attack motivations, then, is frequently a sign of intellectual laziness. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that it’s an ineffective strategy. Sometimes it’s very effective, especially when you’re preaching to the choir. It can be rollicking good fun to create strawmen and cartoon figures together. (Keith Olbermann very nearly perfected this technique on his MSNBC program.)

One of the reasons I have such high regard for Jonathan Rauch, for example, is that in his advocacy for same-sex marriage, he never resorts to this approach.  Rauch employs measured, reasoned arguments; he respects his interlocutors (and political discourse) enough to do justice to their positions, sometimes articulating them better than they do. This is a rare thing to find, especially in a debate as sensitive and emotionally-charged as gay marriage can be.

The habit of placing question marks around the motivations of those with whom we disagree can also be a sign of arrogance. The (unstated) feeling is, “How can that person possibly disagree with me?” This assumes, of course, that all wisdom resides on one side and none on the other. Now sometimes that’s the case, but more often than not the words of Lincoln apply. “There are few things wholly evil or wholly good,” he said. “Almost everything,  especially of government policy, is an inseparable compound of the two, so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded.” Yet once we’ve decided on a position, the tendency is not only to become an advocate but to argue as if all the arguments line up on one side and none on the other. (I know of what I speak.)

There’s also this: debates in politics can easily move from the grounds of policy/philosophical disagreements to personal contempt. Many of us who are involved in politics have, at one point or another, experienced strained relationships based on political differences. (It happened to Jefferson and Adams, to Burke and Fox, and to Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.) Some of this is understandable; when deep, passionate convictions collide, it’s not easy to contain the frustration and the fallout.

This whole matter is quite a complicated mix, then, since what’s involved is a balancing act. Most of us would agree that it would be unwise to completely exclude motivations as a factor in explaining political differences. But as a general matter, when it comes to attacking the motivations of others, the burden of proof should be fairly high, the frequency to which we resort to it fairly rare. Having been involved in politics for most of my adult life, I can testify that in the heat of the moment, it’s not easy to believe that one’s political opponents are hardly as bad as we portray them to be, even as our political allies may be more flawed than we imagine.

 

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GAO: IRS Computers Have Security Lapses

Here’s an article from February about how the IRS is hiring its own small battalion of 1,054 workers because of Obamacare. These workers – who are sufficient to monitor only the very, very early stages of the federal power grab – will be charged with what Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso described as “auditing Americans’ healthcare.”

Now here’s an article from today about how the IRS hasn’t implemented basic security protocols, leading to what the GAO tersely refers to as “information security deficiencies”:

Taxpayer information held by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is vulnerable to access by unauthorized people, according to a report released today from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report cites “information security deficiencies” at the IRS… Among other things, the report faulted the IRS for “continu[ing] to use unencrypted protocols for a sensitive tax processing application.” Testing by the GAO revealed that “systems used to process tax and financial information did not effectively prevent access from unauthorized users or excessive levels of access for authorized users.”

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Here’s an article from February about how the IRS is hiring its own small battalion of 1,054 workers because of Obamacare. These workers – who are sufficient to monitor only the very, very early stages of the federal power grab – will be charged with what Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso described as “auditing Americans’ healthcare.”

Now here’s an article from today about how the IRS hasn’t implemented basic security protocols, leading to what the GAO tersely refers to as “information security deficiencies”:

Taxpayer information held by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is vulnerable to access by unauthorized people, according to a report released today from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report cites “information security deficiencies” at the IRS… Among other things, the report faulted the IRS for “continu[ing] to use unencrypted protocols for a sensitive tax processing application.” Testing by the GAO revealed that “systems used to process tax and financial information did not effectively prevent access from unauthorized users or excessive levels of access for authorized users.”

The GAO findings echo other reports of IRS security lapses from June 2011 and January 2009 and April 2008. They come at a time of not just widespread but nearly ubiquitous attacks on government servers, by everyone from state-funded Chinese hackers to 14-year-old trolls operating out of their parents’ basements. The real wonder, from the sound of things, is that IRS data hasn’t leaked out merely by accident.

The progressive left can’t stop shrieking about banks that are too big to fail. Bureaucratic inertia insulated by smug invulnerability, the argument goes, lead to all kinds of anticipated and unanticipated disasters. But when it comes to vesting ever-growing government agencies and stubbornly incompetent government employees with enormous power over the most intimate parts of citizens’ lives, that’s something that needs to be bravely embraced in the name of egalitarianism.

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Cain Has a Chief of Staff Problem

Herman Cain has a Mark Block problem.

Block is the chief of staff of the Cain campaign. And in a recent interview, Block insisted that he wasn’t backing off the accusation the Rick Perry campaign was responsible for leaking the sexual harassment story to Politico. “No, no, I will not back off of the Perry thing… I’m not backing off on the Perry thing. I backed off on the guy [consultant Curt Anderson], because he came out and said that it wasn’t him. But I’m still not backing off that the pot wasn’t stirred by the Perry folks.”

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Herman Cain has a Mark Block problem.

Block is the chief of staff of the Cain campaign. And in a recent interview, Block insisted that he wasn’t backing off the accusation the Rick Perry campaign was responsible for leaking the sexual harassment story to Politico. “No, no, I will not back off of the Perry thing… I’m not backing off on the Perry thing. I backed off on the guy [consultant Curt Anderson], because he came out and said that it wasn’t him. But I’m still not backing off that the pot wasn’t stirred by the Perry folks.”

Here’s the problem: Block has still not produced a shred of credible evidence that the Perry campaign was behind the leak. He’s simply making a charge, based on a wish and a hope, presumably in order to re-direct attention away from Cain to Perry. And Block not only fingered the Perry campaign, but fingered Perry’s political strategist Curt Anderson. But when Anderson went on the air and declared that Politico reporters were freed from any confidentiality agreement in order to prove he wasn’t the source for the story, Block had to reel back his charge against Anderson.

Block’s assertion also complicates matters for Cain, who insisted at his press conference earlier this week that the “Democratic machine” is behind the sexual harassment charges. So the Cain campaign has charged both the Rick Perry campaign and the “Democratic machine” with being behind the charges against Cain – even as they’ve provided no evidence to support either charge, which happen to be mutually exclusive.

This embarrassing mistake shouldn’t be confused with the one Block made when he declared that the son of Karen Kraushaar, who has accused Cain of sexual harassment, works at Politico. “We’ve confirmed that he does indeed work at Politico and that’s his mother, yes,” Block said.

Here’s the thing, though: Block was referring to former Politico reporter Josh Kraushaar, who left for National Journal last year. And more importantly,
Josh Kraushaar is not related to Karen Kraushaar. They simply share the same last name. So Mark Block is in the habit of throwing out unfounded accusations and smears, replicating exactly the tactic that Herman Cain complains is being used against him. (Block now admits “we didn’t have our facts straight” regarding the charge against Kraushaar. But just how hard were those facts to get straight in the first place?)

If these reckless actions bother Cain, it’s not at all evident. According to the Washington Times, Block is staying put with the Cain campaign. A highly placed Cain source sent an e-mail saying this about the rumors that Block may be sacked: “‘This is a hysterically funny rumor. The Inside the Beltway crowd is in the midst of a nervous breakdown regarding the success the Cain campaign is having with the American people. Mr. Cain believes in the old adage, ‘You continue to dance with the one that brung ya’ to the dance.'”

Maybe. But it’s reasonable for the rest of us to judge a man by the character and professionalism of the individuals whom he brung to the dance.

 

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Gingrich Surges in New Polls

It’s easy to dismiss the Gingrich surge as just the next flavor of the week. Two reasons why he may last longer than the others: First, 43 percent of his supporters say they’re with him for the long haul, which is substantially higher than the numbers for the two other frontrunners (see the McClatchy link below). And second…where else could Republicans possibly go from here? The only three left in the race who haven’t had their 15 minutes are Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum. Which means if Gingrich fails his audition, there’s pretty much only one viable candidate left waiting in the wings.

Here are the polls that are undoubtedly giving Rick Santorum room for hope. First, McClatchy:

— Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, 23 percent;

—Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, 19 percent;

—Cain, the former restaurant executive, 17 percent;

And the CBS News poll:

The field of Republican candidates now has three candidates within striking distance of each other at the top of the list: with 18 percent, Herman Cain is in the top spot, followed by Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich with 15% each. Support for both Cain and Romney has declined since late last month, and Gingrich is the only one of the top three whose support is steadily – if slowly – on the upswing.

While Cain still leads in the CBS News poll, there are plenty of signs that he’s on the downswing. His support among women has plummeted from 28 percent to 15 percent in the last month, and he’s lost conservative and Tea Party backers. Most Republicans are still sticking by Cain, with 60 percent saying the allegations won’t impact their vote. But 30 percent say the scandal makes them less likely to support him.

It’s easy to dismiss the Gingrich surge as just the next flavor of the week. Two reasons why he may last longer than the others: First, 43 percent of his supporters say they’re with him for the long haul, which is substantially higher than the numbers for the two other frontrunners (see the McClatchy link below). And second…where else could Republicans possibly go from here? The only three left in the race who haven’t had their 15 minutes are Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum. Which means if Gingrich fails his audition, there’s pretty much only one viable candidate left waiting in the wings.

Here are the polls that are undoubtedly giving Rick Santorum room for hope. First, McClatchy:

— Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, 23 percent;

—Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, 19 percent;

—Cain, the former restaurant executive, 17 percent;

And the CBS News poll:

The field of Republican candidates now has three candidates within striking distance of each other at the top of the list: with 18 percent, Herman Cain is in the top spot, followed by Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich with 15% each. Support for both Cain and Romney has declined since late last month, and Gingrich is the only one of the top three whose support is steadily – if slowly – on the upswing.

While Cain still leads in the CBS News poll, there are plenty of signs that he’s on the downswing. His support among women has plummeted from 28 percent to 15 percent in the last month, and he’s lost conservative and Tea Party backers. Most Republicans are still sticking by Cain, with 60 percent saying the allegations won’t impact their vote. But 30 percent say the scandal makes them less likely to support him.

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Obama’s Pipeline Punt May Not Be as Politically Astute as He Thinks

The Solyndra scandal has made the high cost of President Obama’s politicized approach to energy policy a major issue. But with the decision to delay a decision about completing the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada until after the 2012 election, the bankruptcy of this administration’s approach to this issue has been confirmed. As Alana wrote yesterday, Obama has effectively bowed to pressure from environmental groups in order to secure his base heading into his re-election effort. But in doing so, the president has handed the Republicans a club with which to beat him over the course of the next year.

By refusing to approve a project that would have increased the flow of oil into the country from a friendly nation, Obama has shown that getting closer to genuine energy independence through projects that are not pie-in-the-sky “green” boondoggles is not something that interests him. While, as a report in Politico noted, there seemed little political incentive for Obama to pull the trigger on Keystone XL one way or the other now, next summer may be a different story. If oil prices go up next year as the result of further turmoil in the Middle East or a conflict involving Iran, the president may regret a short-sighted political calculation that will decrease the country’s ability to avoid dependence on the Persian Gulf and other oil-rich hotspots.

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The Solyndra scandal has made the high cost of President Obama’s politicized approach to energy policy a major issue. But with the decision to delay a decision about completing the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada until after the 2012 election, the bankruptcy of this administration’s approach to this issue has been confirmed. As Alana wrote yesterday, Obama has effectively bowed to pressure from environmental groups in order to secure his base heading into his re-election effort. But in doing so, the president has handed the Republicans a club with which to beat him over the course of the next year.

By refusing to approve a project that would have increased the flow of oil into the country from a friendly nation, Obama has shown that getting closer to genuine energy independence through projects that are not pie-in-the-sky “green” boondoggles is not something that interests him. While, as a report in Politico noted, there seemed little political incentive for Obama to pull the trigger on Keystone XL one way or the other now, next summer may be a different story. If oil prices go up next year as the result of further turmoil in the Middle East or a conflict involving Iran, the president may regret a short-sighted political calculation that will decrease the country’s ability to avoid dependence on the Persian Gulf and other oil-rich hotspots.

The underlying problem here is that rather than seeing dependence on Middle East oil as a tangible problem to be solved by efforts to increase America’s supply from other regions, Obama seems to view it as merely an excuse to indulge green fantasies. The Solyndra scandal happened not just because one politically connected company was unsound, but also because this administration is predisposed to invest taxpayer dollars in any entity that can pose as a boost for the environment. While the president claims he wants a “balanced approach” to energy that will combine increased oil production with alternatives to fossil fuels, in practice that has turned out to mean something very different.

This debacle also illustrates another characteristic of the administration: weakness in the face of pressure. All it took was a couple of demonstrations by environmental extremists to cause Obama to fold on his commitment to increased oil production via cooperation with a reliable ally such as Canada.

Though the political motivations of this decision are inarguable, it may not escape the attention of independent voters next year that this is a president who can be pushed around by both Islamist tyrannies like Iran and the environmentalist lobby. Having determined to kick the can down the road on both energy independence and the threat of a nuclear Iran, it is difficult to make the case that Obama is capable or even interested in the decisive leadership that Americans need.

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What Will JDAMs Do to Counter Iranian Nuclear Program?

What significance, if any, should we assign to the administration’s plan to sell thousands of “smart bombs” known as JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) to the United Arab Emirates? The Wall Street Journal, which broke the story, says it is “part of a stepped-up U.S. effort to build a regional coalition to counter Iran.” But what do these bombs actually do to counter the Iranian nuclear program?

Potentially a lot if you imagine the UAE in concert with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council states launching a preemptive strike on the Iranian program. The GCC states certainly have the military potential to penetrate Iran’s air defenses and carry out such a strike. But that’s about as likely as Arabian sand turning into nuggets of gold. The Emiratis and their neighbors all fear and loathe Iran, but they are keenly aware that they are micro-states located near a big, aggressive country with a propensity for terrorism and subversion—and they have no intention of alienating Iran if they can help it.

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What significance, if any, should we assign to the administration’s plan to sell thousands of “smart bombs” known as JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) to the United Arab Emirates? The Wall Street Journal, which broke the story, says it is “part of a stepped-up U.S. effort to build a regional coalition to counter Iran.” But what do these bombs actually do to counter the Iranian nuclear program?

Potentially a lot if you imagine the UAE in concert with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council states launching a preemptive strike on the Iranian program. The GCC states certainly have the military potential to penetrate Iran’s air defenses and carry out such a strike. But that’s about as likely as Arabian sand turning into nuggets of gold. The Emiratis and their neighbors all fear and loathe Iran, but they are keenly aware that they are micro-states located near a big, aggressive country with a propensity for terrorism and subversion—and they have no intention of alienating Iran if they can help it.

The UAE, for one, may secretly (or not so secretly) hope for a U.S. or even an Israeli strike on Iran, but it will never launch one of its own. And in the meantime, one of its principal cities, Dubai, does a brisk business with Iran. The Emiratis are willing to enforce UN sanctions on Iran, but they are not willing to go any further—and given that UN sanctions are notoriously weak that means they are not willing to do that much to counter Iran. Same with all their neighbors, some of which (notably Qatar) are especially chummy with Tehran.

The only scenario under which I could imagine Emirati F-16s dropping those bombs on Iran would be if the UAE had been attacked first by Iran—and even then I suspect the Emiratis would act only if they were part of a coalition led by the U.S. Of course, an Iranian attack on the UAE is not inconceivable, especially if either the U.S. or Israel launches air strikes on the Iranian nuclear program. So the Emirati JDAMs could come in handy in deterring and, if that fails, responding to an Iranian counterstrike. But they are of little use in stopping or even significantly delaying the Iranian nuclear program.

That can only be done by Israel or the U.S., and then only if they decide to accept the risk of launching airstrikes. But, as Leon Panetta made clear yesterday, the Obama administration has no intention of undertaking any military action in Iran. That means that, barring an Israeli intervention, Iran will have a clear path to nuclear power status—JDAMs or no JDAMs.

 

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Occupy Oakland Ordered to Shut Down After Fatal Shooting

So the fatal shooting near Occupy Oakland last night has finally pushed Mayor Quan to call for the camp to be shut down…voluntarily. She sent an open letter asking the Occupiers to leave peacefully last night, which they promptly ignored. After what happened last time Quan sent the police in to clear out the park, will she have the guts to do it again? We can only hope, but somehow, I doubt it:

We asked the mayor’s spokesperson what’s going to happen if people don’t leave voluntarily and she did not answer the question. By the way, a recent Chamber of Commerce poll found that 73 percent of those surveyed disapprove of Quan’s handling of Occupy Oakland.

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So the fatal shooting near Occupy Oakland last night has finally pushed Mayor Quan to call for the camp to be shut down…voluntarily. She sent an open letter asking the Occupiers to leave peacefully last night, which they promptly ignored. After what happened last time Quan sent the police in to clear out the park, will she have the guts to do it again? We can only hope, but somehow, I doubt it:

We asked the mayor’s spokesperson what’s going to happen if people don’t leave voluntarily and she did not answer the question. By the way, a recent Chamber of Commerce poll found that 73 percent of those surveyed disapprove of Quan’s handling of Occupy Oakland.

With two-thirds of Oakland voters also fed up with the protests, the mayor’s reelection chances all but hinge on shutting down the protest – or at the very least figuring out a way to maintain peace and order among the protesters.

There’s no word yet on the identity of the shooting victim, but activists continue to insist the person killed wasn’t involved in the movement. Their claim would be a bit more believable if the Occupiers hadn’t formed a human chain around the victim to prevent media from observing the scene, and even beat up an ABC cameraman who tried to get a glimpse.

Another wrinkle in the story: someone claiming to be the shooting victim’s cousin reportedly spoke last night about sharing a tent with the victim at Occupy Oakland.

But whether or not the shooter or the victim were directly involved with Occupy Oakland, it’s clearly become a magnet for crime and a citywide concern. Quan needs to stop kowtowing to the movement and listen to her constituents, or she may soon find herself out of a job.

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Panetta Reassures Iran it Has Little to Worry About

If the leaders of the Iranian regime were worried about Jeffrey Goldberg’s prediction that Barack Obama would confound the world and launch a U.S. military strike designed to save Israel from nuclear destruction, they can now calm down. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made it crystal clear at a Pentagon news conference yesterday he has no intention of supporting an American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Echoing remarks uttered by his predecessor Robert Gates, Panetta said a U.S. strike would only deal a temporary setback to the Iranians and emphasized his fear that the “unintended consequences” of an American offensive would negatively impact the position of U.S. forces elsewhere in the region.

Panetta’s fears about conflict with Iran are reasonable. We don’t know whether it will be possible to completely eradicate their nuclear facilities (though a U.S. campaign would have a much greater chance of success than one conducted solely by Israel) and war with Iran could set off a series of other struggles around the region which would, at best, be messy, and at worst, be disastrous. But by publicly throwing cold water on the idea the United States is ready and able to militarily squash Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Panetta has sent a dangerous signal to Tehran that the Pentagon intends to veto any use of force against them. Combined with Russia’s pledge to block any further sanctions on Iran, the statement should leave the Khameini/Ahmadinejad regime feeling entirely secure as they push ahead to the moment when they can announce their first successful nuclear test.

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If the leaders of the Iranian regime were worried about Jeffrey Goldberg’s prediction that Barack Obama would confound the world and launch a U.S. military strike designed to save Israel from nuclear destruction, they can now calm down. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made it crystal clear at a Pentagon news conference yesterday he has no intention of supporting an American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Echoing remarks uttered by his predecessor Robert Gates, Panetta said a U.S. strike would only deal a temporary setback to the Iranians and emphasized his fear that the “unintended consequences” of an American offensive would negatively impact the position of U.S. forces elsewhere in the region.

Panetta’s fears about conflict with Iran are reasonable. We don’t know whether it will be possible to completely eradicate their nuclear facilities (though a U.S. campaign would have a much greater chance of success than one conducted solely by Israel) and war with Iran could set off a series of other struggles around the region which would, at best, be messy, and at worst, be disastrous. But by publicly throwing cold water on the idea the United States is ready and able to militarily squash Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Panetta has sent a dangerous signal to Tehran that the Pentagon intends to veto any use of force against them. Combined with Russia’s pledge to block any further sanctions on Iran, the statement should leave the Khameini/Ahmadinejad regime feeling entirely secure as they push ahead to the moment when they can announce their first successful nuclear test.

For several years, leading voices in the Pentagon have sought to dampen any interest in attacking Iran. Part of it can be put down to the natural reluctance of military leaders to actually use the forces at their disposal. Part can also be attributed to a very understandable worry about launching a new war while the old ones in Iraq and Afghanistan were still raging. But it also reflects a sense by many in Washington that a nuclear Iran can be contained without too much bother. Israel’s fears of an existential threat to its existence and the equally profound worries of Arab countries about the prospect of a nuclear-fueled Iranian hegemony over the region just don’t resonate with those who, like many in Europe, fear a fight to stop the ayatollahs from getting the bomb more than they fear Iranian nukes.

But whatever the motivation, what Panetta has done with his statement is to alert the Iranians to the fact that the United States has no intention of doing anything but talk about stopping the Islamist nuclear threat. This comes as no surprise to Iran, because its leaders have long since pegged President Obama as a weakling whom they needn’t worry about. A year of the administration’s comic attempts at “engagement” followed by two more of unsuccessful attempts to forge an international coalition in favor of tough sanctions aimed at Iran have taught the ayatollahs to discount any possibility that Obama will take action against them.

It was bad enough the Iranians already believed this to be true, but by speaking out publicly in this manner in an effort to stop any speculation about Washington still considering the possibility of the use of force, Panetta has given them a guarantee they have nothing to fear from the United States.

Panetta is also sending a message to Israel. Going back to the George W. Bush administration, the U.S. has refused to give the Israelis a green light to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities. By speaking of “unintended consequences,” there’s little doubt Panetta is seeking to repeat that signal. While Jerusalem may still hold onto some hope that the U.S. will eventually change its mind when presented with an imminent Iranian threat, the Netanyahu government must be forgiven for believing they are now clearly on their own.

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WaPo Fails to Dent Rubio’s Popularity

I had some fun with the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago when they published a terribly misleading and inaccurate article intended to cast doubt on Marco Rubio’s family history. I joked that the Post was becoming the Ron Burgundy of the newspaper world, talking about itself more than any other subject, and insisting to its readers that its reporting is important and influential.

While much of the criticism of the Post’s story has focused on its habit of ginning up controversy and then reporting on its reporting, we now know that it failed in its objective as well. Tim Mak calls attention to the latest poll of Rubio’s job approval, and it shows he has emerged from this absurd non-scandal unscathed:

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I had some fun with the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago when they published a terribly misleading and inaccurate article intended to cast doubt on Marco Rubio’s family history. I joked that the Post was becoming the Ron Burgundy of the newspaper world, talking about itself more than any other subject, and insisting to its readers that its reporting is important and influential.

While much of the criticism of the Post’s story has focused on its habit of ginning up controversy and then reporting on its reporting, we now know that it failed in its objective as well. Tim Mak calls attention to the latest poll of Rubio’s job approval, and it shows he has emerged from this absurd non-scandal unscathed:

Forty-nine percent of Florida voters approved of Rubio’s job performance — unchanged from late September, reports a new Quinnipiac poll. Only 29 percent disapproved of his job performance, slightly down from 31 percent in September.

A majority of Hispanics — 52 percent — approved of Rubio’s job performance, compared to only 23 percent who did not approve. The breakdown for Hispanic voters in September was not available.

This is a very good sign, obviously. Mainstream newspaper outlets have made a practice of insulting their readers by publishing vague stories about prominent Republicans, usually filled with innuendo, hearsay, and guilt-by-association. Their assumption is that they can confuse readers into thinking the politician has done something wrong when he has not.

But going after that politician’s family and ethnicity, the way the Post did with Rubio, deserves unambiguous rejection. Florida voters have done just that.

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Selling Out Our Allies for a Mess of Pottage

That’s a brilliant op-ed a geopolitical savant named Paul Kane has penned in the New York Times today.

He suggests, in an example of true “out of the box” thinking, that President Obama should get our economy going with a little diplomatic legerdemain: “He should enter into closed-door negotiations with Chinese leaders to write off the $1.14 trillion of American debt currently held by China in exchange for a deal to end American military assistance and arms sales to Taiwan and terminate the current United States-Taiwan defense arrangement by 2015.” True, that would consign 23 million people on Taiwan who live in a democracy to suffer under a Communist dictatorship that doesn’t even allow its people to use Google freely and consigns dissidents to hellacious prisons or mental hospitals. But, hey, what’s a little freedom compared to a trillion bucks?

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That’s a brilliant op-ed a geopolitical savant named Paul Kane has penned in the New York Times today.

He suggests, in an example of true “out of the box” thinking, that President Obama should get our economy going with a little diplomatic legerdemain: “He should enter into closed-door negotiations with Chinese leaders to write off the $1.14 trillion of American debt currently held by China in exchange for a deal to end American military assistance and arms sales to Taiwan and terminate the current United States-Taiwan defense arrangement by 2015.” True, that would consign 23 million people on Taiwan who live in a democracy to suffer under a Communist dictatorship that doesn’t even allow its people to use Google freely and consigns dissidents to hellacious prisons or mental hospitals. But, hey, what’s a little freedom compared to a trillion bucks?

This is such a stroke of genius that I suggest we extend its logic to other American allies. Let’s give Iran the OK to incinerate Israel in return for all the free oil we could use for the next century. Or why not give Russia the go-ahead to re-occupy Eastern Europe in return for all the vodka we can drink? And then let’s give North Korea permission to conquer South Korea in return for all the kimchi we can eat.

Eventually we might find, however, that selling out our allies for a mess of pottage is not such a great bargain. Actually we’ve found that out before: see “Munich, 1938.” The news of that little incident doesn’t seem to have reached the New York Times op-ed page.

 

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Romney’s Consistent Approach to Iran Policy

As Alana notes, Mitt Romney’s Wall Street Journal op-ed criticizes the Obama administration’s Iran policy and advocates for a tougher public posture against the Iranian regime. “I will back up American diplomacy with a very real and very credible military option,” Romney writes.

Because Romney has made a habit of allowing his positions on issues to “evolve” over the years, some see flip-flopping in every statement he makes, parsing the language for any justification to file another “Romney changes his stance on…” article. Over at the Danger Room, Spencer Ackerman and Noah Shachtman have fallen into this trap:

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As Alana notes, Mitt Romney’s Wall Street Journal op-ed criticizes the Obama administration’s Iran policy and advocates for a tougher public posture against the Iranian regime. “I will back up American diplomacy with a very real and very credible military option,” Romney writes.

Because Romney has made a habit of allowing his positions on issues to “evolve” over the years, some see flip-flopping in every statement he makes, parsing the language for any justification to file another “Romney changes his stance on…” article. Over at the Danger Room, Spencer Ackerman and Noah Shachtman have fallen into this trap:

In 2007, he said, “If for some reasons [the Iranians] continue down their course of folly toward nuclear ambition, then I would take military action if that’s available to us.”

Obviously, there’s some wiggle room in that statement. (Who knows what a “course of folly” looks like, or whether or not a military strike is “available?”) Still, it’s a sizable shift from 2007 to 2011. Instead of committing (however loosely) to military action, Romney will now merely threaten Iran.

Is it a “sizable shift”? Let’s look at the rest of that quote, left out of Ackerman and Shachtman’s post:

“That’s an option that’s on the table. And it is not something which we’ll spell out specifically. I really can’t lay out exactly how that would be done, but we have a number of options from blockade to bombardment of some kind. And that’s something we very much have to keep on the table, and we will ready ourselves to be able to take, because, frankly, I think it’s unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons.”

So, he’s gone from military action being “an option that’s on the table” to having a “credible military option.” Ackerman and Shachtman say this “shift” matters because it’s a signal from the Romney camp that they understand they are closer to the presidency than in 2007 and therefore are taking a more sober posture toward such issues. Other evidence of this “dovish” Romney? Ackerman and Shachtman say in 2007 Romney advocated for a new Marshall Plan “to wholly reshape the Middle East,” but he has now scrapped that in favor of “embrac[ing] the Arab Spring revolutionaries.” Something tells me Ackerman and Shachtman are aware that the Arab Spring has already reshaped the Middle East, and it would be strange for Romney not to recognize it.

So why put in all this effort in order to paint Romney as newly dovish? It’s possible Romney is finally being taken seriously by reporters and bloggers who previously expected President Obama would have an easier road to reelection. After last night’s debate, conventional wisdom is that Romney’s path to the nomination just got a bit smoother. The scrutiny will only increase, but his supporters (and those nervous about Iran’s nuclear program) will be heartened to find that he’s been, at least on this issue, consistent.

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Optimistic or Pessimistic About America: Rich Lowry

The following is from our November issue. Forty-one symposium contributors were asked to respond to the question: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America’s future?

_____________

The 1990s were a decade to make you believe there was no such thing as an intractable problem. We had defeated the Soviets. We won in the Persian Gulf War in a matter of weeks and quieted ancient ethnic furies in the Balkans. At home, we beat back crime. Welfare reform was a success. We seemed to have the business cycle figured out. It wasn’t really until the financial crisis of 2008 that we were reminded of what it means for things to be utterly out of control. It was a calamity for which no remedy presented itself; and, even if we made the best decisions, it might still have ended in catastrophe. Everything since—the spiraling debt, the persistent unemployment, the sense we might be on the precipice of another collapse—has been a great humbling.

I still tend to be an optimist about most of what dominates our public debate. Over time, the economy will recover. One way or another, we’ll bring the deficit under control. We’ll reform entitlements, inadequately and clumsily, but reform them nevertheless. Our international power will diminish, yet we’ll still be far ahead of any competitor. The American public has shown an admirable resistance to the vast designs of the Obama administration, and I expect President Obama to be either defeated or even more hemmed in during a second term than he is now. Read More

The following is from our November issue. Forty-one symposium contributors were asked to respond to the question: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America’s future?

_____________

The 1990s were a decade to make you believe there was no such thing as an intractable problem. We had defeated the Soviets. We won in the Persian Gulf War in a matter of weeks and quieted ancient ethnic furies in the Balkans. At home, we beat back crime. Welfare reform was a success. We seemed to have the business cycle figured out. It wasn’t really until the financial crisis of 2008 that we were reminded of what it means for things to be utterly out of control. It was a calamity for which no remedy presented itself; and, even if we made the best decisions, it might still have ended in catastrophe. Everything since—the spiraling debt, the persistent unemployment, the sense we might be on the precipice of another collapse—has been a great humbling.

I still tend to be an optimist about most of what dominates our public debate. Over time, the economy will recover. One way or another, we’ll bring the deficit under control. We’ll reform entitlements, inadequately and clumsily, but reform them nevertheless. Our international power will diminish, yet we’ll still be far ahead of any competitor. The American public has shown an admirable resistance to the vast designs of the Obama administration, and I expect President Obama to be either defeated or even more hemmed in during a second term than he is now.

What makes me pessimistic about our future is what nearly no one talks about: the breakdown of marriage and associated bourgeois institutions and virtues in what sociologist Brad Wilcox calls “the solid middle”—those Americans, representing 58 percent of the adult population, who have graduated from high school but don’t have a four-year college degree. Illegitimacy started its corrosive march from the bottom decades ago, but it has steadily crept up the income scale. Among those without a high school degree, the rate is 54 percent; among the solid middle, it’s 44 percent. Marriage and traditional sexual mores have made their last stand among the highly educated (people with a four-year degree or more), reversing everything we thought we knew about the supposed decadence of the elite. Their illegitimacy rate is only 6 percent, and they are less likely to divorce or commit adultery. The solid middle is becoming de-institutionalized. Its members are less likely to go to church or get involved in civic institutions than they were 30 years ago. The middle is thus losing crucial stores of social capital just as—in an interrelated trend—the economy offers fewer ready opportunities, especially for its men. We are witnessing a slow-moving social catastrophe that is mostly ignored, especially on the right.

It has become a mantra among conservatives—echoing a point originally made by Charles Krauthammer—that decline is a choice. But this social decline is not. Even those sounding the alarm about these trends offer few plausible answers for how to check them. How do you recover a culture of marriage once it’s been lost? How do you counteract the baleful side effects of globalization and automation? We seem to be heading inexorably in a direction that threatens our identity as a mass middle-class society. We’ll become more stratified and less mobile, with long-term political consequences that are impossible to predict, except that they can’t be good. William Dean Howells said that Americans love a tragedy so long as it has a happy ending. This is a tragedy that won’t end well.

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Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.

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