Practically every conversation about politics I had during the weekend with friends and associates began with them asking the same question: Isn’t Newt Gingrich the consummate insider, and therefore the antithesis of what Republican primary voters say they want this year? Well, yes and no.
The term “outsider,” which has become both a mantra and a badge of honor for GOP candidates this cycle, certainly evokes geography–distance from Washington, D.C. But it’s not solely a geographical term. Certainly Gingrich has, over the years, become quite comfortable in the district. But Gingrich’s goal was always as counterrevolutionary, not revolutionary–a distinction he felt was important to understand his role in Washington. From Steven M. Gillon’s book on the Gingrich-Bill Clinton rivalry of the ’90s:
According to Representative Nancy Pelosi, who served on the ethics committee that investigated Newt Gingrich for tax cheating and campaign finance violations in the late 1990s, “One of these days we’ll have a conversation about Newt Gingrich. When the time is right. … I know a lot about him. I served on the investigative committee that investigated him, four of us locked in a room in an undisclosed location for a year. A thousand pages of his stuff.”
Set aside the fact that (as Gingrich said) Pelosi would be violating House rules and abusing the ethics process if she disclosed anything from the ethics investigation. My question is whether this kind of politics is what Barack Obama had in mind when, in 2008, he preached against “a politics that breeds division and conflict and cynicism.” Or when he told us, “I want us to rediscover our bonds to each other and to get out of the constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics… the tit-for-tat, ‘gotcha’ game that passes for politics right now doesn’t solve problems. I want to get beyond that.” Or when he announced on a stage in Grant Park, on the night of his election, “Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.”
The State Department hasn’t posted a link to its daily press briefing yet, but I’ll paste the transcribed text at the bottom of this post so you can get a sense of how much the administration is squirming over this issue. The exchange between State spokesperson Mark Toner and one of the reporters is so incredibly awkward that the AP can’t even begin to capture it in the following write up:
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday that [U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard] Gutman would remain in his post.
Toner said Gutman spoke as ambassador, yet expressed his own views. He declined to say if the administration disagreed with those views.
The White House on Saturday condemned anti-Semitism in all forms. Gutman did as well.
Jewish groups expressed outrage. Some Republican presidential candidates have demanded Gutman’s resignation.
Why is Obama sticking by Gutman?
In the immediate aftermath of the news about the appalling statements of Howard Gutman, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, about Israel being to blame for anti-Semitism, there were those who assumed the envoy would soon be packing his bags for home. But a statement issued today by the State Department indicates that Gutman, who purchased his post by bundling more than half a million dollars in campaign contributions for President Obama, has nothing to worry about. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday Gutman would remain in his post and asserted that although Gutman’s appearance was in his official capacity, the views he expressed were his own. He also declined to say if the administration disagreed with those views.
Coming as it did in the same week in which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta blamed Israel for its isolation caused by the rise of Islamist groups in Turkey, Egypt and the refusal of the Palestinians to negotiate, Gutman’s survival sends a clear message about White House thinking about the Jewish state.
The Republican candidates have been weighing in all day on Belgium Ambassador Howard Gutman’s troubling remarks about anti-Semitism, but Democrats have been conspicuously silent. And it’s not just Democrats on the Hill. I called up the National Jewish Democratic Council to find out whether it would condemn Gutman’s comments. The response from NJDC spokesperson David Streeter: “We have no comment on it.”
That’s it? Let’s be clear about this: Gutman’s comments were indefensible. This isn’t about a policy difference between Democrats and Republicans. Both parties should be able to agree that blaming Israel for anti-Semitism is outrageous. If the NJDC can’t condemn something as cut-and-dry as that, then what can it condemn?
Last month, a bipartisan group of scholars and former policymakers signed onto a letter expressing opposition to a new arms sale to the Arab island nation of Bahrain given that country’s crackdown this past spring on largely peaceful protesters:
We were pleased to see the delay of the recently proposed sale of arms to Bahrain, and we hope that no sale of items that could be used to repress the Bahraini people will move forward until reforms are agreed to, implementation has begun, and the Bahraini government has clearly ceased using torture and violence against its own people.
In some circles, Newt Gingrich has the reputation of being a man with unsurpassed mastery of the issues. He is offering the “most substantive campaign in modern history.” He is all about offering “solutions.” And it’s said that one of the appeals of Gingrich is that he wouldn’t simply defeat President Obama; he would “intellectually flatten” him in debates.
Perhaps. But here’s a warning: When it comes to the former Speaker of the House, be sure to read the fine print. Take as one example this recent hour-long interview with Gingrich. At first blush he seems totally in command of the issues. But if you carefully parse what he says, potential weaknesses begin to appear.
Ilan Pappé rode to fame by bashing Israel, repeatedly accusing the Jewish state of war crimes and crying oppression when academics actually looked at his evidence and found it lacking. But, just as with University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole or University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer, there is a certain type of person who will cry persecution whenever critics find arguments unpersuasive if not bordering on deranged conspiracies. If, in Cole’s case, Yale and Duke University turn you down, it’s not because he came off as arrogant, did not fit the job description, or gave a sub-par job talk; it’s because the CIA was out to get him. Or, in Mearsheimer’s case, it was just easier to complain that Jews were muzzling him as he took a $750,000 book advance to the bank. That he subsequently chose to endorse a Holocaust denier’s book certainly shouldn’t reflect on his judgment.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with historical inquiry, but it must be done honestly. When I was working on my Ph.D, one of my faculty advisers quipped that theory was for people who did not have libraries. If there was not archival evidence to support a statement then, simply, that statement could not be made. Ignorance is no excuse for an academic, nor is stubbornness a virtue. When Benny Morris mistreated quotes by David Ben-Gurion and Theodor Herzl, he was rightly pilloried for it. In December 2006, he came clean and acknowledged that the Ben- Gurion quote was fraudulent. Kudos to him for reversing the error.
Yesterday’s elections for the Russian Duma (lower house of the legislature) returned mostly bad news for Vladimir Putin’s party, United Russia. Preliminary results matched exit polls, indicating United Russia would receive just under 50 percent of the votes, down from 64 percent in 2007.
The reason this created such a public relations disaster is because camera phones, blogs, and social media services such as Twitter made it easy for those outside Russia to receive updated and verifiable evidence of widespread election fraud on behalf of Putin’s party–including ballot box stuffing, the distribution of pens with invisible ink to polling places, intimidation of election observers, and vote buying. So the impression left lingering in the air was: Imagine if they didn’t try to rig the vote!
Back in 1993, it was Bill Clinton’s haircut tying up air traffic at Los Angeles International Airport. Just last week, President Obama appeared oblivious to how poorly-timed fundraising events could tie Manhattan traffic in knots. If Obama can cause a traffic jam, though, it seems that Vice President Biden wants to one up him. Buried in a Turkish news story about Biden’s visit to Istanbul, was this nugget:
Enjoying the Bosporus view underneath with a speed of around 10 kilometers per hour, he [Biden] did possibly not get the goodwill wishes from all those driving in Saturday lunchtime traffic of the city inhabited by 14 million people.
It’s bad enough that Newsmax is giving Donald Trump an opening to once again infuse the GOP race with his toxic, self-promoting nonsense by naming him as the moderator of the magazine’s upcoming Republican debate. But Michelle Malkin points out that Trump isn’t the only noxious character associated with the debate. Former CNN head Eason Jordan – the disgraced journalist who admitted to flacking for Saddam’s regime for years in an effort to keep CNN’s Baghdad bureau open – was also given a prominent role as an executive producer:
On Sunday, Newsmax and ION Television announced several key staff for their debate:
Eason Jordan, executive producer — Jordan worked for 23 years with CNN, where he served as chief news executive and president of news gathering and international networks. Jordan’s journalistic honors include Emmy Awards, Peabody Awards Edward R. Murrow Awards, Headliner Awards, ACE Awards, the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the Vanguard Award, and the Livingston Award. He is the founder and CEO of Poll Position, a news, polling, and social media company. He is also a member of the Council of Foreign Relations.
During the past several months, I have criticized Voice of America’s Persian Service which, even at the best of times, has been aimless and ill managed. Rather than unite around a particular mission—for example, voicing the news which Iranian journalists are unable to because of censorship and oppression—VOA- Persian’s management has allowed its staff to become partisan in the American context. Its head, Ramin Asgard, appears to have adopted the State Department’s goal of promoting diplomacy with Tehran, without concern for its place in a broader, comprehensive strategy. In recent weeks, the service has been in free-fall with firings, lawsuits, and figurative knife fights among factions. It is never a good thing for American broadcast strategy when, having lost sight of the forest through the trees and having no sense of mission, employees leak the latest gossip to the Islamic Republic’s state press.
Alas, in speaking to others working for American broadcasting overseas, it appears others have taken notice of VOA-Persian’s weakness and may indeed be hastening its demise.
Beyond helping cement Newt Gingrich as the “true conservative” in the field, what impact would Herman Cain’s reported endorsement have on the race?
Cain’s support has dwindled too much to really matter in New Hampshire and Iowa, but he still remains strong in Florida and South Carolina – two states where Gingrich already has a wide lead on Romney. But certainly this endorsement would still be a nice get for Gingrich:
In the Obama administration’s latest salvo against Israel (see here and here for previous rounds), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly accused Israel of behaving like undemocratic regimes, even comparing it directly to Iran.
This is so outrageous it shouldn’t need refuting. But since the secretary of state is clearly confused about what distinguishes democracies from non-democracies, allow me to help: Democracies, like non-democracies, consist of human beings, and human beings everywhere sometimes produce bad ideas. But unlike non-democracies, democracies have numerous self-correcting mechanisms to keep such bad ideas in check. And nothing better proves this than the very examples she cited.
In August 2008, Russian forces invaded Georgia. Sen. John McCain reacted strongly, but then-Sen. Barack Obama’s reaction was limp-wristed at best until Michael McFaul, perhaps Obama’s most able adviser and certainly the shining star of Obama’s National Security Council, shored it up.
Nevertheless, the atmosphere among the American media was poisonous. Obama was promising to embrace all enemies, and Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry were repeatedly thumbing their nose at the Bush administration (and Lebanon) by sitting down to engage with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. When Russia invaded Georgia, the blame-the-victim mentality was rife, with even The New York Times suggesting that tiny, democratic Georgia was responsible for provoking Russia. European fact-finders went so far as to blame George W. Bush for provoking Russia by celebrating Georgia’s democracy, and its efforts to promote freedom and liberty.
Newt Gingrich is closing in on Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, but the former Massachusetts governor still leads the former House Speaker by 16 points, according to the latest Marist poll:
Here is how the contest stands among likely Republican primary voters including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate in New Hampshire:
- 39% for Mitt Romney
- 23% for Newt Gingrich
- 16% for Ron Paul
- 9% for Jon Huntsman
- 3% for Michele Bachmann
- 3% for Rick Perry
- 2% for Herman Cain
- 1% for Rick Santorum
- 4% are undecided
The firestorm over the assertion made last week by Howard Gutman, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, that one must draw a distinction between Arab Jew-hatred and “traditional” anti-Semitism won’t be put out by his disingenuous attempt to explain himself. Gutman distinguished Arab anti-Semitism from other variants of this prejudice because it is caused by Israeli policies rather than stemming from the demons of the Muslim world that have given rise to extremist and terrorist groups.
In a subsequent statement, Gutman failed to apologize and merely claimed his remarks were “taken the wrong way.” He then said his status as the son of a Holocaust survivor gives him impunity on the subject. But there was no misunderstanding here. He directly blamed Israel for anti-Semitism in Europe and said Arab hate of Jews was different from that of previous generations of haters. Gutman also explicitly said “every new settlement announced in Israel” and “every retaliatory military strike” undertaken by the Israelis “provides a setback for those fighting hatred and bigotry in here in Europe.” That he coupled his condemnation of Israel along with swipes at Palestinians doesn’t get him off the hook. By doing so, he treated Israeli home building with murder and its right of self-defense with terrorism.
Last week, liberal author and Obama supporter Doris Kearns Goodwin told “Meet the Press” that the president ought to stop playing the post-partisan and emulate Theodore Roosevelt by initiating a re-election effort aimed at rekindling the 26th president’s appeal for a “Square Deal.” Kearns Goodwin hoped Obama might capture the fervor of TR’s unsuccessful Bull Moose Party campaign for president in 1912 during which he called for more fairness in the economic system of the time and railed against untrammeled corporate greed. And, as Ben Smith notes in Politico, it appears the White House is taking her advice by going to Osawatomie, Kansas, to deliver remarks on the economy which will seek to identify Obama’s views with those of the hero of San Juan Hill.
The superficial link between Roosevelt’s version of progressivism and contemporary liberalism was enough to send Glenn Beck off the deep end last year, but it appears the famous historian Kearns Goodwin and Obama himself seem to agree with the conservative talker. But they are all equally off the mark. Comparisons between TR’s attempt to introduce some notion of fairness into a financial system that had none at the time and in which even the most minimal government regulation of market excesses was controversial simply cannot be compared to Obama’s desire to expand the size and reach of government to an extent Roosevelt never dreamed of.