Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 6, 2011

The Essential Modesty of Conservatism

In his recent column, George Will said of Newt Gingrich: “There is his anti-conservative confidence that he has a comprehensive explanation of, and plan to perfect, everything.” Will went on to write that Gingrich “believes everything is related to everything else and only he understands how. Conservatism, in contrast, is both cause and effect of modesty about understanding society’s complexities, controlling its trajectory and improving upon its spontaneous order. Conservatism inoculates against the hubristic volatility that Gingrich exemplifies.”

Whether or not one believes Will’s description applies to Gingrich, there is something quite important in Will’s characterization of conservatism.

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In his recent column, George Will said of Newt Gingrich: “There is his anti-conservative confidence that he has a comprehensive explanation of, and plan to perfect, everything.” Will went on to write that Gingrich “believes everything is related to everything else and only he understands how. Conservatism, in contrast, is both cause and effect of modesty about understanding society’s complexities, controlling its trajectory and improving upon its spontaneous order. Conservatism inoculates against the hubristic volatility that Gingrich exemplifies.”

Whether or not one believes Will’s description applies to Gingrich, there is something quite important in Will’s characterization of conservatism.

My colleague Yuval Levin, in his dissertation comparing Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine (“The Great Law of Change”), points out that Burke believed in the complexity of human nature and the limits of human reason. He warned of the dangers of relying simply on speculative theories and mistaking politics for metaphysics. And he insisted on the importance of learning from circumstances, from the concrete and particular in human life. Burke wrote that government is “a practical thing, made for the happiness of mankind” – not “to gratify the schemes of visionary politicians.” The danger facing statesmen, he warned, is when they view self-government “as if it were an abstract question concerning metaphysical liberty and necessity and not a matter of moral prudence and natural feeling.” This created in Burke an “essential moderation,” according to Levin, a modesty in our capacity to understand the patterns of human nature and the actions of human beings. There is no unified field theory that explains everything.

This doesn’t mean Burke didn’t believe enduring principles should guide our politics; it simply means Burke believed the practical application of those principles in human affairs is difficult and often imprecise, that we have to rely on the accumulated wisdom of those who came before us, that even the wisest among us has an imperfect and incomplete understanding of things, and that radicals can become “blind disciples of their own particular presumption.”

One sometimes gets the sense those of us who claim the title of conservative embrace what Aristotle, the great master of reason, called a “species of delusive geometrical accuracy” in moral arguments and politics, in predicting the effects of political actions on human behavior. We forget, more often than we should, that finding the right balance between order and freedom is a precarious undertaking. Which brings us back to Burke, who confessed to a friend, “Every political question I have ever known has had so much of the pro and con in it that nothing but the success could decide which proposition was to have been adopted.”

The students of Burke are reminding us of the wisdom of Burke. We could do worse than to listen to them.

 

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1910 and 2011 as Different as TR and Obama

As expected, President Obama attempted to reclaim the mantle of Theodore Roosevelt in his speech on economic policy in Osawatomie, Kansas. The crux of his address was a comparison of our current situation to that of 1910 when Theodore Roosevelt journeyed to the same town. According to the president, the current downturn is analogous to that of a century ago when the national transformation from a largely agricultural to an industrial economy took place. He sees his own demand for higher taxes on upper income Americans and his party’s ferocious defense of the status quo on entitlement spending as no different from TR’s call for the government to act to ensure fairness for workers who lacked rights and protection at a time when there was virtually no regulation of industry or Wall Street.

But the differences between 1910 and 2011 are even greater than the vast chasm that separates Obama from the Rough Rider. The only thing the situations have in common is that in both years there were protesters in the streets. But whereas a century ago, workers and the poor had a legitimate beef, today’s Occupy Wall Street protests are a function of envy and a sense of entitlement, not genuine grievance.

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As expected, President Obama attempted to reclaim the mantle of Theodore Roosevelt in his speech on economic policy in Osawatomie, Kansas. The crux of his address was a comparison of our current situation to that of 1910 when Theodore Roosevelt journeyed to the same town. According to the president, the current downturn is analogous to that of a century ago when the national transformation from a largely agricultural to an industrial economy took place. He sees his own demand for higher taxes on upper income Americans and his party’s ferocious defense of the status quo on entitlement spending as no different from TR’s call for the government to act to ensure fairness for workers who lacked rights and protection at a time when there was virtually no regulation of industry or Wall Street.

But the differences between 1910 and 2011 are even greater than the vast chasm that separates Obama from the Rough Rider. The only thing the situations have in common is that in both years there were protesters in the streets. But whereas a century ago, workers and the poor had a legitimate beef, today’s Occupy Wall Street protests are a function of envy and a sense of entitlement, not genuine grievance.

Obama is right when he says Roosevelt was called a socialist and a communist for his manifest of a “new nationalism.” But Roosevelt was not an opponent of the free market. His objective was to save capitalism from the capitalists whose goal was largely the destruction of the free market and its conversion into a network of monopolies. While TR understood that some concentration of capital was inevitable in a free economy, he believed the coming American century required the nation to adopt measures that would ensure basic fairness for all citizens. Obama believes the 2008 economic crackup requires a similar overhauling of the system, and along those lines, he has given us a stimulus and Obamacare, a vast expansion of government power that bears no resemblance to what Roosevelt believed necessary to create his “Square Deal.”

Yet unlike 1910, the problem today is not that the government is too small and lacks the power to check the excesses of the market. It is that its power is so vast. Today’s federal government is a leviathan whose boot is pressed upon the throats of both individuals and corporations; it consistently deprives our free marketplace the oxygen it needs to thrive and grow. Obama began his speech by speaking of the mortgage debacle that triggered the 2008 collapse but failed to mention the bad debts were largely caused not by an untrammeled free market that begged for more regulation but by government intervention that demanded loans be given to those who could not possibly pay them off. Those who occupy our streets demanding a bigger government and more entitlements may have Obama’s sympathy. But they are out of touch with both economic reality and the sentiments of most taxpayers.

The great dilemma facing the nation is not the grinding poverty of 1910, when no safety net was available. It is the enormous debt that has been created by a system of entitlements that will bankrupt the nation. The middle class Obama says he wants to save will be crushed by that debt. But Obama has ridiculed proposals to reform the system and harps instead on raising taxes on the wealthy, a measure that will kill job creation while doing virtually nothing to fix the problem.

Roosevelt’s proposals in 1910 were an attempt to head off the coming of class warfare that he rightly believed would destroy American liberty if the choice before Americans were only that of J.P. Morgan’s worldview or that of leftist radicals. By contrast, Obama’s political agenda consists of precisely the sort of class war rhetoric TR despised. Obama and his cheering section in the mainstream press may think he is channeling the 26th president. But Roosevelt would have had no patience for either his economic strategies or his vision of America’s place in the world.

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Our Anemic Economic Recovery

William Galston, a former domestic policy adviser to President Clinton, wrote a recent piece in The New Republic which highlights three jobs-related data points:

* If Americans of working age were participating in the labor force at the same rate as they were at the onset of the recession, the labor force would be nearly 5 million people larger, and unemployment would be significantly worse in both absolute and percentage terms.

* Total employment remains more than 5.5 million below the level of 2007 and about 1.6 million below where it was when President Obama took office.

* To regain full employment (which Galston pegs at 5 percent, the same as the level when the recession began) with the pre-recessionary labor force participation rate, we would need 150.7 million jobs  or more than 10 million more than we have today.

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William Galston, a former domestic policy adviser to President Clinton, wrote a recent piece in The New Republic which highlights three jobs-related data points:

* If Americans of working age were participating in the labor force at the same rate as they were at the onset of the recession, the labor force would be nearly 5 million people larger, and unemployment would be significantly worse in both absolute and percentage terms.

* Total employment remains more than 5.5 million below the level of 2007 and about 1.6 million below where it was when President Obama took office.

* To regain full employment (which Galston pegs at 5 percent, the same as the level when the recession began) with the pre-recessionary labor force participation rate, we would need 150.7 million jobs  or more than 10 million more than we have today.

We’re now two-and-a-half years into the recovery, which must now rank as among the most anemic in our history. Ronald Reagan inherited an economy that was sicker than Obama did — and at this juncture in his presidency the economy was roaring back. During the Obama era, on the other hand, we remain essentially flat on our backs. We’ve even reached the point where a jobs report that shows more than two-and-a-half times more people are dropping out of the labor force than are being hired is considered good news.

I’ll let you draw the appropriate conclusions.

 

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Newt Gingrich’s 100 Days

There was a telling quote in yesterday’s Politico article about the way many conservatives are backing off on criticism of Newt Gingrich. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) said the former House Speaker’s comeback reminded him of Napoleon’s return from Elba. “Now it’s like Napoleon showing up for the 100 days. We all may follow him into battle again — and you just hope it’s not Waterloo.” Judging by virtually every poll of Republican voters taken in the last couple of weeks, the GOP had better hope not. But Cole may have a point. In March 1815, the French remembered only what was good about the Corsican when he returned from exile. But they chose not to think about his subsequent defeats that had nearly destroyed their country. The same may be said about the manner in which many Republicans have suddenly remembered the glory Gingrich earned in the early 1990s during his tenure as one of the most successful House minority leaders in congressional history while forgetting the fact that he was among the most disastrous Speakers.

Politico is probably wrong to read too much in the absence of a burgeoning “stop Gingrich” movement at the moment. Rest assured if he wins Iowa and appears to be heading to the nomination by mid-January, many in the GOP — especially office-holders who will have to run underneath him on the ballot next fall — will be seeking to do just that. Considering no votes have yet been cast, the idea of a “stop Gingrich” movement is clearly premature. He may well parlay his current momentum into a stranglehold on the nomination next month if the polls hold. But a lot of the people quoted in the Politico story know Gingrich well enough to realize that gives him plenty of time to implode.

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There was a telling quote in yesterday’s Politico article about the way many conservatives are backing off on criticism of Newt Gingrich. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) said the former House Speaker’s comeback reminded him of Napoleon’s return from Elba. “Now it’s like Napoleon showing up for the 100 days. We all may follow him into battle again — and you just hope it’s not Waterloo.” Judging by virtually every poll of Republican voters taken in the last couple of weeks, the GOP had better hope not. But Cole may have a point. In March 1815, the French remembered only what was good about the Corsican when he returned from exile. But they chose not to think about his subsequent defeats that had nearly destroyed their country. The same may be said about the manner in which many Republicans have suddenly remembered the glory Gingrich earned in the early 1990s during his tenure as one of the most successful House minority leaders in congressional history while forgetting the fact that he was among the most disastrous Speakers.

Politico is probably wrong to read too much in the absence of a burgeoning “stop Gingrich” movement at the moment. Rest assured if he wins Iowa and appears to be heading to the nomination by mid-January, many in the GOP — especially office-holders who will have to run underneath him on the ballot next fall — will be seeking to do just that. Considering no votes have yet been cast, the idea of a “stop Gingrich” movement is clearly premature. He may well parlay his current momentum into a stranglehold on the nomination next month if the polls hold. But a lot of the people quoted in the Politico story know Gingrich well enough to realize that gives him plenty of time to implode.

The Gingrich bubble is stronger and has lasted longer than most observers (including this one) thought possible. It seemed preposterous that conservatives could have forgotten or forgiven the disgraceful end to Gingrich’s tenure as Speaker or his decade as a Washington influence peddler after he left office. His inconsistencies make Mitt Romney’s flip-flopping on the issues look like a model of stability. Yet all conservatives seems to care about Gingrich is the fact that a) He is not Mitt Romney; b) He has done well in the debates, and they believe he’ll demolish President Obama in this format next fall; and c) Once upon a time, he was the inspirational fire-breathing leader of the conservative moment in this country.

To listen to many of his supporters these days, Gingrich’s conservative bona fides seem to have a lot more to do with the past than the present, which makes sense as many of his positions on issues like Medicare reform, immigration or foreign policy are clearly to the left of Romney and much of the GOP field. While the candidate would have us believe there is a new Newt who has learned from his mistakes, that appears to be limited to concerns about his personal life. The rest of his persona — the ideas maven and would-be visionary — is very much the same as the old Newt. And the increasing talk about the glory of 1994 seems predicated on a strategy of positioning him as the man who will take down Obama the same way he toppled the Democratic congressional majority 17 years ago.

That historic achievement was a singular moment in our political history, and Gingrich will always be able to bask in the glow of its memory. But recalling that victory while ignoring much of what followed is pretty much the same thing as assessing Napoleon’s career as if it ended after Austerlitz, while sweeping his calamitous campaigns in Spain and Russia under the historical rug.

Time will tell whether Republicans are sufficiently sold on the new Newt to carry him to the nomination. But given his track record, it’s fair to say the only question about when his Waterloo will arrive will be whatever happens before or after the Republican convention next September in Tampa.

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NAACP Petitions UN Over Voter ID Laws

Laws requiring photo ID at voting stations might seem pretty sensible, but to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People they apparently amount to “systematic suppression” of minority voters. The group is now petitioning the United Nations (via the UN Human Rights commissioner) for a ruling on the issue.

The largest civil rights group in America, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), is petitioning the UN over what it sees as a concerted effort to disenfranchise black and Latino voters ahead of next year’s presidential election.…

Studies have showed that the proportion of voters who do not have access to valid photo ID cards is much higher among older African-Americans because they were not given birth certificates in the days of segregation. Students and young voters also often lack identification and are thus in danger of being stripped of their right to vote.

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Laws requiring photo ID at voting stations might seem pretty sensible, but to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People they apparently amount to “systematic suppression” of minority voters. The group is now petitioning the United Nations (via the UN Human Rights commissioner) for a ruling on the issue.

The largest civil rights group in America, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), is petitioning the UN over what it sees as a concerted effort to disenfranchise black and Latino voters ahead of next year’s presidential election.…

Studies have showed that the proportion of voters who do not have access to valid photo ID cards is much higher among older African-Americans because they were not given birth certificates in the days of segregation. Students and young voters also often lack identification and are thus in danger of being stripped of their right to vote.

So, the NAACP is basically doing this as a public relations stunt, and they’ll likely pull it off successfully. It doesn’t take much predictive power to guess how the UN would rule on something like this. When’s the last time the UN turned down an opportunity to bash the United States on a human rights issue? Fortunately, most Americans are fully aware the UN is a bad joke, and its ruling on this won’t be taken seriously by anybody outside of the left-wing human rights community.

It’s also worth taking the NAACP’s argument to its logical conclusion. If photo ID requirements for voting end up disenfranchising minorities, isn’t the only fair solution to make sure that more people are applying for photo IDs in the first place? After all, there are countless everyday activities that require photo identification. If minorities are disenfranchised from voting, aren’t they also disenfranchised from driving a car, buying a gun, renting an apartment, getting into bars and nightclubs, cashing a check, buying cigarettes, using a credit card, traveling on a plane, applying for government assistance, and so on?

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Jon Huntsman 2.0?

Jon Huntsman struck a much more serious tone today at the Heritage Foundation–a tone that seemed designed finally to match his demeanor to his supporters’ description of him as a “statesman.”

The part of the speech and question-and-answer session in which this was most apparent was in Huntsman’s discussion of climate change. This topic was part of the early derailment of Huntsman’s candidacy, when he struck a condescending, taunting tone toward his rivals, even though–as today’s speech made clear–his position on climate change is identical in substance to that of Mitt Romney and nearly identical to that of Newt Gingrich.

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Jon Huntsman struck a much more serious tone today at the Heritage Foundation–a tone that seemed designed finally to match his demeanor to his supporters’ description of him as a “statesman.”

The part of the speech and question-and-answer session in which this was most apparent was in Huntsman’s discussion of climate change. This topic was part of the early derailment of Huntsman’s candidacy, when he struck a condescending, taunting tone toward his rivals, even though–as today’s speech made clear–his position on climate change is identical in substance to that of Mitt Romney and nearly identical to that of Newt Gingrich.

Huntsman said he deferred to scientists on the science of climate change, but made it clear that the policy prescriptions have to make sense too. He warned against unilaterally disarming the American economy, especially if such action would not be taken in concert with China. He sensibly dismissed the idea that a scientific consensus is the same as undeniable proof, notably in light of the recent revelations that the climate science community has been far from immune from corruption, blacklisting, and punishing dissent.

Huntsman was asked by Talking Points Memo if he is “flip-flopping” on the subject. “I think the onus is on the scientific community to… provide more clarity,” he responded.

Also noticeable was the lack of puns, pop culture references, and cheesy jokes that have been staples of Huntsman’s public appearances since the beginning of the campaign. Huntsman looks the part of a president when he eschews the schmaltzy slogans in favor of reasoned policy discussion–at which Huntsman clearly excels.

If this is a preview of what viewers can expect in Huntsman’s upcoming one-on-one debate with Gingrich, this is more bad news for Romney. The Jon Huntsman who appeared at the Heritage Foundation this afternoon will appeal to New Hampshire voters. In a fluid race, Huntsman may be on the verge of shaking things up yet again, if only to chip away at others’ leads and introduce some more parity into the polls.

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Conflict is the Excuse of Arab Jew-Haters, Not the Cause of Their Hatred

Though the Howard Gutman incident is still something the New York Times hasn’t bothered to report, the effort by the left to push back against complaints about the egregious nature of the remarks made by the U.S. ambassador to Belgium last week have continued. In the latest one, Justin Elliot in Salon singles out my comments about Gutman’s attempt to distinguish between “classical” anti-Semitism and Jew-hatred by Muslims that is rooted in resentment of Israeli actions.

Elliot does not even bother to defend Gutman’s attempt to draw a moral equivalence between Palestinian terrorism and Israeli home building and measures of self-defense. But he does try to claim, as did a writer at Think Progress yesterday, that Gutman was misquoted about anti-Semitism. This is a risible assertion and is easily dismissed. More interesting is his attempt to claim there is nothing controversial about linking the Middle East conflict with anti-Semitism. He agrees with Adam Serwer who wrote in Mother Jones, “Gutman’s suggestion that anti-Semitism would subside if a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be reached isn’t the same as saying Israelis or Jews are ‘responsible’ for anti-Semitism.” But to say this as if it were self-evident misses the point. Far from being morally neutral, the whole focus on Israeli actions that he claims fuel anti-Semitic incidents, does just that.

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Though the Howard Gutman incident is still something the New York Times hasn’t bothered to report, the effort by the left to push back against complaints about the egregious nature of the remarks made by the U.S. ambassador to Belgium last week have continued. In the latest one, Justin Elliot in Salon singles out my comments about Gutman’s attempt to distinguish between “classical” anti-Semitism and Jew-hatred by Muslims that is rooted in resentment of Israeli actions.

Elliot does not even bother to defend Gutman’s attempt to draw a moral equivalence between Palestinian terrorism and Israeli home building and measures of self-defense. But he does try to claim, as did a writer at Think Progress yesterday, that Gutman was misquoted about anti-Semitism. This is a risible assertion and is easily dismissed. More interesting is his attempt to claim there is nothing controversial about linking the Middle East conflict with anti-Semitism. He agrees with Adam Serwer who wrote in Mother Jones, “Gutman’s suggestion that anti-Semitism would subside if a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be reached isn’t the same as saying Israelis or Jews are ‘responsible’ for anti-Semitism.” But to say this as if it were self-evident misses the point. Far from being morally neutral, the whole focus on Israeli actions that he claims fuel anti-Semitic incidents, does just that.

To back up Gutman, Elliot points to research by Britain’s Community Service Trust that documents incidents of anti-Semitism. It concluded “much contemporary anti-Semitism takes place in the context of, or is motivated by, extreme feelings over the Israel/Palestine issue” and spoke of the spike in incidents after the Gaza flotilla incident in 2010 or Israel’s counter-offensive against Gaza-based terrorists in 2008.

But the conclusions reached here are misleading. It is true that those who express hatred for Jews and give vent to these feelings are more likely to do so when Israel is in the news. Then they claim it is the conflict or specific actions undertaken by the Jewish state that is the cause of what they say and do. But, as with the “classic anti-Semitism” that Gutman saw as different from contemporary Arab hate, Israeli actions merely provide an excuse for this prejudice. Israeli actions are not its cause.

The anti-Semitism growing in Britain and throughout Europe did not arise in an ideological or cultural vacuum. Nor did it come to life only after 1948 or 1967. It sprung from Arab propaganda about Israel and Jews virtually identical to the old anti-Semitism and even has used texts such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as its sourcebook. The calumnies thrown at Israel and its supporters abroad are not the stuff of diplomatic complaints about specific incidents in which Israelis are wrongly alleged to have misbehaved, such as the Gaza offensive or the flotilla. Rather, they are rooted and often expressed in the language and spirit of “traditional” anti-Semitism in which the Jew is a foreign body who is falsely thought to be oppressing innocent gentiles, in this case the Palestinians. European anti-Semites, a growing group comprised of both Muslim immigrants from the Middle East and homegrown leftist intellectuals, aren’t merely upset with Israeli policies. They believe the Jewish state has no right to either exist or defend itself.

Such views give the lie to Elliot and Serwer’s beliefs that Middle East peace would diminish Euro Jew-hatred because such an event — in which Israel and its foes would agree to coexist and recognize each other’s legitimacy — is antithetical to the haters’ notion of justice. While their hate is exacerbated when the conflict rages, it is not the absence of peace that drives them to hate. It is the existence of Israel, no matter where its borders might be drawn. It is the refusal of the Jews to give up Israel and their insistence on defending themselves against terror that is fueling European anti-Semitism. But instead of focusing in on the bigoted motivations of the Jew-haters, what Gutman did was to treat their wish to eradicate Israel as morally equivalent to the desire of the Jews not to lose their state or their lives.

Treating this expression of anti-Semitism as a function of a political disagreement is fundamentally mistaken. Those who promote the canard that Israel is a racist entity that must be expunged from the map will not be appeased by a peace agreement the Palestinians have shown time and again they have no interest in signing. Solving the Middle East conflict will no more calm contemporary anti-Semites than any pacific gestures towards Germany by Jews would have satisfied the Nazis. The haters hate Israel because it is the Jewish state, not because of lies about conditions in Gaza.

Far from being “smeared,” as Elliot alleges, Gutman has given Europe’s Jew-haters a rationale and a sort of legitimacy they do not deserve. Turning the discussion about hatred for Jews in today’s Europe into one about what Israel can do to give the anti-Semites less ammunition as Gutman did misreads the problem. It is also an expression of irritation with Israel that has become commonplace in the Obama administration. Both Gutman and the president he serves need to be held to account.

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Has Obama Destroyed the Alliance?

It’s been a difficult week for Israel. A trifecta of attacks on the foundation of the ties between the United States and the Jewish state in the past few days have exposed the ambivalent feelings of top Obama administration officials. If you add together recent statements by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman, it’s hard to blame Caroline Glick for claiming that “under Obama, the U.S. is no longer Israel’s ally.”

But it’s worthwhile pointing out that despite these ominous signals and the failure of the administration’s promises to stop Iran’s nuclear program, Obama is still operating under constraints that will make it difficult for him to further weaken the bonds that unite Israel and the United States. The offensive words uttered by Panetta, Clinton and Gutman, as well as previous actions by Obama, point more to their frustration with a situation in which they know they cannot teach Israel’s government the rough lesson they believe it deserves than anything else.

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It’s been a difficult week for Israel. A trifecta of attacks on the foundation of the ties between the United States and the Jewish state in the past few days have exposed the ambivalent feelings of top Obama administration officials. If you add together recent statements by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman, it’s hard to blame Caroline Glick for claiming that “under Obama, the U.S. is no longer Israel’s ally.”

But it’s worthwhile pointing out that despite these ominous signals and the failure of the administration’s promises to stop Iran’s nuclear program, Obama is still operating under constraints that will make it difficult for him to further weaken the bonds that unite Israel and the United States. The offensive words uttered by Panetta, Clinton and Gutman, as well as previous actions by Obama, point more to their frustration with a situation in which they know they cannot teach Israel’s government the rough lesson they believe it deserves than anything else.

As Obama learned to his dismay this past spring when his intended ambush of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a visit to Washington backfired on him, the alliance with Israel isn’t a function of the whims of an individual president. From the first day he took office, Obama has been open about his goal of creating more distance between the U.S. and Israel than existed under his predecessors. That’s been a dangerous mistake that has destroyed what was left of the peace process and encouraged Israel’s foes to think its alliance with the United States is crumbling. That’s made the Middle East an even more dangerous place than it already was. But at the same time, due to the demands of Congress and key constituencies within the Democratic Party, the president has always been forced to maintain the security alliance that exists between the two nations. And in spite of Obama’s desire to help the Palestinians and his evident distaste for Israel, the so-called “diplomatic tsunami” that a Palestinian independence push at the United Nations was supposed to cause has fizzled.

To note these facts is not to dismiss the damage the fights picked by Obama (as well as Panetta’s attempt to blame Israel for its isolation by Islamists and Clinton for her slurs on Israeli democracy) have caused. But it must be understood their bristling resentment of Israel and Netanyahu is heightened by the fact that they know if they go further, there will be a terrible political reckoning. That’s why even as he chips away at the alliance, Obama must pay it homage and even be forced to claim, as he did last week, he is a good friend to the Jewish state. Such claims may be disingenuous, but like all forms of hypocrisy, they are, as the saying goes, the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

The reason why the pro-Israel consensus in the United States is so strong is that its roots are deep in our political culture and broader than just the Jewish vote or AIPAC. That’s what drives critics of the relationship like the Israel Lobby authors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer crazy. And it’s also why Obama administration officials who are for their own ideological reasons unhappy about having to help Israel despite their strong desire to smack it around, sometimes give vent to statements that would lead you to think the alliance is doomed.

It is true a second Obama administration would have considerably more freedom to apply pressure on Israel than it has had the last three years. That is something that should give Israeli leaders who are pondering their options on Iran as well as American supporters of the Jewish state something to think about. But as bad as things seem right now, it should be remembered that no matter what Obama, Panetta, Clinton and their underlings may think about Israel, they are keenly aware a full break with Israel is not something they can get away with.

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Obama Victory Hinges on Pennsylvania

Not only would it be tricky for President Obama to win reelection without Pennsylvania from purely a numbers perspective, but the state will also serve as a bellwether for independent voters nationally.  The Pennsylvania electorate is made up of the same type of voters Obama needs to reach across the country: middle class, white moderates and independents.

Strategists say a loss in Pennsylvania would all but doom the president’s reelection hopes. It would mean he hadn’t rallied his base, or won back independent voters who abandoned him in 2010, or closed an enthusiasm gap that now favors Republicans. A poor showing here — a state the Democratic nominee has carried in the last five presidential contests — would suggest Obama’s surprising 2008 victories in states such as Virginia and North Carolina would be tough to duplicate.

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Not only would it be tricky for President Obama to win reelection without Pennsylvania from purely a numbers perspective, but the state will also serve as a bellwether for independent voters nationally.  The Pennsylvania electorate is made up of the same type of voters Obama needs to reach across the country: middle class, white moderates and independents.

Strategists say a loss in Pennsylvania would all but doom the president’s reelection hopes. It would mean he hadn’t rallied his base, or won back independent voters who abandoned him in 2010, or closed an enthusiasm gap that now favors Republicans. A poor showing here — a state the Democratic nominee has carried in the last five presidential contests — would suggest Obama’s surprising 2008 victories in states such as Virginia and North Carolina would be tough to duplicate.

The Israel issue has a big influence in Pennsylvania politics, which will be another obstacle for Obama. Exit polling from 2008 showed Jewish voters made up 4 percent of the electorate – and they helped contribute to Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s victory over J Street-endorsed Democratic candidate Joe Sestak in 2010.

Speaking of Sestak, he thinks Romney would be the most competitive candidate against Obama in Pennsylvania:

“The race is going to be a nail-biter for him, particularly if Gov. Romney” is his opponent, said Joe Sestak, a Pennsylvania Democrat who lost a U.S. Senate race to Republican Patrick J. Toomey in 2010.

It seems counterintuitive, but Romney’s perceived flip-flopping might prove to be an asset among moderate Republicans and independents in the Philadelphia suburbs, Sestak said, because those voters don’t want ideologues.

As for Obama’s presidency, Sestak said, “There was a promise that this wasn’t going to be a red-blue battle — that it was going to be something different. It never came about, and people have a right to be disappointed. It is tough, sure, but he’s the captain of the ship.”

Considering that Sestak is a Democrat and lost his last election, I’m not sure how much weight his advice to Republicans really carries. But polls do back him up. A late November Public Policy Polling survey found that Romney came closest to beating Obama in the state, tying him at 45 percent. Gingrich was the fourth most competitive GOP candidate in a matchup, losing to Obama by six points.

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Belgium Embassy’s Transcript of Gutman Speech Doesn’t Match Delivered Remarks

There are two overarching criticisms of U.S.Ambassador Howard Gutman’s disgraceful speech last week, a speech the content of which the White House has yet to walk back. They are:

(1) That Gutman rationalized anti-Semitic hatred as a response to specific Israeli policies. On that point see here and here and here.

(2) That Gutman minimized European anti-Semitism. When it came to “traditional” European Jew-hatred he opined that not only had he not personally experienced much of it, but that as far as he could tell it was in decline. When it came to tensions between Muslims and Jews, he went out of his way to avoid unpleasantly placing rhetorical blame on one side or the other. He described the problem as one of “violence between some members of Muslim communities or Arab immigrant groups and Jews,” as if the direction of violence was inscrutable. He drew equivalences between actual attacks on Jewish schoolgirls and hypothetical attacks on Muslim schoolgirls, as if Jewish/Muslim tensions equally exposed each to the specter of religiously-motivated attack. And so on.

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There are two overarching criticisms of U.S.Ambassador Howard Gutman’s disgraceful speech last week, a speech the content of which the White House has yet to walk back. They are:

(1) That Gutman rationalized anti-Semitic hatred as a response to specific Israeli policies. On that point see here and here and here.

(2) That Gutman minimized European anti-Semitism. When it came to “traditional” European Jew-hatred he opined that not only had he not personally experienced much of it, but that as far as he could tell it was in decline. When it came to tensions between Muslims and Jews, he went out of his way to avoid unpleasantly placing rhetorical blame on one side or the other. He described the problem as one of “violence between some members of Muslim communities or Arab immigrant groups and Jews,” as if the direction of violence was inscrutable. He drew equivalences between actual attacks on Jewish schoolgirls and hypothetical attacks on Muslim schoolgirls, as if Jewish/Muslim tensions equally exposed each to the specter of religiously-motivated attack. And so on.

Gutman’s defenders have tended to ignore the first and frankly more trenchant “blame the victim” criticism. They’ve instead pretended the ambassador’s critics have only complained about his minimization of anti-Semitism, a convenient albeit unblinkingly dopey ploy. It implicitly concedes, among other things, that Gutman scapegoated the Jewish State, an American ally, for violent bigotry directed at European Jews. That’s kind of a big deal.

But just for the sake of argument, let’s pretend the only reason people are criticizing Gutman is because he failed to highlight and condemn the unique nature and scope of European anti-Semitism. Responding to this accusation, his defenders have taken to obnoxiously instructing “all these Republicans and other right-wingers” to read the “transcript of his speech.” That’s where Gutman’s ruminations over the extent of European anti-Semitism are ostensibly to be found.

Except the transcript is wrong. We don’t know exactly how wrong, but we do know that it’s wrong in a suspiciously precise way. On the one single paragraph where there’s a videotape, Gutman very explicitly skipped over the only sentence describing uniquely anti-Jewish violence and intimidation. Seriously. This is happening. In a public controversy over whether Gutman was sufficiently attentive to the contours of anti-Semitism, with advocates smugly holding up the published transcript, the relevant examples of anti-Semitism weren’t in the speech.

See for yourself.

Transcript:

What I do see as growing, as gaining much more attention in the newspapers and among politicians and communities, is a different phenomena. It is the phenomena that led Jacques Brotchi to quit his position on the university committee a couple of months ago and that led to the massive attention last week when the Jewish female student was beaten up. It is the problem within Europe of tension, hatred and sometimes even violence between some members of Muslim communities or Arab immigrant groups and Jews. It is a tension and perhaps hatred largely born of and reflecting the tension between Israel, the Palestinian Territories and neighboring Arab states in the Middle East over the continuing Israeli-Palestinian problem.

Actual speech:

What I do see as growing in Europe, as gaining much more attention in the newspaper, among politicians, among communities, among citizens with a sense of alarm, is a far different phenomenon. It is the problem within Europe of tension, hatred and sometimes even violence between some members of Muslim communities or Arab immigrant groups and Jews. It is a tension and perhaps a hatred largely born of and reflecting the tension between Israel, the Palestinian Territories and neighboring Arab states in the Middle East over the continuing Israeli-Palestinian problem.

The sentence about Jews getting forced out of universities and Jews getting beaten at school was taken out. The stuff about generic violence was left in. Again, this is just one sentence within one paragraph, although the sentence is critical and the paragraph is the only one we can compare to the actual speech. If the difference between the speech and the transcript is at all representative, it helps explain why Israeli reporters left the room insisting that Gutman made a distinction “between traditional anti-Semitism, which should be condemned, and Muslim hatred for Jews, which stems from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”

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No to Trump as Host of Debate

I can count on one hand the number of statements with which I agree with GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul. This is one of them:

The selection of a reality television personality to host a presidential debate that voters nationwide will be watching is beneath the office of the presidency and flies in the face of that office’’s history and dignity. Trump’’s participation as moderator will distract from questions and answers concerning important issues such as the national economy, crushing federal government debt, the role of the federal government, foreign policy, and the like. To be sure, Trump’’s participation will contribute to an unwanted circus-like atmosphere.

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I can count on one hand the number of statements with which I agree with GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul. This is one of them:

The selection of a reality television personality to host a presidential debate that voters nationwide will be watching is beneath the office of the presidency and flies in the face of that office’’s history and dignity. Trump’’s participation as moderator will distract from questions and answers concerning important issues such as the national economy, crushing federal government debt, the role of the federal government, foreign policy, and the like. To be sure, Trump’’s participation will contribute to an unwanted circus-like atmosphere.

One need only recall Trump’s flirtation with running for president earlier this year, and his weird obsession with Barack Obama’s birth certificate, to confirm the wisdom of Paul’s comments. A party that identifies itself with clownish figures will soon be seen by the public, and rightly so, as clownish.

Here’s some unsolicited advice to the GOP: a party that featured Herman Cain as a top-tier challenger for the nomination doesn’t need Donald Trump to host a presidential debate.

Can a roundtable discussion with the Kardashian sisters be far behind?

 

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Gallup Poll: Romney and Gingrich, the “Acceptable” Candidates

Gallup confirms that this has become a two-man race in its latest “acceptability” poll:

Newt Gingrich (62 percent) and Mitt Romney (54 percent) are the only two candidates Republicans say would be acceptable presidential nominees from their party, emphasizing the degree to which the GOP race has narrowed down to these two men at this juncture. A majority of Republicans say each of the other six candidates measured would not be acceptable nominees.

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Gallup confirms that this has become a two-man race in its latest “acceptability” poll:

Newt Gingrich (62 percent) and Mitt Romney (54 percent) are the only two candidates Republicans say would be acceptable presidential nominees from their party, emphasizing the degree to which the GOP race has narrowed down to these two men at this juncture. A majority of Republicans say each of the other six candidates measured would not be acceptable nominees.

Interesting, but it’s hard to put much stock in polling like this. As Allahpundit writes, “partisans have a funny way of convincing themselves that a candidate is acceptable once he starts to look inevitable.” If you remember from this extensive Pew Poll over the summer, a full 48 percent of GOP voters said there was “no chance” they’d pull the lever for Gingrich. Now, just 34 percent of Republicans say he’s “not acceptable,” according to Gallup. I guess the prospect of a Romney nomination has pushed some Republicans to consider options they never would have dreamed of just a few months ago.

And speaking of desperate measures, some conservative pundits, who see Gingrich as unelectable and Romney as untrustworthy, have been taking a second look at Jon Huntsman this week. George Will writes that both Romney and Gingrich are unacceptable, while Huntsman’s “program is the most conservative.” Meanwhile, Jim Pethokoukis outlined the case for Huntsman, urging conservatives to look past the poor first impression.

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NJDC: On Second Thought, Gutman’s Comments Were Unfortunate

The National Jewish Democratic Committee “no commented” me when I asked for its take on the Howard Gutman controversy yesterday afternoon, but the group has finally taken a stance on the issue. The NJDC’s spokesperson points me to this statement director David Harris gave to WJW’s Adam Kredo last night:

In an interview this evening, David Harris, the NJDC’s top official, told me that “Ambassador Gutman’s comments were wrong and unfortunate, and the White House was right to issue their immediate, tough statement on Saturday.”

Kredo notes tha, “Harris, however, declined to say whether or not he believed Gutman should resign or be fired from his post.”

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The National Jewish Democratic Committee “no commented” me when I asked for its take on the Howard Gutman controversy yesterday afternoon, but the group has finally taken a stance on the issue. The NJDC’s spokesperson points me to this statement director David Harris gave to WJW’s Adam Kredo last night:

In an interview this evening, David Harris, the NJDC’s top official, told me that “Ambassador Gutman’s comments were wrong and unfortunate, and the White House was right to issue their immediate, tough statement on Saturday.”

Kredo notes tha, “Harris, however, declined to say whether or not he believed Gutman should resign or be fired from his post.”

The NJDC’s statement is actually stronger than the statements issued by the Obama administration so far. Both the White House and State Department reiterated that they condemned anti-Semitism “in all forms,” but neither would say whether they agreed with Gutman’s claim that some anti-Semitism is caused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When pressed on this by a reporter yesterday, the State Department spokesperson still wouldn’t give a straight answer.

It sounds like at least the NJDC agrees that Gutman’s comments were problematic — but apparently not enough so to warrant a resignation.

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The NJDC Must Pressure Democratic Politicians to Return Gutman’s Donations

The National Jewish Democratic Council wasn’t going to be able to sustain their initial “no comment” on Ambassador Gutman’s “European Muslims only hate Jews because of Israel” discourse. The Obama ambassador’s remarks were too egregious and too explicit, and the group has already clarified to the Washington Jewish Week that the comments were “wrong and unfortunate.”

Of course, the Jewish organization is still agnostic on whether we should recall a U.S. ambassador who’s been reassuring Europeans their anti-Semitism is Israel’s fault, but that’s understandable. The NJDC can’t afford to be on the bad side of a Democratic donor who has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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The National Jewish Democratic Council wasn’t going to be able to sustain their initial “no comment” on Ambassador Gutman’s “European Muslims only hate Jews because of Israel” discourse. The Obama ambassador’s remarks were too egregious and too explicit, and the group has already clarified to the Washington Jewish Week that the comments were “wrong and unfortunate.”

Of course, the Jewish organization is still agnostic on whether we should recall a U.S. ambassador who’s been reassuring Europeans their anti-Semitism is Israel’s fault, but that’s understandable. The NJDC can’t afford to be on the bad side of a Democratic donor who has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It’s still worth noting, if only to have it posted somewhere, the staggeringly shameless hypocrisy involved.

The NJDC could not wait to blast House Speaker John Boehner and Republican Ohio Senate candidate Josh Mandel for accepting money from former Republican House candidate Rich Iott. Iott, a Nazi reenacter, donated $2,400 and $1,000 to each campaign, respectively. The NJDC’s back-to-back statements are here and here. The organization insisted that both candidates had the obligation “return the money or, better yet, donate it to a Holocaust charity.” Otherwise, they would be showing they don’t “represent the values of the mainstream American Jewish community.”

With brutal statements coming out from across the Jewish political spectrum, it’s also clear Gutman doesn’t represent “the values of the mainstream American Jewish community.” Even the left-leaning Anti-Defamation League – which recently tried to get American Jews to stop talking about Obama’s anti-Israel officials – had to declare themselves “disturbed.”

No one expects the NJDC to call for Gutman’s recall. An honest politician, as the tired expression goes, is one who once bought stays bought. But lest they further emphasize their naked partisan hackery, the NJDC should immediately call upon Democratic politicians to return or donate to charity Gutman’s $500,000+.

Conveniently, there are multiple Israeli charities dedicated to helping the children traumatized by the Iranian-provided rockets that the Palestinians fire at Israeli schools and hospitals. Those non-profits would be especially appropriate recipients given how Gutman slanderously identified Israeli “retaliatory” strikes – done in the aftermath of said rocket attacks on said Israeli schoolhouses – for the existence of European Muslim anti-Semitism.

Undoubtedly, an NJDC statement to that effect, consistent with the organization’s previous and unequivocal stance on donations offensive to Jewish community values, will be forthcoming.

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