Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 9, 2011

Debate Preview: Gingrich-Romney Tilt is the Main Event

Saturday night’s ABC News/Des Moines Register Republican presidential debate marks a crucial turning point in the long-running series of forums featuring the GOP contenders. For months, Americans have been tuning in to their favorite political reality show to chart the progress of the contenders. But this will be the first time the candidates have met since Herman Cain’s withdrawal. Jon Huntsman, who failed to get the requisite poll support to be included, will also not be present. But most of all, it will mark an important showdown between the two Republicans who appear to be the frontrunners: Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

Gingrich’s improbable rise to the top of the polls — both in Iowa and nationally — has been the political story of the last few weeks. But just as important has been the decline of Romney. After months of being the default frontrunner while a number of conservatives — Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Cain — had their moments before falling back, for the first time it appears that Romney’s campaign is in trouble. If he cannot slow Gingrich’s momentum, the former Massachusetts governor’s once bright chances of winning the nomination may be lost. That means he needs to come out swinging at Gingrich; so the expectation is that this debate could be an old-fashioned brawl.

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Saturday night’s ABC News/Des Moines Register Republican presidential debate marks a crucial turning point in the long-running series of forums featuring the GOP contenders. For months, Americans have been tuning in to their favorite political reality show to chart the progress of the contenders. But this will be the first time the candidates have met since Herman Cain’s withdrawal. Jon Huntsman, who failed to get the requisite poll support to be included, will also not be present. But most of all, it will mark an important showdown between the two Republicans who appear to be the frontrunners: Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

Gingrich’s improbable rise to the top of the polls — both in Iowa and nationally — has been the political story of the last few weeks. But just as important has been the decline of Romney. After months of being the default frontrunner while a number of conservatives — Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Cain — had their moments before falling back, for the first time it appears that Romney’s campaign is in trouble. If he cannot slow Gingrich’s momentum, the former Massachusetts governor’s once bright chances of winning the nomination may be lost. That means he needs to come out swinging at Gingrich; so the expectation is that this debate could be an old-fashioned brawl.

Romney has less than a month to remind voters in Iowa that on many, if not most issues, he is more conservative than Gingrich, despite his reputation as a moderate flip-flopper. He’s also eager to point out to social conservative that despite their worries about his changes of position on abortion, his exemplary private and public lives provide a strong contrast to Gingrich’s scandal-plagued history. The two will be paired next to each other front and center at this debate–sparks may fly.

But while Romney may score points at Gingrich’s expense, the question has to be asked whether conservatives will care. Since so many Tea Partiers and evangelical voters consider Romney so unappealing that the competition for their votes has become a contest to see which conservative is the best “not Romney,” it remains to be seen whether any charge, no matter how true, will pop Gingrich’s bubble. The fact that Gingrich gained ground instead of losing after deviating from conservative orthodoxy on immigration in the last debate must be seen as a sign the impact of any attacksmight be minimal. (A smiliar position by Rick Perry cost him heavily.)

It will also be interesting to see whether Gingrich can stay disciplined in a debate where, for once, he, rather than Romney or one of the other candidates will be the focus of attention. Gingrich has succeeded in the debates by staying positive about his competitors, scolding the moderators and generally taking on the air of an intellectual critic of the Washington establishment to which he belongs. If Romney can goad him into the sort of gaffe for which he is famous, the former Speaker might be hurt. But if he remains the “new Newt” and stays on message, it could be a sign that Gingrich is likely to stay in front heading into the Iowa caucus.

Tune in to ABC News at 9 pm on Saturday night and then log back on to Commentarymagaizne.com as I live blog the debate and let’s see what happens.

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Do Attacks Make Gingrich Appear Stronger?

As Newt Gingrich has catapulted ahead of the rest of the GOP field, he’s now experiencing the early phase of what will be a relentless, weeks-long assault by the other candidates, former House colleagues, and what some conservatives scornfully call “the establishment.”

It’s reasonable to assume that the sheer number and velocity of the charges will take their toll on Gingrich. But part of me wonders.

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As Newt Gingrich has catapulted ahead of the rest of the GOP field, he’s now experiencing the early phase of what will be a relentless, weeks-long assault by the other candidates, former House colleagues, and what some conservatives scornfully call “the establishment.”

It’s reasonable to assume that the sheer number and velocity of the charges will take their toll on Gingrich. But part of me wonders.

To explain why, it might be worth recalling an episode from the original “Star Trek” series, “The Immunity Syndrome,” in which the Enterprise encounters an enormous, single-cell amoeba. The crew eventually realizes that the amoeba is surrounded by a zone of darkness that is a negative energy force in which everything works in reverse. Using phasers wouldn’t hurt the creature; it would actually strengthen it. “That thing would probably like phasers,” Captain Kirk speculates. “It eats power.” (The creature is eventually destroyed by using an anti-matter charge.)

In some respects, that seems to be happening right now with the former Speaker. Much of the conservative intelligentsia is unloading on Gingrich. In my judgment, many of their concerns are warranted. On several occasions I’ve expressed my own deep worries and disagreements with Gingrich, even as I readily admit that he possesses some impressive political skills and has some impressive accomplishments on his resume. But it appears as if these criticisms are, at least for some GOP voters, taken as evidence that Gingrich is the right man for this moment. One senses that for some significant number of conservatives, Gingrich’s past mistakes are history, forgiven if not forgotten. He is, the argument goes, a new Newt – a convert to Catholicism, happily married, well-grounded, at peace with himself and the world around him.

I’m skeptical. Gingrich continues to be, at least in some important respects, chronically undisciplined and erratic. I rather doubt he has been able to overcome the patterns of a lifetime. But many Republican voters may believe the worst of Gingrich is gone and the best of Gingrich remains. The attacks on Gingrich may only serve to make him stronger, as if the criticisms of him testify to his virtues. He becomes more–not less–attractive.

I don’t pretend to understand why this is the case. It seems to me if many of those who served by your side, or under your leadership, are frightened by the prospect of your nomination, that is worth taking into account. Yet an awful lot of grass-roots voters may interpret things a lot differently than I do.

It’s early yet – but right now, at this juncture, the bullets seem to be bouncing off Gingrich’s chest. If this continues, Mitt Romney better hope he can find a canister of anti-matter.

 

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Obama: Today’s John Lindsay

New Yorkers of a certain age remember John Lindsay, mayor from 1966 to 1974. Tall and very good looking, he looked like a WASP straight out of central casting, although he did not come from old money. But he grew up in the WASP-world of New York, educated at Buckley, St. Paul’s, and Yale and went to all the right parties.

He was an utterly disastrous mayor of New York, doubling the city’s budget and then some and cooking the books to make ends seem to meet. But he left City Hall before the banks slammed down the window, so it was his successor, Abe Beame (as unWASP-like as they come, extremely short, and anything but good-looking) who reaped the whirlwind Lindsay had sowed. (Beame had helped–he’d been the city controller in the second Lindsay administration.)

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New Yorkers of a certain age remember John Lindsay, mayor from 1966 to 1974. Tall and very good looking, he looked like a WASP straight out of central casting, although he did not come from old money. But he grew up in the WASP-world of New York, educated at Buckley, St. Paul’s, and Yale and went to all the right parties.

He was an utterly disastrous mayor of New York, doubling the city’s budget and then some and cooking the books to make ends seem to meet. But he left City Hall before the banks slammed down the window, so it was his successor, Abe Beame (as unWASP-like as they come, extremely short, and anything but good-looking) who reaped the whirlwind Lindsay had sowed. (Beame had helped–he’d been the city controller in the second Lindsay administration.)

His one saving grace was a quick wit. Asked by a reporter about a slightly politically embarrassing remark his wife had made, Lindsay just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Bedfellows make strange politics.” When it was pointed out that mayors of New York had never gone on to bigger jobs in politics, he disagreed. He said New York mayors had often gone far: “They’ve gone to Canada, they’ve gone to Europe, they’ve gone to Mexico.”

In a fascinating essay (h/t Instapundit), Paul A. Rahe makes the case that the John Lindsay analog of today is President Barack Obama. While hardly a WASP, Obama too went to prestigious schools and made connections. He too has been spending money like there’s no tomorrow. He too has been remarkably inept. And they both stitched together a new political coalition of the bottom and the top of the socioeconomic pyramid in order to win.

Lindsay’s coalition didn’t last and, Rahe thinks, neither will Obama’s:

The John Lindsay coalition is an exceedingly fragile one. One might even say that it is apt to self-destruct. The material interests of upscale voters and those of Americans dependent on government largesse do not coincide, and in a time of straitened circumstances and widespread unemployment the tensions between those who pay the bulk of the taxes collected and those on the take are apt to be extreme. How many upscale voters want to see their taxes dramatically increased in the near future? It may not be bread alone that determines voting patterns in the U.S., but during economic downturns such concerns loom especially large. I could easily imagine a new coalition taking shape–one that unites upscale voters, working stiffs, and small businessmen against public-sector workers and those who live off government patronage. Such a coalition, forged in a time of suffering, might last a very long time, and, if it did, the number of public-sector workers and of those living off government patronage would steadily decline.

Lindsay won a second term with 42 percent of the vote, beating out a conservative Republican candidate (who had beaten him for that nomination) and a relatively conservative (and extremely inept) Democratic one. Obama, too, will need a lot of help from his opponents to win reelection. Will he get it?

 

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On Foreign Policy Issues, Obama is AWOL

President Obama is clearly peeved at suggestions that he is “soft” on foreign policy. On Thursday, he shot back:

“Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al-Qaeda leaders who’ve been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement,” the president declared. “Or whoever’s left out there, ask them about that.”

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President Obama is clearly peeved at suggestions that he is “soft” on foreign policy. On Thursday, he shot back:

“Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al-Qaeda leaders who’ve been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement,” the president declared. “Or whoever’s left out there, ask them about that.”

That’s not a bad one-liner but, like the best one-liners, it avoids the real issues. Nobody is questioning Obama’s toughness on al-Qaeda. But that’s not exactly a controversial stance. Even the most dovish Democrats are in favor of targeting al-Qaeda. There is as close to a consensus about this issue as it is possible to achieve in American politics. It does not require much leadership to target al-Qaeda’s leadership–the foreign policy equivalent of targeting “drug kingpins” or other major criminals on the homefront.

But when it comes to dealing with Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and other pressing issues, there is no consensus. On these issues–the tough ones that require presidential leadership–Obama has been mostly AWOL. Or else, as in the case of the Iraq withdrawal, the Afghanistan drawdown, and the massive cuts to the defense budget, he has made decisions that pander to the left-wing base of his own party, thereby undercutting our troops in the field and hindering their ability to fight groups that are closely connected to al-Qaeda if not quite as well-known.

My sense is Obama has actually gotten more dovish since the death of Osama bin Laden, because, in his own mind at least, the success of that daring raid put to rest any doubts about his national security credentials. Thus, what may stand as the signal achievement of the Obama administration–bin Laden’s death–may also prove its undoing.

 

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Live Blogging the GOP Debate in Iowa Saturday Night

Join us Saturday night as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the ABC News/Des Moines Register Republican presidential debate from Iowa. So tune in to tomorrow to ABC at 9 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the remaining GOP contenders have at it once again.

Join us Saturday night as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the ABC News/Des Moines Register Republican presidential debate from Iowa. So tune in to tomorrow to ABC at 9 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the remaining GOP contenders have at it once again.

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Trump Debate Falls Apart

Michele Bachmann is the fifth GOP candidate to turn down an invitation to Newsmax’s Donald Trump-moderated debate, which means the only two candidates scheduled to attend are Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Trump claims that the Republicans are dropping out because they’re too scared to debate him. (As Ed Morrisey wonders, “why would a ‘moderator’ debate the candidates anyway?”) Nevertheless, it’s not even clear whether the debate will actually happen:

In an interview with radio host Don Imus on Friday, Trump said he wasn’t sure if the debate would actually happen. “I don’t know. I have to look into it,” he said, adding, “They really want me to drop my status as a potential person to run as an independent, and, honestly, I don’t think I’m going to do that. I’m not going to drop it.”

Trump berated the candidates who are skipping the debate, telling Imus, “some of them don’t have the courage to do” it. “A couple of them called me and told me, ‘Donald, I’m just too nervous to do it,’” he said.

It’s amazing how this debate went from a major campaign event to a colossal failure in a matter of days. What was Newsmax thinking by bringing Trump on as the moderator in the first place? And why wouldn’t the magazine get rid of him once candidates started dropping out?

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Michele Bachmann is the fifth GOP candidate to turn down an invitation to Newsmax’s Donald Trump-moderated debate, which means the only two candidates scheduled to attend are Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Trump claims that the Republicans are dropping out because they’re too scared to debate him. (As Ed Morrisey wonders, “why would a ‘moderator’ debate the candidates anyway?”) Nevertheless, it’s not even clear whether the debate will actually happen:

In an interview with radio host Don Imus on Friday, Trump said he wasn’t sure if the debate would actually happen. “I don’t know. I have to look into it,” he said, adding, “They really want me to drop my status as a potential person to run as an independent, and, honestly, I don’t think I’m going to do that. I’m not going to drop it.”

Trump berated the candidates who are skipping the debate, telling Imus, “some of them don’t have the courage to do” it. “A couple of them called me and told me, ‘Donald, I’m just too nervous to do it,’” he said.

It’s amazing how this debate went from a major campaign event to a colossal failure in a matter of days. What was Newsmax thinking by bringing Trump on as the moderator in the first place? And why wouldn’t the magazine get rid of him once candidates started dropping out?

It could be because Newsmax has had an extremely close relationship with Trump for quite awhile. Its writers regularly snag interviews with the reality show star, but their stories on him usually read like public relations puff pieces. After Trump’s latest book was released, the Newsmax website actually started promoting the book inside of its glowing Trump articles and book reviews, including lines peppered within the stories that say things like “Editor’s Note: Get Donald Trump’s new book, ‘Time to Get Tough: Making America #1 Again’ — Go Here Now.” The links direct readers to an Amazon page where they can buy Trump’s book, and Newsmax appears to collect a portion of the sale price.

When you click a link on the Newsmax site to register for the debate, it also takes you directly to a page that also promotes Trump’s book and links to the Amazon site. So if Newsmax has some sort of promotional relationship with Trump, I guess that could explain why it’s sticking by him. But if it does end up going ahead with the Trump-moderated debate, it sounds like it’s going to be an embarrassment for everyone involved.

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Time to Think About Helping Syrian Rebels

Support appears to be building, at least among Syrians, for some of the steps I suggested in this Weekly Standard editorial about how to topple Bashar Assad. In today’s New York Times I note the following:

A senior defector from the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in an interview that if outside countries armed the opposition rebels, it could inflict serious damage on the Assad government. The official, a former ambassador who fled to Istanbul from Syria last week, said Mr. Assad’s state security apparatus was operating in up to 50 locations in Syria. He argued that surgical strikes, in conjunction with a buffer zone inside Syria put into effect by Turkey, would prove fatal to the government.

Opposition officials said the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian National Council and the Turkish government had been engaged in talks in recent days over the formation of a buffer zone in the event of a huge number of refugees.

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Support appears to be building, at least among Syrians, for some of the steps I suggested in this Weekly Standard editorial about how to topple Bashar Assad. In today’s New York Times I note the following:

A senior defector from the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in an interview that if outside countries armed the opposition rebels, it could inflict serious damage on the Assad government. The official, a former ambassador who fled to Istanbul from Syria last week, said Mr. Assad’s state security apparatus was operating in up to 50 locations in Syria. He argued that surgical strikes, in conjunction with a buffer zone inside Syria put into effect by Turkey, would prove fatal to the government.

Opposition officials said the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian National Council and the Turkish government had been engaged in talks in recent days over the formation of a buffer zone in the event of a huge number of refugees.

Buffer zones and air strikes could indeed help to end the regime–and with it Syria’s growing suffering. These options should be seriously considered, and the Obama administration should lend its weight to them.

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Nothing Inevitable About a One-State Solution-Part Three

Peter Beinart and the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg claim that Israel must evacuate the West Bank of Jews or be faced with an inevitable scenario in which they will either be forced to accept a one-state solution that means the end of Zionism or be branded an apartheid state. As I wrote in part one of this series, this is a false choice because the settlements would not prevent a two-state solution if the Palestinians were willing to accept one in the first place. In part two, I also pointed out it is wrong to assume that Americans would ever be willing to try to force Israel to risk the creation of a new Hamasistan in the West Bank without even a dubious promise of peace. They understand the Palestinian goal is not so much independence as it is to destroy Israel. But are Beinart and Goldberg right when they assume that the continuance of a standoff will eventually destroy the pro-Israel consensus and lead to a majority of Jews and non-Jewish Americans to view Israel as an apartheid state?

The South African analogy, so popular with leftist anti-Zionists and so feared by some liberals, is utterly inapplicable for a number of reasons.

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Peter Beinart and the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg claim that Israel must evacuate the West Bank of Jews or be faced with an inevitable scenario in which they will either be forced to accept a one-state solution that means the end of Zionism or be branded an apartheid state. As I wrote in part one of this series, this is a false choice because the settlements would not prevent a two-state solution if the Palestinians were willing to accept one in the first place. In part two, I also pointed out it is wrong to assume that Americans would ever be willing to try to force Israel to risk the creation of a new Hamasistan in the West Bank without even a dubious promise of peace. They understand the Palestinian goal is not so much independence as it is to destroy Israel. But are Beinart and Goldberg right when they assume that the continuance of a standoff will eventually destroy the pro-Israel consensus and lead to a majority of Jews and non-Jewish Americans to view Israel as an apartheid state?

The South African analogy, so popular with leftist anti-Zionists and so feared by some liberals, is utterly inapplicable for a number of reasons.

First, as I wrote earlier, the Palestinians were given autonomy and a path to statehood. Were the Palestinians devoted to peaceful coexistence and desirous only of independence alongside Israel, they would long ago have attained independence. The security restrictions in the West Bank and the presence of the Israel Defense Force there is merely a function of the terrorist campaigns the Palestinians have undertaken, not part of a grand scheme to subjugate the Arab population. If there were no suicide bombings and other terrorist threats, there would be no checkpoints or security fence about which the Palestinians complain so bitterly.

It is not logical to assert that a Palestinian Authority that is able to operate its own broadcast and print media (which spews forth hatred and incitement against Jews and Israel with impunity) or has control over the civil government of the West Bank is a new version of South Africa. Nor is the existence of Jewish communities, whose inhabitants are constantly threatened with terror, an indication of apartheid. Many of those settlements would certainly disappear if the Palestinians would only consent to accept a two-state solution the Jews appear to want more than the Arabs.

So long as the Palestinians, now divided between Hamas and Fatah but united on their refusal to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, are unwilling to accept Israel’s peace offers, they cannot play the role of South Africa’s blacks. Even at the United Nations, no bastion of support for Zionism, the PA’s bid for unilateral independence has fallen flat, because even the Europeans and much of the Third World understand that its up to the Palestinians to engage in the peace process if they truly want their own state. So long as the Israelis hold the door open to statehood, the South African analogy is untenable, especially because Arab citizens of Israel have full citizenship rights and representation in the Knesset. The Palestinian demand for a Jew-free state makes it clear it is they who are practicing racism, not the Jews.

The expectation of some observers that eventually the Palestinians will wise up and ask for Israeli citizenship so they can vote Zionism out of existence misreads the nature of Palestinian politics. While such a tactic might conceivably facilitate their fantasy about ending Israel, it also presupposes a willingness to engage in even a charade of co-existence as well as underestimating the influence of Hamas and Islamism that already rule part of the country — the Hamasistan in Gaza — without benefit of democracy or a peace deal.

Demographic predictions of Israel’s doom may or may not be exaggerated, but they are not enough by themselves to trump the fact that peace requires the Palestinians to make the choice for a two-state solution. If, as seems likely, they continue to stall while hoping eventually Israel’s friends will tire of them, they will find out that support for the Jewish state is not as superficial as they think.

Americans look at the Middle East and they can tell without a scorecard who are the democrats and who are the opponents of the values Israel and the United States share. Americans are not so simple minded as to be misled in thinking Israel can be blamed for Palestinian rejectionism. Their backing for Israel is so deeply engrained in the political DNA of this country that it cannot be destroyed by the empty rhetoric the South African analogy represents. Israel’s foes think they have time on their side, but they underestimate the patience and the intelligence of the majority of Americans who make up the pro-Israel consensus.

As difficult as the status quo may be, Israel can and must afford to wait until a sea change takes place within Palestinian society that will make peace possible. Americans will wait with them.

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Bret Baier and the Value of Talent

Mike Allen at Politico has an enjoyable profile of Fox News anchor Bret Baier, highlighting Baier’s reputation for conducting thorough and fair interviews regardless of the subject’s partisan affiliation. It’s no surprise that early in the interview with Allen, Baier mentions his respect for the late Tim Russert, who was both a gentleman to his subjects and a tough and well-prepared interviewer.

Baier has also seemingly taken up the mantle of his predecessor, Brit Hume. Russert and Hume–two solid choices for a news anchor to model his work ethic and style after. Yet it also reveals one of the advantages Fox—which routinely humiliates its liberal counterparts CNN and MSNBC in the competition for ratings—has in the great cable news competition. No one at Fox’s rivals possesses the combination of talent and evenhandedness that Baier has.

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Mike Allen at Politico has an enjoyable profile of Fox News anchor Bret Baier, highlighting Baier’s reputation for conducting thorough and fair interviews regardless of the subject’s partisan affiliation. It’s no surprise that early in the interview with Allen, Baier mentions his respect for the late Tim Russert, who was both a gentleman to his subjects and a tough and well-prepared interviewer.

Baier has also seemingly taken up the mantle of his predecessor, Brit Hume. Russert and Hume–two solid choices for a news anchor to model his work ethic and style after. Yet it also reveals one of the advantages Fox—which routinely humiliates its liberal counterparts CNN and MSNBC in the competition for ratings—has in the great cable news competition. No one at Fox’s rivals possesses the combination of talent and evenhandedness that Baier has.

It is what inspired Jon Stewart’s first question to Baier when the latter appeared on “The Daily Show” in March:

I feel like over at Fox you’re the guy they use, whenever you start to criticize them about any of their programming, they’re like “Are you saying Bret Baier’s not a good guy? Are you saying Bret Baier’s not a good journalist?” You’re like the human shield. They get you, and they bring you out. Is that—do you feel that at Fox?

This is Jon Stewart happily confirming that Baier’s credibility and professionalism are unimpeachable. It is also a stern rebuke to Fox’s competitors, who have tried to pull away viewers by increasing the volume inside their steadfastly liberal echo chambers. Sometimes, it helps to be the best at what you do. Viewers trusted Russert then, and they trust Baier now. And that trust has been earned.

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Nothing Inevitable About a One-State Solution-Part Two

As I wrote earlier, Peter Beinart and the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg claim Israel must evacuate the West Bank of Jews or be faced with an inevitable scenario in which they will either be forced to accept a one-state solution that means the end of Zionism or be branded an apartheid state. But this is a false choice. The settlements would not prevent a two-state solution if the Palestinians were willing to accept one in the first place. They have repeatedly refused such a deal, and the continuance of the status quo is their fault, not Israel’s.

But is it reasonable to assume, as do Beinart and Goldberg, that eventually Americans will tire of supporting Israel under these circumstances? Will the leftist repetition of the false canard that Israel is a new South Africa wear down the bipartisan coalition that is the foundation of the U.S.-Israel alliance and, sooner or later, force the Israelis to either accept the creation of a Palestinian state — that may or may not be controlled by the Islamists of Hamas — or be abandoned by Washington and American Jewry? The answer is no. Such a notion assumes that Americans–Jews and non-Jews alike–are indifferent to Israel’s security dilemma or ignorant or indifferent to the nature of the Palestinian political culture or their intentions.

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As I wrote earlier, Peter Beinart and the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg claim Israel must evacuate the West Bank of Jews or be faced with an inevitable scenario in which they will either be forced to accept a one-state solution that means the end of Zionism or be branded an apartheid state. But this is a false choice. The settlements would not prevent a two-state solution if the Palestinians were willing to accept one in the first place. They have repeatedly refused such a deal, and the continuance of the status quo is their fault, not Israel’s.

But is it reasonable to assume, as do Beinart and Goldberg, that eventually Americans will tire of supporting Israel under these circumstances? Will the leftist repetition of the false canard that Israel is a new South Africa wear down the bipartisan coalition that is the foundation of the U.S.-Israel alliance and, sooner or later, force the Israelis to either accept the creation of a Palestinian state — that may or may not be controlled by the Islamists of Hamas — or be abandoned by Washington and American Jewry? The answer is no. Such a notion assumes that Americans–Jews and non-Jews alike–are indifferent to Israel’s security dilemma or ignorant or indifferent to the nature of the Palestinian political culture or their intentions.

In his piece, Goldberg alludes to the security implications of a full withdrawal from the West Bank under the current circumstances. But he assumes that this is merely a factor that must be ignored for the sake of peace or avoiding the apartheid smear. But doing so would inevitably mean replicating what Israel faced when it unilaterally withdrew from Gaza: the creation of a Hamas state that functions as both a safe haven for terrorists and as reminder that the Palestinian goal is not independence but the destruction of Israel. No one in Israel, even on the political left whose parties have been decimated by the failure of the peace process they advocated, wants to see the standoff in Gaza — where rockets routinely fly over the border to hit Israeli towns and villages  — repeated next to the main population centers in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. So long as that is true, there will never be an Israeli majority for more territorial surrender.

Nor is it likely that there will be much support for such a scheme in the United States. The idea that most Americans would ever support imposing a new, bigger and even more dangerous Hamasistan in the West Bank is utterly fanciful. Most understand, even if Beinart does not, that the Palestinians are not particularly interested in peace and that risking the empowerment of a group allied with Iran is sheer idiocy. Indeed, that is a scenario even the Obama administration fears.

As President Obama learned earlier this year (when he sought to orchestrate more pressure on the Netanyahu government by ambushing the prime minister during a visit to Washington by announcing that the 1967 lines should be the basis for future negotiations), Israel’s backing in this county is broad-based and deep. The instinctual backing for its security and distaste for the Palestinians and their goal of its destruction is also not to be underestimated.

There is no reason, other than wishful thinking by the Palestinians and some of their sympathizers here, to think this will change at any time in the foreseeable future if, for no other reason, than the Palestinians haven’t changed.

But even if this is true, won’t Americans eventually accept the South Africa analogy and give up on Israel? More on that in my next post.

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Josh Block’s Not-So-Secret War On Israel’s Enemies

There’s been a growing divide between the Democratic Party and the top progressive institutions when it comes to Israel. As Ben Smith reported earlier this week, groups like the Center for American Progress and Media Matters are taking an increasingly hostile stance toward the Jewish state, and hiring staffers who share that perception.

Few would deny that this is a real issue, and Smith provides plenty of quotes to back up his story. And yet Center for American Progress is pushing back by claiming that the quotes were taken out of context and fed to the media as part of an “orchestrated” smear campaign by former AIPAC spokesman and lobbyist Josh Block.

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There’s been a growing divide between the Democratic Party and the top progressive institutions when it comes to Israel. As Ben Smith reported earlier this week, groups like the Center for American Progress and Media Matters are taking an increasingly hostile stance toward the Jewish state, and hiring staffers who share that perception.

Few would deny that this is a real issue, and Smith provides plenty of quotes to back up his story. And yet Center for American Progress is pushing back by claiming that the quotes were taken out of context and fed to the media as part of an “orchestrated” smear campaign by former AIPAC spokesman and lobbyist Josh Block.

Salon’s Justin Elliott reports on a “leaked” email that Block sent out after Smith’s article was published, in which he pitched the story to other reporters:

Block’s email to the Freedom Community list arrived under the subject line “Important piece to echo and the research to do it….” – a reference to the Politico story. He wasted no time throwing around more accusations of anti-Semitism.

“This kind of anti-Israel sentiment is so fringe its support by CAP is outrageous, but at least it is out in the open now — as is their goal – clearly applauded by revolting allies like the pro-HAMAS and anti-Zionist/One State Solution advocate Ali Abunumiah and those who accuse pro-Israel Americans of having ‘dual loyalties’ or being ‘Israel-Firsters’ – to shape the minds of future generations of Democrats,” Block writes. “These are the words of anti-Semites, not Democratic political players.”

From this, CAP ran with the headline: “Revealed: The Secret, Coordinated Effort to Smear ThinkProgress As Anti-Semitic and Anti-Israel.” Really? If it’s a “secret” that Josh Block wages PR battles against anti-Israel groups and anti-Semitism, then it’s the worst kept secret since Israel’s nuclear arsenal. As for the confidentiality of the “leaked” document, I received it three times from three separate mass emails that Block sent out on Wednesday. I assume half the writers who cover Israel in Washington had a similar experience.

But beyond that, the actual content of the email speaks for itself. Block links to quotes and tweets from Media Matters and CAP writers, which range from their support for left-wing policy ideas (which is obviously unsurprising), to some undeniably offensive comments. The idea that pro-Israel Jewish Americans are “Israel Firsters” – a term used by CAP’s Zaid Jilani and Media Matters’ MJ Rosenberg – is a classic hallmark of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that claim Jews are dual loyalists and not true American citizens.

Not all the writers in the email can be grouped into the same category. CAP’s Ali Gharib, Eli Clifton, Matt Duss have views on Israel that are far to the left of mainstream Democrats, and that’s not a surprise – they work at a left-wing think tank. Block, a Democrat, is obviously disturbed that these ideas are being promoted by institutions that influence his party. But that’s not the same as spreading wild conspiracy theories about the “Jewish Lobby,” as MJ Rosenberg does, or accusing pro-Israel Jews of not being sufficiently American.

It’s alarming that a supposed media watchdog group would give someone like Rosenberg – who believes that AIPAC has to “clear” officials before they’re hired by the Obama administration, and accuses Jewish American journalists of acting as foreign agents – a platform to promote this toxic nonsense.

Media Matters has strongly condemned these sort of anti-Semitic undertones when they come from conservatives. They’ve written extensively against Glenn Beck’s characterization of George Soros as a “puppetmaster” pulling the strings behind Obama, calling it an “anti-Semitic stereotype.” And they’ve gone after Pat Buchanan for his offensive remarks about Jews. Why should they accept similarly offensive remarks from writers at their own organization?

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Nothing Inevitable About a One-State Solution-Part One

It has become a common theme heard on the left that unless Israel radically changes its posture toward the peace process it will be faced with two huge threats to its existence. One is the notion that in a few years, if not sooner, there will be only one option available to resolve the conflict: the so-called “one-state solution” in which Israel is forced to treat Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as Israeli citizens and thus lose its Jewish majority–meaning the end of the Jewish state and Zionism. The other is that if it refuses to accept that grim fate, then it will be branded as the new South Africa, and a Jewish apartheid state would lose the support of both American Jewry and the United States. This means that sooner or later Israel must unilaterally evacuate the West Bank and even parts of Jerusalem as it did in Gaza in 2005 or face the consequences.

While it’s no surprise a lightweight leftist like Peter Beinart would promote this sort of false choice, it’s disappointing to see Jeffrey Goldberg endorse this prediction. Writing in the Atlantic, Goldberg claims that while he doesn’t entirely agree with Beinart, he thinks his thesis is logical. But despite their claim that it is inevitable, neither conclusion is remotely likely even if, as is almost certain, the peace process remains stalled for the foreseeable future.

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It has become a common theme heard on the left that unless Israel radically changes its posture toward the peace process it will be faced with two huge threats to its existence. One is the notion that in a few years, if not sooner, there will be only one option available to resolve the conflict: the so-called “one-state solution” in which Israel is forced to treat Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as Israeli citizens and thus lose its Jewish majority–meaning the end of the Jewish state and Zionism. The other is that if it refuses to accept that grim fate, then it will be branded as the new South Africa, and a Jewish apartheid state would lose the support of both American Jewry and the United States. This means that sooner or later Israel must unilaterally evacuate the West Bank and even parts of Jerusalem as it did in Gaza in 2005 or face the consequences.

While it’s no surprise a lightweight leftist like Peter Beinart would promote this sort of false choice, it’s disappointing to see Jeffrey Goldberg endorse this prediction. Writing in the Atlantic, Goldberg claims that while he doesn’t entirely agree with Beinart, he thinks his thesis is logical. But despite their claim that it is inevitable, neither conclusion is remotely likely even if, as is almost certain, the peace process remains stalled for the foreseeable future.

Even if we assume that the status quo, which is by no means ideal, continues indefinitely, Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank at this point only exists because of a choice made by the Palestinians. Having refused Israeli offers of an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and part of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001 and 2008, the stalemate is entirely of their choosing. Goldberg’s assertion that “the only solution is a two-state solution” may make sense, but it is only possible if both sides of the conflict are willing to accept it. The last several Israeli governments, including that of Benjamin Netanyahu, have accepted two states in principle. Though the Palestinians at times claim to be willing to agree, in practice they have refused to do so.

Israeli Jews, who still make up a majority of those living in the territories of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, cannot impose a two-state solution on the Palestinian Arabs if they don’t want one. But neither can the Arabs impose a one-state solution — which is to say one that would inevitably lead to the destruction of Israel.

The whole point of the Oslo Accords Israel signed in 1993 was that it created a structure for Palestinian self-government that gave them autonomy and a path to independence provided they renounced terrorism and accepted Israel’s legitimacy. Unfortunately, they have done neither.

The popular notion that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are an obstacle to peace is absurd. The Palestinians know if they are willing to sign a peace deal with Israel, there is a solid majority inside the Jewish state for evacuating many of the settlements, as was done in Gaza when Israel did so unilaterally. Moreover, if their goal were simply independence, then even if the settlements were not removed, they would present no hindrance to a Palestinian state as the surrounding Arabs heavily outnumber the inhabitants of these communities. The PA’s insistence that any Palestinian state must be Jew-free is the problem.

But will Americans (as Beinart expects and Goldberg fears), tire of supporting an Israel beset in this manner? More on that in part two and part three of this post.

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Republicans Attack Gingrich From the Right

Two damaging attacks have been launched at Newt Gingrich this morning from other Republicans, which both paint him as out of step with the conservative movement. The first is a Romney campaign ad that blasts Gingrich for his criticism of Paul Ryan’s entitlement reform plan last spring:

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Two damaging attacks have been launched at Newt Gingrich this morning from other Republicans, which both paint him as out of step with the conservative movement. The first is a Romney campaign ad that blasts Gingrich for his criticism of Paul Ryan’s entitlement reform plan last spring:

The ad is apparently being run in Iowa, and will no doubt be effective with voters there who see Gingrich as the “true conservative” in the race. Does it matter that Romney was never adamantly on board with the Ryan plan? In theory, yes, but from a practical standpoint, not really. He’s not making the case here that he’s more conservative than Gingrich, and he doesn’t necessarily have to. The purpose of the ad is simply to undercut Gingrich’s support.

Something that may resonate with Iowa Tea Partiers even more than the Romney ad is this devastating Rand Paul column in the Des Moines Register attacking Gingrich as a phony conservative “establishment” figure. Paul gets in some good shots at Romney as well, but lets him off the hook in the end. He saves his real ammo for Gingrich:

Moving past both those issues, however, I believe Romney’s candidacy is well-established. He’s a moderate, northeastern, don’t-rock-the-boat Republican, and I think everyone in the party clearly understands that.

But what worries me is that the voters are being sold a bill of goods in Gingrich.

So I will conclude by saying two things: Gingrich is not from the Tea Party. He is not even a conservative.

He is part of the Washington establishment I was sent to fight. He has been wrong on many of the major issues of the day, and he has taken money from those who helped cause the housing crisis and create millions of foreclosures.

Again, Tea Party voters aren’t going to come away from this column with a desire to vote for Romney. But it may be enough to chisel away at Gingrich’s lead.

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Liberal Indifference to Income Inequality

It’s now clear that a central theme of President Obama’s re-election will be income inequality. Earlier this week, in a speech in Kansas, Obama said inequality – at “levels we haven’t seen since the Great Depression” — “distorts our democracy.” The president went on to say, “This kind of gaping inequality gives lie to the promise that’s at the very heart of America: That this is a place where you can make it if you try.”

The issue of income inequality has several dimensions to it, some of which I’ll address in the future. For now, though, I simply wanted to make the point that, as this superb analysis by the House Budget Committee demonstrates, the common understanding of government’s role in income inequality has things backwards: Tax reforms have resulted in a more progressive federal income tax, while government transfer payments have become less progressive. Why? In large measure because rising entitlement payments are going to wealthier seniors at the expense of lower-earning young people. For example, in 1979, households in the lowest income quintile received 54 percent of all transfer payments; in 2007, those households received just 36 percent of transfers.

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It’s now clear that a central theme of President Obama’s re-election will be income inequality. Earlier this week, in a speech in Kansas, Obama said inequality – at “levels we haven’t seen since the Great Depression” — “distorts our democracy.” The president went on to say, “This kind of gaping inequality gives lie to the promise that’s at the very heart of America: That this is a place where you can make it if you try.”

The issue of income inequality has several dimensions to it, some of which I’ll address in the future. For now, though, I simply wanted to make the point that, as this superb analysis by the House Budget Committee demonstrates, the common understanding of government’s role in income inequality has things backwards: Tax reforms have resulted in a more progressive federal income tax, while government transfer payments have become less progressive. Why? In large measure because rising entitlement payments are going to wealthier seniors at the expense of lower-earning young people. For example, in 1979, households in the lowest income quintile received 54 percent of all transfer payments; in 2007, those households received just 36 percent of transfers.

It’s important to understand that while Social Security benefits are progressive, neither Social Security nor Medicare is means-tested (that is, they are not provided to people based on a test of need determined by their income and assets). So, the second-wealthiest cohort (by age) in America is eligible for these programs. “This cohort has grown faster than the population overall,” according to the House Budget Committee analysis, “and the resulting demographic change has reduced the share of transfer payments received by lower-income households while increasing the share received by middle-and upper-income households.”

What we’ve seen, then, is a relatively well-off demographic receiving benefits from non-means-tested programs that have received large increases in spending. (The rising cost of health care has exacerbated this trend.)

In a recent speech to the Heritage Foundation, Representative Paul Ryan put it this way: “The president likes to use Warren Buffett and his secretary as an example of why we should raise taxes on the rich. Well, Warren Buffett gets the same health and retirement benefits from the government as his secretary. But our proposals to modestly income-adjust Social Security and Medicare benefits have been met with sheer demagoguery by leading members of the president’s party.”

In sum: the current structure of our entitlement programs (especially Medicare), much more than the tax cuts of the Reagan and Bush years, have accelerated income inequality. But you would never know that based on the critique of the left, which has come to believe – for reasons that are not entirely clear – that tax increases are an important step towards the moral purification of a society. If income inequality is really what troubled modern-day liberals, they would be leading the effort to reform entitlements along the lines outlined by Ryan. Instead, they are fierce critics of his plan.

Go figure.

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The Difficulty of Letting Go of the Holocaust

Nathan Englander has a very strong story in the current issue of The New Yorker that deserves to be read by anyone curious to understand the fault lines of contemporary Jewish identity. The story’s conclusion reveals the gravitational pull the emotional drama of the Holocaust continues to exert on so many Jews, and how hard it remains for so many to find Jewish meaning in anything else.

The story focuses on a reunion of once estranged high school yeshiva classmates from Queens. One has married a secular Jew and lives a nonobservant life with their teenage son in Florida. The other went haredi along with her husband, who are now visiting from Jerusalem. Told from the point of view of the unnamed secular husband who, over alcohol and other things, slowly grows comfortable with the “strict, suffocatingly austere people visiting.” As the conversation turns more familiar, it inevitably folds into a consideration of the Holocaust, which seems to be the only point of strong Jewish connection they all share.

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Nathan Englander has a very strong story in the current issue of The New Yorker that deserves to be read by anyone curious to understand the fault lines of contemporary Jewish identity. The story’s conclusion reveals the gravitational pull the emotional drama of the Holocaust continues to exert on so many Jews, and how hard it remains for so many to find Jewish meaning in anything else.

The story focuses on a reunion of once estranged high school yeshiva classmates from Queens. One has married a secular Jew and lives a nonobservant life with their teenage son in Florida. The other went haredi along with her husband, who are now visiting from Jerusalem. Told from the point of view of the unnamed secular husband who, over alcohol and other things, slowly grows comfortable with the “strict, suffocatingly austere people visiting.” As the conversation turns more familiar, it inevitably folds into a consideration of the Holocaust, which seems to be the only point of strong Jewish connection they all share.

Even this they come at from different angles. For the haredi husband from Jerusalem it is in the intermarriage of American Jews, which he calls “the Holocaust that’s happening now.” The identity of American Jews, he says, is built on “nothing that binds” because its “only educational tool” is the Nazi Holocaust.

For the American secular Jew, the Holocaust is a strange, lurking fear that accompanies her consideration of her gentile neighbors and leads her to wonder, with utmost seriousness, whether or not they would hide and thus save her and her family if another Holocaust was to happen in the United States. It is a “game” she ultimately pulls all four people into, who find themselves at the end of the story closed in the Florida house’s large pantry, staring into each other’s eyes and wondering if they would have the moral strength to do the same if they were asked.

When confronting the challenges we face in advocating for Israel and thus in trying to protect the Jewish people from the physical threats it now faces, it is easy to say that too much attention is given to the Holocaust, and that we have based far too much of our claim both to the legitimacy of the state of Israel and the appeal to the non-Jewish world for friendship on the terrible history of World War II. It is what has made it easy for tyrants like Ahmadinejad to score points and soak up attention for both denying the Holocaust and saying even if it did happen, today’s Jewish state should be in Europe. The case we say that should be made instead is for the moral legitimacy of the exercise of the Jewish right to self-determination in the historic Jewish homeland.

It is far easier for people to understand this on a conceptual level than it is to live it on a practical one. And, as the Englander story illustrates so well, that may be because the story of the Holocaust is so gripping in its total terror that it serves to pull Jews otherwise thinly connected together so well and is therefore difficult to pull away from.

It’s a tough nut to crack. But the challenges Jews the world over face are daunting, and it does not appear they can be successfully met without finding a core of Jewish identity that is not based in the European tragedy. We have no choice then but to make it a never forgotten piece of our collective past, but a piece only. Only then will we find the courage to meet the future with confidence and success and stop hiding in closets from imagined terrors.

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