Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 15, 2011

Live Blog: The GOP Debate

Winners: Romney, Bachmann, Santorum. Losers: Gingrich, Paul.

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The debate ends. Big question is whether the beating Gingrich took on Freddie Mac will cripple him.

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Question about Reagan’s 11th commandment is another soft question.

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Did Bachmann just say abortion is a seminal issue? Blasts Gingrich as a compromiser on embryos. Gingrich says she doesn’t have her facts right. Again, Bachmann won’t back down.

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Santorum accues Romney of issuing gay marriage licenses. Romney he says Mass. court ruled and he fought it.

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Romney asked about abortion flip-flop. Says Mass. legislation changed his mind. Sounds pretty convincing. Also makes good argument against discrimination against gays while still opposing same sex marriage.

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Winners: Romney, Bachmann, Santorum. Losers: Gingrich, Paul.

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The debate ends. Big question is whether the beating Gingrich took on Freddie Mac will cripple him.

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Question about Reagan’s 11th commandment is another soft question.

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Did Bachmann just say abortion is a seminal issue? Blasts Gingrich as a compromiser on embryos. Gingrich says she doesn’t have her facts right. Again, Bachmann won’t back down.

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Santorum accues Romney of issuing gay marriage licenses. Romney he says Mass. court ruled and he fought it.

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Romney asked about abortion flip-flop. Says Mass. legislation changed his mind. Sounds pretty convincing. Also makes good argument against discrimination against gays while still opposing same sex marriage.

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Huntsman gets in his first good line of the night when he says immigrants won’t come because Obama is sinking the economy.

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Romney asked about contradiction in his immigration stance. But his answer is consistent. Gingrich replies by reiterating his support for deportation of long term illegals.Makes up for it by bashing anti-Arizona federal lawsuits and “sanctuary” cities.

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Fast and Furious question for Perry about calling for Eric Holder’s resignation, is another softball. Opening for him to talk about Islamist/Iranian infiltration of the border. Santorum chimes in as well.

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Cavuto nails Perry with doing Solyndra type deals with oil industry. His defense: 10th amendment. Says state government should pick winners and losers. Weak argument.

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Michele Bachmann hits a home run with conservatives with Keystone XL shot at Obama and radical environmentalists.

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Gingrich says he’s trying not to be zany but as long as he’s attacking Obama and not talking about Freddie Mac, he’s okay.

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Perry finally gets back in the discussion with strong attack on foreign policy. But it’s just an echo of Romney, Gingrich and Bachmann.

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Gingrich pledges to reduce American reliance on the UN. Cites Palestinian missile attacks on Israel. Mocks Obama and Paul with one swipe.

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Bachmann: Ron Paul’s answer is the most dangerous for American security. “We’d be fools and knaves to ignore Iran’s plan.” She’s on a roll. Paul responds by rationalizing Iran again. Pathetic.

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Romney given another softball about Obama saying “pretty please” to Iran over the drone. An opening to make his strong America argument.

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Rick Santorum knocks it out of the park on the Iran threat. Backing down is an inducement to war and strengthens Islamist ideology.

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I hope Ehud Barak is happy about Ron Paul quoting his idiotic statement.

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Ron Paul doubles down on his denial of the Iran nuclear threat. The ayatollah’s favorite candidate.

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Commercial on Fox opposing electoral college was pretty good even if the cause is not.

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Question about naming your favorite Supreme Court justice was lame. Questions tonight are not as sharp as most of the answers.

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Attempt to nail Romney on appointing non-GOP judges in Mass. falls flat. Also gives him an opening to swat Newt’s idea.

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Gingrich is wrong to want to follow in the footsteps off FDR’s court-packing “reform.” But Bachmann’s ditto shows its a popular theme for conservatives.

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Fox’s “new topic” is a lengthy applause line for Gingrich: reining in an out-of-control liberal judiciary. Newt’s best moment so far.

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Once again, Romney is tossed a softball that enables him to tout the wonders of free markets. After a bad performance last time, he’s got his mojo back.

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Rick Perry back to his populist argument about a part-time Congress. Good applause line but great comeback from Cavuto who points out they worked less than half a year in 2011.

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Ron Paul fends off question about voting to help his district.

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Now Gingrich is having to defend his attack on Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan. Responds by complimenting Romney. Is this supposed to help Newt?

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Bachmann not backing down on charges of Gingrich lobbying. Says he was an influence peddler. She’s right about that. The longer this discussion goes on the worse it is for Gingrich. Good moment for Bachmann showing she has the nerve to go toe-to-toe with him.

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Paul backs Gingrich into corner where he’s touting the good that government can do. This is thin ice for Gingrich as he tries to deny lobbying and influence peddling.

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Gingrich asked about his Freddie Mac boodle. Says its not the same thing as Barney Frank and Chris Dodd’s corruption because he was out of office. Weak argument. Good opening for Ron Paul to exploit the issue.

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Chris Wallace asks Romney about a Gingrich attack that Newt has already recanted. Good opening for Romney to talk more about running businesses. This is Mitt’s wheelhouse.

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At the first break, no major gaffes so far. Gingrich and Romney both appear to be in good form.

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Michele Bachmann will make DC work by telling Congress to do as she says. Yes, that’ll work fine.

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Gingrich makes the first mention of Obama and Saul Alinsky in the same sentence. But did so while me-too-ing Romney.

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Romney gives first coherent answer about how to make Washington work. Turning his experience as Mass. governor to his advantage.

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Jon Huntsman brags about not pandering. But did he say no ethanol in Iowa? No, he didn’t.

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Bachmann running as conservative Joan of Arc. Rick Perry as the Tim Tebow of politics.

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Romney touts his business experience, successes and failures. Self-conscious laugh over the latter.

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Santorum comes out firing at Gingrich.

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Will Ron Paul support GOP candidate next fall? Good question. He fails to answer. Probably because he won’t.

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Gingrich compares himself to Reagan in 1980 and predicts he’ll beat Obama in debates. Then he touts his conservative bona fides. Will the voters buy that comparison?

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Brett Baier starts off with the electability issue. Can’t wait for Rick Santorum to brag about winning in PA in 1994 and 2000 while omitting his landslide loss in 08.

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It’s the last debate before the Iowa caucus so a lot is at stake tonight. Let’s see what happens.

Watching Bill O’Reilly’s Christmas quiz waiting for the debate to begin on Fox, just want to point out that the clip he showed of Bing Crosby singing was from “Holiday Inn” not the later “White Christmas.”

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Debate Preview: Last Dance Before Iowa

Tonight’s debate in Sioux City, Iowa is the 14th in which all the major Republican candidates have participated since the first back in May. The campaign has undergone a number of major twists and turns in that time but after all the talking and the spinning, this event will be the last one before the Iowa caucus. That means that this will be the last chance for any of the contenders to change the minds of viewers of this latest episode of what has become the country’s favorite political reality show.

Once again the focus will be on Newt Gingrich who has been leading the national polls for weeks. With the release of a Rasmussen poll today that, as Alana noted, showed Mitt Romney overtaking Gingrich, there is a chance that the former speaker’s bubble may finally be bursting. This debate will therefore be closely watched not merely for the usual question of who makes the biggest mistake but as a sign of whether Gingrich is finally cracking under the pressure of attacks from Romney and the rest of the field. Since the debates have largely shaped this race, this last one before the votes start being counted will be crucial.

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Tonight’s debate in Sioux City, Iowa is the 14th in which all the major Republican candidates have participated since the first back in May. The campaign has undergone a number of major twists and turns in that time but after all the talking and the spinning, this event will be the last one before the Iowa caucus. That means that this will be the last chance for any of the contenders to change the minds of viewers of this latest episode of what has become the country’s favorite political reality show.

Once again the focus will be on Newt Gingrich who has been leading the national polls for weeks. With the release of a Rasmussen poll today that, as Alana noted, showed Mitt Romney overtaking Gingrich, there is a chance that the former speaker’s bubble may finally be bursting. This debate will therefore be closely watched not merely for the usual question of who makes the biggest mistake but as a sign of whether Gingrich is finally cracking under the pressure of attacks from Romney and the rest of the field. Since the debates have largely shaped this race, this last one before the votes start being counted will be crucial.

Despite our almost obsessive focus on each poll that comes out, the fact remains that we don’t really know whether each snapshot of public opinion at a given moment will translate into votes at the caucus in January. With more scrutiny bringing what Romney aptly called Gingrich’s “goofy” side and with more conservative thought leaders, like National Review trying to alert GOP voters to what they rightly believe is Gingrich’s fatal weakness in a general election matchup with President Obama, it could be that Gingrich’s momentum is being halted.

While this may not translate into big gains for Romney, at this point it must be considered that any result in Iowa other than a Gingrich victory will give the former Massachusetts governor a big boost heading into the New Hampshire primary days later. Considering that Gingrich seems to be ignoring the ground game in Iowa in the comings that will mean it is absolutely essential that he give another strong performance tonight. It may also be necessary for him to ignore Romney  — whose support is relatively stable — and concentrate on undermining Ron Paul’s since the libertarian extremist may pose the greatest threat to Gingrich.

Given the volatility of the polls, no matter what Romney does, Gingrich cannot afford to stumble. This last dance before the caucus could make or break Gingrich’s presidential hopes.

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Live Blogging the GOP Debate

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the latest Republican presidential debate from Iowa. So tune in to Fox News at 9 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the GOP contenders have at it yet again.

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the latest Republican presidential debate from Iowa. So tune in to Fox News at 9 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the GOP contenders have at it yet again.

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Too Many Debates?

As the candidates prepare for the debate in Iowa tonight, Karl Rove outlines how the nonstop debates may actually be detrimental to the race:

Each debate kills at least three days: one day (and sometimes two) to prepare, the day of the debate, and the day after, spent dealing with the fallout from the night before. This late in the process – there are 19 days left until Iowa and 26 days until New Hampshire, with Christmas and New Year’s holidays eliminating crucial campaign dates – many candidates might want to chart their own schedules and set their own message priorities. But the debates won’t allow for that.…

Debates transfer power to the media, draining it from the campaigns. Moderators and their news organizations – through questions they frame or select – have more impact than candidates on what’s covered and discussed.

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As the candidates prepare for the debate in Iowa tonight, Karl Rove outlines how the nonstop debates may actually be detrimental to the race:

Each debate kills at least three days: one day (and sometimes two) to prepare, the day of the debate, and the day after, spent dealing with the fallout from the night before. This late in the process – there are 19 days left until Iowa and 26 days until New Hampshire, with Christmas and New Year’s holidays eliminating crucial campaign dates – many candidates might want to chart their own schedules and set their own message priorities. But the debates won’t allow for that.…

Debates transfer power to the media, draining it from the campaigns. Moderators and their news organizations – through questions they frame or select – have more impact than candidates on what’s covered and discussed.

Those are undeniable disadvantages for the campaigns, but what’s the downside for the public? Viewers must be tuning in for something, because the Washington Post reports that the GOP debates have actually been the runaway hit of the season:

The Republican primary debates — 15 full-fledged ones so far, and another Thursday night on Fox News Channel — have turned into one of the fall television season’s surprise hits. A record 7.6 million people tuned in Saturday night, barely three weeks before the first caucus in Iowa….

“There’s hype, there’s drama, there’s uncertainty,” said Mitchell McKinney, a communications professor at the University of Missouri who specializes in political debates. “The debates have become like a reality show, like the next version of ‘Survivor.’”

Each of the debates has produced a newsworthy (or at least sound-bite-worthy) moment or two. In Saturday’s debate, it was Romney offering to bet Perry $10,000 over a disagreement about a passage from Romney’s book. Perry had his own mortifying “oops” moment last month when he couldn’t remember the name of a third federal agency he would dismantle if elected.

Newsworthy, but to whom? Perry’s “oops” moment was an objectively big story – that sort of debate gaffe only happens once a decade. But Romney’s $10,000 bet? Sure, it was a stupid line, but was it really worth two full days of media analysis?

Of course, there will be a “newsworthy” or “sound-bite-worthy” moment from each debate – reporters have to write about something. If nothing important happens, minor issues can be exaggerated and stretched as necessary. Notice these moments never turn out to be ones of substance, but instead revolve around gaffes or drama between candidates. And that’s not good for the candidates or for the public.

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Millennial Poll Should Alarm Obama

In 2008, voters under the age of 30 helped catapult Obama into the White House. Three years later, Obama’s approval rating is underwater with the demographic, which is becoming increasingly confident he’ll lose reelection.

According to a Harvard University poll out today, Obama’s approval rating with young Americans is at the lowest point of his presidency:

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In 2008, voters under the age of 30 helped catapult Obama into the White House. Three years later, Obama’s approval rating is underwater with the demographic, which is becoming increasingly confident he’ll lose reelection.

According to a Harvard University poll out today, Obama’s approval rating with young Americans is at the lowest point of his presidency:

Despite a six percentage-point increase after the midterm elections that was reported in our Spring 2011 polling, President Obama’s job performance rating among young Americans, ages 18 to 29, is at the lowest point since we began polling the Obama administration in the fall of 2009. Currently, 46 percent of young Americans approve of the job the president is doing and 51 percent disapprove.

Obama has the same problem with young people that he does with basically every other demographic – the economy. According to the poll, 74 percent say the economy and jobs are their number one concern (lagging far behind are health care and education, at just 5 percent each). And out of all of the issues, Obama gets the worst marks on his handling of the economy (just 32 percent approve) and the federal budget deficit (just 30 percent approve).

But despite Occupy Wall Street’s attempt to tap into these concerns over jobs and debt, the movement and its class-warfare rhetoric hasn’t caught on with young people:

Approximately one-in-five (21 percent) young Americans are supporters of the the Occupy Wall Street movement. One-third (33 percent) say that they are not supportive, with 46 percent either unsure or refusing to answer the question.

In fact, Obama’s failure to live up the expectations he set in 2009 has actually caused young people to disengage from politics and activism, according to the poll:

The key findings in our survey suggest that Millennials are prepared to show their frustration not through strong support for the eventual Republican nominee, but rather by punishing President Obama and the Democrats by not engaging, volunteering or voting in the same volume that they did in 2008.

This survey should be an eye-opener for the Obama campaign, especially since it shows that his recent aggressive and partisan approach to job creation and taxes hasn’t helped improve his standing with young people. They are clearly looking for solutions, not class warfare rhetoric. Unless Obama makes some progress on the jobs front, the only way he’s going to be able to win back some of these disillusioned young supporters is by running a sharply negative campaign against the Republican nominee. With some luck, he may be able to scare some into pulling the lever for him, but there’s nothing he can do to generate the enthusiasm of 2008.

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Israel Now on Anti-Assad Bandwagon

Bashar Assad just lost another major ally. No, not Iran: Tehran is still the regime’s staunch backer–the only one it has left. No, not Turkey: Ankara turned against Assad weeks ago. And not Hamas: It too has already abandoned Assad. The latest government to join the anti-Assad caucus? Israel.

At first glance, this may seem like a surprising defection. Who would ever have expected Israel to be a supporter of Assad in the first place? Syria under the Assads (father and son) fought Israel in 1972 and 1982–and those were just the overt wars. Syria has also been a major source of surreptitious support to anti-Israel terror groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Yet all the while, Israeli officials quietly supported the Assads–or at least did not try to topple them–on the “better the devil you know” theory. Now that’s changed, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak telling reporters that Assad is finished and that’s a good thing:

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Bashar Assad just lost another major ally. No, not Iran: Tehran is still the regime’s staunch backer–the only one it has left. No, not Turkey: Ankara turned against Assad weeks ago. And not Hamas: It too has already abandoned Assad. The latest government to join the anti-Assad caucus? Israel.

At first glance, this may seem like a surprising defection. Who would ever have expected Israel to be a supporter of Assad in the first place? Syria under the Assads (father and son) fought Israel in 1972 and 1982–and those were just the overt wars. Syria has also been a major source of surreptitious support to anti-Israel terror groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Yet all the while, Israeli officials quietly supported the Assads–or at least did not try to topple them–on the “better the devil you know” theory. Now that’s changed, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak telling reporters that Assad is finished and that’s a good thing:

“When the Assad family falls, it will be a major blow to the radical axis led by Iran,” Barak said. “It will weaken Iran, it will weaken Hezbollah and weaken the backing for Hamas, and it will deprive the Iranians of a real stronghold in the Arab world. It will strengthen Turkey, which is a natural rival to Iran’s hegemonic intentions…This is something positive for Israel.”

The only mystery here is why the Israeli leadership has only now realized keeping Assad in power is not in their country’s interest. But better late than never.

The challenge now will be to usher Assad out as quickly as possible. Count me as skeptical he will be ousted within “weeks” as Barak predicts. He can hang on much longer, I fear, while Syrian society is ripped apart. Yet the Obama administration is adopting an unthinking policy of refusing to support armed rebellion against the criminal clique in Damascus.

This may seem to be a humanitarian policy–who can argue in theory with nonviolence?–but in fact it is deeply immoral because it consigns more Syrian civilians to death at the hands of ruthless government goons. It is high time for the administration to adopt the policy urged by the Washington Post editorial board which writes: “If it is not doing so already, the administration should be quietly working with Arab allies such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as with Turkey, to provide greater support to the opposition — including its armed components.”

 

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What if Ron Paul Wins in Iowa?

Chris Wallace is a brave man, and I’m sure his inbox is quickly filling with thousands of unintelligible hate messages from Ron Paul fans as I type. He is right, though. Because Paul has zero chance of winning the Republican nomination, a victory in Iowa would basically just reset the clock:

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Chris Wallace is a brave man, and I’m sure his inbox is quickly filling with thousands of unintelligible hate messages from Ron Paul fans as I type. He is right, though. Because Paul has zero chance of winning the Republican nomination, a victory in Iowa would basically just reset the clock:

“Well, and the Ron Paul people aren’t going to like me saying this, but, to a certain degree, it will discredit the Iowa caucuses because, rightly or wrongly, I think most of the Republican establishment thinks he is not going to end up as the nominee. So, therefore, Iowa won’t count and it will go on.”

But while a Ron Paul win in Iowa would likely be meaningless for his own campaign, it could have some interesting effects on the race. First, it would shake up the current narrative of the two-man competition, and potentially provide an opening for a candidate other than Gingrich or Romney to rise up. It could also be the pin that deflates the Gingrich bubble, since the former Speaker would fall short of expectations if he loses in Iowa.

But it could have some negative impacts as well. Phil Klein writes that supporting Paul in Iowa for strategic reasons may lend credibility to his crackpot views on Israel and foreign policy:

There is no question that a Paul victory would rattle Washington’s GOP establishment. But a Paul victory in Iowa would also help mainstream his noxious foreign policy views — particularly on Israel.…

If Paul won Iowa, his elevated status, at a minimum, would give more credibility to his foreign policy views. It could also allow global propaganda outlets to boast that a leading contender for the U.S. presidency thinks Gaza is a “concentration camp,” and argued that the raid that killed Osama bin Laden violated international law. And that’s just for starters.

Those who want Paul to win Iowa merely to “send a message” should realize that a Paul victory won’t send the message that they hope it will.

Support for Israel is a core value issue for Republicans, and one win by Paul isn’t going to change that. But Republicans in Iowa would be sending a message that Paul’s unforgivable flaws – the bigotry-laced newsletters he published for years, his dangerous foreign policy positions – are somehow more acceptable than Gingrich’s and Romney’s faults. If you’re going to throw away your vote on that, what’s the point of voting at all?

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Farewell to Independent Bookstores

Fascinating discussion of independent bookstores yesterday at Instapundit. Glenn Reynolds started things off by linking to a Slate article by Farhad Manjoo, which characterized independent booksellers as “the least efficient, least user-friendly, and most mistakenly mythologized local establishments you can find.”

Reynolds’s readers piled on, describing indies as “unwelcoming” and “elitist,” with an inventory of books that is “ridiculously one-dimensional.” Amen to all that. When American fiction went through its Great Schism in the early Eighties, dividing into a “literary” rite and a “genre” rite, bookstores followed suit. The large chains with franchise stores in shopping malls (Waldenbooks, B. Dalton) scooped up the largest market share; the hoi polloi shopped there for the books they had heard about, the books everyone was reading — including the fiction that still believed in Story.

The indies went upscale. By the time Borders was acquired by Kmart and merged with Waldenbooks in 1992, the concept of the bookstore had been changed forever. The new bookstore, modeled upon famous indies like the Gotham Book Mart, City Lights in San Francisco, and Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, were more like literary salons than retail businesses. They were identified with local writers and literary schools; they hosted readings; they recommended this book, not that one (definitely not that one); they supported causes (say hello to Banned Book Week). They were the storefront headquarters of the literary left.

Perhaps most tellingly, they encouraged their customers to loiter. They offered comfortable reading chairs and library desks. You were urged to take a stack of books to a corner and stay awhile. You were even welcome to sit down with a cup of coffee (and eventually the bookstores opened their own coffee shops on the premises). The books were confined to the walls: large open spaces were given over to those who wished total immersion in the pseudo-literary experience. (Before long, teenagers had commandeered the library tables for after-school get-togethers, where they could gossip and text instead of studying and no adults would hush them or chase them away.)

I keep trying to imagine a hardware store with a floor plan (and a customer base) like an independent bookseller — middle-aged men, sprawled in chairs, intermittently gunning the impact driver; talkative groups of day laborers crowded around a table saw, slurping energy drinks and hoping that no one hires them. Clerks sniff haughtily if a customer asks for Black & Decker. In the evening, a soulful drywall man expounds, in a dramatic voice, his emotional experiences with joint compound and black silicon carbide paper.

Maybe the independent bookstores have a lousy business model? Maybe that is what’s killing them — that and the inevitable crash of the high-end literary market. Not Amazon. The only advantage that Amazon really enjoys is an understanding of the book market, which is still strong when customers can be served efficiently (and with a minimum of self-congratulation on the part of sellers).

Although some of my happiest memories are of bookstores, where I have passed long hours of my life, I haven’t “browsed” in a new bookstore for several years now. The only time I linger, losing an entire afternoon to fruitless searches and unexpected discoveries, is in a used bookstore. Despite feeling sorry for the employees who lost their jobs, I wasn’t particularly upset to see Borders go bankrupt, and I am not saddened by the plight of the independent booksellers. They bet everything upon the literary elite, and the shooter has crapped out.

Fascinating discussion of independent bookstores yesterday at Instapundit. Glenn Reynolds started things off by linking to a Slate article by Farhad Manjoo, which characterized independent booksellers as “the least efficient, least user-friendly, and most mistakenly mythologized local establishments you can find.”

Reynolds’s readers piled on, describing indies as “unwelcoming” and “elitist,” with an inventory of books that is “ridiculously one-dimensional.” Amen to all that. When American fiction went through its Great Schism in the early Eighties, dividing into a “literary” rite and a “genre” rite, bookstores followed suit. The large chains with franchise stores in shopping malls (Waldenbooks, B. Dalton) scooped up the largest market share; the hoi polloi shopped there for the books they had heard about, the books everyone was reading — including the fiction that still believed in Story.

The indies went upscale. By the time Borders was acquired by Kmart and merged with Waldenbooks in 1992, the concept of the bookstore had been changed forever. The new bookstore, modeled upon famous indies like the Gotham Book Mart, City Lights in San Francisco, and Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, were more like literary salons than retail businesses. They were identified with local writers and literary schools; they hosted readings; they recommended this book, not that one (definitely not that one); they supported causes (say hello to Banned Book Week). They were the storefront headquarters of the literary left.

Perhaps most tellingly, they encouraged their customers to loiter. They offered comfortable reading chairs and library desks. You were urged to take a stack of books to a corner and stay awhile. You were even welcome to sit down with a cup of coffee (and eventually the bookstores opened their own coffee shops on the premises). The books were confined to the walls: large open spaces were given over to those who wished total immersion in the pseudo-literary experience. (Before long, teenagers had commandeered the library tables for after-school get-togethers, where they could gossip and text instead of studying and no adults would hush them or chase them away.)

I keep trying to imagine a hardware store with a floor plan (and a customer base) like an independent bookseller — middle-aged men, sprawled in chairs, intermittently gunning the impact driver; talkative groups of day laborers crowded around a table saw, slurping energy drinks and hoping that no one hires them. Clerks sniff haughtily if a customer asks for Black & Decker. In the evening, a soulful drywall man expounds, in a dramatic voice, his emotional experiences with joint compound and black silicon carbide paper.

Maybe the independent bookstores have a lousy business model? Maybe that is what’s killing them — that and the inevitable crash of the high-end literary market. Not Amazon. The only advantage that Amazon really enjoys is an understanding of the book market, which is still strong when customers can be served efficiently (and with a minimum of self-congratulation on the part of sellers).

Although some of my happiest memories are of bookstores, where I have passed long hours of my life, I haven’t “browsed” in a new bookstore for several years now. The only time I linger, losing an entire afternoon to fruitless searches and unexpected discoveries, is in a used bookstore. Despite feeling sorry for the employees who lost their jobs, I wasn’t particularly upset to see Borders go bankrupt, and I am not saddened by the plight of the independent booksellers. They bet everything upon the literary elite, and the shooter has crapped out.

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How Politically Toxic is OWS?

How politically toxic has Occupy Wall Street become? So toxic that even the Congressional Progressive Caucus – led by Reps. Keith Ellison and Raul Gijalva – is too nervous to be seen with it.

Roll Call reports the CPC had a private meeting scheduled with OWS activists this week, which was promptly canceled once the newspaper started inquiring about it:

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How politically toxic has Occupy Wall Street become? So toxic that even the Congressional Progressive Caucus – led by Reps. Keith Ellison and Raul Gijalva – is too nervous to be seen with it.

Roll Call reports the CPC had a private meeting scheduled with OWS activists this week, which was promptly canceled once the newspaper started inquiring about it:

A planned meeting today between the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Occupy Wall Street activists was scuttled late Tuesday after Roll Call inquired about it, highlighting increasing tensions between Democrats and the movement.

While Democrats are adopting the movement’s “99 percent” language, they are increasingly retreating from the protesters themselves and their anti-capitalist rhetoric. Some in the party view the Occupy activists — camped out in grubby tent cities around the country — as a potential liability in 2012.

Whatever the point of the meeting was, somebody in the CPC obviously wanted to foil it for some reason. And the caucus was clearly anxious to keep the event hidden from the press:

A spokesman for the caucus declined to comment on the circumstances that led to the cancellation of the meeting, but an email sent to CPC members from the group’s executive director, Brad Bauman, blamed a leak for the last-minute change.

“Due to a leak from within the caucus, press were alerted to our Occupy guests this week,” he wrote in an email obtained by Roll Call. “Our guests will now not be participating in the member meeting. … All internal communications are OFF THE RECORD.”

Based on the story, it sounds like the meeting was set up so the CPC could privately assure OWS it was hearing its grievances. If that’s the case, the CPC could have just set back its relationship with the liberal base tremendously by throwing the movement under the bus.

The secrecy is the strangest thing about this story. Democrats have known for awhile that OWS is a liability, but it’s still odd that that would deter the far-left members of the CPC from meeting with its activists. After all, these people are their constituents. What are we missing here?

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Anti-Israelism’s Endless Conspiracy

A well-worn trope of the conspiracy theory is that any evidence brought forward to contradict it is easily manipulated into proof of the theory itself. The 9/11 truther movement, to cite one notable recent example, sees any scientific debunking of the idea that the Twin Towers were brought down by any means other than the planes that were crashed into them as signs of the breadth of the conspiracy to silence alternative explanations.

Perhaps unintentionally, Tom Friedman’s shameful claim that the “Israel lobby” had “bought and paid for” Congress brought out a similar type of thinking in regards to the world’s oldest and most successful conspiracy theory, this time in its anti-Israelist guise.

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A well-worn trope of the conspiracy theory is that any evidence brought forward to contradict it is easily manipulated into proof of the theory itself. The 9/11 truther movement, to cite one notable recent example, sees any scientific debunking of the idea that the Twin Towers were brought down by any means other than the planes that were crashed into them as signs of the breadth of the conspiracy to silence alternative explanations.

Perhaps unintentionally, Tom Friedman’s shameful claim that the “Israel lobby” had “bought and paid for” Congress brought out a similar type of thinking in regards to the world’s oldest and most successful conspiracy theory, this time in its anti-Israelist guise.

As reported by Ron Kampeas of JTA, after Steve Rothman, a Democratic congressman from New Jersey, rightfully slammed Friedman for his slur, cudgels were taken up by anti-Israelists of various hues who saw in this proof of the conspiracy dancing in their minds. For Michelle Goldberg, Rothman “exemplified” the Israel lobby because he had slammed Friedman’s “acknowledgment” of its existence. To M.J. Rosenberg, it proved what he has been saying about “Israel Firsters” all along. Glenn Greenwald, so far lost in the Jewish (oops, “Israel lobby”) theory of his own insignificance, found it “simply hilarious” because, well, public confirmations of the dark manipulative secrets you just know to be true always drive one into fits of laughter.

Really, I mean, why would a member of Congress dispute that his support for Israel had been purchased if it hadn’t in fact been? Good money at least buys you both votes and public protestations. Any decent Israel Firster knows that.

To the deep chagrin of the anti-Israelist, the truth is just so much more boring than the fantasy that Jews (oops, sorry again, Israel lobbyists!) are sitting just off camera, shoveling bags of money into politicians’ pockets. When you consider the truth you have to think about all kinds of facts, like the deep-seated American gentile belief in the justice of the restoration of Jewish independence in the Land of Israel. You have to look into 23 years of polling data showing consistently high general American support for today’s extant Israel, with a clear trend of having concluded, despite the  protestations of their intellectual superiors in the twittering classes, that it really was the Palestinians who launched a murderous terror campaign in response to Israel’s offers for peace, and so it is they who bear the blame for peace’s continuing failure.

Jonathan’s two posts on Friedman’s column said all that can be said debunking the claims that seemed to underpin its thesis. One can hope that that’s enough for Friedman to rethink what he wrote.

But none of it is likely to move the anti-Israelist partisans. Saying it is, after all, just more proof they were right all along.

 

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Beware Selling Surveillance Systems

This Wall Street Journal article about how a French company called Amesys sold Muammar Qaddafi surveillance equipment that enabled him to monitor the emails of dissidents should be required reading in Silicon Valley. Amesys’s role has come out now that Qaddafi has been overthrown. There is no indication that the company did anything illegal, but the immorality of helping a dictator to repress dissidents should be obvious.

That lesson should be taken to heart by companies such as Cisco, which are helping the People’s Republic of China to erect a giant electronic surveillance system. Such projects may be perfectly innocuous when built in liberal democracies such as Britain or the U.S. They take on a more sinister mien in a dictatorship like China or Qaddafi’s Libya. If only more high-tech companies had the guts of Google which has pulled out of China rather than submit to communist censorship.

This Wall Street Journal article about how a French company called Amesys sold Muammar Qaddafi surveillance equipment that enabled him to monitor the emails of dissidents should be required reading in Silicon Valley. Amesys’s role has come out now that Qaddafi has been overthrown. There is no indication that the company did anything illegal, but the immorality of helping a dictator to repress dissidents should be obvious.

That lesson should be taken to heart by companies such as Cisco, which are helping the People’s Republic of China to erect a giant electronic surveillance system. Such projects may be perfectly innocuous when built in liberal democracies such as Britain or the U.S. They take on a more sinister mien in a dictatorship like China or Qaddafi’s Libya. If only more high-tech companies had the guts of Google which has pulled out of China rather than submit to communist censorship.

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A Misguided Fidelity Pledge

An Iowa Christian conservative group, The Family Leader, has urged presidential candidates to sign a pledge called “The Marriage Vow: A declaration of dependence upon marriage and family.” At the top of the list is this pledge: “Personal fidelity to my spouse.”

Now, I’m all for fidelity in marriage–for religious, personal and societal reasons. But this pledge strikes me as misguided.

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An Iowa Christian conservative group, The Family Leader, has urged presidential candidates to sign a pledge called “The Marriage Vow: A declaration of dependence upon marriage and family.” At the top of the list is this pledge: “Personal fidelity to my spouse.”

Now, I’m all for fidelity in marriage–for religious, personal and societal reasons. But this pledge strikes me as misguided.

Marriage vows themselves are pledges to faithfulness to your spouse –and for most of us (including, I believe, all the GOP candidates) that pledge has been made before religious authorities, friends, a congregation of co-religionists, a future spouse, and God. Why one would believe a pledge made to a 501(c)3 nonprofit group would carry more weight than one made to the most important people in your life, as well as to the Lord God himself, strikes me as odd.

I suppose this is all part of the silliness that goes into a presidential campaign. But this demand is particularly ridiculous.

 

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Romney Pulls into Lead in Iowa

Rasmussen reports that in the Iowa caucus, Mitt Romney leads former Speaker Newt Gingrich 23 percent to 20 percent, with Ron Paul close by at 18 percent. It’s a small margin, but it’s another sign that Gingrich’s support might be flagging in Iowa.

Gingrich may be relying on tonight’s debate in Sioux City to reverse his momentum. But Iowa political observers aren’t sure whether it will make up for his lack of campaign infrastructure:

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Rasmussen reports that in the Iowa caucus, Mitt Romney leads former Speaker Newt Gingrich 23 percent to 20 percent, with Ron Paul close by at 18 percent. It’s a small margin, but it’s another sign that Gingrich’s support might be flagging in Iowa.

Gingrich may be relying on tonight’s debate in Sioux City to reverse his momentum. But Iowa political observers aren’t sure whether it will make up for his lack of campaign infrastructure:

Gingrich’s strong performances in Republican debates help his rise in the polls, said Iowa state Rep. Ralph Watts, but he hasn’t built an organization here. “I don’t think it’s much,” Watts said of the Gingrich campaign in Iowa. Watts, who is supporting former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, said he had a tough time deciding between Gingrich and Romney.…

Organization matters more than the debate, because so many voters are undecided, Dallas County Republican Chairman Michael Elam said. “I think people are debated out at this point,” he said. “They are looking for someone who is going to be able to stand up above the fray.”

If Gingrich delivers another great performance and Romney wounds himself like he did during the last debate, it could certainly have an influence on undecided voters in the state. But it could all be a waste if Gingrich doesn’t back it up with daily on-the-ground campaigning – and oddly, Gingrich is spending little time in Iowa during the next three weeks:

After Thursday night’s debate, Gingrich will take a 2 ½ day swing through Iowa next week but will not return to the state until Dec. 27, when he plans to spend the final week before the caucuses on a statewide bus tour.

Gingrich’s decision not to spend more time in the Hawkeye State over the next two weeks is all the more risky considering his lack of an established turnout operation there.

Iowa is hugely important for Gingrich. As the frontrunner for the last few weeks, you’d think he’d try to wrap up the state by investing all of his time and energy there until the caucuses. Either he thinks it’s too late for retail politicking to make a difference, or he thinks it’s already in the bag and he doesn’t need to bother.

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Syria Heading to Civil War?

In the Financial Times, former UN Undersecretary General Michael Williams offers a sobering analysis of the situation in Syria. He compares that country to Yugoslavia and warns that it could be the scene of an equally devastating civil war:

Two-thirds of its population are Sunnis, but the regime draws its principal strength from minorities such as the Christians and the Druze and, above all, the heterodox Islamic sect, the Alawites. Over the years the oft-proclaimed secularism of the regime has been little more than a rejection of Sunni Arab nationalism. The worst case scenario is that Syria, like multi-confessional Yugoslavia, descends into chaos and civil war. That is the black cloud that hangs over not only Syria, but also the whole Levant.

Neighboring Lebanon, the most polyglot Arab county with Sunni, Shia and Christians mixed with Druze and Armenians, lives in fear that a descent into greater conflict within Syria will trigger discord in a country only just recovering from the 1975-90 civil war. Iraq too sees the situation in Syria as deeply destabilizing and one that could reignite the Sunni/Shia conflict of recent years.

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In the Financial Times, former UN Undersecretary General Michael Williams offers a sobering analysis of the situation in Syria. He compares that country to Yugoslavia and warns that it could be the scene of an equally devastating civil war:

Two-thirds of its population are Sunnis, but the regime draws its principal strength from minorities such as the Christians and the Druze and, above all, the heterodox Islamic sect, the Alawites. Over the years the oft-proclaimed secularism of the regime has been little more than a rejection of Sunni Arab nationalism. The worst case scenario is that Syria, like multi-confessional Yugoslavia, descends into chaos and civil war. That is the black cloud that hangs over not only Syria, but also the whole Levant.

Neighboring Lebanon, the most polyglot Arab county with Sunni, Shia and Christians mixed with Druze and Armenians, lives in fear that a descent into greater conflict within Syria will trigger discord in a country only just recovering from the 1975-90 civil war. Iraq too sees the situation in Syria as deeply destabilizing and one that could reignite the Sunni/Shia conflict of recent years.

Sound far-fetched? Not to me. Syria is being drawn deeper into the throes of all-out war, with the UN reporting more than 5,000 people have already died. The violence shows no sign of abating anytime soon. In that situation, the West’s best bet is not to sit by and hope that the violence burns itself out. That proved a vain hope in Yugoslavia and is no more likely to succeed in Syria. Instead, outside powers must do everything possible to help topple Assad, up to and including multilateral military action (e..g. to establish safe zones or strike Syrian military targets) as suggested by Sen. Lindsay Graham.

The Turks, who are increasingly anti-Assad, would have to take the lead, but the U.S. could provide important help. That would appear to be the fastest way to end Syria’s agony and avoid seeing the bloody parallels with Bosnia pile up.

 

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