Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 19, 2011

Why Obamacare Isn’t Sinking Romney

With Newt Gingrich’s poll numbers heading south, conservatives are once again faced with the possibility that Mitt Romney will be the inevitable Republican nominee. So it’s hardly surprising the issue of the former Massachusetts governor’s vulnerability on health care would be revived. Along those lines, Phillip Klein’s piece in today’s Washington Examiner and a blog post by Red State’s Erick Erickson illustrate the continued resistance to Romney by those who believe he cannot be trusted to either successfully oppose Democratic counter-arguments or even to fulfill pledges to repeal Obamacare.

Count me as being one of those who thought the emergence of Obamacare as the one issue that unified the Republican Party in the last two years would constitute an obstacle to his nomination that couldn’t be overcome. But the failure of conservatives to produce a viable candidate has let Romney off the hook. Many on the right, like Klein, think Romney will betray them on health care. But Erickson’s assertion that it is “insanity” for Republicans to nominate either Romney or Newt Gingrich (whom he rightly considers to have a record that is just as questionable on the issue as Romney’s) is itself a sign of a lack of realism about this issue–or the race–on the part of some on the right.

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With Newt Gingrich’s poll numbers heading south, conservatives are once again faced with the possibility that Mitt Romney will be the inevitable Republican nominee. So it’s hardly surprising the issue of the former Massachusetts governor’s vulnerability on health care would be revived. Along those lines, Phillip Klein’s piece in today’s Washington Examiner and a blog post by Red State’s Erick Erickson illustrate the continued resistance to Romney by those who believe he cannot be trusted to either successfully oppose Democratic counter-arguments or even to fulfill pledges to repeal Obamacare.

Count me as being one of those who thought the emergence of Obamacare as the one issue that unified the Republican Party in the last two years would constitute an obstacle to his nomination that couldn’t be overcome. But the failure of conservatives to produce a viable candidate has let Romney off the hook. Many on the right, like Klein, think Romney will betray them on health care. But Erickson’s assertion that it is “insanity” for Republicans to nominate either Romney or Newt Gingrich (whom he rightly considers to have a record that is just as questionable on the issue as Romney’s) is itself a sign of a lack of realism about this issue–or the race–on the part of some on the right.

Klein makes an argument that Romney’s previous statements in 2010 about repealing some but not all of Obamacare’s provisions means he is likely to “thumb his nose” at conservatives and let the law stand if he is elected president. Romney is not the only politician whose position on the issue has evolved over the years, but it seems to me that Romney’s campaign pledges on the issue have left him little wiggle room. Moreover, though his arguments that a federal mandate is wrong while a state measure such as the one he signed into law in Massachusetts is legal may strike some conservatives as disingenuous, there is no reason to believe he is any less committed to repealing Obama’s signature law than they are.

Even more to the point, Klein’s claim that Romney’s “record tells us to not trust anything he says while he’s campaigning for office, because his positions will change when he’s trying to appeal to a different electorate” is itself inaccurate. In fact, just the opposite is true. In 2002, Romney campaigned as a moderate and even, as Klein reported himself, as a “progressive.” He then spent the next four years governing as the moderate who liberal Massachusetts wanted. Though conservatives may not believe Romney’s switch to conservatism is credible, if the Massachusetts precedent holds, he will be just as conservative a president as he has been a candidate.

As for Erickson’s frustration with the fact that two men with faulty records on health care are the GOP frontrunners, we have to agree it’s ironic. But the last line of his post shows that this is a reality Republicans are going to have to live with:

Are we really going to do this? I just want everyone to make sure they understand this and remind them that Perry, Bachmann, Huntsman, and yes, even Rick Santorum, are still in the race.

Yes, they are all still in the race. And none of them have a chance to win it. Even more to the point, if any of them did, all would be even weaker opponents against President Obama than Gingrich. Which means that maybe it is time for conservatives to start thinking about making their peace with the likelihood that the imperfect yet viable Romney gives them their best shot to beat the Democrats.

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The Palestinian Balance of Terror

On Wednesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal will meet again in Cairo to discuss the implementation of the Fatah-Hamas unity pact that was first signed in May. Though the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reports there are still significant differences between the two groups, the resumption of the talks between them indicates that there is still a much greater chance of peace between the Palestinian factions than between the PA and Israel. Abbas’ desire to prefer “unity” with the Islamists of Hamas to negotiations with Israel illustrates the bankruptcy of a peace process that is predicated on the idea that “moderates” such as those running the PA are ready to recognize Israel’s legitimacy.

Though some Palestinian apologists claim the unity deal will housetrain Hamas, this contradicts everything we know about the terrorist group.  Far from the deal illustrating the willingness of Hamas to acquiesce to Israel’s existence, the relative shift in strength between the two movements since May as well as the growing influence of Islamists in Egypt shows progress toward implementation of the pact makes peace with Israel impossible.

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On Wednesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal will meet again in Cairo to discuss the implementation of the Fatah-Hamas unity pact that was first signed in May. Though the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reports there are still significant differences between the two groups, the resumption of the talks between them indicates that there is still a much greater chance of peace between the Palestinian factions than between the PA and Israel. Abbas’ desire to prefer “unity” with the Islamists of Hamas to negotiations with Israel illustrates the bankruptcy of a peace process that is predicated on the idea that “moderates” such as those running the PA are ready to recognize Israel’s legitimacy.

Though some Palestinian apologists claim the unity deal will housetrain Hamas, this contradicts everything we know about the terrorist group.  Far from the deal illustrating the willingness of Hamas to acquiesce to Israel’s existence, the relative shift in strength between the two movements since May as well as the growing influence of Islamists in Egypt shows progress toward implementation of the pact makes peace with Israel impossible.

No matter what the final terms of this unity pact turn out to be, it should first be understood that by choosing to embrace Hamas rather than seeking to eliminate their influence, Abbas and Fatah have indicated their lack of interest in ending the conflict with Israel. Former U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell used to like to analogize the Middle East conflict to Ireland and say that if the Irish and the British could learn to live with each other then so could the Israelis and the Palestinians. But what he always failed to understand is that the leaders of the Irish independence movement made a critical decision in 1922 when Michael Collins chose peace and partition over the maximalist demands of his Irish Republican Army colleagues. Collins and the peace faction didn’t just sign an agreement with Britain; they were prepared to fight a bloody civil war against their extremist brethren. Their victory in that conflict, which cost Collins his life, enabled the two-state solution in Ireland that persists to this day.

But Mahmoud Abbas is no Michael Collins. Rather than fighting Hamas and eliminating its influence — which is the primary obstacle to peace — he wants them inside the Palestinian governing tent.

It must also be pointed out that the balance of terror between the moderate rejectionists of Fatah and the more extreme rejectionists of Hamas is shifting. Hamas’ 2006 coup in which they seized control of Gaza gave them a power base they will never surrender. This Hamasistan is, for all intents and purposes, an independent Palestinian state where they exercise sovereignty and have been able to impose their Islamist beliefs on the area. Given the upside down ethos of Palestinian politics in which anti-Israel violence conveys legitimacy, their continued policy of terror has made them more, not less, popular on the West Bank. The Gilad Shalit ransom deal further enhanced their prestige.

Just as important is the fact that Hamas’ Muslim Brotherhood allies are now major power brokers in Egypt. The overthrow of the Mubarak regime ended Egypt’s cooperation with international efforts to isolate Hamas. That strengthened Hamas’ strategic position and increased its leverage in talks with Abbas who has already, according to previous reports by Abu Toameh, conceded that PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad — a favorite of Western governments who has sought to improve the economy of the West Bank — will lose his job once the pact goes into effect.

Far from differences over peace with Israel being an impediment to fulfillment of the treaty between the two, the main obstacle appears to be Fatah’s fear of losing an election to Hamas. Given that Abbas’ term of office expired years ago and that he has chosen to continue without benefit of re-election, it’s fair to say that Fatah is not likely to want to face off against Hamas in a scheduled May 2012 ballot.

In the meantime, Hamas continues to make clear they will use their growing power to pursue war against Israel. As Elliott Abrams wrote last week, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya told a huge rally in Gaza last week:

We affirm that armed resistance is our strategic option and the only way to liberate our land, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the River [Jordan]. God willing, Hamas will lead the people… to the uprising until we liberate Palestine, all of Palestine.

Haniya is planning a tour of the Middle East in a sign of Hamas’ strength. Americans who seek to pressure Israel to accommodate Palestinian demands should take that vow seriously. Unlike Fatah’s supposed acceptance of the peace process, Hamas means what it says and will use any unity pact to help implement their vision of Israel’s destruction.

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Eric Holder Plays the Race Card

Eric Holder is a man who holds views that are both fairly radical and dangerous. Now under fire for his role in the so-called Fast and Furious gun-running operation, and given his overall (dismal) record, you might think Holder would sheepishly apologize for his incompetence or, at a minimum, remain silent. But you would be wrong.

Holder is instead reaching for the race card.

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Eric Holder is a man who holds views that are both fairly radical and dangerous. Now under fire for his role in the so-called Fast and Furious gun-running operation, and given his overall (dismal) record, you might think Holder would sheepishly apologize for his incompetence or, at a minimum, remain silent. But you would be wrong.

Holder is instead reaching for the race card.

In an interview with the New York Times, the attorney general contended that many of his Republican and conservative critics, both in office and out of office, were playing “Washington gotcha” games, portraying them as frequently “conflating things, conveniently leaving some stuff out, construing things to make it seem not quite what it was” to paint him and other department figures in the worst possible light. Of that group of critics, Holder said, he believed that a few —the “more extreme segment” — were motivated by animus against President Obama and that he served as a stand-in for him. “This is a way to get at the president because of the way I can be identified with him,” he said, “both due to the nature of our relationship and, you know, the fact that we’re both African-American.”

What Holder is doing is seeking to go on the offensive by employing slander, which is an old and ugly game and one Holder seems disposed to play. (Remember that in 2009 Holder said that on race, we are “a nation of cowards.”)

As The Daily Caller points out, “Holder’s accusations come as resignation calls mount from a growing list of 60 congressmen, two senators, every major Republican presidential candidate and two sitting governors, spurred on by the congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious. Additionally, seventy-five congressmen have signed onto a House resolution for a vote of “no confidence” in Holder as attorney general. Between the two lists, there are 86 total in the House who no longer trust Holder to head the Department of Justice.”

That lack of confidence in Holder will only increase as he seeks to divide us. In that respect, the attorney general is merely parroting his boss, the president.

What the attorney general will find is that in using the racism charge so promiscuously and recklessly, he will drain it of meaning. And at some future point, when charges of racism may well apply, Holder will have helped to make those charges impotent. Because increasingly, people are simply rolling their eyes at the liberal reflex to charge anyone with whom they disagree with of being racists. And who can blame them?

 

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Do Ron Paul’s Newsletters Still Matter?

It’s the question that continues to pop up campaign cycle after campaign cycle – if Ron Paul maintains that he never wrote the racist and extremist content in his newsletters, then who did?

In 2008, Julian Sanchez and Dave Weigel reported that a source close to the Ron Paul campaign claimed that Lew Rockwell actually penned the offending articles, but Paul didn’t want to publicly acknowledge it because the two were still close friends.

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It’s the question that continues to pop up campaign cycle after campaign cycle – if Ron Paul maintains that he never wrote the racist and extremist content in his newsletters, then who did?

In 2008, Julian Sanchez and Dave Weigel reported that a source close to the Ron Paul campaign claimed that Lew Rockwell actually penned the offending articles, but Paul didn’t want to publicly acknowledge it because the two were still close friends.

Rockwell is something of a fringe extremist, so it’s believable that he could have ghosted the newsletters. But it does seems strange that Rockwell – who has published plenty of offensive columns in his own newsletter and website – would be so concerned about being exposed as the author of these particular articles that he’d let Paul take the heat instead.

Plus, if Paul believes the racist content in the newsletters was repugnant, as he claims, why would he still be friends with the guy who allegedly wrote it? Why would he still associate with him professionally? Could Paul really be that forgiving of someone who supposedly churned out bigoted content under his name, and then let Paul take the fall?

Apparently, a lot of Paul’s supporters think so. And now they’re ready to shut the book on this uncomfortable topic.

Of course, it’s not that simple. At the Washington Examiner, Phil Klein takes issue with Paul’s supporters who expect the media to give the congressman a pass on the newsletters:

Rick Perry and Mitt Romney have both attacked each other for what was written in their respective books. If either of those books had included a number of overtly racist statements, their candidacies would be over before they started. If they used the Ron Paul defense – that they didn’t write the words themselves, they didn’t know what was in the books and don’t even know who wrote them, it would only make matters worse. They could kiss their political careers goodbye.

Forget a book – remember how hysterical the media became over something that was written on a rock at a house Rick Perry’s father once rented?

Even if Paul didn’t write the newsletters, he defended the content when it was first exposed in 1996. At the time, he even took responsibility for writing the bigoted comments himself, and blasted his opponents for taking his words “out of context.” A few years later, he backtracked and claimed he never wrote them, demanding the media move on. Of course, nobody can move on until he answers the questions that have gone unanswered for years: Who wrote the newsletters? Did Paul know what was in them? And if not, why?

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Conservatives and Climate Change-Part II

As I pointed out in a previous post, many conservatives and Republicans are skeptical of global warming and the role humans play in it. (In a March 2011 Gallup survey, for example, 36 percent of Republicans said they believed pollution from human activities had contributed to increases in Earth’s temperature during the last century, while 62 percent of Republicans attributed the warming only to natural changes in the environment.)

They hold this view despite the fact that the science on global warming is near-unanimous: anthropogenic global warming is real. Groups like the National Academy of Sciences, which in the early 1990s issued a report saying that “there is no evidence yet” of dangerous climate change, have shifted their stance, arguing that human activity is having a substantial impact on increases in global temperatures. But what is less clear are the implications of global warming and what steps need to be taken to address it.

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As I pointed out in a previous post, many conservatives and Republicans are skeptical of global warming and the role humans play in it. (In a March 2011 Gallup survey, for example, 36 percent of Republicans said they believed pollution from human activities had contributed to increases in Earth’s temperature during the last century, while 62 percent of Republicans attributed the warming only to natural changes in the environment.)

They hold this view despite the fact that the science on global warming is near-unanimous: anthropogenic global warming is real. Groups like the National Academy of Sciences, which in the early 1990s issued a report saying that “there is no evidence yet” of dangerous climate change, have shifted their stance, arguing that human activity is having a substantial impact on increases in global temperatures. But what is less clear are the implications of global warming and what steps need to be taken to address it.

Many climate scientists fear that unless dramatic steps are taken soon, we’ll see rising sea levels, contracting ice sheets, more floods and intense tropical cyclones, the spread of tropical diseases like malaria, the submergence of parts of continents, alterations in our ecosystems, and food and water shortages. Perhaps so; those concerns are certainly worth considering. But as Jim Manzi –who combines a sophisticated understanding of the scientific and economic stakes of the climate-change debate — has pointed out, pumping out more CO2 triggers an incredibly complicated set of feedback effects, and the most important scientific debate is really about these feedback effects. In Manzi’s words, “Climate models generate useful projections for us to consider, but the reality is that nobody knows with meaningful precision how much warming we will experience under any emissions scenario. Global warming is a real risk, but its impact over the next century could plausibly range from negligible to severe.”

Conservatives should be part of that conversation. There’s an intellectually credible case to be made that it’s unwise to embrace massive, harmful changes to our economy in the face of significant uncertainties based on incomplete knowledge of how the climate system will respond in the middle part of the 22nd century. It’s reasonable to argue that a meaningful deal to cut carbon emissions among the worst emitting nations (China, the United States, the EU, India, and Russia among them) is almost surely beyond reach and that our focus should be on adaptation (see here) and relatively low-cost investments in technologies rather than drastic carbon cuts. And it’s fair to ask whether the best data suggests that Earth’s temperature has not risen in more than a decade; and if so, why that’s the case.

To acknowledge global warming does not necessarily lead one to embrace Al Gore’s environmental agenda.

But rather than offer constructive ideas on how to deal with global warming, some conservatives simply deny global warming has occurred. Their concern is that admitting global warming is real opens the door to government restriction on liberty, so it’s simply better to keep the door bolted shut. Given the undeniable political agenda some global warming advocates embrace, those concerns are understandable. And some climate scientists have not helped their cause by endangering their role as honest brokers (see the Climate Research Unit scandal at the University  of East Anglia for more). Nevertheless, the problem for those who deny global warming is empirical: Earth’s temperatures have increased and human activity has contributed to it. To deny this is to deny reality, to subordinate truth to ideology. And in the long run that can only damage conservatism.

As I mentioned before, I’m quite open to those who would refine, amend, or contradict my interpretation of things. And in the process we can all agree we should be open to revising our views based on the best evidence we have; that we let facts and data determine our views rather than the other way around. Because even in science, the wish can be father to the cause.

 

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A More Appropriate North Korean Eulogy

Last night, the North Korean government announced that its Dear Leader of the last 17 years died of “mental and physical exhaustion” on Saturday morning local time. Instead of looking at the death as an opportunity to remember Kim Jong-Il’s excesses, or wondering what his son’s will be, a more fitting eulogy would be for the millions who never lived to see the death of the man who kept their nation in the dark for his 17-year reign.

Because the Kim family has kept North Korea more isolated than any other country in the world, it is impossible for the outside world to know just how many have been murdered. Two years ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about a doctoral student who was using a collaborative online program and satellite photos to determine what was happening inside the reclusive Asian nation. He discovered what many North Korean refugees have spoken about at great length–mass graves belonging to North Koreans unlucky enough to be subjects of Kim Jong-Il during a period of famine between 1995 and 1998. Estimates of the death toll in just that three-year period are as high as two million souls.

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Last night, the North Korean government announced that its Dear Leader of the last 17 years died of “mental and physical exhaustion” on Saturday morning local time. Instead of looking at the death as an opportunity to remember Kim Jong-Il’s excesses, or wondering what his son’s will be, a more fitting eulogy would be for the millions who never lived to see the death of the man who kept their nation in the dark for his 17-year reign.

Because the Kim family has kept North Korea more isolated than any other country in the world, it is impossible for the outside world to know just how many have been murdered. Two years ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about a doctoral student who was using a collaborative online program and satellite photos to determine what was happening inside the reclusive Asian nation. He discovered what many North Korean refugees have spoken about at great length–mass graves belonging to North Koreans unlucky enough to be subjects of Kim Jong-Il during a period of famine between 1995 and 1998. Estimates of the death toll in just that three-year period are as high as two million souls.

While many find humor in the escapades of the North Korean’s former leader, known for his quirky love of film, cognac and “looking at things,” the depths of his evil cannot be overlooked or minimized. Neighboring countries are on alert, waiting to see what the succession will look like. President Obama has released a statement hoping for stability and a peaceful transition on the Korean peninsula. While the world may want the North Korean’s volatile deck of cards to stay intact, what about the North Korean people, trapped in dozens of gulags, some larger than Washington, D.C., others even found in Russian Siberia? (North Koreans actually count themselves lucky to be sent to labor camps in the middle of the Siberian wilderness.)

After every genocide, the world cries “Never Again.” We have watched as the leaders of Germany, Cambodia, Iraq and Rwanda (to name a few), murdered their citizens in cold blood. North Korean refugees have escaped and told their stories. One such gulag survivor, Kang Chol-Hwan, the author of a remarkable memoir, Aquariums of Pyongyang, reminds his readers:

As Hitler slaughtered millions of Jews, the world did not want to believe it was happening. No one wished to imagine that the smoke and ashes blown to the village by the wind, day in and day out, actually came from the burning of human bodies within the concentration camps. Only after the genocide of six million Jews came to its grisly end did mankind eventually confront this gruesome tragedy.

Now the term “concentration camp” has become inextricably linked to Hitler’s holocaust. But how on earth could I ever explain that the same – and in fact far worse – things are being repeated in this 21st century in North Korea, a relic of a failed experiment in human history called communism?

As Abe pointed out earlier, we are aware of the horrors perpetrated in the North Korea. This is an opportunity, never before seen, to free the most oppressed people in world history. Will President Obama watch this opportunity for North Korean’s freedom pass as he did in Iran and across the Middle East? Will South Koreans work to reunify their country and lead their countrymen out of misery? I often think of my grandparents’ generation, who watched the Holocaust unfold, silently. I think of my parents’ generation, who spent their time protesting the Vietnam War, but were silent as Pol Pot killed more than two million of his people. How will our children judge us if we allow this moment to pass, if we allow another Kim to keep North Koreans trapped in gulags and abject poverty?

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Conservatives and Climate Change-Part I

Meeting recently in South Africa, representatives from 194 countries agreed to the Durban Platform, the latest effort to put the world on a path to cut greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are driving climate change.

One crucial question is whether the Durban conference was even addressing a real issue. For many conservatives, the answer is no. Global warming, it’s said, is a (flawed) theory, not a fact. The idea that human activity is in any way responsible for higher temperatures is false. Advocates of global warming are relying on doctored data. Indeed, global warming is a manufactured crisis being used by environmentalists to impose their left-wing agenda on America. Or so the argument goes.

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Meeting recently in South Africa, representatives from 194 countries agreed to the Durban Platform, the latest effort to put the world on a path to cut greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are driving climate change.

One crucial question is whether the Durban conference was even addressing a real issue. For many conservatives, the answer is no. Global warming, it’s said, is a (flawed) theory, not a fact. The idea that human activity is in any way responsible for higher temperatures is false. Advocates of global warming are relying on doctored data. Indeed, global warming is a manufactured crisis being used by environmentalists to impose their left-wing agenda on America. Or so the argument goes.

Having looked into this matter a bit, I’ve settled on several judgments which are open to refinement and amendment, including these: The world is getting warmer. The warming is almost certainly caused, at least in large part, by human activity. And rising temperatures could pose a future risk, though how significant of a risk is open to interpretation.

Here’s what we do know. According to a report by the National Academy of Sciences, the average temperature of Earth’s surface increased by about 0.8 degrees Celsius during the past 100 years, with more than half occurring during the past three decades. During one recent 12-year stretch (1995-2006), 11 of those years ranked among the 12 warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature. Richard A. Muller, a professor of physics who once counted himself a skeptic about global warming, re-examined the data through the auspices of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project and came to this conclusion: “Global warming is real.” And the preponderance of the scientific evidence points to human activity as the most likely cause for most of the global warming that has occurred over the last half-century. Gregg Easterbrook, an environmental commentator who has a long record of opposing alarmism, put it this way: “All of the world’s major science academies have said they are convinced climate change is happen[ing] and that human action plays a role.”

The concentration in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide has increased markedly during the past 150 years, with fossil-fuel burning being one of the main contributors (deforestation is another). Estimates are that humans have been responsible for almost a 40 percent increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration during the past two centuries. It is indisputable that atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased; it makes complete sense that the effects of this increase would lead to a warming of Earth’s surface. The reason is that greenhouse gases enhance the natural greenhouse effect by absorbing outgoing infrared radiation and re-radiating some of it back toward the surface, thereby warming it. This is not a liberal invention; it’s physics.

Where there’s a good deal more uncertainty is in future climate projections and what needs to be done – which I’ll address in my next post.

 

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Is There Still Time for an Iowa Surprise?

I think Alana is right when she says the main beneficiary of Newt Gingrich’s free-fall in Iowa will be Mitt Romney. In fact, as I wrote earlier today, any outcome in the first caucus other than a Gingrich victory plays into Romney’s hands. Even if a dark horse candidate like Ron Paul takes the state or one of the second-tier conservatives sneaks into the winner’s circle, the net effect will be to destroy the former Speaker’s hopes for the nomination. That will leave Romney in effect the only mainstream candidate left standing and, though his path will not necessarily be easy, it would then be hard to imagine anyone else becoming the nominee.

But though the various polls of likely caucus-goers are showing Paul, Gingrich and Romney as the only potential winners, a word of caution is needed. Anyone who thinks this isn’t a volatile race whose outlines can change radically from week to week hasn’t been paying attention. It also needs to be pointed out that Tea Partiers and social conservatives who abandon a sinking Gingrich in the next two weeks have two other logical candidates they could turn to: Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum. That’s why the betting here is that one of those two will wind up edging into the top three or better in Iowa by the time the caucus is finished.

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I think Alana is right when she says the main beneficiary of Newt Gingrich’s free-fall in Iowa will be Mitt Romney. In fact, as I wrote earlier today, any outcome in the first caucus other than a Gingrich victory plays into Romney’s hands. Even if a dark horse candidate like Ron Paul takes the state or one of the second-tier conservatives sneaks into the winner’s circle, the net effect will be to destroy the former Speaker’s hopes for the nomination. That will leave Romney in effect the only mainstream candidate left standing and, though his path will not necessarily be easy, it would then be hard to imagine anyone else becoming the nominee.

But though the various polls of likely caucus-goers are showing Paul, Gingrich and Romney as the only potential winners, a word of caution is needed. Anyone who thinks this isn’t a volatile race whose outlines can change radically from week to week hasn’t been paying attention. It also needs to be pointed out that Tea Partiers and social conservatives who abandon a sinking Gingrich in the next two weeks have two other logical candidates they could turn to: Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum. That’s why the betting here is that one of those two will wind up edging into the top three or better in Iowa by the time the caucus is finished.

Any such outcome will be judged a big surprise at this point, especially since both Bachmann and Santorum seem stuck in the polls at around 10 percent in Iowa. But Bachmann, and to a lesser extent Santorum, have the right conservative credentials as well as an ability to connect with grassroots conservatives in a way Romney and Paul cannot.

It may seem like several years ago but, in fact, it was only four months ago that Michele Bachmann concluded a summer of unexpected prominence by winning the Iowa straw polls in Ames. But unfortunately for her, Rick Perry’s decision to announce that same day took the steam out of her victory. Though his boomlet soon fizzled, she never quite recovered.

Most pundits wrote Bachmann off after she went off the tracks with goofy accusations about Perry’s Texas vaccination program. But her evisceration of Newt Gingrich’s Washington cronyism and Freddie Mac boodle in last Thursday night’s debate not only may have greatly damaged the former Speaker, but it might also put a spark back into her campaign. Bachmann’s strong ties to Iowa and her concentration on the state made her a potential favorite there back when her candidacy was on the upswing. In the intervening months, Perry, Cain and Gingrich have all had their moments in the sun as the leading “not Romney” in the race. It may be too late for Bachmann to regain the momentum she had back in August, but a surge on her behalf is not out of the question.

The odds of Santorum taking advantage of Gingrich’s decline seem less likely. Santorum has been relentlessly beating the bushes in every county in the state trying to convince social conservatives to vote for him. Though both have obvious weaknesses that make their nomination highly implausible, Bachmann has a better chance of channeling some conservative enthusiasm.

Iowa voters have often confounded pollsters in the past, and any objective reading of the various polls ought to discourage anyone from making blithe predictions about the outcome on Jan. 3. But if Gingrich truly is in a free-fall, my hunch is that enough of his support will wind up in Bachmann’s column, which will allow her to declare a victory of sorts.

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Jeb Bush: Protect “the Right to Rise”

“If we want the whole world to be rich,” P.J. O’Rourke famously wrote, “we need to start loving wealth. In the difference between poverty and plenty, the problem is the poverty and not the difference.”

This is starkly at odds with President Obama’s overwrought, aggressively divisive rhetoric on income inequality. Demonizing wealth earned honestly, as the president likes to do, puts the nation’s poor at great economic risk. Defending the free market system that enables the poor to rise is essential to moving beyond divisive economics and giving everyone the same opportunity. That is the crux of Jeb Bush’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today:

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“If we want the whole world to be rich,” P.J. O’Rourke famously wrote, “we need to start loving wealth. In the difference between poverty and plenty, the problem is the poverty and not the difference.”

This is starkly at odds with President Obama’s overwrought, aggressively divisive rhetoric on income inequality. Demonizing wealth earned honestly, as the president likes to do, puts the nation’s poor at great economic risk. Defending the free market system that enables the poor to rise is essential to moving beyond divisive economics and giving everyone the same opportunity. That is the crux of Jeb Bush’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today:

We have to make it easier for people to do the things that allow them to rise. We have to let them compete. We need to let people fight for business. We need to let people take risks. We need to let people fail. We need to let people suffer the consequences of bad decisions. And we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good luck.

That is what economic freedom looks like. Freedom to succeed as well as to fail, freedom to do something or nothing. People understand this.

Punish job creators and you will have fewer jobs; punish wealth and you will have less wealth. Those who don’t have much wealth to begin with–the poor–will suffer most. The central question of a Mitt Romney candidacy, should he win the GOP nomination, is whether or not he will he feel secure enough to make this argument. On “Fox News Sunday” yesterday, Romney left the impression of a candidate who is halfway there:

WALLACE: Rick Perry calls for a 20 percent flat tax. Newt Gingrich has a 15 percent plan. You would keep the top tax rate at 35 percent. And in contrast to most of your rivals, you would not lower the tax on capital gains and dividends for anyone making more than $200,000 a year.

Question: aren’t you basically right there with Barack Obama; the rich should pay more?

ROMNEY: No, I’m just saying don’t raise taxes on anyone. I want to make sure that with the precious dollars we have, that we can provide tax relief, that those dollars go to middle income Americans.

The people who have been hurt in the Obama economy are not the wealthy. The wealthy are doing just fine. The people that have been hurt are the people in the middle class, so I focus those precious dollars that we have, I focus that on the middle class.

It’s unclear what Romney actually means when he says “those precious dollars that we have,” but the implication certainly seems to be one of attacking “the difference” and not “the poverty” itself. Later on in the interview, however, Romney comes back around to offering the kind of common sense and historical proficiency the current president lacks:

WALLACE: In your last book, you repeatedly talked about creative destruction, the idea of creative destruction in capitalism. First of all, what does that mean to you? Creative destruction?

ROMNEY: Well, it’s an unfortunate but in some respects essential part of free enterprise and the example I use in my book is when someone came up with inventing the tractor, it destroyed a lot of jobs. It destroyed many enterprises that people in the horse-drawn plow business went out of business. And yet the wealth of the American people and the well-being of the American people grew dramatically. Invention — whether of a new product or a new technique or a new invention tends to put some enterprises out of business and encourage other businesses to become more successful with the — with the outcome that the entire society becomes better off.

Romney is going to have to repeat that line often enough for the country to hear it over the inevitable flood of class warfare that the president’s nearly $1 billion will buy him. That’s what it boils down to: the president is proposing a system in which  “the right to rise,” as Bush calls it, is constantly attacked. Romney is defending a system in which the right to rise is available to all. He need not be shy about it.

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Did the GOP “Kill” the Keystone XL?

Republicans scored a victory on Saturday, when the Senate passed a payroll tax extension deal that included a provision that would force President Obama to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline construction within 60 days. The choice puts Obama in a tricky political predicament, as labor unions and environmentalists are bitterly divided over the Keystone issue:

If Republicans get their way, President Barack Obama, right around Valentine’s Day, could have to weigh in for the second time in about three months on permitting the Keystone XL pipeline that divides his environmental and labor bases.…

For a White House sensitive to economic concerns, it’s not exactly an ideal scenario as it shifts into reelection mode. Hence the calculation last week from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to elevate the profile of the seemingly parochial energy issue, which months ago was mired among a laundry list of Republican grievances with the Obama administration.

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Republicans scored a victory on Saturday, when the Senate passed a payroll tax extension deal that included a provision that would force President Obama to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline construction within 60 days. The choice puts Obama in a tricky political predicament, as labor unions and environmentalists are bitterly divided over the Keystone issue:

If Republicans get their way, President Barack Obama, right around Valentine’s Day, could have to weigh in for the second time in about three months on permitting the Keystone XL pipeline that divides his environmental and labor bases.…

For a White House sensitive to economic concerns, it’s not exactly an ideal scenario as it shifts into reelection mode. Hence the calculation last week from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to elevate the profile of the seemingly parochial energy issue, which months ago was mired among a laundry list of Republican grievances with the Obama administration.

Obama previously threatened to veto any bill that included the Keystone XL provision, but on Sunday his administration seemed to back away from that position. He really has no choice – vetoing a payroll tax cut extension bill that received broad support in both the House and Senate would be politically suicidal.

It’s unclear which side Obama will take on Keystone XL, but we can assume he’s leaning against its construction. Just last month, the administration announced that the State Department needed an additional two years to assess alternative routes for the pipeline. There is no way this research could be completed in just two months. Unless Obama is prepared to backtrack and say that the assessment is no longer necessary, his hands are tied.

Democrats are probably aware of this, which is why they’ve started preemptively blaming Republicans for “killing” the pipeline:

But the two-month deadline “would make it almost certainly impossible” that the project will get the green light, added [White House economic adviser Gene] Sperling, joining the chorus of Senate Democrats who have made similar assertions.

“They’ve just killed the Keystone pipeline. They killed it because they forced the president to make a decision before he can make it so he’s not going to move forward with it,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, an ally of environmental groups, said Friday.

Of course, it was Obama who created this mess to begin with by letting campaign politics interfere with his decision on the pipeline. His administration took three years to review the Keystone XL, and ruled over the summer that it was environmentally sound. It was widely expected that the State Department would approve construction this fall, and the delay was a big surprise. Now Obama is stuck defending an extended review process that everyone knows is unnecessary. The right move would be to scrap the two-year assessment and greenlight the pipeline immediately – but, unfortunately, campaign politics will likely trump common sense in this case.

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Will Obama Back an Iran Oil Embargo?

The Wall Street Journal reports today the Obama administration is engaging in talks with America’s European allies and various Arab states about what would happen in the event of an embargo on the export of Iranian oil. Such a measure was made possible late last week when Congress passed the Defense Authorization Act. The bill included a measure that would ban any dealings with financial entities that dealt with Iran’s Central Bank; the institution by which Tehran is able to conduct its oil trades. The U.S.-led discussions seemingly are a precursor to a move to ramp up sanctions on the Iranians so as to force them to abandon their quest for nuclear weapons.

If the United States were to actually enforce a ban on the Iranian Central Bank, then cooperation between the Arab states, Europe and the U.S. would be necessary to limit the impact of a rise in oil prices that might inevitably result from this course of action. But the real question we should be asking today is not so much “when” the ban would be enacted but “if.” Since President Obama had opposed passage of the bank transaction ban and insisted upon and got the inclusion of waivers in the legislation that would ignore the law, it is far from clear that Iran is actually in any trouble. For three years, the ayatollahs have been acting as if they believed Obama wasn’t serious about stopping him. We may soon see whether or not they are right.

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The Wall Street Journal reports today the Obama administration is engaging in talks with America’s European allies and various Arab states about what would happen in the event of an embargo on the export of Iranian oil. Such a measure was made possible late last week when Congress passed the Defense Authorization Act. The bill included a measure that would ban any dealings with financial entities that dealt with Iran’s Central Bank; the institution by which Tehran is able to conduct its oil trades. The U.S.-led discussions seemingly are a precursor to a move to ramp up sanctions on the Iranians so as to force them to abandon their quest for nuclear weapons.

If the United States were to actually enforce a ban on the Iranian Central Bank, then cooperation between the Arab states, Europe and the U.S. would be necessary to limit the impact of a rise in oil prices that might inevitably result from this course of action. But the real question we should be asking today is not so much “when” the ban would be enacted but “if.” Since President Obama had opposed passage of the bank transaction ban and insisted upon and got the inclusion of waivers in the legislation that would ignore the law, it is far from clear that Iran is actually in any trouble. For three years, the ayatollahs have been acting as if they believed Obama wasn’t serious about stopping him. We may soon see whether or not they are right.

Among the optimists is Walter Russell Meade, who writes today in his blog at The American Interest that plans for an embargo are an expression of a growing international consensus that Iran must be stopped. He rightly scoffs at the idea that the focus on Iran is a function of American and Israeli animus for Islam and points out that the Arabs are just as scared of the ayatollahs as the Jews.

But the problem here is that after three years of feckless diplomacy, it is very difficult to escape the conclusion that Tehran’s low opinion of President Obama’s resolve is accurate.

While the president continues to vow, as he did on Friday when he addressed the Union of Reform Judaism’s biennial convention that he won’t let Iran go nuclear, most of the signals coming out of Washington seem to indicate a lack of seriousness about the U.S. push on the issue. The negotiations over the sanctions bill just passed by Congress illustrated this conundrum. Though Obama brags about how tough he is about Iran, the administration made it very clear it was not happy about Congress actually giving it the one tool it needs — a ban on dealings with Iran’s Central Bank – that could make an oil embargo a reality. If the president is ready to enforce this ban, then Iran’s oil exports can be effectively crippled. But if that’s what he wants to do, it is hard to imagine why Obama would insist on the bill including waivers that could allow him to put such a measure off indefinitely.

It also bears repeating that the United States is not enforcing the weak sanctions already on the books. Talking about sanctions is the one thing this administration seems able to do. It requires a considerable leap of faith to think that the president is ready to carry them out.

The only reason to believe the administration is prepared to act was supplied by one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Sen. Mark Kirk, who accurately characterized the waivers as “a get out of jail free card.” He still thinks Obama won’t use them because “as you enter a presidential contest, there’s no upside to being soft on Iran.”

But Obama, who entered office determined to “engage” with Iran and refused to publicly support pro-democracy protesters who took to the streets of Tehran in their thousands, has consistently been soft on the Islamist regime. Though a failure to press Iran would give his Republican opponents an issue on which they could easily attack him, it may be that Obama is far more afraid of an election-year spike in oil prices than being called an appeaser. Given that the president’s re-election campaign has been appealing to the left more than the center or right, it could be that Obama’s political calculations could work to the ayatollahs’ favor rather than against them.

Though Obama may yet vindicate his defenders, there is still good reason to be skeptical about the administration’s willingness to do what needs to be done to avert the catastrophe of a nuclear Iran.

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Vaclav Havel, Living Within the Truth

I wanted to add my thoughts to what Jonathan wrote in his tribute to Vaclav Havel.

Havel belongs in the rank of the great dissidents of the 20th century. Yet unlike others (e.g., Andrei Sakharov and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn), Havel became the political leader of his nation. Few people who have a hand in bringing down a monstrous regime then help to rebuild their society from the ashes. This gave Havel a rare, even unique, perspective.

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I wanted to add my thoughts to what Jonathan wrote in his tribute to Vaclav Havel.

Havel belongs in the rank of the great dissidents of the 20th century. Yet unlike others (e.g., Andrei Sakharov and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn), Havel became the political leader of his nation. Few people who have a hand in bringing down a monstrous regime then help to rebuild their society from the ashes. This gave Havel a rare, even unique, perspective.

In his 1992 book, Summer Meditations, Havel wrote about the tension. “Clearly, a dissident intellectual who philosophizes in his study about the fate and future of the world has different opportunities, a different position, a different kind of freedom, than a politician who moves among the complicated social realities of a particular time and place,” he said. Politicians are constantly coming up against “the intractable and contradictory interests that inhabit that time and space.” Havel went on to write this:

The sine qua non of a politician is not the ability to lie; he need only be sensitive and know when, what, to whom, and how to say what he has to say. It is not true that a person of principle does not belong in politics; it is enough for his principles to be leavened with patience, deliberation, a sense of proportion, and an understanding of others. It is not true that only the unfeeling cynic, the vain, the brash, and the vulgar can succeed in politics; such people, it is true, are drawn to politics, but, in the end, decorum and good taste will always count for more. My experience and observations confirm that politics as the practice of morality is possible. I do not deny, however, that it is not always easy to go that route, nor have I ever claimed that it was.

The role of the dissident intellectual and the president of a sovereign nation are profoundly different — yet Havel considered both to be, at their core, moral undertakings. By his own admission, Havel the politician became aware of how immensely difficult it is to be guided in practice by the principles and ideals in which he believed. “Clouds have filled the sky,” he admitted, “clarity and general harmony have disappeared.” And yet he would emphasize, again and again, the moral origin of all genuine politics.

Havel’s greatest essay may have been “The Power of the Powerless,” written in 1978, in which he wrote about the shattering effect totalitarianism had on human dignity. It required people to “live within the lie,” Havel said. The great playwright asked us to imagine that one day a greengrocer stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really thinks at political meetings. And he even finds the strength in himself to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support.

“In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie,” Havel wrote. “He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth.” [italics in original]

A brave and brilliant man, Vaclav Havel lived within the truth far better than most of us ever will.

Requiescat in pace.

 

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Kim Jong Il and the Horror That Survives

Kim Jong Il’s death is a kind of victory—for him. He died of natural causes, in power, with nuclear technology at his disposal, leaving weeping newscasters to sing his praises. He was never toppled, imprisoned or killed. Kim presided over a totalitarian universe so comprehensive it managed to claim a perverse integrity. Free people outside North Korea have excised the country and its suffering millions from their daily consciences, even as they rally in support of Arab freedom or give toward the relief of African starvation. North Korea is a hell on earth that the earth would just as soon ignore.

Kim consigned generations to life and death inside a network of barbarous prisons. An entire nation, tortured and malnourished, in an age that’s elsewhere seen the formation of an obese poor class, the supposed defeat of  20th-century evils, and the rise of one-worldist peace dreams. Millions will continue to starve inside these death camps long after Kim’s own peaceful passing. Rogue nuclear powers manage to survive. In the May issue of COMMENTARY, Linda Chavez wrote the short story, “Afterbirth,” which takes readers inside the North Korean monstrosity that will survive the North Korean monster. Here is “Afterbirth”:

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Kim Jong Il’s death is a kind of victory—for him. He died of natural causes, in power, with nuclear technology at his disposal, leaving weeping newscasters to sing his praises. He was never toppled, imprisoned or killed. Kim presided over a totalitarian universe so comprehensive it managed to claim a perverse integrity. Free people outside North Korea have excised the country and its suffering millions from their daily consciences, even as they rally in support of Arab freedom or give toward the relief of African starvation. North Korea is a hell on earth that the earth would just as soon ignore.

Kim consigned generations to life and death inside a network of barbarous prisons. An entire nation, tortured and malnourished, in an age that’s elsewhere seen the formation of an obese poor class, the supposed defeat of  20th-century evils, and the rise of one-worldist peace dreams. Millions will continue to starve inside these death camps long after Kim’s own peaceful passing. Rogue nuclear powers manage to survive. In the May issue of COMMENTARY, Linda Chavez wrote the short story, “Afterbirth,” which takes readers inside the North Korean monstrosity that will survive the North Korean monster. Here is “Afterbirth”:

She held the large plastic bucket in front of her as the midwife severed the umbilical cord with a blood-smeared butcher knife before tossing the squirming infant into the pail. “Well? What are you standing there for? Get rid of it,” the midwife barked. She stepped back, averting her eyes from the bucket. It was heavy, three kilos she guessed, and the infant’s thrashing made carrying it difficult. She had wanted to stay until the afterbirth had been delivered. It would make a nourishing meal if she could hide until the shift was over. The guards would not miss a placenta, though they counted the bodies in the pit before they poured on the lime.

Hyepin—that was her name—had heard stories of prisoners who tried to steal the babies. She preferred to believe they were rescuing the still living, like the one in her bucket, though she knew it was more likely they intended to make a meal of the dead. She spat at the thought of it. It was one thing to devour human offal, another to eat flesh.

Please do read it all.

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Could Endorsement Hurt Romney?

If there’s such as a thing as a backhanded endorsement, the Des Moines Register gave a major one to Mitt Romney this weekend. After glossing over some of the justifiable concerns that conservatives have about Romney, the paper piled on the praise for Romneycare and gushed over the candidate’s willingness to compromise with Democrats:

While other Republican candidates are content to bash the president’s health reform law without offering meaningful reforms of their own, Romney has defended the principal goal of the Massachusetts health care legislation, which was to ensure that all residents there had access to health care. …

This ability to see the merits of tough issues from something other than a knee-jerk, ideological perspective suggests that Mitt Romney would be willing to bridge the political divide in Washington. Americans are desperate for the Republicans and Democrats to work together. His record of ignoring partisan labels to pass important legislation when he was governor of Massachusetts suggests he is capable of making that happen.

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If there’s such as a thing as a backhanded endorsement, the Des Moines Register gave a major one to Mitt Romney this weekend. After glossing over some of the justifiable concerns that conservatives have about Romney, the paper piled on the praise for Romneycare and gushed over the candidate’s willingness to compromise with Democrats:

While other Republican candidates are content to bash the president’s health reform law without offering meaningful reforms of their own, Romney has defended the principal goal of the Massachusetts health care legislation, which was to ensure that all residents there had access to health care. …

This ability to see the merits of tough issues from something other than a knee-jerk, ideological perspective suggests that Mitt Romney would be willing to bridge the political divide in Washington. Americans are desperate for the Republicans and Democrats to work together. His record of ignoring partisan labels to pass important legislation when he was governor of Massachusetts suggests he is capable of making that happen.

These aren’t exactly arguments that conservative caucus-goers will find persuasive. Romney’s Massachusetts health care reform is perpetually toxic with Republican voters, and they aren’t likely to be impressed by his “carefully nuanced position on abortion over the years,” either.

It’s no wonder Nate Silver found that Republicans endorsed by the Des Moines Register tend to do worse on average than predicted by the polls:

On average, across the eight races, the candidate receiving the endorsement of the Des Moines Register has outperformed the polls by a statistically insignificant 3-point margin. The four Republican candidates in the sample, meanwhile, have on average done slightly worse than polling would have projected, although the difference is nowhere close to being statistically significant.

The Register’s endorsement is better suited for the general election than for the Republican primaries. It isn’t likely to help Romney in the caucuses, and it may even drag him down a bit with conservative voters — though probably not enough to matter.

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Who Benefits From Newt’s Free-Fall?

As much as Newt Gingrich’s supporters wanted to believe his rise in the polls was more solid than Rick Perry’s or Herman Cain’s, it looks like his reign on top is coming to an end. Jonathan writes that Gingrich has plummeted to 14 percent in today’s Public Policy Polling Iowa survey, down from 22 percent last week and 27 the week before.

While we may just be witnessing the beginning of Gingrich’s collapse, his trajectory has seemed to follow the same pattern as the previous not-Romney frontrunners, who maintained their leads for a little more than a month before crashing spectacularly. But there are reasons why Gingrich’s fall may not be as dramatic as the other ones, according to the National Journal:

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As much as Newt Gingrich’s supporters wanted to believe his rise in the polls was more solid than Rick Perry’s or Herman Cain’s, it looks like his reign on top is coming to an end. Jonathan writes that Gingrich has plummeted to 14 percent in today’s Public Policy Polling Iowa survey, down from 22 percent last week and 27 the week before.

While we may just be witnessing the beginning of Gingrich’s collapse, his trajectory has seemed to follow the same pattern as the previous not-Romney frontrunners, who maintained their leads for a little more than a month before crashing spectacularly. But there are reasons why Gingrich’s fall may not be as dramatic as the other ones, according to the National Journal:

Gingrich’s candidacy does have several variables that could complicate whether he too falls just as hard. For one, it’s not readily apparent which candidate conservative voters could flock to instead. In every other case, when a GOP candidate flopped there was a concurrent rise in one of their rivals. Bachmann was succeeded by Perry, who was supplanted by Cain, who gave way to Gingrich.

So far, no candidate seems to be rising to fill in the “not-Romney” void that would be left by Gingrich. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul have gained a modest two points since last week’s PPP poll, while Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman have basically remained flat.

Paul is now leading the field at 23 percent, with Romney on his heels at 20 percent. According to PPP, Romney has the most to gain from Gingrich’s fall:

One thing Romney really has going for him is more room for growth than Paul.  Among voters who say they’re not firmly committed to their current candidate choice, Romney is the second choice for 19 percent compared to 17 percent for Perry, 15 percent for Bachmann, and only 13 percent for Paul.   It’s particularly worth noting that among Gingrich (who seems more likely to keep falling than turn it around) voters, he’s the second choice of 30 percent compared to only 11 percent for Paul.

Predictably, Paul’s supporters are the most committed to their candidate. But Paul’s ceiling in Iowa is also lower than Romney’s. If no other candidate rises to take Gingrich’s place, and this remains a two-man race between Paul and Romney until the caucuses, then there’s a good chance Romney could come out of Iowa as the victor.

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PA Policy: Boycotting Dialogue With Israelis

Last week, I wrote about a Palestinian author who refused to participate in a panel discussion with an Israeli at a French literary conference. But it turns out this wasn’t the author’s private initiative: Boycotting all Israelis, even those most opposed to the Netanyahu government, is now official Palestinian Authority policy – even as the PA tells the world its problem isn’t with Israel, but only with Benjamin Netanyahu’s “right-wing” policies.

The new policy was announced this weekend by Hatem Abdel Kader, a senior official in PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party. “We will try to thwart any Palestinian-Israeli meeting,” he said. “In Fatah we have officially decided to ban such gatherings.” And it’s already being implemented in practice, as The Jerusalem Post reported: Organized mobs of Palestinian protesters recently forced the cancellation of two Israeli-Palestinian conferences sponsored by a civil-society group. And Sari Nusseibeh, who was supposed to speak at one, didn’t even show up due to threats from the anti-normalization thugs.

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Last week, I wrote about a Palestinian author who refused to participate in a panel discussion with an Israeli at a French literary conference. But it turns out this wasn’t the author’s private initiative: Boycotting all Israelis, even those most opposed to the Netanyahu government, is now official Palestinian Authority policy – even as the PA tells the world its problem isn’t with Israel, but only with Benjamin Netanyahu’s “right-wing” policies.

The new policy was announced this weekend by Hatem Abdel Kader, a senior official in PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party. “We will try to thwart any Palestinian-Israeli meeting,” he said. “In Fatah we have officially decided to ban such gatherings.” And it’s already being implemented in practice, as The Jerusalem Post reported: Organized mobs of Palestinian protesters recently forced the cancellation of two Israeli-Palestinian conferences sponsored by a civil-society group. And Sari Nusseibeh, who was supposed to speak at one, didn’t even show up due to threats from the anti-normalization thugs.

I can’t dispute Abdel Kader’s assertion that most such conferences are a waste of time, because participants usually represent neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian mainstream. But that’s a far cry from banning them – especially if the PA were being truthful when it claims its only problem is the Netanyahu government. After all, the Israelis who attend such conferences are generally Netanyahu’s most vociferous critics, and vocal advocates of greater Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. If the PA isn’t even willing to countenance dialogue with them, which Israelis would it be willing to talk to?

Moreover, how is such a boycott supposed to persuade mainstream Israelis to favor the concessions the PA claims to want? Granted, Israeli activists’ enthusiastic reports of Palestinian “moderation” at such meetings have thus far had little impact; to most Israelis, Palestinian actions – from the rampant terror that followed Israeli withdrawals in the West Bank and Gaza to the PA’s serial rejection of statehood offers – speak louder than words. But is a refusal to talk to any Israeli at all a more convincing demonstration of Palestinian moderation?

Finally, the official reason given for the ban is bizarre: Fatah reportedly “fears that the Israeli government would exploit such meetings to tell the world that there is some kind of dialogue going on between Israelis and Palestinians and that the only problem is with the PA leadership, which is refusing to return to the negotiating table.” Given that the entire world has publicly blamed Israel for the impasse, why would Fatah fear any such thing?

One can only conclude that Fatah, unlike the rest of the world, knows the truth: The PA is the one that has steadfastly refused to negotiate, first imposing new conditions like a settlement freeze and then refusing to talk even if Israel accedes, as it did by declaring an unprecedented 10-month construction moratorium. And Fatah is desperately afraid Westerners will finally catch on.

So far, they haven’t. But they should. Because a Palestinian government that bans dialogue even with Israel’s far left is patently unready to make peace with Israel.

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Did the Gingrich Bubble Just Pop?

My view that Newt Gingrich’s performance in last Thursday’s debate would send him back to the pack was very much in the minority the day after the candidates clashed in Sioux City, Iowa. But a pair of new polls published this weekend shows the former Speaker’s large lead in the Hawkeye state is evaporating. For much of November and December, opinion surveys showed Republican voters were ignoring Gingrich’s troubling past and lack of electability. However, after getting pounded on his Freddie Mac fees and another week of heightened scrutiny about his inconsistent record, Gallup’s Daily Tracking Poll in Iowa showed Gingrich’s lead over Mitt Romney to have declined to four points (28 to 24 percent) from 15 points only two weeks ago (37 to 22 percent). Even more shocking, a Public Policy Poll now shows Gingrich dropping to third in Iowa with only 14 percent of the vote, while Ron Paul leads with 23 percent and Romney is listed as a close second with 20 percent.

The discrepancy between Paul’s showing in the two polls illustrates both the volatility and the difficulty of predicting this race. It is hard to square the fact that Gallup shows the extremist libertarian at only 10 percent while PPP has him in the lead. Nevertheless, both surveys agree on one thing. Gingrich’s surge is not only over; it may be about to be reversed. He is now rapidly losing ground in Iowa, and with no other debates scheduled before the Jan. 3 caucus and his campaign lacking organizational strength on the ground, it isn’t likely he’ll be able to recover. So no matter how well Paul does, the popping of Gingrich’s bubble is good news for Romney. Any outcome other than a Gingrich win in Iowa will set him up for a very good January.

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My view that Newt Gingrich’s performance in last Thursday’s debate would send him back to the pack was very much in the minority the day after the candidates clashed in Sioux City, Iowa. But a pair of new polls published this weekend shows the former Speaker’s large lead in the Hawkeye state is evaporating. For much of November and December, opinion surveys showed Republican voters were ignoring Gingrich’s troubling past and lack of electability. However, after getting pounded on his Freddie Mac fees and another week of heightened scrutiny about his inconsistent record, Gallup’s Daily Tracking Poll in Iowa showed Gingrich’s lead over Mitt Romney to have declined to four points (28 to 24 percent) from 15 points only two weeks ago (37 to 22 percent). Even more shocking, a Public Policy Poll now shows Gingrich dropping to third in Iowa with only 14 percent of the vote, while Ron Paul leads with 23 percent and Romney is listed as a close second with 20 percent.

The discrepancy between Paul’s showing in the two polls illustrates both the volatility and the difficulty of predicting this race. It is hard to square the fact that Gallup shows the extremist libertarian at only 10 percent while PPP has him in the lead. Nevertheless, both surveys agree on one thing. Gingrich’s surge is not only over; it may be about to be reversed. He is now rapidly losing ground in Iowa, and with no other debates scheduled before the Jan. 3 caucus and his campaign lacking organizational strength on the ground, it isn’t likely he’ll be able to recover. So no matter how well Paul does, the popping of Gingrich’s bubble is good news for Romney. Any outcome other than a Gingrich win in Iowa will set him up for a very good January.

Even if Ron Paul is able to parlay his strong ground game into a surprising victory in Iowa, there is no chance his out-of-the-mainstream views on foreign policy will enable him to win elsewhere. Any boost an extremist such as Paul gets in Iowa will only make Romney’s nomination look like a better idea to most conservatives who value beating President Obama over ideological purity.

Though Romney has had trouble connecting with grassroots Republicans, the notion that Gingrich could overcome his enormous negatives and cruise to the nomination may have been as much an illusion as the bubbles that briefly had Rick Perry and Herman Cain leading in the GOP contest. Even more to the point, a Gingrich collapse in Iowa will send his poll numbers in other crucial early primary states where he has been leading (such as South Carolina and Florida) tumbling as well. That may give Romney a chance to follow up his likely win in New Hampshire with victories in the south that could give him a stranglehold on the nomination.

The crowded field is also still an advantage for Romney. None of the second-tier candidates such as Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum or Rick Perry have shown any ability to break out so far. But with all of them hanging on to approximately ten percent of likely caucus-goers, the split on the right has prevented Gingrich from consolidating the lead he once held and gives Romney a chance at winning in Iowa with only a fifth of the electorate behind him. With PPP showing the former Massachusetts governor with far more room for growth than Paul — who appears to be maxing out the libertarian/youth/anti-war vote — that gives Romney a very decent chance at an outright plurality in Iowa.

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