For many Americans, the festival of Chanukah, which began at sundown tonight, is a blue-tinseled version of Christmas as they participate in the consumer frenzy of the holiday season in a somewhat futile attempt to compete with the appeal of the latter. Some have even merged the two into a hybrid celebration they call “Chrismakah,” in which both Judaism and Christianity are given short shrift. Equally unappealing is the way that some on the Left have drafted the Festival of Light into the ranks of the environmental movement by attempting to make it a “green” holiday, in which energy conservation and hysteria about global warming are the keynotes.
Though the tension between the parochial aspects of the faith and its more universalist tendencies is as old as Judaism itself, Chanukah is not an empty metaphor into which other narratives or unrelated themes — whether praiseworthy or not — can be poured at will. Far from being a Jewish version of “goodwill toward men” or some trendy contemporary cause, the original story of Chanukah is about something very different: the refusal of a people to bow down to the idols of the popular culture of their day — their resolve to remain separate and faithful to their own traditions.
Greg Sargent is the liberal blogger for the Washington Post. He recently expressed his barely uncontained fury at Republicans, and Mitt Romney in particular, for daring to impugn Barack Obama’s motives. “Republicans react with bloody screams of outrage whenever Dems suggest that they might be trying to sabotage the recovery in order to harm Obama politically and make it easier for them to recapture the White House,” according to Sargent. “Yet here Romney has now made an even broader charge, arguing that Obama is making policy decisions across the board that he ‘knows’ are ‘counter to the interests of the country,’ including major decisions involving war and national security.”
Sargent concludes this way: “When Romney falsely claims that Obama apologized for America, insinuates that we should find his values suspect, and implies that we should be vaguely suspicious intentions towards the country [sic], it’s routinely treated a ‘part of the game.’ Now that Romney has taken this line of attack to its ultimate conclusion, I’m not expecting the reaction to be any different.”
The two-month payroll tax extension the Senate approved and the House voted down today is by no means good policy. In fact, it’s a payroll-processing disaster. But if House Republicans were adamantly dead-set against the two-month extension, they could have made this clear at any point before the Senate vote on Saturday. Now that the Senate has left town for the holidays, demanding lawmakers return to negotiate a year-long payroll tax extension is a bit ridiculous:
Speaking minutes later at a press conference with dozens of GOP members behind him, House Speaker John Boehner said the House has already taken up the Senate bill, which only gives a $166 tax break to Americans, and opted instead for a bill that gives $1,000 to contributors to the Social Security fund.
“We rejected the Senate bill and we moved to go to conference,” he said. “We’ve done our work for the American people, now it’s up to the president and the Senate to do their work as well.”
Last week, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman let his anger with Israel and its American supporters, including some Republican presidential candidates, get the better of him. In the course of a diatribe in which Friedman falsely claimed increasing numbers of American Jews were turning on Israel, he asserted that the ovations Congress gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” This invocation of the Walt-Mearsheimer canard about a Jewish conspiracy manipulating American foreign policy earned him the rebukes of even liberal Jewish groups who normally laud his every utterance. That has caused Friedman to backtrack on his slur, though only just a bit. In an interview with the New York Jewish Week’s Gary Rosenblatt, he said the following:
“In retrospect I probably should have used a more precise term like ‘engineered’ by the Israel lobby — a term that does not suggest grand conspiracy theories that I don’t subscribe to,” Friedman said. “It would have helped people focus on my argument, which I stand by 100 percent.”
But this weasel-worded attempt at walking back his brief foray into anti-Semitism shouldn’t convince anyone. There is no real difference between “engineered” and “bought and paid for.” Both terms seek to describe the across-the-board bi-partisan support for Israel that the ovations Netanyahu received as the result of Jewish manipulation, not a genuine and accurate reflection of American public opinion.
As much as the pro-Israel community supports moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, reality has often gotten in the way. Both President Clinton and President George W. Bush campaigned on relocating the embassy, and both failed to follow through. Not only has this been a major source of disappointment, it has also burned pro-Israel groups that supported these candidates based on that promise.
Both Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich have already vowed to move the embassy to Jerusalem, and their stances – while commendable – have inspired an understandable amount of skepticism.
Just weeks after publicly signaling that the United States not only had no interest in using force to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons but was also seeking to discourage Israel from acting, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has shifted his position. Though the United States has consistently sought to throw cold water on the idea that an Iranian nuke was imminent, Panetta sang a different tune in an interview with CBS.
Panetta told Scott Pelley: “It would probably be about a year before they can do it. Perhaps a little less. But one proviso, Scott, is if they have a hidden facility somewhere in Iran that may be enriching fuel.”
Because the likelihood of such a facility’s existence is great, then what the secretary is telling us is that there is every chance Iran will have nuclear capability by the end of 2012. Such an admission puts the administration’s feckless diplomacy on behalf of sanctions on Iran and failure to enforce existing restrictions in a new light. But if Obama and his team have now finally awakened to the imminent nature of this threat, it must leave both Americans and the Iranians confused as to their intentions.
I speculated earlier today that an endorsement from the influential Iowa social conservative group The Family Leader could be Newt Ginrich’s saving grace in the state. But unfortunately for Gingrich, he had no such luck. The Family Leader announced today that it’s staying neutral in the race, but the group’s prominent leaders, Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley, declared their support for Rick Santorum:
Iowa social conservative leaders Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley backed Rick Santorum for president Tuesday, giving the Pennsylvania senator’s tortoise-like campaign a nice boost in the run-up to the caucuses.
The Family Leader, the group led by Vander Plaats, is remaining officially neutral, though it suggested in a muddled statement that the endorsement has the implicit support of the group’s board (via Reid Epstein): “The Family Leader will remain neutral in this presidential campaign cycle, though the board has made a unanimous decision to allow Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley to make personal endorsements which reflect the board’s unanimity.”
Alana’s right when she says there really is no telling what Ron Paul will do once his quixotic run for the Republican presidential nomination is finished. If, as Paul did four years ago, he continues fighting for the GOP nod in primaries across the country long after the race is sewn up by one of the other contenders, he may not have the time or the money to make the transition to a third-party run. But even if he does, I think it is incorrect to consider such an effort as a deadly threat to whichever of the other Republicans gets the nomination. Though Paul has generated some enthusiasm in Iowa, the notion that he could draw off enough GOP voters to re-elect President Obama is based on a misunderstanding about the base of his support.
Were Paul to run next fall as an alternative to the Democratic and Republican nominees, the main focus of his campaign would inevitably be his isolationist approach to foreign policy and libertarian views on social issues. Though some Tea Partiers looking for a “not Romney” may wind up voting for him in Iowa, the bulk of his support comes from disenchanted youmg voters who like his anti-establishment approach, not mainstream conservatives. That means a Paul third party would present far more of a danger to Obama and the Democrats than to the Republicans.
This morning, Elliott Abrams calls out both Tom Friedman and Joe Klein for offering up Walt/Mearsheimer conspiracy theories about American Jewry in the place of reasoned analysis. Friedman had said that Benjamin Netanyahu’s standing ovations from members of Congress last May were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”
Klein wrote this: “I don’t meet many neoconservatives outside of Washington and New York. It’s one thing to just adore Israel, as the evangelical Christians do; it’s another thing entirely to send American kids off to war, yet again, to fight for Israel’s national security.” Alarmed, Abrams asks the following:
It’s not even worth pretending Ron Paul has any shot at winning the GOP nomination, even if he does manage to pull off a victory in Iowa. As Dave Weigel outlines at Slate, if Paul wins the caucuses it will probably only boost Romney’s chances of wrapping up the nomination.
Because Paul’s such a no-shot, most of his Republican critics are fairly blasé about his steady upward creep in the Iowa polls. But they should consider this nightmare scenario: Paul wins the caucuses. He then uses his heightened visibility – and his substantial cash reserves – to set the stage for a general election third-party run.
As we move toward the end of the year, it’s worth putting the state of politics in America today in perspective, starting with this observation: Barack Obama is, right now, in a perilous situation, quite apart from what the GOP field does and does not do to one another. That is, I think, the most important political development of 2011.
There are several year-end polls that illustrate Obama’s problems. One of them comes to us courtesy of the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll. Having sliced and diced the data, the analysis of one of America’s best political reporters, Ron Brownstein of National Journal, is thus: On the nation’s immediate circumstances, “the verdict in the survey remains overwhelmingly negative.”
The nearly simultaneous deaths of Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong Il serve as a useful reminder that history is more than impersonal forces. It is also the accumulated actions of individuals–and “great men” (that anachronistic phrase) have an outsize role in shaping the direction history takes.
There were many reasons, of course, why Czechoslovakia had such a smooth transition from Communist role and then managed to break apart so peacefully into two new countries–the Czech Republic and Slovakia–while avoiding the bloodshed that characterized the breakup of Yugoslavia. But surely part of the explanation can be found in the moral authority and democratic vision of Vaclav Havel. He dedicated his life to fighting for liberal principles and then, once he had made the startling transition from prison to president, he showed himself to be an exemplar of those values by leaving office at the end of his term–an action we take for granted but is hardly guaranteed in any country undergoing a democratic transition. A playwright and intellectual, he was an exemplary man of letters who used his prestige to further the freedom of his people–rather than, as is the case with so many of his counterparts in the West, to champion despots and deluded fanatics.
Attack ads have been eating away at Newt Gingrich’s support in Iowa, and the former Speaker blasted his fellow candidates yesterday for “going negative” in Davenport:
“If they run into one of these candidates, tell them they ought to be ashamed of themselves,” Gingrich said before roughly 150 people just outside of Cedar Rapids. “They ought to take this junk off the air.”
With the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” currently mired in the worst impasse of the last 18 years, one might think Western diplomats would reconsider their approach rather than mindlessly adhering to the same failed tactics. But one would be wrong, as Germany’s response to Israel’s latest announcement of new construction makes clear: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said the announcement sent “a devastating message with regard to the current efforts to resume peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians” and urged Israel not to issue the tenders.
Merkel evidently didn’t consider what message she sent via that statement, but in fact, it’s a message far more devastating to “efforts to resume negotiations” than the new housing is. What she effectively said is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas should be rewarded for steadfastly refusing to negotiate with Israel by being granted the very construction freeze even he demanded only as a quid pro quo for agreeing to negotiate.
The political situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate. Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki already stands accused of ordering the arrest and torture of aides to the Sunni vice president, Tariq al Hashimi. Now an arrest warrant has been issued for Hashimi himself based on the coerced confessions which were aired on television, in the best Stalinist show-trial tradition.
Hashimi is hiding out in the Kurdish region to avoid government security forces. Maliki has also asked the parliament to adopt a no-confidence motion in the Sunni deputy prime minister, Salah al Mutlaq, who has publicly accused Maliki of becoming a dictator.