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Posts For: December 26, 2011

Old Rhetorical Tricks

In his column today, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, Jr. asserts, “Obama will thus be the conservative in 2012, in the truest sense of that word.” This is a silly claim, of course, but also a revealing one. When a liberal like Dionne insists that a liberal like Obama is the “true” conservative in the 2012 race, it shows the broad appeal of conservatism. It also shows the enormous damage liberalism has inflicted on itself when no one, not even Obama, wants to run on what he is. There is a reason reactionary liberalism in America has been discredited. It has been a failure in almost every significant way.

There are two other things worth noting in Dionne’s column, one of which is that like Sam Tanenhaus, he believes the role of conservatism is to ratify every radical gain of liberalism. Once ObamaCare is the law of the land, for example, repeal efforts become antithetical to conservatism. It’s also why Dionne was a passionate opponent of welfare reform in the mid-1990s; he believed that any effort to undo the welfare state achievements of liberalism was by definition un-conservative. This was (and remains) a terribly simplistic interpretation of conservatism.

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In his column today, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, Jr. asserts, “Obama will thus be the conservative in 2012, in the truest sense of that word.” This is a silly claim, of course, but also a revealing one. When a liberal like Dionne insists that a liberal like Obama is the “true” conservative in the 2012 race, it shows the broad appeal of conservatism. It also shows the enormous damage liberalism has inflicted on itself when no one, not even Obama, wants to run on what he is. There is a reason reactionary liberalism in America has been discredited. It has been a failure in almost every significant way.

There are two other things worth noting in Dionne’s column, one of which is that like Sam Tanenhaus, he believes the role of conservatism is to ratify every radical gain of liberalism. Once ObamaCare is the law of the land, for example, repeal efforts become antithetical to conservatism. It’s also why Dionne was a passionate opponent of welfare reform in the mid-1990s; he believed that any effort to undo the welfare state achievements of liberalism was by definition un-conservative. This was (and remains) a terribly simplistic interpretation of conservatism.

The other statement worth noting from Dionne is when he writes, “[Obama] is the candidate defending the modestly redistributive and regulatory  government the country has relied on since the New Deal, and that neither Ronald Reagan nor George W. Bush dismantled. The rhetoric of the 2012 Republicans suggests they want to go far beyond where Reagan or Bush ever went.”

This is a rhetorical trick Dionne has been relying on for years now. When a conservative and/or Republican is president, he is a ferocious critic of that individual. And yet that individual’s reputation is restored by Dionne from time to time, if only to argue that every new Republican candidate for president is far more radical and dangerous than the ones who came before him. So Reagan, who looked very bad during his presidency, looked very good compared to George W. Bush. And now Reagan and Bush look responsible compared to the radicalism of the likes of Mitt Romney. And so it goes, like clockwork. And if Romney were fortunate enough to win the presidency, you can be sure that he would be portrayed as the most radical and destructive figure imaginable — until a new Republican monster comes down the road to replace him.

 

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Newt’s Virginia “Pearl Harbor”

Never at a loss for a historical analogy or insight, Newt Gingrich has reportedly described his stunning debacle in being deprived of a spot on the Virginia Republican primary ballot as a rerun of the catastrophe of Pearl Harbor. Though he’s undoubtedly mad about falling victim to Virginia’s onerous ballot qualification requirements, the former speaker isn’t necessarily comparing the state’s petition inspectors to the Japanese who treacherously attacked the U.S. fleet. Rather, he sees it as a case of a terrible defeat from which he will learn and rebound in the coming campaign as America did during the war in the Pacific. But unless he’s got the political equivalent of the aircraft carriers the Japanese failed to sink on December 7, 1941, this sort of talk is just more empty boasts from a campaign whose wheels may be about to come off again.

Gingrich’s organizational failure in Virginia is rightly seen as indicative of a key character flaw that has long dogged his career. He’s great at speeches and debates and promoting ideas, some of which conservatives like very much. But his campaign management style appears highly reminiscent of his largely incompetent leadership of the House of Representatives.

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Never at a loss for a historical analogy or insight, Newt Gingrich has reportedly described his stunning debacle in being deprived of a spot on the Virginia Republican primary ballot as a rerun of the catastrophe of Pearl Harbor. Though he’s undoubtedly mad about falling victim to Virginia’s onerous ballot qualification requirements, the former speaker isn’t necessarily comparing the state’s petition inspectors to the Japanese who treacherously attacked the U.S. fleet. Rather, he sees it as a case of a terrible defeat from which he will learn and rebound in the coming campaign as America did during the war in the Pacific. But unless he’s got the political equivalent of the aircraft carriers the Japanese failed to sink on December 7, 1941, this sort of talk is just more empty boasts from a campaign whose wheels may be about to come off again.

Gingrich’s organizational failure in Virginia is rightly seen as indicative of a key character flaw that has long dogged his career. He’s great at speeches and debates and promoting ideas, some of which conservatives like very much. But his campaign management style appears highly reminiscent of his largely incompetent leadership of the House of Representatives.

Virginia won’t by itself make or break Gingrich’s campaign. Nor is he the only one to fail to make the ballot there since only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul have been able to collect enough valid signatures to get on the ballot.  But with his poll numbers already heading south, Gingrich’s inability to organize a competent campaign in the state where he has lived for the past decade is a punch to the gut at a time when he needed some good news to revive confidence in his candidacy.

As for his “Pearl Harbor” comment, this may be one case where playing history professor may not help him as it has in the GOP’s televised debates. Iowans with a sense of the place of that tragedy’s place in U.S. history may think Gingrich’s comparing an event that took the lives of more than 2,000 American soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen to a campaign screw up is both pretentious and in bad taste.

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Managing Conflict Easier Said Than Done

Yesterday, a senior member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet said his government had succeeded in convincing the Obama administration to give up trying to “solve” the conflict with the Palestinians and instead concentrate on just “managing” it. If Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon is right, that’s a major achievement, because Washington’s obsession with forcing Israel to make futile concessions to a Palestinian Authority that has no interest in negotiations or a final settlement of the conflict has caused unnecessary friction between the two nations.

There is some doubt about whether Ya’alon’s boast is true, but even if it is, it comes a little late. With Hamas being welcomed in the Palestine Liberation Organization and the PA and with Fatah leaders now saying they will formally annul their Oslo Accord commitments, Israel and the U.S. must worry about the West Bank becoming another Gaza. Having spent the first three years of his presidency doing his best to egg the Palestinians on to be even more intransigent, the downward spiral of their political culture has created even more problems for the United States to manage.

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Yesterday, a senior member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet said his government had succeeded in convincing the Obama administration to give up trying to “solve” the conflict with the Palestinians and instead concentrate on just “managing” it. If Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon is right, that’s a major achievement, because Washington’s obsession with forcing Israel to make futile concessions to a Palestinian Authority that has no interest in negotiations or a final settlement of the conflict has caused unnecessary friction between the two nations.

There is some doubt about whether Ya’alon’s boast is true, but even if it is, it comes a little late. With Hamas being welcomed in the Palestine Liberation Organization and the PA and with Fatah leaders now saying they will formally annul their Oslo Accord commitments, Israel and the U.S. must worry about the West Bank becoming another Gaza. Having spent the first three years of his presidency doing his best to egg the Palestinians on to be even more intransigent, the downward spiral of their political culture has created even more problems for the United States to manage.

The tough talk from the PA might be generously interpreted as mere posturing, but with Fatah now formally in bed with Hamas and with the PA’s pragmatic Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on borrowed time, there is good reason for the West to fear that Palestinian unity will mean that the supposedly “moderate” Fatah has joined Hamas rather than the other way around.

In his remarks, Ya’alon, a former top Israeli general, rightly noted that it has taken a while for Obama’s foreign policy team to understand that, contrary to the president’s May speech about the 1967 lines, the conflict is not about borders but about the Palestinian intent to destroy Israel. Ya’alon may be a bit optimistic about Obama’s Middle East learning curve as the administration has already drafted guidelines for the diplomatic quartet that seem infused with the same foolish focus on Israeli concessions. But the Hamas-Fatah pact is showing that the conflict may have gone to a different level, rendering the quartet’s peace push irrelevant. The embrace of Hamas shows that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has conclusively dropped even the pretense of seeking peace with Israel. What follows may not be so much a process to be managed as a powder keg that needs to be defused as Palestinians drift under the sway of the Islamist allies of the Muslim Brotherhood.

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Everything You Want to Know About Mitt Can Be Found at Harvard

The New York Times published a fascinating story yesterday that ought to give plenty of fodder to Mitt Romney’s admirers as well as his detractors. The front-page feature seeks to examine the lessons that can be learned by examining Romney’s time at Harvard University in the 1970s when he simultaneously earned business and law degrees. The result is a portrait of an incredibly able and intelligent man focused on achievement and with keen analytic powers that made him a wild success in the world of finance. This sets him up as an ideal president in an age of economic uncertainty where the ability to understand the economy and how business works should be at a premium.

But what also comes across is that Romney was, and perhaps still is, a person without strong ideological convictions outside the realms of faith and family. The Harvard business program prizes case-by-case analysis and data research and, at least according to this article, rewards pragmatism and problem solving, not ideology. According to his former classmates and friends interviewed in the piece, that approach perfectly suited Romney’s personality. And it is exactly that trait that scares conservative Republicans who see him as a shape-shifting, soulless technocrat who cares nothing for the principles that guide their party.

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The New York Times published a fascinating story yesterday that ought to give plenty of fodder to Mitt Romney’s admirers as well as his detractors. The front-page feature seeks to examine the lessons that can be learned by examining Romney’s time at Harvard University in the 1970s when he simultaneously earned business and law degrees. The result is a portrait of an incredibly able and intelligent man focused on achievement and with keen analytic powers that made him a wild success in the world of finance. This sets him up as an ideal president in an age of economic uncertainty where the ability to understand the economy and how business works should be at a premium.

But what also comes across is that Romney was, and perhaps still is, a person without strong ideological convictions outside the realms of faith and family. The Harvard business program prizes case-by-case analysis and data research and, at least according to this article, rewards pragmatism and problem solving, not ideology. According to his former classmates and friends interviewed in the piece, that approach perfectly suited Romney’s personality. And it is exactly that trait that scares conservative Republicans who see him as a shape-shifting, soulless technocrat who cares nothing for the principles that guide their party.

If, as his critics constantly tell us, Romney is the candidate of his party’s elites, this story is also a reminder that the former Massachusetts governor is the epitome of the notion that the best and brightest deserve the highest rewards. Earning both business and law degrees at a demanding institution like Harvard is not a task for the faint of heart. Already married and a father of two, Romney was obviously more mature than many of his classmates, but he was also more hardworking than most and driven to succeed. The political and social issues that dominated the thinking of most students in that era were of little interest to him. Nor did he spend much time socializing. The story points out that George W. Bush was a year behind him at Harvard Business, but the two had little contact as the fun-loving future 43rd president and Romney clearly did not move in the same circles.

The insights into Romney’s character ring true with everything we have learned about his later business and political careers. Above all, Romney is a problem solver. Though conservative in his personal life and perhaps in his instincts about the world, his guiding philosophy is pure pragmatism: analyze the data and the individual case and come up with a solution.

To note that a man can absorb vast amounts of complex information and synthesize them into a practical plan of action is hardly an insult. It is a rare talent and should be prized. But those looking for a presidential candidate who can, in the style of GOP hero Ronald Reagan, express broad political principles, are always going to be a bit disappointed with Romney. He is at his best when fixing broken things–be it companies, Olympic games or budgets. But as a standard bearer for a movement or as someone who can exercise the vital task of articulating moral leadership, Romney seems out of place.

What his classmates saw at Harvard are the same qualities that both attract and repel voters today. His economic expertise and pragmatism make him the most electable Republican in 2012, while his lack of ideology makes many conservatives long for anyone else to lead their party. Had a more credible conservative appeared to challenge him, Romney wouldn’t have had a chance. But in the absence of such a paragon, Republicans will probably have to make their peace with the man who seems to be very much the same person who excelled at Harvard four decades ago.

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Turkey’s Armenian Obsession

I continue to be amazed and dismayed by the short-sightedness of the Turkish political class when it comes to dealing with the Armenian genocide. Case in point is Ankara’s outraged reaction to the French National Assembly passing a bill to make it “a crime to deny the deliberate and systematic destruction of the Armenians of  the Ottoman Empire during World War I.”

Why does Turkey insist on poisoning its relations with important countries over this historical issue concerning something that happened nearly 100 years ago?

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I continue to be amazed and dismayed by the short-sightedness of the Turkish political class when it comes to dealing with the Armenian genocide. Case in point is Ankara’s outraged reaction to the French National Assembly passing a bill to make it “a crime to deny the deliberate and systematic destruction of the Armenians of  the Ottoman Empire during World War I.”

Why does Turkey insist on poisoning its relations with important countries over this historical issue concerning something that happened nearly 100 years ago?

As it happens, the Turks probably have a decent case to make that the slaughter of Armenians was not intended, as was the Nazi Holocaust, to wipe out an entire race, so perhaps it doesn’t meet the technical definition of “genocide.” But it was still a terrible war crime, so why argue about technicalities?

The current government in Ankara could simply say that it was not responsible for these acts committed by the Young Turks in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire–another state altogether, albeit one sharing some territory with the modern Turkish state. Prime Minister Erdogan could then express sorrow for what happened, in spite of having no responsibility for it, and, as a humanitarian gesture, even offer to pay some restitution to victims’ families–something modern Turkey is certainly wealthy enough to afford. In a stroke, Turkey would win a PR victory instead of having to fight a losing battle over a side issue that detracts from modern Turkey’s central concerns.

What does Turkey gain from its obdurate attitude? Nothing that I can tell. It appears to be simply the triumph of emotions over reason, something that is not exactly unheard of in international relations but which usually exacts a steep price. Surely Turkish leaders should be smart enough to see that by now.

 

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The Real Threat to Middle East Christians

The airwaves were filled this weekend, as they always are every Christmas, with stories about the plight of Christians in Bethlehem. The once-overwhelmingly Christian town has lost much of its non-Muslim population in recent decades, and most news stories which touched on the annual Christmas celebrations in the town usually included at least a line or two in which this is blamed on Israel.

But efforts to scapegoat the Jewish state for the plight of Palestinian Christians are an absurd and politically motivated slur that ignores the real problem: the rise of militant Islam which has made even the town Christians think of as the birthplace of their faith inhospitable for non-Muslims. As the aftermath of the “Arab Spring” protests elsewhere in the Middle East has made clear, the fate of religious minorities in countries where Islamist parties are on the march cannot be assured.

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The airwaves were filled this weekend, as they always are every Christmas, with stories about the plight of Christians in Bethlehem. The once-overwhelmingly Christian town has lost much of its non-Muslim population in recent decades, and most news stories which touched on the annual Christmas celebrations in the town usually included at least a line or two in which this is blamed on Israel.

But efforts to scapegoat the Jewish state for the plight of Palestinian Christians are an absurd and politically motivated slur that ignores the real problem: the rise of militant Islam which has made even the town Christians think of as the birthplace of their faith inhospitable for non-Muslims. As the aftermath of the “Arab Spring” protests elsewhere in the Middle East has made clear, the fate of religious minorities in countries where Islamist parties are on the march cannot be assured.

In recent months, those in the West who care about Middle East Christians – admittedly a minor concern even for most Christians — have been focused on Egypt’s Coptic minority, whose always-precarious existence has now been made more perilous by the victories of the Muslim Brotherhood in the aftermath of the fall of the Mubarak government. The same holds true for Christian sects elsewhere in the region where Islamic groups now hold more influence.

But the problems of Palestinian Arab Christians date in no small measure to the Oslo Accords. The peace deal placed control of the city in the hands of the Palestinian Authority. Though the supposedly secular Fatah Party controlled the PA, Yasir Arafat’s regime always tilted toward Islamic extremists in order to compete for their favor with his Hamas rivals. Though many Christians have always been among the most ardent Arab nationalists, there is little question that they have felt themselves squeezed out of any share of power or even control over their own neighborhoods. Many Christians have sensed that there was no future for them under the PA and emigrated. That, and not Israel’s security measures against Arab terror, is responsible for the decline of Christian Bethlehem.

It is no small irony that most mainline churches in this country tend to ignore the fact that Middle East Christians are under more pressure than ever from Muslim terror and intimidation and, instead, concentrate their fire on Israel, the one country in the region where freedom of religion is guaranteed to all faiths.

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