Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 9, 2012

Crime and Incarceration

Both Charles Murray and have commented on a friendly disagreement we had on crime and incarceration. But I thought it important to clarify one point: Charles believes that increased imprisonment has been the necessary (but not the sufficient) condition for 100 percent of the drop in violent crime. His argument goes like this: Without the massive increase in incarceration, the most that other measures could have accomplished for violent crime (not property crime) is to have slowed the increase. We wouldn’t have seen a decrease at all. But he does believe some of the factors I cited (like target hardening, an increase in private security, and better policing techniques), in conjunction with incarceration, helped to account for the magnitude of the decrease in violent crime.

While this doesn’t change the thrust of what either of us wrote, it is a point worth underscoring, which I’m delighted to have done.

Both Charles Murray and have commented on a friendly disagreement we had on crime and incarceration. But I thought it important to clarify one point: Charles believes that increased imprisonment has been the necessary (but not the sufficient) condition for 100 percent of the drop in violent crime. His argument goes like this: Without the massive increase in incarceration, the most that other measures could have accomplished for violent crime (not property crime) is to have slowed the increase. We wouldn’t have seen a decrease at all. But he does believe some of the factors I cited (like target hardening, an increase in private security, and better policing techniques), in conjunction with incarceration, helped to account for the magnitude of the decrease in violent crime.

While this doesn’t change the thrust of what either of us wrote, it is a point worth underscoring, which I’m delighted to have done.

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Re: Gingrich Group’s Bain Capital Video

King Henri IV of France called his fellow monarch, King James I of England, “the wisest fool in Christendom,” because James’s vast erudition so seldom kept him from doing really dumb things.

King James, meet Newt Gingrich.

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King Henri IV of France called his fellow monarch, King James I of England, “the wisest fool in Christendom,” because James’s vast erudition so seldom kept him from doing really dumb things.

King James, meet Newt Gingrich.

The video, at least judging by that appalling trailer Alana posted, will be terrific fodder for Obama’s negative ads this summer and fall. Indeed, assuming Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee, the Obama campaign should just buy the rights to it. Had the technology been available a century ago, it could have been produced by such  anti-capitalist muckrakers as Ida Tarbell or Gustavus Myers. It is deeply tendentious and intellectually dishonest (as were Tarbell and Myers, of course)  and utterly ignorant (one assumes willfully) of how capitalism actually works.

Gingrich was apparently deeply angered by the barrage of negative ads that a Romney SuperPAC ran in Iowa and which caused Gingrich’s poll numbers to drop precipitously in that state. I don’t blame him for being angry. I do blame him for forgetting one of the fundamental rules of politics: “Don’t get angry, get even.” This video will not only harm the Republican campaign this fall, it will, I suspect, end any chance Gingrich might have had to win the nomination or even to take a high position in a Republican administration. It shows him to be completely lacking in the temperament needed by an American president in a dangerous world.

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The Gingrich-Santorum Alliance

As the Republican race heads into what may be a fateful week for the contenders, one of the most curious aspects of the competition is the tacit alliance that seems to exist between Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. The two rivals seemed to be very cozy with each other during the debates this past weekend, with Gingrich frequently praising Santorum and the latter gratefully acknowledging the praise. Even more than that, the pair also seems to be working in tandem toward a common goal of knocking down frontrunner Mitt Romney. To note their highly compatible strategies is not to allege anything underhanded or that the two are overtly coordinating their efforts. But there’s no denying that in the last couple of weeks as Gingrich sank from a frontrunner to an also-ran, he began adopting a benevolent tone toward his former House colleague even as his bitterness against Romney was exploding.

So far, one might conclude the attempt to double team Romney is working. Gingrich’s nasty attacks on Romney (revenge for Romney’s takedowns of the former speaker in Iowa) have freed up Santorum to take the high road. But the problem for both Gingrich and Santorum is that if either has any chance to overtake Romney, it will require the other to drop out soon.

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As the Republican race heads into what may be a fateful week for the contenders, one of the most curious aspects of the competition is the tacit alliance that seems to exist between Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. The two rivals seemed to be very cozy with each other during the debates this past weekend, with Gingrich frequently praising Santorum and the latter gratefully acknowledging the praise. Even more than that, the pair also seems to be working in tandem toward a common goal of knocking down frontrunner Mitt Romney. To note their highly compatible strategies is not to allege anything underhanded or that the two are overtly coordinating their efforts. But there’s no denying that in the last couple of weeks as Gingrich sank from a frontrunner to an also-ran, he began adopting a benevolent tone toward his former House colleague even as his bitterness against Romney was exploding.

So far, one might conclude the attempt to double team Romney is working. Gingrich’s nasty attacks on Romney (revenge for Romney’s takedowns of the former speaker in Iowa) have freed up Santorum to take the high road. But the problem for both Gingrich and Santorum is that if either has any chance to overtake Romney, it will require the other to drop out soon.

This is not the first time competitors seemed to work together. After the collapse of a once-promising effort in Iowa in 2008, the only reason for Fred Thompson to stay in the race as late as South Carolina was to help split the conservative vote to enable his friend John McCain to eke out narrow primary wins that quickly won him the nomination. Similarly, some conservatives thought Mike Huckabee stayed in the 2008 race as long as he did so as to prevent a one-on-one showdown between McCain and Romney. But no matter what Thompson and Huckabee’s motives really were, their help for McCain didn’t seem quite as obvious as the Santorum-Gingrich love fest at the last two debates.

Yet even if we assume Gingrich’s bizarre use of an Occupy Wall Street attack from the left on Romney will cut into the former Massachusetts governor’s support in both New Hampshire and South Carolina, so long as he stays in the race along with a faltering Rick Perry, it’s hard to see how Santorum benefits. There are only so many conservative votes to be won, and if Gingrich is going to be still fighting hard for them, Santorum’s chances of placing second or third in New Hampshire or winning in South Carolina are hurt.

By the same token, if Gingrich still seriously entertains a hope of winning the nomination, it’s difficult to understand why he would be throwing bouquets at Santorum, as the latter’s growing support is the greatest obstacle to keeping his own candidacy alive.

After Iowa, there is little doubt Santorum is the most viable conservative in the race even if many Tea Partiers profess to dislike him. But if he has a chance to overtake Romney (and right now that chance must be considered slim), he’s going to need to beat Romney somewhere soon and South Carolina may be his best and perhaps only opportunity. However, Gingrich’s continued presence in the race, even if it brings with it a well-funded assault on Romney, may make that impossible.

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The Moral Complexity of Social Issues

This year’s presidential campaign is a reminder that most members of the press, and almost everyone on the left, view social conservatives through the prism of two issues–abortion and gay marriage. (When possible, the burning national issue of whether states should be allowed to ban contraception is thrown in as well, as we saw during this weekend’s debates.) The narrative that’s been affixed is a simple one: those who oppose the right to an abortion and gay marriage are almost by definition unenlightened and/or bigoted. It doesn’t matter that most people who are traditionalists are none of these things. Nor does it matter that there are nuances and shades of gray in most people’s views on both issues (mine included). The subtleties get thrown aside in an effort to put people in neat little boxes. There are the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness.

This has important implications for our national life, including this one: more than ever before the champions of cultural conservatism need to be people who embody grace, who can articulate the moral good in a way that is non-censorious, and who can speak to these issues with honesty, fairness, and sympathy. They have to possess the ability to place social concerns in a larger frame. And importantly, they – indeed, all of us – need to resist the temptation to speak as if these issues are morally and socially uncomplicated. There is a good deal more ambiguity on these matters than either party platform allows for.

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This year’s presidential campaign is a reminder that most members of the press, and almost everyone on the left, view social conservatives through the prism of two issues–abortion and gay marriage. (When possible, the burning national issue of whether states should be allowed to ban contraception is thrown in as well, as we saw during this weekend’s debates.) The narrative that’s been affixed is a simple one: those who oppose the right to an abortion and gay marriage are almost by definition unenlightened and/or bigoted. It doesn’t matter that most people who are traditionalists are none of these things. Nor does it matter that there are nuances and shades of gray in most people’s views on both issues (mine included). The subtleties get thrown aside in an effort to put people in neat little boxes. There are the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness.

This has important implications for our national life, including this one: more than ever before the champions of cultural conservatism need to be people who embody grace, who can articulate the moral good in a way that is non-censorious, and who can speak to these issues with honesty, fairness, and sympathy. They have to possess the ability to place social concerns in a larger frame. And importantly, they – indeed, all of us – need to resist the temptation to speak as if these issues are morally and socially uncomplicated. There is a good deal more ambiguity on these matters than either party platform allows for.

For example, for those of us who are pro-life, what ought to be the appropriate consequences for individuals who abort their pre-born children? Should there be any legal or moral distinction on the continuum of development (e.g., six hours v. six months after conception)? For those who favor abortion rights, why exactly should abortions be rare? Is there something problematic occurring? If so, what might that be? And on what basis do you believe a child in the eighth month deserves to be protected in law but not in, say, the second month?

For those who oppose gay marriage, what happens if, as gay marriage spreads in America, we learn that the institution of marriage incurs much less damage than was once commonly believed (or none at all)? What grounds, if any, would there be to continue opposing gay marriage? Is the concern about marriage — or is it about homosexuality? And for those who believe in gay marriage: what exactly are the moral and legal grounds on which you believe two men should marry but not three? Should we view marriage as an arbitrary contract that is de-linked from cultural, biological, and religious underpinnings?

It’s not as if these questions don’t have answers. But the answers are neither easy nor obvious. The problem with our public discourse is that it’s often suffused with certitude and judgment rather than grace and some measure of humility. This doesn’t mean one cannot, having wrestled with these issues, settle on a principled position. But that resting place is one that we all know, in our better moments, we ought to come to only after an honest and searching examination. There’s a special place of honor for public figures who engage rather than avoid the strongest arguments against their views.

 

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A Powerful Case for Force Against Iran

The Obama administration seems to be enjoying some success in getting European states to embargo Iranian oil. That’s good news. The question, however, is whether this latest round of sanctions will convince Iran to do what previous sanctions have not done–i.e., convince it to forego nuclear weapons. I hope so, but hope isn’t a policy, and there is good reason for skepticism.

In the first place, Iran will be able to sell its oil in Asia, to China, India, and even to U.S. allies such as Japan and South Korea. It may lose some money in the bargain, but it seems doubtful the loss of some oil revenue will be enough to dissuade the clerical regime from what it seems to view as a national, indeed religious, obligation. The mullahs know the Iranian Revolution will be far more secure–less prone to attack, more able to attack with impunity–if it has nukes, and past conduct indicates that it will not stop until it has them.

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The Obama administration seems to be enjoying some success in getting European states to embargo Iranian oil. That’s good news. The question, however, is whether this latest round of sanctions will convince Iran to do what previous sanctions have not done–i.e., convince it to forego nuclear weapons. I hope so, but hope isn’t a policy, and there is good reason for skepticism.

In the first place, Iran will be able to sell its oil in Asia, to China, India, and even to U.S. allies such as Japan and South Korea. It may lose some money in the bargain, but it seems doubtful the loss of some oil revenue will be enough to dissuade the clerical regime from what it seems to view as a national, indeed religious, obligation. The mullahs know the Iranian Revolution will be far more secure–less prone to attack, more able to attack with impunity–if it has nukes, and past conduct indicates that it will not stop until it has them.

If the U.S. is truly determined to prevent that from occurring–and if we’re not, we should be–the most effective option is to use force. Obviously, air strikes carry risks of their own, but those risks have to be measured against the risk of letting Iran go nuclear. In the pages of the latest Foreign Affairs, Matthew Kroening, a former staffer at the Department of Defense who is now a colleague of mine at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues the case for air strikes. In the process, he knocks down pretty much all of the objections that have been made against them. That doesn’t mean we have to strike tomorrow; there is still time for sanctions to work–but not much time. As Kroening notes:

Years of international pressure have failed to halt Iran’s attempt to build a nuclear program. The Stuxnet computer worm, which attacked control systems in Iranian nuclear facilities, temporarily disrupted Tehran’s enrichment effort, but a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency this past May revealed that the targeted plants have fully recovered from the assault. And the latest IAEA findings on Iran, released in November, provided the most compelling evidence yet that the Islamic Republic has weathered sanctions and sabotage, allegedly testing nuclear triggering devices and redesigning its missiles to carry nuclear payloads. The Institute for Science and International Security, a nonprofit research institution, estimates that Iran could now produce its first nuclear weapon within six months of deciding to do so. Tehran’s plans to move sensitive nuclear operations into more secure facilities over the course of the coming year could reduce the window for effective military action even further.

As a result of the growing danger, Iran is getting closer to what should be “redlines.” Writes Kroening: “If Iran expels IAEA inspectors, begins enriching its stockpiles of uranium to weapons-grade levels of 90 percent, or installs advanced centrifuges at its uranium-enrichment facility in Qom, the United States must strike immediately or forfeit its last opportunity to prevent Iran from joining the nuclear club.”

This is the second powerful and sober article in favor of bombing Iran that Foreign Affairs (hardly a journal known for warmongering) has run. The first appeared a year ago and was written by Eric S. Edelman, Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr, and Evan Braden Montgomery. Together, these two articles present a powerful case for military action. I have yet to see (have I missed it?) an equally detailed and convincing exposition of the anti-bombing side.

 

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Is Sarah Palin Floating a Trial Balloon for Gingrich Endorsement?

Todd Palin isn’t particularly vocal about his politics, so his endorsement of Newt Gingrich today has already prompted speculation that his wife may follow:

Todd Palin notes that he hasn’t spoken with the Gingrich campaign at all, and his wife still hasn’t decided whom to support. The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis thus seizes on the one glimmer of importance in all this: “Obvious question: Will Sarah Palin follow Todd?” he asks. Sarah Palin, after all, does maintain something of a constituency these days so her endorsement (which might finally, finally end the “will she run rumors”) might give Gingrich’s sad campaign some oomph.

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Todd Palin isn’t particularly vocal about his politics, so his endorsement of Newt Gingrich today has already prompted speculation that his wife may follow:

Todd Palin notes that he hasn’t spoken with the Gingrich campaign at all, and his wife still hasn’t decided whom to support. The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis thus seizes on the one glimmer of importance in all this: “Obvious question: Will Sarah Palin follow Todd?” he asks. Sarah Palin, after all, does maintain something of a constituency these days so her endorsement (which might finally, finally end the “will she run rumors”) might give Gingrich’s sad campaign some oomph.

Could Sarah Palin be putting out a trial balloon for her own Gingrich endorsement? It wouldn’t be the first time the Palins tested the waters like this. In 2010, Todd endorsed Alaska senate candidate Joe Miller a full 10 days before his wife did.

Palin really only has three choices for an endorsement at this point, at least if she’s interested in backing someone who has any shot at the nomination. And she’s likely going to choose either Gingrich or Rick Santorum, considering her recent swipes at Mitt Romney. During the weekend, she hinted that Romney is getting a free pass from the media because reporters think he’d be the weakest candidate against President Obama:

Palin said the mainstream media would take a hands-off approach to Romney “in order to bolster Romney’s chances” to “finally face Obama.”

According to Palin, the mainstream media and Obama would then portray Romney as someone who is out of touch with regular Americans in the general election. …

Palin continued: “My opinion is that I can see what’s coming … the media will try to bolster Romney so they can tear him down, and that is quite unfortunate.”

The idea that “the media” is keeping a lid on Romney’s baggage is a little ridiculous. His moderate political record and flip-flops have been written about extensively. And if his history at Bain Capital hasn’t been combed over as much as it would be during a general election, it’s mainly because Republican primary voters don’t view it as particularly controversial.

Palin’s right that Romney would probably get much more scrutiny once he got the nomination. But how exactly is that different from what the media does with any Republican nominee — including Palin, when she ran for vice president? A presidential election is always more difficult for the GOP, and the candidates who are unable to withstand the media spotlight of a primary race would have no chance of withstanding it during the general election.

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Gingrich Group’s Bain Capital Video

The pro-Gingrich Super PAC “Winning the Future” has released a teaser trailer of its lengthy attack video on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital, which Jonathan wrote about earlier today. After watching the preview, it’s hard to believe a conservative group made this film, because it echoes so many of the class warfare tropes that have been coming from the Obama administration and Occupy Wall Street recently. I can’t imagine many conservative South Carolina primary voters sitting through 27 minutes of this demonize-the-rich rhetoric, but it will definitely provide the Obama campaign with plenty of free attack fodder if Romney becomes the nominee:

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The pro-Gingrich Super PAC “Winning the Future” has released a teaser trailer of its lengthy attack video on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital, which Jonathan wrote about earlier today. After watching the preview, it’s hard to believe a conservative group made this film, because it echoes so many of the class warfare tropes that have been coming from the Obama administration and Occupy Wall Street recently. I can’t imagine many conservative South Carolina primary voters sitting through 27 minutes of this demonize-the-rich rhetoric, but it will definitely provide the Obama campaign with plenty of free attack fodder if Romney becomes the nominee:

This is actually a fascinating preview of the kind of attack ads the Obama campaign would run against Romney, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out on a smaller scale in South Carolina. But it’s really not going to help Gingrich to be associated with attacks like this. Has anyone else noticed that Gingrich’s loudest critiques of Romney have basically been recycled left-wing talking-points: first he went after the pro-Romney Super PACs, and now he’s attacking Bain. It’s a bizarre strategy for a primary.

Rick Perry also appears to be jumping on the anti-Bain bandwagon. Question for the candidates: Is this really going to be the issue you hit Romney full-force on? Not health care reform? Not flip-flopping on social issues? This one? Seriously?

“There is something inherently wrong when getting rich off failure and sticking it to someone else is how you do your business and I happen to think that’s indefensible,” said Perry. “If you’re a victim of Bain Capital’s downsizing, it’s the ultimate insult for Mitt Romney to come to South Carolina and tell you he feels your pain, because he caused it.”

If Rick Santorum is smart, he’ll stay far away from this fight. Gingrich and Perry are risking a major backlash by making Romney’s Bain tenure an issue.

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Echoing Bain Attacks Could Backfire

On Friday, Joseph Rago warned in the Wall Street Journal that Newt Gingrich’s planned attacks on Mitt Romney suggested that the former Speaker’s temper might lead him to commit a strategic blunder:

Mr. Romney’s political ruthlessness seems to inspire this kind of personal loathing among his opponents, John McCain and Mike Huckabee being notable exemplars from 2008. But the larger political question is how, exactly, Mr. Gingrich will choose to conduct his war. As Speaker, he was volatile and erratic, claiming upon his resignation in 1998 that he couldn’t tolerate “mindless cannibalism” in the Republican caucus. The irony is that a more measured and restrained case would likely be most effective against Mr. Romney — painstakingly highlighting his record, as Mr. Gingrich’s rivals did in Iowa — but that isn’t always Mr. Gingrich’s M.O.

Rago looks prescient, as Gingrich has decided to attack Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, in the process painting both Romney and the process of creative destruction as moral failures. Yet Gingrich is doing more than just echoing the drum circles of Occupy Wall Street. He has apparently convinced the other GOP candidates to follow down this path.

Mark Halperin quotes Jon Huntsman–playing off this awkward verbal miscue from Romney–as saying that “Governor Romney enjoys firing people; I enjoy creating jobs.” Rick Perry, for his part, offered: “I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips — whether he was going to have enough of them to hand out.”

The urge to pile on a faltering frontrunner is irresistible, surely. But as Jonathan noted earlier, any Republican nominee will be painted by Obama as these candidates are painting Romney now. The desire to resist being hammered by their own words in a general election alone should be enough to convince these candidates to avoid attacking Romney from the left.

But it also won’t work; conservatives are already groaning at having to defend Romney from his rivals. In Gingrich’s case, it’s more understandable, since Romney blitzed the Iowa airwaves with attacks on Gingrich’s record. But both Huntsman and especially Perry have records to run on that contrast in their favor with Romney’s. Perry, in fact, jumped into the lead as soon as he announced his candidacy in part because he has a record as governor that would make any Republican national office seeker green with envy. And Perry’s campaign manifesto was the most libertarian of anyone outside Ron Paul.

Perry’s record remains his best chance at drawing back in the voters he lost earlier to candidates who are no longer in the race. Huntsman, meanwhile, has been trying to fend off accusations he’s too liberal for the GOP base. Neither will be well served going forward by joining in Gingrich’s fit of pique. It isn’t presidential, and they’ve got better things to talk about.

On Friday, Joseph Rago warned in the Wall Street Journal that Newt Gingrich’s planned attacks on Mitt Romney suggested that the former Speaker’s temper might lead him to commit a strategic blunder:

Mr. Romney’s political ruthlessness seems to inspire this kind of personal loathing among his opponents, John McCain and Mike Huckabee being notable exemplars from 2008. But the larger political question is how, exactly, Mr. Gingrich will choose to conduct his war. As Speaker, he was volatile and erratic, claiming upon his resignation in 1998 that he couldn’t tolerate “mindless cannibalism” in the Republican caucus. The irony is that a more measured and restrained case would likely be most effective against Mr. Romney — painstakingly highlighting his record, as Mr. Gingrich’s rivals did in Iowa — but that isn’t always Mr. Gingrich’s M.O.

Rago looks prescient, as Gingrich has decided to attack Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, in the process painting both Romney and the process of creative destruction as moral failures. Yet Gingrich is doing more than just echoing the drum circles of Occupy Wall Street. He has apparently convinced the other GOP candidates to follow down this path.

Mark Halperin quotes Jon Huntsman–playing off this awkward verbal miscue from Romney–as saying that “Governor Romney enjoys firing people; I enjoy creating jobs.” Rick Perry, for his part, offered: “I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips — whether he was going to have enough of them to hand out.”

The urge to pile on a faltering frontrunner is irresistible, surely. But as Jonathan noted earlier, any Republican nominee will be painted by Obama as these candidates are painting Romney now. The desire to resist being hammered by their own words in a general election alone should be enough to convince these candidates to avoid attacking Romney from the left.

But it also won’t work; conservatives are already groaning at having to defend Romney from his rivals. In Gingrich’s case, it’s more understandable, since Romney blitzed the Iowa airwaves with attacks on Gingrich’s record. But both Huntsman and especially Perry have records to run on that contrast in their favor with Romney’s. Perry, in fact, jumped into the lead as soon as he announced his candidacy in part because he has a record as governor that would make any Republican national office seeker green with envy. And Perry’s campaign manifesto was the most libertarian of anyone outside Ron Paul.

Perry’s record remains his best chance at drawing back in the voters he lost earlier to candidates who are no longer in the race. Huntsman, meanwhile, has been trying to fend off accusations he’s too liberal for the GOP base. Neither will be well served going forward by joining in Gingrich’s fit of pique. It isn’t presidential, and they’ve got better things to talk about.

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Romney’s Firing Problem

Politics is a gotcha business, so Mitt Romney has no one to blame but himself if we spend the next 10 months seeing political ads with the GOP frontrunner’s comment that “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.” When taken out of context, the quote seems to show the wealthy Romney as an insufferable plutocrat who takes pleasure in handing out pink slips to the downtrodden. One can imagine ads depicting long lines of fired valets, maids, and footmen who have displeased Mitt.

Of course, he wasn’t talking about firing the guy who shines his shoes or presses his pants but giving every American the option to fire their insurance provider. All he was trying to do was to point out that rather than be forced to accept a government plan, most Americans would prefer to choose their own insurance and hold those service providers accountable. Romney is absolutely right about this, but he must expect that his words will be twisted to portray him as a real-life version of Charles Montgomery Burns, Homer’s boss at the nuclear power plant on “The Simpsons.” Like his cringe-inducing offer to bet Rick Perry $10,000 during one of the debates, Romney should know any words that pass his lips that could buttress claims he is an out-of-touch rich guy will be used against him.

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Politics is a gotcha business, so Mitt Romney has no one to blame but himself if we spend the next 10 months seeing political ads with the GOP frontrunner’s comment that “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.” When taken out of context, the quote seems to show the wealthy Romney as an insufferable plutocrat who takes pleasure in handing out pink slips to the downtrodden. One can imagine ads depicting long lines of fired valets, maids, and footmen who have displeased Mitt.

Of course, he wasn’t talking about firing the guy who shines his shoes or presses his pants but giving every American the option to fire their insurance provider. All he was trying to do was to point out that rather than be forced to accept a government plan, most Americans would prefer to choose their own insurance and hold those service providers accountable. Romney is absolutely right about this, but he must expect that his words will be twisted to portray him as a real-life version of Charles Montgomery Burns, Homer’s boss at the nuclear power plant on “The Simpsons.” Like his cringe-inducing offer to bet Rick Perry $10,000 during one of the debates, Romney should know any words that pass his lips that could buttress claims he is an out-of-touch rich guy will be used against him.

While the gaffe shouldn’t be blown out of proportion, the quote illustrates one of Romney’s recurring problems: his inability to connect with ordinary voters. Though his ideas are on target and, in fact, if properly presented, highly appealing to the public, at times Romney comes across as a man who just doesn’t know how to talk to the public. Considering that he’s been in public life for nearly two decades, it’s an unfortunate trait not to have dropped somewhere along the way.

This won’t decide the GOP nomination, let alone the presidential contest. But, as opposed to the tawdry neo-socialist smears about Romney’s career as a venture capitalist that Newt Gingrich’s allies have been promoting, Romney’s inability to properly gauge public perceptions is a major obstacle to his election as president. Of course, it’s not nearly as damaging as the flaws of his opponents that have put Romney on the fast track to the nomination. But those looking for explanations for the reasons why Romney has not quite closed the deal with the majority of Republicans can do no better than to study his inability to avoid foolish phrases such as this one.

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Romney Continues New Hampshire Slide

The question isn’t whether Mitt Romney will win tomorrow’s primary race in New Hampshire – he almost certainly will – but whether his margin of victory will be wide enough to meet the enormous expectations. His 10-point drop in the Suffolk University tracking poll over the past week isn’t a good sign:

Romney dropped 2 more percentage points overnight but still holds a 13-point lead at 33 percent. The former Massachusetts governor has dropped a full 10 points from five days ago, when he had 43 percent of likely GOP voters.

Romney is followed by Paul (20 percent), Jon Huntsman (13 percent), Newt Gingrich (11 percent) and Rick Santorum (10 percent), while Rick Perry and Buddy Roemer combined for 3 percent with 12 percent undecided.

Could the debates over the weekend have hurt Romney more than initially expected? On Friday, the Suffolk tracking poll had Romney at 40 percent, which means most of the 10-point drop happened over the weekend.

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The question isn’t whether Mitt Romney will win tomorrow’s primary race in New Hampshire – he almost certainly will – but whether his margin of victory will be wide enough to meet the enormous expectations. His 10-point drop in the Suffolk University tracking poll over the past week isn’t a good sign:

Romney dropped 2 more percentage points overnight but still holds a 13-point lead at 33 percent. The former Massachusetts governor has dropped a full 10 points from five days ago, when he had 43 percent of likely GOP voters.

Romney is followed by Paul (20 percent), Jon Huntsman (13 percent), Newt Gingrich (11 percent) and Rick Santorum (10 percent), while Rick Perry and Buddy Roemer combined for 3 percent with 12 percent undecided.

Could the debates over the weekend have hurt Romney more than initially expected? On Friday, the Suffolk tracking poll had Romney at 40 percent, which means most of the 10-point drop happened over the weekend.

Romney’s former supporters don’t seem to be flocking to any candidate in particular, but instead spreading out among the other candidates. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich have gotten slight boosts (well within the margin of error) over the past few days. And Jon Huntsman has had a mini-surge, moving up five points in the polls to third place.

A smaller-than-expected margin of victory for Romney could undercut his appearance of inevitability, and help Gingrich and Santorum going into South Carolina. Unsurprisingly, Gingrich is doing his part to try to inflate expectations for Romney:

In an exclusive interview with The Brody File, Newt Gingrich says one of his goals is to, “keep Romney from being in the position to rush the nomination.” Gingrich told me, “The longer this goes on, the more clear it is how un-conservative his record is, the more difficult it will be for Romney to survive in this race.” Gingrich also told The Brody File that with regards to New Hampshire, “If he’s under 40% in one of his three strongest states, he has a big problem about trying to communicate why he should be the nominee.”

This is a little better than Gingrich’s last attempt, when he said that Romney should drop out of the race if he doesn’t win New Hampshire. There’s little doubt that Romney will win, but it sounds like he’s going to have a harder time cracking 40 percent than previously thought.

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Will Turkey Demand an Apology From Iran?

Iranian border guards reportedly shot two Turks crossing illegally into Iran from Turkey. Perhaps this can be the moment of truth for Turkey and its prime minister. When Israeli forces warned and then fired on Turks attempting to run Israel’s lawful blockade of Gaza, Turkish authorities demanded apologies, compensation, and a complete end to the blockade of Hamas’ administration in Gaza. Yet when Iranians kill Turks without warning, Turkey’s response is silence. Perhaps Turkey’s problem isn’t the protection of its citizens after all.

Iranian border guards reportedly shot two Turks crossing illegally into Iran from Turkey. Perhaps this can be the moment of truth for Turkey and its prime minister. When Israeli forces warned and then fired on Turks attempting to run Israel’s lawful blockade of Gaza, Turkish authorities demanded apologies, compensation, and a complete end to the blockade of Hamas’ administration in Gaza. Yet when Iranians kill Turks without warning, Turkey’s response is silence. Perhaps Turkey’s problem isn’t the protection of its citizens after all.

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What Is Huntsman’s Next Move?

Jon Huntsman’s closing argument in New Hampshire has been a one-word mantra: independent. He has stressed both his independence from Republican orthodoxy and his oft-repeated appeal to independents. He will no doubt be touting Gallup’s announcement this morning that a record number of voters now identify as independents.

And though his main rival in New Hampshire is the frontrunner Mitt Romney, his attempts to contrast himself with the former Massachusetts governor ironically leave him making the same argument Romney has all along: he can beat Barack Obama. The good news: in CNN’s last poll before the Iowa caucuses, Romney cleaned up on the electability question, then won the caucuses. The bad news: to Iowans, Huntsman barely registered on the electability question.

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Jon Huntsman’s closing argument in New Hampshire has been a one-word mantra: independent. He has stressed both his independence from Republican orthodoxy and his oft-repeated appeal to independents. He will no doubt be touting Gallup’s announcement this morning that a record number of voters now identify as independents.

And though his main rival in New Hampshire is the frontrunner Mitt Romney, his attempts to contrast himself with the former Massachusetts governor ironically leave him making the same argument Romney has all along: he can beat Barack Obama. The good news: in CNN’s last poll before the Iowa caucuses, Romney cleaned up on the electability question, then won the caucuses. The bad news: to Iowans, Huntsman barely registered on the electability question.

This means that although Huntsman’s argument–that voters should support him in the primaries because he can win the general election–is worth something to GOP voters, he has either not reached or not convinced nearly enough voters to catch Romney.

So while a second-place finish in tomorrow’s New Hampshire primary is possible, where would Huntsman go next? It’s difficult to imagine him seriously competing in South Carolina, but Florida would seem to be a more hospitable state for his brand. Yet Quinnipiac tells us this morning Huntsman is at two percent in the state. The better question, then, may not be where Huntsman goes, but when. Here’s the key paragraph from the Times story:

Others at the Hampstead event said they did not think Mr. Huntsman had a shot at winning this year’s primary or even placing second or third. But several said they hoped he would draw enough support to be a strong candidate in 2016.

It was widely noted at the time that Obama’s decision to ask Huntsman to serve as his ambassador to China was in large part to take a perceived strong candidate out of the 2012 race. With the New Hampshire primary a day away, even Huntsman’s supporters seem to think he’s succeeded in doing just that.

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Ron Paul Now Taking Zionism Advice From Neturei Karta

Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, of the anti-Zionist haredi group Neturei Karta, has buddied up to some of the top anti-Semitic scumbags of our time. He’s been photographed at Holocaust revisionist conferences, burning Israeli flags, and warmly embracing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

And yesterday, he actually showed up at a campaign event for Ron Paul.

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Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, of the anti-Zionist haredi group Neturei Karta, has buddied up to some of the top anti-Semitic scumbags of our time. He’s been photographed at Holocaust revisionist conferences, burning Israeli flags, and warmly embracing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

And yesterday, he actually showed up at a campaign event for Ron Paul.

At the American Spectator, John Tabin posted a photo of Weiss and Paul shaking hands in New Hampshire. Tabin, who was at the event, adds:

On the way out, I overheard a late-middle-aged Ron Paul supporter, identifiable by button and sticker, talking to one of the Neturei Karta guys, saying that “The Zionist are godless atheists … they only believe in themselves.” Ron Paul may not hate Israel, but people who hate Israel sure seem to like Ron Paul.

The conversations between Paul’s fans and the Neturei Karta sound interesting, but what did Paul himself talk about with the group’s leader? Thanks to this C-SPAN video, which captured Paul’s brief conversation with Weiss, we get to listen in on what the two were saying while they shook hands. The interaction starts around the 49-minute mark:

Weiss: Excuse me. I’m a rabbi from New York. Thank you for the [garbled] into Zionism and Judaism. This is a religion, and it should never be transformed into a nationalism.

Ron Paul: Good advice! Good advice.

Note to Ron Paul staffers: If you’re trying to help soften your candidate’s anti-Israel reputation, taking advice from the Neturei Karta rabbi is not a good way to start. Even if he is wearing a black hat and peyot.

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Dem Intentions Don’t Justify Smears

The attacks on Mitt Romney’s business career from his Republican opponents are getting nastier. The knives are out as supporters of Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry are trying to label Romney as a “predatory capitalist” who looted companies and put people out of work while making millions at Bain Capital. The spectacle of right-wingers blasting a venture capitalist they also deem insufficiently conservative as unfit for office because he oppressed the working class in the service of wealthy investors is comical if not ironic.

The charges are largely false. Romney’s efforts to build new companies and resuscitate dying ones created more jobs than were lost. But conservatives justify these absurd attacks because they claim the Democrats will say even worse about Romney this fall, rendering him unelectable. Yet the reasoning here is faulty. It is true President Obama’s campaign staff will do their best to demagogue Romney on his business record. But do Republicans think this issue, which allows Romney to highlight his success as a job creator and expertise on an economy that Obama can’t match, makes the GOP any more vulnerable this fall than the even more glaring weaknesses Gingrich, Rick Santorum or Perry possess?

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The attacks on Mitt Romney’s business career from his Republican opponents are getting nastier. The knives are out as supporters of Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry are trying to label Romney as a “predatory capitalist” who looted companies and put people out of work while making millions at Bain Capital. The spectacle of right-wingers blasting a venture capitalist they also deem insufficiently conservative as unfit for office because he oppressed the working class in the service of wealthy investors is comical if not ironic.

The charges are largely false. Romney’s efforts to build new companies and resuscitate dying ones created more jobs than were lost. But conservatives justify these absurd attacks because they claim the Democrats will say even worse about Romney this fall, rendering him unelectable. Yet the reasoning here is faulty. It is true President Obama’s campaign staff will do their best to demagogue Romney on his business record. But do Republicans think this issue, which allows Romney to highlight his success as a job creator and expertise on an economy that Obama can’t match, makes the GOP any more vulnerable this fall than the even more glaring weaknesses Gingrich, Rick Santorum or Perry possess?

As the Wall Street Journal reports today, Romney’s record at Bain is eminently defensible. While it is true Obama will bash Romney endlessly as a quintessential Wall Street capitalist, surely even the frontrunner’s GOP critics understand that any Republican will be skewered as the handmaiden of Wall Street. The president has clearly signaled he intends to run to the left this year by attacking Congress and big business in the name of the 99 percent the Occupy Wall Street protesters talk about. So it’s no secret Romney’s actions at Bain will be depicted as indicative of the heartless capitalism Democrats supposedly deplore. But contrary to the claims of those conservatives who claim Romney is especially vulnerable to this line of attack, the former venture capitalist is actually far better equipped to fight back against left-wing demagoguery than any of his opponents.

Unlike Gingrich or Santorum, let alone Perry, Romney actually can explain to the voters why some companies fail and others succeed. Rather than his business career being an electoral liability, it provides him with the intellectual wherewithal to put forward a coherent position on economic issues that no other Republican or President Obama can match. If the election this year is to be decided via a clear choice between a man who created wealth and one who is merely interested in scapegoating wealth creation, then Republicans should feel fairly confident they would come out on top.

The attacks on Romney’s record being financed by wealthy Gingrich supporters are not about vetting a would-be Republican candidate but an effort at exacting revenge for the negative ads published about the former speaker. Unlike the squeaky-clean Romney’s record, Gingrich’s troubling past is an insurmountable obstacle to his election.

Conservatives do have some points they can pound Romney on. He’s vulnerable on health care and social issues which, were he facing stronger opponents, would have ensured his defeat. But for Gingrich’s friends to be playing the “predatory capitalist” card in a vain effort to smear Romney is both hypocritical and absurd. The idea that conservatives would seek to destroy a candidate because he is someone who took in a free enterprise capital venture is the stuff of satire. It won’t help Gingrich or, I suspect, even damage Romney much. But it is testimony to the depths some Romney-haters will sink in their futile effort to destroy him.

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Obama to Share Secrets with Russia

While Michael McFaul’s confirmation to be U.S. ambassador to Russia has now passed the Senate, the reason for the holdup remains: The Obama administration appears intent to provide Russia with missile defense secrets. As the Washington Times’ Bill Gertz notes:

In the president’s signing statement issued Saturday in passing into law the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill, Mr. Obama said restrictions aimed at protecting top-secret technical data on U.S. Standard Missile-3 velocity burnout parameters might impinge on his constitutional foreign policy authority. As first disclosed in this space several weeks ago, U.S. officials are planning to provide Moscow with the SM-3 data, despite reservations from security officials who say that doing so could compromise the effectiveness of the system by allowing Russian weapons technicians to counter the missile. The weapons are considered some of the most effective high-speed interceptors in the U.S. missile defense arsenal.

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While Michael McFaul’s confirmation to be U.S. ambassador to Russia has now passed the Senate, the reason for the holdup remains: The Obama administration appears intent to provide Russia with missile defense secrets. As the Washington Times’ Bill Gertz notes:

In the president’s signing statement issued Saturday in passing into law the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill, Mr. Obama said restrictions aimed at protecting top-secret technical data on U.S. Standard Missile-3 velocity burnout parameters might impinge on his constitutional foreign policy authority. As first disclosed in this space several weeks ago, U.S. officials are planning to provide Moscow with the SM-3 data, despite reservations from security officials who say that doing so could compromise the effectiveness of the system by allowing Russian weapons technicians to counter the missile. The weapons are considered some of the most effective high-speed interceptors in the U.S. missile defense arsenal.

The impetus for the SM-3 information deal appears to be from Ellen Tauscher, a former left-of-center congresswoman who, as Obama’s undersecretary of state for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, has proven adept at self-promotion, but when it has come to the substance of her job, she distinguished herself as a poor negotiator, repeatedly getting bowled over by American adversaries.

President Obama may believe defense cuts are necessary. Cutting defense capabilities is dangerous. The president’s plan reverses a bipartisan consensus about the reach of the U.S. military which dates back to the Roosevelt administration. Providing U.S. adversaries with defense secrets they can exploit—and export to other enemies—is simply foolhardy. It is a formula not for parity but for defeat.

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The State Department’s Wishful Thinking

What do the State Department and the Arab League have in common? Both believe in wishful thinking. But while the Arab League version is farce, the State Department version could well end in tragedy.

Last week, the Arab League asked Hamas leader Khaled Meshal to convince Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop slaughtering Syrian protesters. After all, an organization that kneecapped opponents and threw them off rooftops during its 2007 takeover of Gaza is the obvious choice to convince Assad to treat his own opponents more gently. Were it not already amply clear that League efforts to stop the violence in Syria are mere lip service, this might be tragic; as it is, one can only laugh.

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What do the State Department and the Arab League have in common? Both believe in wishful thinking. But while the Arab League version is farce, the State Department version could well end in tragedy.

Last week, the Arab League asked Hamas leader Khaled Meshal to convince Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop slaughtering Syrian protesters. After all, an organization that kneecapped opponents and threw them off rooftops during its 2007 takeover of Gaza is the obvious choice to convince Assad to treat his own opponents more gently. Were it not already amply clear that League efforts to stop the violence in Syria are mere lip service, this might be tragic; as it is, one can only laugh.

But the State Department’s wishful thinking is far more troubling. Last Thursday, department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that the Muslim Brotherhood, which won Egypt’s recent elections, positively won’t abandon the peace treaty with Israel. How does she know? Because the group has given Washington private assurances to that effect – and private assurances in English are obviously far more reliable than Brotherhood leaders’ numerous public pledges in Arabic to scrap the treaty.

Earlier last week, for instance, the party’s deputy leader, Rashad Bayoumi, told the Arabic daily Al-Hayat that for a Muslim Brotherhood government to recognize Israel “is not an option, whatever the circumstances, we do not recognize Israel at all. It’s an occupying criminal enemy.” A Brotherhood government would therefore “take legal action against the peace treaty” by putting it to a referendum –where polls show a majority would favor scrapping it. “We must return this agreement to the people and let them have their say about whether this agreement hurts Egyptian interests and sovereignty,” he explained.

Last month, party Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein made similar remarks to Asharq al-Awsat. Denying the Brotherhood had reached any understanding with Washington on preserving the treaty, he said the organization in fact intends to ask the new parliament – where the Brotherhood and another Islamist party, Al-Nour, will together have a roughly two-thirds majority – to reconsider it.

Experience has repeatedly proven that what Arab leaders say in Arabic to their own people is a far better guide to their intentions than what they say in English to Westerners. Yasser Arafat, for instance, repeatedly told Westerners he wanted peace with Israel even as he promised in Arabic to continue pursuing terror; only after the second intifada erupted in 2000 did Western leaders finally realize the Arabic statements were the truth. Similarly, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait just days after promising the U.S. government that despite his repeated threats to do exactly that and the 30,000 troops he had massed on the border, he had no such intention. But Washington has learned nothing from its past mistakes: It would still rather believe what the Brotherhood says privately in English.

The tragedy is that Washington does have leverage with Egypt, thanks to the $1.3 billion in annual aid it provides. But you can’t use leverage to try to head off a problem unless you acknowledge the problem exists.

The Obama administration evidently prefers to pretend the peace treaty is in no danger. And by the time it wakes up to the truth, it may well be too late.

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Evil Dictators Strengthen Ties

President Obama entered office believing there was no U.S. adversary whom he could not bring around with diplomacy. He offered an olive branch to Iran, shook hands with Muammar Qaddafi, and sought to soften Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad by lauding him as a reformer. Toward Russia, he initiated a ‘reset’ policy, meant to erase the Bush legacy and begin with a blank slate.

Too often, presidents enter the Oval Office convinced the fault for diplomacy’s failure lays more with their predecessor than with the adversary. Just as did the Iranians, Libyans, Syrians, and North Koreans, when Obama gave ground, Putin took it. Vladimir Putin played Obama like a fiddle.

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President Obama entered office believing there was no U.S. adversary whom he could not bring around with diplomacy. He offered an olive branch to Iran, shook hands with Muammar Qaddafi, and sought to soften Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad by lauding him as a reformer. Toward Russia, he initiated a ‘reset’ policy, meant to erase the Bush legacy and begin with a blank slate.

Too often, presidents enter the Oval Office convinced the fault for diplomacy’s failure lays more with their predecessor than with the adversary. Just as did the Iranians, Libyans, Syrians, and North Koreans, when Obama gave ground, Putin took it. Vladimir Putin played Obama like a fiddle.

Self-described realists too often embrace the ideological assumption that diplomacy is a panacea. The reality is that adversaries seek advantage however they can find it. Rather than see diplomacy as a means to get to an agreement, the North Koreans, Iranians, and Russians see it as an asymmetric warfare strategy.

Yesterday, the Kremlin underscored its hostility to the international community and basic human rights by docking an aircraft carrier in Syria. “The port call is aimed at bringing the two countries closer together and strengthening their ties of friendship,” the Syrian state-owned news agency quoted a Russian naval officer Yakushin Vladimir Anatolievich as saying.

That the Syrian press is broadcasting such blatant propaganda only underscores the poor judgment of Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Arlen Specter as they met with Bashar al-Assad and allowed themselves to become the dictator’s useful idiots because of their single-minded quest to show defiance toward President Bush.

The only silver-lining in the situation in Russia is the Obama administration has someone as capable as Michael McFaul now confirmed to be the next U.S. ambassador to Russia. As he takes his post, McFaul becomes one of the clearest-headed and most skilled diplomats the State Department has at its disposal. However, not even McFaul will be able to compensate for the bad judgment of the reset policy which the Obama administration forced upon him. It is time to cancel the reset once and for all and recognize Putin for what he is: A dictator as evil as Bashar al-Assad, the man whom Putin now seeks to prop up.

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