Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 13, 2012

Appeasing Ron Paul Won’t Work

As Alana noted, Republicans are rightly concerned about Ron Paul playing a destructive role in the presidential campaign this fall. Efforts to keep him on the reservation are already beginning, and there is little doubt the significant number of delegates he may win for the party’s national convention in Tampa will have to be dealt with carefully lest they cause trouble and sabotage what will in all likelihood be Mitt Romney’s coronation.

But I think the GOP would be foolish to go too far in seeking to make nice with Paul. His followers are just as likely to vote for Barack Obama or simply stay home as they are to back Romney or any other mainstream Republican. That’s why giving Paul a prime time speech at the convention would be a disaster.

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As Alana noted, Republicans are rightly concerned about Ron Paul playing a destructive role in the presidential campaign this fall. Efforts to keep him on the reservation are already beginning, and there is little doubt the significant number of delegates he may win for the party’s national convention in Tampa will have to be dealt with carefully lest they cause trouble and sabotage what will in all likelihood be Mitt Romney’s coronation.

But I think the GOP would be foolish to go too far in seeking to make nice with Paul. His followers are just as likely to vote for Barack Obama or simply stay home as they are to back Romney or any other mainstream Republican. That’s why giving Paul a prime time speech at the convention would be a disaster.

The analogy Charles Krauthammer made to Pat Buchanan’s culture war speech at the 1992 convention is quite instructive. Though his address has gone down in history as a devastating embarrassment for the elder President Bush and his party, its text was not as crazy as most people remember. In comparison to one of Ron Paul’s crackpot rants about the Federal Reserve and the destructive role America has played in the postwar world, the social conservative battle cry delivered by Buchanan in Houston looks fairly normal.

As Krauthammer noted, libertarianism’s role as a critique of big government has deeply influenced the modern Republican Party. But there is huge difference between the Tea Party and the extremism articulated by Paul. His conspiratorial view of the economic system sometimes seems to have more in common with the Occupy Wall Street movement than it does with the legacy of Ronald Reagan. His isolationism and willingness to rationalize the motives and actions of America’s Islamist enemies is not merely isolationist, it is an expression of the worst sort of radicalism that has no place in the Republican Party or any other political faction that seeks to win mainstream support or to govern.

That’s why the efforts of Romney and other Republicans to bring Paul’s supporters into a big GOP tent are bound to fail. That may create problems at the convention and provide fodder for liberal journalists looking for story lines that undermine Republican hopes for defeating Obama. But the silver lining to that cloud for Republicans is the fact that many of Paul’s backers were never going to vote Republican anyway. Romney will lose far more votes in the center by appeasing Paul than he will gain on the margins. The sooner he and the rest of the GOP realize this, the better.

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Ominous Sign for Egypt: Carter’s Optimistic

If you weren’t already worried about the direction events are heading in in Egypt, here’s one more reason to be worried: Jimmy Carter’s feeling good about things. Carter, who was in the country monitoring the recent elections, had this to say about the impact of the new Egyptian government on the Middle East peace process:

This new government will probably be much more concerned about the rights of the Palestinians than have the previous rulers or leaders in Egypt, but in my opinion that will be conducive to a better prospect of peace between Israel and its neighbors.

But the only real difference between the Mubarak government and his successors is that the latter are good friends with the Hamas terrorists who run Gaza. In Carter’s distorted worldview, support for Palestinian Islamists is synonymous with “Palestinian rights.” That’s bad enough, but to think the opening up of Hamas’s supply lines and its increased influence will actually lead to peace is so contrary to logic and reason the only conclusion one can draw from such a statement is that any development that heightens Israel’s isolation and increases the danger of terrorism is something the 39th president regards with complacence.

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If you weren’t already worried about the direction events are heading in in Egypt, here’s one more reason to be worried: Jimmy Carter’s feeling good about things. Carter, who was in the country monitoring the recent elections, had this to say about the impact of the new Egyptian government on the Middle East peace process:

This new government will probably be much more concerned about the rights of the Palestinians than have the previous rulers or leaders in Egypt, but in my opinion that will be conducive to a better prospect of peace between Israel and its neighbors.

But the only real difference between the Mubarak government and his successors is that the latter are good friends with the Hamas terrorists who run Gaza. In Carter’s distorted worldview, support for Palestinian Islamists is synonymous with “Palestinian rights.” That’s bad enough, but to think the opening up of Hamas’s supply lines and its increased influence will actually lead to peace is so contrary to logic and reason the only conclusion one can draw from such a statement is that any development that heightens Israel’s isolation and increases the danger of terrorism is something the 39th president regards with complacence.

The Mubarak government had an ambivalent attitude toward the peace process. It was determined to keep the peace with Israel as cold as possible and often contributed rather than calmed tensions. But it was sometimes a better friend to the Palestinians than they understood. If at times Mubarak did his best to alienate Israel while still observing the peace treaty, it was often the result of his speaking up for the Palestinian Authority and backing its obstructionism.

The Palestinians have accused the Egyptians of abandoning them after signing the peace treaty with Israel that Carter helped broker. But any tension between Egypt and the Palestinians was the result of the refusal of Yasir Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas to make the historic compromises that Anwar Sadat made.

It’s worth remembering Sadat made his historic trip to Jerusalem not as the result of prodding by the United States but specifically to head off a U.S. initiative that would have brought the Soviet Union into negotiations and undermined the interests of both Israel and Egypt. In the subsequent talks in which he took part, Carter’s role was such that his antagonism for Israel became as much of an obstacle to peace as anything else. Since then, he has never ceased blaming Israel for everything that happens in the region and subscribing to noxious slanders about it being an “apartheid state.”

Carter’s optimism about the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Hamas allies tells us everything we need to know about the prospects for peace. If he is pleased, then it is a certainty that trouble looms.

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Marines Mess Up Mission in Afghanistan

The Taliban’s moral standing to be complaining about the desecration of corpses is, to put it mildly, rather limited. Recall, after all, the fate suffered by former Afghan ruler Najibullah at the hands of the Taliban in 1996. First he was castrated, then dragged through the streets by a car before his corpse was finally left dangling from a lamppost. Yet there is no question that U.S. troops are held to a higher standard and the decision by four Marines to urinate on the corpses of Taliban fighters–and then videotape it!–could do harm to the American mission in Afghanistan.

It is, after all, a war crime and a violation of religious dictates to desecrate war dead. More than that it is stupid and pointless if perhaps understandable as a venting of stress after battle. The desecration of the enemy after death has been common in all wars–even “good wars” like World War II, where GIs and Marines often took Japanese skulls, teeth or other body parts or articles of uniform home as souvenirs. It is hardly surprising that the Afghan War should be no exception. What is different today is that the act was videotaped and then witnessed around the world. Another difference is the Marines are fighting not a total war but a counterinsurgency in which their goal is not only to militarily defeat the enemy but to win over the population. This could potentially make that job harder.

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The Taliban’s moral standing to be complaining about the desecration of corpses is, to put it mildly, rather limited. Recall, after all, the fate suffered by former Afghan ruler Najibullah at the hands of the Taliban in 1996. First he was castrated, then dragged through the streets by a car before his corpse was finally left dangling from a lamppost. Yet there is no question that U.S. troops are held to a higher standard and the decision by four Marines to urinate on the corpses of Taliban fighters–and then videotape it!–could do harm to the American mission in Afghanistan.

It is, after all, a war crime and a violation of religious dictates to desecrate war dead. More than that it is stupid and pointless if perhaps understandable as a venting of stress after battle. The desecration of the enemy after death has been common in all wars–even “good wars” like World War II, where GIs and Marines often took Japanese skulls, teeth or other body parts or articles of uniform home as souvenirs. It is hardly surprising that the Afghan War should be no exception. What is different today is that the act was videotaped and then witnessed around the world. Another difference is the Marines are fighting not a total war but a counterinsurgency in which their goal is not only to militarily defeat the enemy but to win over the population. This could potentially make that job harder.

The Marines often speak of the “strategic corporal”–the notion being that decisions made even by a lowly corporal can have high-level repercussions. This is a perfect example; indeed, one of the urinating Marines was a corporal. Now everyone from the secretary of defense to the secretary of state has to rush out to try to clean up the mess made by these leathernecks.

How bad a mess it is remains to be seen. This is no Abu Ghraib. It is not even of the same magnitude as the acts committed by a small group of U.S. soldiers who in 2010 killed three Afghan civilians for “sport.” One might even argue there is even some potential benefit in the Marines’ actions–that they are exhibiting a kind of machismo common among warriors in all wars, and one that Afghans schooled in a hard way of war can appreciate and respect. But even if this is a relatively minor scandal, it is no excuse for criminally unprofessional behavior beneath the high standards of the Marine Corps. These are actions that should be met with punishment accordingly.

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Re: What Does it Mean to be Pro-Israel?

Evelyn’s post articulates well what should be the governing paradigm for how diaspora Jewish leaders can criticize Israel responsibly.

Strangely absent though from the Moment symposium she linked to is any mention of the traditional consensus that has for so long governed the thinking of American Jewish communal leaders and is now under threat.

This consensus holds that organizations or individuals who claim to speak in the name of American Jewry –especially when lobbying the government – should support the policies of the elected government of Israel. It has a far deeper moral and practical basis than its many critics seem to understand.

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Evelyn’s post articulates well what should be the governing paradigm for how diaspora Jewish leaders can criticize Israel responsibly.

Strangely absent though from the Moment symposium she linked to is any mention of the traditional consensus that has for so long governed the thinking of American Jewish communal leaders and is now under threat.

This consensus holds that organizations or individuals who claim to speak in the name of American Jewry –especially when lobbying the government – should support the policies of the elected government of Israel. It has a far deeper moral and practical basis than its many critics seem to understand.

On the practical level, the founding of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is the oft-told allegory. The story goes that the Conference was organized in 1955 at the behest of Dwight Eisenhower and his powerful Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who were annoyed by the
multiple Jewish organizations lobbying them on Israel policy from a variety of different positions, all allegedly in the name of the American Jewish
community. Supposedly, they threatened to cut all Jewish organizations out of the White House if they did not come together and agree on a common position
with a single representative.

Whatever historical memory may be, these organizations had disputes with one another about Israel that were probably at least as hot as those in the Jewish world today. Many of the major organizations were in fact in the 1950s still coming out of a traditional non-or anti-Zionist stance that had governed their thinking before World War II.

The existing policies of the Israeli government were therefore a baseline position, determined by no single American group or faction, that could serve effectively as a consensus position. The successes of more than 55 subsequent years of Jewish advocacy speak well themselves to the power of that consensus. Today, then, and for the history of this default position this has meant that organizations on both sides of the political spectrum who have found themselves privately out-of-step with Israeli policies must publicly bite their tongues.

The heat of debate on this issue now derives from the fraying of the consensus. During the Oslo years, there were those on the right who felt teir view of Israel’s best course demanded they speak out. And increasingly, there are now voices today on the left who feel they must publicize their disagreements with an Israeli government that leans more to the right.

None have made an argument stronger than the continuing one for the traditional consensus, especially on moral terms.

The consensus leaves room for independent writers or publications to air their views, so long as they do not claim to do so on behalf of the Jewish people. And it can grant a degree of freedom to groups which operate on campus, because we are not speaking directly to the American government.

Most importantly, it recognizes the still very much salient truth that the Jews of Israel are those who both best understand their own situation and must live with the immediate consequences of their decisions, and that the democratic process is the best way of determining what those decisions are.

Today it remains as unseemly as ever for Jews living thousands of miles away from the Jewish state to demand its people and leaders choose a course they believe threatens their lives. Those so certain they know better would do well to chew over the dose of humility that acceptance of the traditional consensus demands.

 

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The Role of Sympathy and Trust in American Politics

Barack Obama ran for office promising to heal the breach that divides Americans. It was at the core of his candidacy. What we have gotten instead is, according to polling data, the most polarizing president in our lifetime. Unable to defend his record or offer a compelling vision for the future, he and his allies have premised his re-election campaign on creating division among Americans based on class. His hope is to stoke the embers of resentment and envy, most especially among the middle class toward the wealthy. And he’s having some success at it.

According to a new Pew Research Center survey, about two-thirds of Americans now believe there are “strong conflicts” between rich and poor in the United States — an increase of about 50 percent from a 2009 survey. Not only have perceptions of class conflict grown more prevalent; so, too, has the belief that these disputes are intense. (An important caveat in the survey is that while we’ve seen a significant shift in public perceptions of class conflict in American life, they do not necessarily signal an increase in grievances toward the wealthy. Key attitudes toward the wealthy have remained largely unchanged.)

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Barack Obama ran for office promising to heal the breach that divides Americans. It was at the core of his candidacy. What we have gotten instead is, according to polling data, the most polarizing president in our lifetime. Unable to defend his record or offer a compelling vision for the future, he and his allies have premised his re-election campaign on creating division among Americans based on class. His hope is to stoke the embers of resentment and envy, most especially among the middle class toward the wealthy. And he’s having some success at it.

According to a new Pew Research Center survey, about two-thirds of Americans now believe there are “strong conflicts” between rich and poor in the United States — an increase of about 50 percent from a 2009 survey. Not only have perceptions of class conflict grown more prevalent; so, too, has the belief that these disputes are intense. (An important caveat in the survey is that while we’ve seen a significant shift in public perceptions of class conflict in American life, they do not necessarily signal an increase in grievances toward the wealthy. Key attitudes toward the wealthy have remained largely unchanged.)

I mention all of this in the context of the importance of the bonds of affection that ultimately need to exist among citizens in a free country. In doing so, let’s stipulate that in an election year in particular, differences will be emphasized and rhetoric will get hot. And let’s grant, too, that everyone, on all sides, has contributed to our divisions. The issue is less that we have differences; what matters is the manner in which we express them and whether, at some point, we find our way back together again.

This topic is on my mind in part because of the publication of an excellent recent book, Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life, by Nicholas Phillipson. The book devotes a chapter to the influence Francis Hutcheson, a professor of moral philosophy at Glasgow University, played in Smith’s intellectual development. Among Hutcheson’s main philosophical opponents in the 18th century was Bernard Mandeville, a brilliant and witty satirist whose aim was to demolish the belief that sociable affections were based on benevolence. Mandeville believed the natural depravity of human beings led to an endless capacity for self-delusion and hypocrisy.

What bothered Hutcheson wasn’t simply what he viewed as the boundless cynicism of Mandeville; it was that, according to Phillipson, Mandeville’s words “posed a mortal threat to true moral philosophy by encouraging citizens to distrust their own and others’ motives, thus undermining those natural feelings of friendship and sociability on which trust, order and liberty depended.” Professor Hutcheson was determined to show that benevolently inclined societies were capable of a high degree of self-regulation and were therefore not in need of absolute monarchs. He wanted to develop a theory of sociability and virtue that would act as a counterweight to Mandevillian cynicism. And Smith himself would later emphasize the importance of government in fostering “the sociable dispositions of its subjects.” It’s not at all surprising, then, that Adam Smith’s first great work was not The Wealth of Nations but The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which made the case for sympathy as a foundation for human relationships. Politics plays a role in all this, which brings us to the here and now.

Set aside my own critique of Obama, which his supporters will undoubtedly consider to be unfair and selective. Most people would still agree, I think, that the president has a unique role in the life of our nation. He has a role, different than any other, when it comes to deepening rather than attenuating the bonds of trust among Americans. And the role government can play in fostering the sociable dispositions of its subjects is quite an interesting and important topic, to which far too little attention is paid.

This is admittedly a complicated area, as some of our greatest presidents pursued policies that caused deep divisions. President Lincoln is a particularly fascinating case study. He presided over a Civil War that led to the death of around 620,000 people in a nation of roughly 30 million. And yet, as the Lincoln biographer Ronald C. White, Jr. has said, his second inaugural address called the whole nation to account and offered a moral framework for peace and reconciliation. When passions were at their highest and the North was at its strongest, Lincoln held out a path for reunification instead of revenge.

I would simply suggest that Hutcheson and Smith were on to something important in what they sought to achieve. Even, and maybe especially, in the midst of an intense election, we need to keep in mind that liberty depends on some degree of sympathy and trust, sociability and attachment to those with whom we disagree. That charity is better than malice. That repeatedly accusing the opposition of putting party ahead of country isn’t helpful. And that our presidents must be especially careful to employ rhetoric that doesn’t cut too deeply or leave wounds that will be difficult to heal. Because when all is said and done, we are one people.

 

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Should Ron Paul Be Given a Speaking Role at GOP Convention?

The efforts to gently guide Ron Paul out of the race while coaxing his supporters to Mitt Romney are already beginning. It’s an entertaining dance to watch, especially from conservatives like Jim DeMint, who’s been bubbling with praise this week for a candidate who he clearly thinks is a complete lunatic on foreign policy and social issues.

“I really don’t want Ron Paul to drop out until whoever our frontrunner is is collecting some of the ideas that he’s talking about,” DeMint told the Daily Caller. “I don’t know whether Ron Paul expects to be our nominee, but if Republicans don’t listen to a lot of things he talks about, I don’t see how we can become a majority party.”

Translation: “Ron Paul will never be the nominee. Never. Now banish that idea from your head, while I say some patronizing things to appeal to his supporters.”

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The efforts to gently guide Ron Paul out of the race while coaxing his supporters to Mitt Romney are already beginning. It’s an entertaining dance to watch, especially from conservatives like Jim DeMint, who’s been bubbling with praise this week for a candidate who he clearly thinks is a complete lunatic on foreign policy and social issues.

“I really don’t want Ron Paul to drop out until whoever our frontrunner is is collecting some of the ideas that he’s talking about,” DeMint told the Daily Caller. “I don’t know whether Ron Paul expects to be our nominee, but if Republicans don’t listen to a lot of things he talks about, I don’t see how we can become a majority party.”

Translation: “Ron Paul will never be the nominee. Never. Now banish that idea from your head, while I say some patronizing things to appeal to his supporters.”

But if it’s ludicrous to believe Ron Paul could appeal to enough Republicans to win the nomination, it’s also wrong to ignore the fact that he’s built a sizeable, devoted following. How Republicans deal with that following is a tough call. Will Paul be invited to speak at the GOP convention, after he got iced out of it in ’08? Grover Norquist argues that Paul will only bring his supporters into the party if he’s given a prominent speaking role this time:

However, Ron Paul is the only candidate for the Republican nomination whose endorsement will matter to Mitt Romney. It is the only endorsement that will bring votes and the only endorsement, if withheld, that could cost Romney the general election.

If Ron Paul speaks at the GOP convention (as he was not invited to do in 2008), the party will be united and Romney will win in November 2012. If Ron Paul speaks only at his own rally in Tampa, Florida (as happened at the 2008 GOP convention in Minnesota), the party will not be at full strength.

The longer Paul stays in the race, the more leverage he can likely rack up for the convention. But Charles Krauthammer reminds in his weekly column that the last time the GOP was forced to placate a fringe candidate by offering him a prime convention speaking role, it had disastrous consequences for the party:

No one remembers Bush’s 1992 acceptance speech. Everyone remembers Buchanan’s fiery and disastrous culture-war address. At the Democratic conventions, Jackson’s platform demands and speeches drew massive attention, often overshadowing his party’s blander nominees.

The Democratic convention will be a tightly scripted TV extravaganza extolling the Prince and his wise and kindly rule. The Republican convention could conceivably feature a major address by Paul calling for the abolition of the Fed, FEMA and the CIA; American withdrawal from everywhere; acquiescence to the Iranian bomb — and perhaps even Paul’s opposition to a border fence lest it be used to keep Americans in. Not exactly the steady, measured, reassuring message a Republican convention might wish to convey. For libertarianism, however, it would be a historic moment: mainstream recognition at last.

I don’t think Paul would be as toxic as Buchanan, if only because he doesn’t engage in the aggressive culture warrior rhetoric. When Paul starts spouting nonsense at the debates, he comes off as laughable and harmless, not hateful and angry. He also has a lot of fans on the left, so Democrats would have to be careful about mocking any speech he makes.

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Romney Unprepared for Bain Attack

Watching the Romney campaign fumble around as it tried to respond to the Bain attacks was initially pretty alarming. The Democrats and the progressive-left have obviously been gearing up for months to launch this attack line as soon as Romney secures the nomination: the administration’s class warfare rhetoric, the sudden focus on “income inequality” and even the Occupy Wall Street movement will all play a role in trying to take down Romney.

But once the attacks started coming from Gingrich, it became painfully apparent that Romney hasn’t laid nearly as much groundwork as the Democrats. Probably because he didn’t expect to be confronted on this issue until after the primaries. According to his campaign, he’s just starting to catch up:

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Watching the Romney campaign fumble around as it tried to respond to the Bain attacks was initially pretty alarming. The Democrats and the progressive-left have obviously been gearing up for months to launch this attack line as soon as Romney secures the nomination: the administration’s class warfare rhetoric, the sudden focus on “income inequality” and even the Occupy Wall Street movement will all play a role in trying to take down Romney.

But once the attacks started coming from Gingrich, it became painfully apparent that Romney hasn’t laid nearly as much groundwork as the Democrats. Probably because he didn’t expect to be confronted on this issue until after the primaries. According to his campaign, he’s just starting to catch up:

The change comes following three days of stumbling responses from Romney and campaign aides, who admit they were caught unprepared for the explosion of Bain as the dominant topic of the Republican race — “out of nowhere,” one adviser said. And it comes as Romney is aiming to turn his polling lead into a primary win — an early-state hat trick they hope will quickly establish him as the presumptive GOP nominee. …

They’ll start with advertisements featuring employees of companies started and rescued by Bain telling their stories — a direct response to the documentary released by the pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC that features employees of four companies closed by Bain that brutally slams Romney as a job killer. That documentary is set to be parceled out into shorter commercials that will air in South Carolina with a $3.4 million ad buy.

Some pundits have noted that Gingrich’s attacks might actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Romney. It gives him an opportunity to see which counterattacks work, and which ones don’t. More importantly, the media will probably give more credence to any factual challenges of the Bain video now than they would during the general election. The media may be in the tank for Obama, but there’s certainly no love lost between the press and Gingrich. While the New York Times may have accepted this video at face value if it was put out by a pro-Obama Super PAC, they’ll gladly turn into “Truth Vigilantes” now that it was released by a pro-Gingrich group.

The media is Romney’s best friend in this controversy, as long as he’s able to quickly come up with an effective counterattack. The more it’s talked about, the sooner it becomes old news. And the older the news gets, the less voters will care about it during the general election. If Romney is able to blunt this Bain Capital charge during the primaries, he’ll take away the centerpiece of Obama’s reelection strategy.

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Parlez-Vous Francais, Monsieur Gingrich?

All may be fair in love, war and politics, but Newt Gingrich’s ad campaign against Mitt Romney is plumbing the depths of absurdity. His super PAC-funded documentary accusing Romney of being an evil capitalist was ridiculous coming from a man claiming to be the “true conservative,” but his latest ad, “The French Connection” to run in South Carolina gives us another lesson in how to go over the top.

The conceit of the ad is an attempt to compare Romney to Michael Dukakis and John Kerry. Dredging up his past as a “Massachusetts moderate” who distanced himself from the GOP when he ran for the Senate in 1994 is fair game. But the closing argument, “Just like John Kerry, he speaks French, too” is the stuff of satire. Twitter is already overflowing with jokes about Gingrich’s own Francophone tendencies. Meanwhile, Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy sums up the evidence pointing to Newt’s ability to speak the language of Voltaire, Victor Hugo and, yes, his hero, Charles de Gaulle.

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All may be fair in love, war and politics, but Newt Gingrich’s ad campaign against Mitt Romney is plumbing the depths of absurdity. His super PAC-funded documentary accusing Romney of being an evil capitalist was ridiculous coming from a man claiming to be the “true conservative,” but his latest ad, “The French Connection” to run in South Carolina gives us another lesson in how to go over the top.

The conceit of the ad is an attempt to compare Romney to Michael Dukakis and John Kerry. Dredging up his past as a “Massachusetts moderate” who distanced himself from the GOP when he ran for the Senate in 1994 is fair game. But the closing argument, “Just like John Kerry, he speaks French, too” is the stuff of satire. Twitter is already overflowing with jokes about Gingrich’s own Francophone tendencies. Meanwhile, Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy sums up the evidence pointing to Newt’s ability to speak the language of Voltaire, Victor Hugo and, yes, his hero, Charles de Gaulle.

Gingrich lived in France for two years as a teenager when his Army father was stationed there, and he has said that his visit to the site of the World War I battle of Verdun helped change his life. He went on to write a doctoral thesis about the Belgium Congo, which includes French footnotes. Moreover, as someone who earned a PhD, he had to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language and, considering that he would have needed to read French to understand the source materials for his thesis, it’s almost certain one of his languages was Francais.

We don’t know if there are any videos out there with Newt speaking French as Romney did in the clip used in the Gingrich ad, but if there are, they are bound to surface.

The problem with Gingrich’s ad is not just that it closes with a line that is xenophobic, anti-intellectual and hypocritical; it is that the hypocrisy is so obvious. It may well be that Gingrich never saw or personally approved the ad but that just shows how disorganized and unaccountable a leader he is. Gingrich’s wealthy backers may enable him to keep campaigning as long as he wants to. But with ads like these, it’s looking as if his consultants are stealing his money.

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Reminiscing with the Aged Leaders of Fatah

Greg Sheridan, the foreign editor of The Australian, is spending a week in Israel and the West Bank and reports it is “dangerous” to visit Israel — “because it is impossible to reconcile the evidence of your eyes with the accepted international narrative”:

“In the international media, Israel is presented as militarist, right-wing, oppressive. In fact it is the only pluralist democracy in the Middle East, the only nation where women’s rights — and gay rights — are protected. It has a vibrant left wing, a cacophonous democracy and an innovative economy.”

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Greg Sheridan, the foreign editor of The Australian, is spending a week in Israel and the West Bank and reports it is “dangerous” to visit Israel — “because it is impossible to reconcile the evidence of your eyes with the accepted international narrative”:

“In the international media, Israel is presented as militarist, right-wing, oppressive. In fact it is the only pluralist democracy in the Middle East, the only nation where women’s rights — and gay rights — are protected. It has a vibrant left wing, a cacophonous democracy and an innovative economy.”

Compare his summary of the situation among Palestinians, unable to live side-by-side in peace and security even with themselves, lacking a pluralist society, missing any protections for women and gays, dependent on an economy funded by Western “donors” (because Arab states contribute a lot of rhetoric but few funds):

“So how can there be a Palestinian state when the two parts of it have recently been killing each other and cannot even travel in each others’ territories? Palestinian friends tell me that Hamas would be likely to win a Palestinian election held now. Neither Fatah nor Hamas is remotely democratic. Fatah is also increasingly sclerotic. All its leaders are aged, all figures from the past in office for decades. There is no youth or vitality about it.”

Well, at least the aged leaders of increasingly sclerotic Fatah — cooped up in their half of the quasi-state, understandably afraid to hold another election — can look back on their decades in office and reminisce about all the times they almost had a state.

There was July 2000 at Camp David, when Israel offered a state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem, and they turned it down. There was January 2001, when they turned down the Clinton Parameters, refusing a state again. There was September 12, 2005, when they got Gaza and announced “no more security turmoil and weapons chaos and abductions, which are not characteristic of our culture.” The January 2006 election did not go well, but there was the February 2007 Mecca agreement, adopting “the language of dialogue as the sole basis for solving the political disagreements” — until the other party threw Fatah off the tops of buildings. In September 2008 there was another offer of a state, which they turned down again. In May 2009 they set “preconditions” for the democratically elected government of Israel to talk to the unelected aged leaders of sclerotic Fatah, saying they would do nothing further since they had a “good reality” in the West Bank. Since then, they have occupied themselves with seeking UN resolutions.

And during this entire period, billions of dollars came their way for participating in this “process.” Good times, good times….

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Forget Plain Old Engineering – We Have Social Engineering

It’s easy to see why New York’s Mayor Mike Bloomberg is now focused on closing down liquor retail outlets and correcting New Yorkers’ behavior. How can he not push ahead with his continued social-engineering  schemes, seeing as the city is running so smoothly otherwise: “Every escalator at the 53rd Street and Lexington Avenue subway station, one of the busiest in the city, was offline Thursday morning,” Fox’s local news reports. “Seven of seven escalators are out at the height of the morning commute 8:15 to 9:15, when tens of thousands of commuters are rushing to work.”

The words of Mark Steyn (actually writing about escalators) come to mind:

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It’s easy to see why New York’s Mayor Mike Bloomberg is now focused on closing down liquor retail outlets and correcting New Yorkers’ behavior. How can he not push ahead with his continued social-engineering  schemes, seeing as the city is running so smoothly otherwise: “Every escalator at the 53rd Street and Lexington Avenue subway station, one of the busiest in the city, was offline Thursday morning,” Fox’s local news reports. “Seven of seven escalators are out at the height of the morning commute 8:15 to 9:15, when tens of thousands of commuters are rushing to work.”

The words of Mark Steyn (actually writing about escalators) come to mind:

In “developing nations,” they’re a symbol of progress. In decaying nations, they’re an emblem of decline. In pre-Thatcher Britain, the escalators seized up, and stayed unrepaired for months on end. Eventually, someone would start them up again, only for them to break down 48 hours later and be out of service for another 18 months. It was always the up escalators. You were in a country that could only go downhill: All chutes, no ladders.

Perhaps we’re luckier than Britain. Both our up and down escalators are stuck. Which means there’s no place to go but…somewhere.

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They Didn’t Do Perry Any Favors

It appears that CNN is waving its rules about qualifications to allow Rick Perry to take part in next Thursday’s debate in South Carolina. The network had said candidates would have had to place in the top four in either Iowa or New Hampshire and then register at least 7 percent in either national or South Carolina polls conducted in January. After flopping in Iowa and not even competing in New Hampshire, Perry doesn’t meet any of those criteria.

So in order to squeeze Perry into their debate, CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist decided to average three polls, two of which had Perry below the 7 percent mark. Exactly why the network felt compelled to do him a favor is not clear, but whatever its motivation, Perry will get one last chance to make his case to South Carolinians two days before the primary that will probably seal his fate as a presidential candidate. But given the fact that Perry’s decline is directly related to his debate performances, one wonders why, other than the humiliation of being excluded, he would care about getting into the CNN debate.

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It appears that CNN is waving its rules about qualifications to allow Rick Perry to take part in next Thursday’s debate in South Carolina. The network had said candidates would have had to place in the top four in either Iowa or New Hampshire and then register at least 7 percent in either national or South Carolina polls conducted in January. After flopping in Iowa and not even competing in New Hampshire, Perry doesn’t meet any of those criteria.

So in order to squeeze Perry into their debate, CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist decided to average three polls, two of which had Perry below the 7 percent mark. Exactly why the network felt compelled to do him a favor is not clear, but whatever its motivation, Perry will get one last chance to make his case to South Carolinians two days before the primary that will probably seal his fate as a presidential candidate. But given the fact that Perry’s decline is directly related to his debate performances, one wonders why, other than the humiliation of being excluded, he would care about getting into the CNN debate.

This does raise a great “what if” about a campaign that must be considered the most spectacular failure of this election cycle.

What if the GOP contest had not been dominated by a series of debates that became America’s favorite political reality TV series? What if the debates hadn’t started until a month or so before Iowa and then only  two or three? Before the debates, he seemed a sure-fire frontrunner, garnering the support of various conservative constituencies. There’s no way of answering such counter-factual queries with any degree of certainty, but there’s little doubt the repeated exposure of Perry under the television lights destroyed his hopes. His “oops” moment and other gaffes gave the country the impression he was something of a dolt. That may have been a little unfair but, looking back, his avoidance of debates during his races in Texas should have told those of us who took his frontrunner reputation at face value something about his ability to survive the presidential gauntlet.

Breaking the rules to get him into the last dance before South Carolina is a courtesy that is perhaps due to a sitting governor of Texas though it is bound to infuriate Buddy Roemer, who has been kept out of the debates because of his own inability to meet their criteria. But perhaps the best favor anyone could have done Rick Perry was to exclude him from all of the debates.

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The Continuing Dominance of Conservatism

According to a new Gallup Survey, 2011 marks the third straight year that conservatives have outnumbered moderates, after more than a decade in which moderates mainly tied or outnumbered conservatives. The specific findings were these: 40 percent of Americans continue to describe their views as conservative, 35 percent as moderate, and 21 percent as liberal.

Some additional findings:

The percentage of Americans calling themselves “moderate” has gradually diminished in the U.S. since it was 43 percent in 1992.

The majority of Republicans say they are either very conservative or conservative, but the total proportion of conservatives grew 10 percentage points between 2002 and 2010, from 62 percent to 72 percent.

The percentage of Republicans who say they are moderates fell from 31 percent to 23 percent.

Relatively few Republicans say they are liberal — just 4 percent in 2011. Republicans’ ideology largely held at the 2010 levels in 2011.

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According to a new Gallup Survey, 2011 marks the third straight year that conservatives have outnumbered moderates, after more than a decade in which moderates mainly tied or outnumbered conservatives. The specific findings were these: 40 percent of Americans continue to describe their views as conservative, 35 percent as moderate, and 21 percent as liberal.

Some additional findings:

The percentage of Americans calling themselves “moderate” has gradually diminished in the U.S. since it was 43 percent in 1992.

The majority of Republicans say they are either very conservative or conservative, but the total proportion of conservatives grew 10 percentage points between 2002 and 2010, from 62 percent to 72 percent.

The percentage of Republicans who say they are moderates fell from 31 percent to 23 percent.

Relatively few Republicans say they are liberal — just 4 percent in 2011. Republicans’ ideology largely held at the 2010 levels in 2011.

 

As for Democrats, as recently as 2002, the solid plurality of Democrats were “moderate,” while smaller, but nearly equal, percentages called themselves “liberal” and “conservative.” From 2003 through 2007, however, the liberal share of the party grew to 38 percent, while the “moderate” and “conservative” percentages each diminished somewhat. As a result, from 2007 through 2011, the party has consisted of equal percentages of moderates and liberals, at about 38 percent to 40 percent, while about 20 percent have called themselves conservative. (The current figures are 39 percent liberal, 38 percent moderate, and 20 percent conservative.)

As for independents, who make up the largest political group in the country, they have been steadier ideologically than either major party group during the last decade. However, since 2008, the proportion describing themselves as moderate has declined slightly, from 46 percent to 41 percent, and the proportion who are conservative has increased slightly, from 30 percent to 35 percent.

Currently, the largest segment of independents (41 percent) describe their views as moderate, while significantly more identify as conservative than as liberal (35 percent vs. 20 percent).

The bottom line for Gallup? “In recent years, conservatives have become the single largest [ideological] group, consistently outnumbering moderates since 2009 and outnumbering liberals by 2-to-1.”

All of which underscores the fact that conservatism, during the age of Obama, remains the dominant ideology in America.

It turns out there’s nothing like a liberal president to help the standing of conservatism.

 

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CNN: Bain Video Inaccurate

Like most anything that has to do with Newt Gingrich, the 28-minute long hit video on Bain Capital is wildly over-the-top: ominous music, shadowy b-roll of cigar smokers counting piles of hundred-dollar bills. It’s unvarnished propaganda, but the question is, will it be effective propaganda?

Depending on how it’s used, and how well it’s countered by the Romney campaign, it could be. But many of the facts in the movie are already being challenged. At CNN Money, Dan Primack points out that the film is riddled with timeline inaccuracies and verifiably false claims. The movie focuses on four companies that Bain Capital allegedly plundered and wiped out, destroying thousands of lives in the process. But according to Primack, three of these companies – UniMac, KB Toys and DDI Corp – laid off employees and shut down well after Romney left Bain Capital in 1999. Two of those companies, UniMac and DDI Corp., weren’t even owned by Bain at the time of the layoffs.

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Like most anything that has to do with Newt Gingrich, the 28-minute long hit video on Bain Capital is wildly over-the-top: ominous music, shadowy b-roll of cigar smokers counting piles of hundred-dollar bills. It’s unvarnished propaganda, but the question is, will it be effective propaganda?

Depending on how it’s used, and how well it’s countered by the Romney campaign, it could be. But many of the facts in the movie are already being challenged. At CNN Money, Dan Primack points out that the film is riddled with timeline inaccuracies and verifiably false claims. The movie focuses on four companies that Bain Capital allegedly plundered and wiped out, destroying thousands of lives in the process. But according to Primack, three of these companies – UniMac, KB Toys and DDI Corp – laid off employees and shut down well after Romney left Bain Capital in 1999. Two of those companies, UniMac and DDI Corp., weren’t even owned by Bain at the time of the layoffs.

Primack concludes:

To be clear, none of this is to suggest that Romney and Bain didn’t make some very real mistakes, or that they shouldn’t be criticized for situations in which they profited from financial engineering rather than from company growth. But the Winning Our Future PAC goes beyond that, intentionally obscuring the record in a way that makes such honest discussions more difficult. And for that, Winning Our Future deserves some scorn of its own.

Once the inaccuracies really start coming to light, there’s going to be a lot of pressure for the pro-Gingrich Super PAC to stop running the ad. In fact, there apparently already is a lot of uneasiness with the film behind the scenes at the Gingrich campaign. Stephen Moore reports: 

I’m hearing from Gingrich insiders that several top campaign brass want the former speaker of the House to withdraw the 28-minute ad — which has been universally panned by conservative leaders in recent days. Even Mr. Gingrich himself is said to be having reservations. But other senior advisors of the Gingrich Super PAC, Winning Our Future, want to continue full speed ahead. They dismiss complaints that the ad should be withdrawn and say doing so would only help the Romney campaign….

While Gingrich’s campaign may be backing away from the attacks, the Super PAC is pushing right along. Politico reports he Super PAC is set to run shortened versions of the film in 30- and 60-second ads, and based on the amount of airtime it’s bought, the commercials should be “all over the South Carolina airwaves.”

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What Does it Mean to be Pro-Israel?

Moment magazine’s latest issue has an interesting symposium on what it means to be pro-Israel today. Though some of the choices are bizarre (the contributors include two Palestinians, one of whom formerly advised the Palestinian Authority, and John Mearsheimer, author of the notorious “Jews-control-Washington” screed The Israel Lobby), other pieces are illuminating.

I found Hillel Halkin’s definition particularly helpful. But I’d like to add one thing to his list. Clearly, it’s okay to criticize any particular Israeli policy; Israelis do it all the time. But those with influence in the Jewish community, like rabbis or officials of Jewish organizations, also have an obligation to try to understand – and explain to his community – why Israelis might view the issue differently.

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Moment magazine’s latest issue has an interesting symposium on what it means to be pro-Israel today. Though some of the choices are bizarre (the contributors include two Palestinians, one of whom formerly advised the Palestinian Authority, and John Mearsheimer, author of the notorious “Jews-control-Washington” screed The Israel Lobby), other pieces are illuminating.

I found Hillel Halkin’s definition particularly helpful. But I’d like to add one thing to his list. Clearly, it’s okay to criticize any particular Israeli policy; Israelis do it all the time. But those with influence in the Jewish community, like rabbis or officials of Jewish organizations, also have an obligation to try to understand – and explain to his community – why Israelis might view the issue differently.

For instance, it’s perfectly acceptable to argue that Israel should withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines, or unilaterally evacuate West Bank settlements; I disagree with both positions, but they don’t make you anti-Israel. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Israel’s government also disagrees, as do most Israelis. So a pro-Israel leader can’t just say “this is what Israel must to do to bring peace” and stop there, leaving his audience to conclude that since Israel’s government thinks otherwise, it must be anti-peace. He must also explain to a community that quite genuinely might not know why Israelis are reluctant to take such steps –like the fact that every previous withdrawal has produced a surge in anti-Israel terror, or the fact that Palestinians’ insistence on a “right of return” and refusal to recognize a Jewish state leads Israelis to fear they still haven’t given up their dream of destroying Israel. He thereby shows that while Israelis, in his view, are misguided, they are not anti-peace. And that is critical – because an Israel that’s “anti-peace” is evil; an Israel that’s merely misguided is not.

This rule is even more vital in light of the current assault on Israeli policies that critics portray as “anti-democratic,” because to most American Jews, Israel’s democratic character is even more important than its positions on the peace process. Again, there’s nothing wrong with opposing any or all of the recent controversial legislation. But a pro-Israel leader cannot just assert that, say, proposed changes to the judicial appointments system are “undemocratic”;  she must also explain why many Israelis consider such changes essential: the fact that Israel is virtually the only democracy in the world where Supreme Court justices are chosen by unelected legal officials rather than the public’s elected representatives, or where sitting Supreme Court justices not only help choose their own successors, but actually have veto power over them; the fact that Israel therefore has one of the most monolithic courts in the democratic world; and the fact that it also has one of the world’s most activist courts, making the justices’ worldviews of paramount importance. She thereby tells her audience that even if a particular bill is flawed, Israelis aren’t “anti-democratic”; they are grappling with a genuine democratic concern.

The necessary information generally isn’t difficult to obtain; Israel now has several English-language news sites, including The Jerusalem Post, Israel Hayom and Ynet, that can usually be counted on to run multiple articles arguing both sides of any controversial issue (the main exception is Haaretz, where opposing views are few and far between). So all that’s needed is a bit of time and effort.

If a Jewish leader isn’t willing to invest that time and effort – if he would rather just slam Israeli policies as “anti-peace” or “anti-democratic” – then far from being pro-Israel, he is one of its worst enemies. For he is exploiting his own credentials as a Jew and self-proclaimed “lover of Zion” to convince others to hate the Jewish state.

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Why the Tea Party Can’t Pick a Candidate

Liberal myths die hard, but if there is one thing the 2012 Republican presidential race has achieved it is to undermine the misperceptions that many on the left have had about the force they’ve called a menace to American democracy: the Tea Party movement. Liberal attacks on the Tea Party have been a staple of American political discourse for the last two years and persist to this day. An example is the slur uttered by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee who revived the canard that Tea Partiers were somehow responsible for the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords a year ago. For many liberals who understood little about the people or the ideas that drove this phenomenon, it was a sinister force that was a catch-all repository for everything about American society they hated including racism and violence, even if they had nothing to do with the political activism that helped turn the 2010 elections into a debacle for the Democrats. In particular, they’ve attempted to pretend that rather than being a genuine grass roots movement, it was merely a top-down conspiracy fomented and funded by the Koch brothers.

But the failure of the movement to unite around a single conservative candidate and the way its members have been unable to act in concert on the 2012 race illustrates a diversity that people who had actually followed its activities — as opposed to the liberal fearmongers — always understood. Having bubbled up from the grass roots of American politics, the movement was always far more about some basic ideas: the size of government and its out-of-control spending and taxing and not accepting the status quo rather the specific agendas of any one politician or faction. It was bigger than that and some of that comes across in a New York Times Magazine feature by Matt Bai.

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Liberal myths die hard, but if there is one thing the 2012 Republican presidential race has achieved it is to undermine the misperceptions that many on the left have had about the force they’ve called a menace to American democracy: the Tea Party movement. Liberal attacks on the Tea Party have been a staple of American political discourse for the last two years and persist to this day. An example is the slur uttered by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee who revived the canard that Tea Partiers were somehow responsible for the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords a year ago. For many liberals who understood little about the people or the ideas that drove this phenomenon, it was a sinister force that was a catch-all repository for everything about American society they hated including racism and violence, even if they had nothing to do with the political activism that helped turn the 2010 elections into a debacle for the Democrats. In particular, they’ve attempted to pretend that rather than being a genuine grass roots movement, it was merely a top-down conspiracy fomented and funded by the Koch brothers.

But the failure of the movement to unite around a single conservative candidate and the way its members have been unable to act in concert on the 2012 race illustrates a diversity that people who had actually followed its activities — as opposed to the liberal fearmongers — always understood. Having bubbled up from the grass roots of American politics, the movement was always far more about some basic ideas: the size of government and its out-of-control spending and taxing and not accepting the status quo rather the specific agendas of any one politician or faction. It was bigger than that and some of that comes across in a New York Times Magazine feature by Matt Bai.

Bai’s article, which will be published on Sunday but is already available on the paper’s website, has a bit of a National Geographic feel to it as it takes its largely liberal readership on a triptych through backwoods South Carolina to meet Republican primary voters. Bai details the factional squabbles and the way people who identify with the Tea Party have splintered by supporting the different GOP candidates. Though many in the movement speak as if their priority is to stop Mitt Romney, the state’s Tea Party governor is backing the frontrunner.

What Bai discovered is that the movement was largely driven by people who are newcomers to politics and seek to build a community for their families. They are, he says, allergic to political pragmatism, which rendered them unable to compromise and settle on one candidate. These attributes were fatal to the politicians who sought to build a candidacy on their support such as Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry. And it’s a potential problem for Mitt Romney, the man who appears to be the inevitable GOP nominee, because selling the Tea Partiers on the common sense calculation that he is electable and thus better than four more years of Barack Obama is, as Bai writes, like trying to “sell an Escalade to Greenpeace.”

It may encourage many readers of the Times to believe the Tea Party fervor that drove the GOP victory in 2010 may not be as much of a factor this year, and they may be right about that. But it should also teach them that the myths they embraced about the movement during the last two years were false.

There was nothing sinister about the Tea Party. Rather than an attack on democracy, it was its embodiment. Its inability to unite around a single Republican candidate proves its focus was on ideas, not the ambitions of a party or its backers. The idea that it was a top-down group that took its orders from the Koch brothers or Karl Rove or some other liberal bête noire was a way for Democrats to avoid thinking about taxpayer anger. Though it may not determine the outcome of the GOP primaries, it remains a potent force in American politics. If Barack Obama and the Democrats believe they can safely ignore it, they will soon find out that the frustration with the stimulus, the bailouts and Obamacare that made it the top political story of 2010 will come back to bite them.

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