Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 19, 2012

Gingrich Bashes Media, Then Gets Whipped By Santorum

The last debate before the crucial South Carolina primary started off with a bang when CNN host John King asked Newt Gingrich about his second wife’s charge that he asked for an “open marriage.” The former speaker responded with a tirade against the media that earned wild applause from the audience in Charleston and may well have been the most significant sound bite from the evening. But the rest of the night didn’t go quite as well as for Gingrich, who entered the evening leading in some of the latest polls in the state.

The reason for that was this turned out to be Rick Santorum’s strongest performance in any of the debates. The former Pennsylvania senator scored points all night at the expense of both Gingrich and Mitt Romney, who spent much of the night on the defensive. That’s problematic for Romney, who might be able to salt away the nomination with a win on Saturday night. But the question for Republicans is whether Santorum’s pounding of the two men ahead of him in the polls will take away enough votes from Gingrich to let Romney squeak out a win in the state. Even more importantly, they will be left wondering whether Gingrich will be able to get away with dismissing his ex-wife’s comments as “trash” if a win in South Carolina enables him to effectively challenge Romney for the nomination.

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The last debate before the crucial South Carolina primary started off with a bang when CNN host John King asked Newt Gingrich about his second wife’s charge that he asked for an “open marriage.” The former speaker responded with a tirade against the media that earned wild applause from the audience in Charleston and may well have been the most significant sound bite from the evening. But the rest of the night didn’t go quite as well as for Gingrich, who entered the evening leading in some of the latest polls in the state.

The reason for that was this turned out to be Rick Santorum’s strongest performance in any of the debates. The former Pennsylvania senator scored points all night at the expense of both Gingrich and Mitt Romney, who spent much of the night on the defensive. That’s problematic for Romney, who might be able to salt away the nomination with a win on Saturday night. But the question for Republicans is whether Santorum’s pounding of the two men ahead of him in the polls will take away enough votes from Gingrich to let Romney squeak out a win in the state. Even more importantly, they will be left wondering whether Gingrich will be able to get away with dismissing his ex-wife’s comments as “trash” if a win in South Carolina enables him to effectively challenge Romney for the nomination.

Gingrich’s response to questions about his personal past was a classic case of misdirection in which he castigated the media for reporting the accusations and then, almost in passing, denied that Marianne Gingrich was telling the truth. He claimed his friends could disprove what she said, but because the conversation she has mentioned was private, it’s difficult to see how that could be true. But because Republican resentment of the media always runs white-hot and it can, in truth, be argued the timing of the broadcast of the interview was prejudicial, it’s unlikely it will cost him the primary. Though the indignant manner in which Gingrich sought to deflect the question worked well in the hall, it could come back to haunt the GOP if the former speaker prevails in the Republican contest. If Gingrich thinks he can put a revelation like this in the past by merely yelling at a questioner, he’s mistaken.

That exchange may well dominate coverage of the debate, but the rest of the evening could be said to belong to Santorum. Even though he was officially informed today that he won Iowa after all, Santorum knows his campaign is on life support if he finishes a distant third or even fourth in South Carolina. So he came out swinging at both Romney and Gingrich, flaying them on health care and immigration. He launched an especially devastating attack on Gingrich’s leadership qualities and character in which he lampooned his “grandiosity” and unreliability, not to mention his chutzpah in asking Santorum to withdraw after being bested by him in the first two states to hold primaries.

Characteristically, Gingrich responded by validating the charge by taking credit for the Reagan presidency, the defeat of the Soviet Union, the 1994 GOP congressional victory and anything else he could think of.  The exchange revealed Gingrich’s boundless vanity and utter lack of self-awareness and even allowed Romney one of his few good moments of the evening in which he ridiculed Gingrich’s willingness to take credit for things for which he had little responsibility.

As for Romney, though he had his moments, especially when fending off ill-advised Gingrich attacks from the left on his business career, it was another off night. He took a beating on the question of releasing his tax returns and even was heckled by the crowd at one point. He’s right that it’s a marginal issue that plays to Democratic prejudices, but he’s foolish to not just release the returns and get it over with, especially since no one suspects he has anything to hide.

The evening was also distinctive from previous debates as Ron Paul went the entire two hours without a rant about the Federal Reserve or rationalizing America’s enemies abroad. He even scored a rare point at Santorum’s expense when he pointed out the folly of opposing global trade.

If the evening was to be judged on the basis of whether Romney got the initiative back from Gingrich, it had to be judged a failure for the former Massachusetts governor. He has to hope Santorum’s good showing results in a loss of momentum for Gingrich. Though Gingrich ought to see the debate as a very mixed bag for him, he is clearly counting on the backlash against the media’s interest in his personal life to enable him to continue to avoid answering the tough questions about his behavior while he makes more “grandiose” statements about beating Obama in future debates.

As for Santorum, though he did well, he also sounded at times as if he knew the end was near, especially when he expressed gratitude for making the “final four” of the contest. The valedictory note may have been premature, but unless Santorum comes from out of nowhere on Saturday, there’s a real possibility the field may soon be winnowed down to a final three.

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Live Blog: The GOP Debate

The debate ends. Winners and losers? Santorum wins on points. Gingrich’s anti-media tantrum is the highlight. Romney has a mixed night. Paul irrelevant as always.

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Newt says vote for me because I can beat Obama in debates. Gingrich mentions Saul Alinsky in bashing Obama. Romney says Obama is creating an entitlement society. Santorum says he will provide the clearest contrast with Obama.

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Audience demands and gets a Ron Paul response on abortion. He says change the culture as well as the laws. Santorum then says Paul has only a 50% rating on right to life issues. Says it’s no better than Harry Reid’s.

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Gingrich attacks Romney on abortion. Mentions Planned Parenthood twice in the same sentence. Romney says courts imposed abortion payments. Says charge about appointing pro-abortion judges misunderstands the issue. Says nobody (that means you Gingrich) should be questioning his integrity. Santorum says he’s the only one who makes the issue a priority. No argument there. Then hammers Gingrich for pushing social issues to the back of the bus.

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Paul’s comments about moving the army from Afghanistan to the border is the first mention of foreign policy so far tonight.

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Question about illegal immigration “amnesty.” Gingrich talking his way out of his own amnesty proposal. Romney says issue isn’t hard. Build a fence and enforce the law. Implies Gingrich plan is amnesty. Santorum says Romney has waffled and Gingrich is in the same position as Obama. Another strong attack from him.

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The debate ends. Winners and losers? Santorum wins on points. Gingrich’s anti-media tantrum is the highlight. Romney has a mixed night. Paul irrelevant as always.

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Newt says vote for me because I can beat Obama in debates. Gingrich mentions Saul Alinsky in bashing Obama. Romney says Obama is creating an entitlement society. Santorum says he will provide the clearest contrast with Obama.

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Audience demands and gets a Ron Paul response on abortion. He says change the culture as well as the laws. Santorum then says Paul has only a 50% rating on right to life issues. Says it’s no better than Harry Reid’s.

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Gingrich attacks Romney on abortion. Mentions Planned Parenthood twice in the same sentence. Romney says courts imposed abortion payments. Says charge about appointing pro-abortion judges misunderstands the issue. Says nobody (that means you Gingrich) should be questioning his integrity. Santorum says he’s the only one who makes the issue a priority. No argument there. Then hammers Gingrich for pushing social issues to the back of the bus.

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Paul’s comments about moving the army from Afghanistan to the border is the first mention of foreign policy so far tonight.

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Question about illegal immigration “amnesty.” Gingrich talking his way out of his own amnesty proposal. Romney says issue isn’t hard. Build a fence and enforce the law. Implies Gingrich plan is amnesty. Santorum says Romney has waffled and Gingrich is in the same position as Obama. Another strong attack from him.

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John King’s question about what candidates would do differently during the campaign is irrelevant and pointless. Gingrich responds about himself. Romney talks about Obama. Santorum says he wouldn’t change a thing He’s just grateful to make the “final four.”

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Newt is the first to respond to SOPA issue. Humorous reference to the fact that only left-wing Hollywood is for it. Says he’s for freedom. Right response. Romney agrees. Paul also agrees. Santorum says he doesn’t like the law but emphasizes effort to combat theft of intellectual property. Not comfortable with Internet free-for-all.

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Santorum grandstands on boosting manufacturing. Paul responds by pointing out that global trade works for everyone. Good, rational moment for a candidate who is often irrational.

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Romney heckled about how many years of tax returns he will release. Says he will release all the years of returns together. Says he’s earned his own money and can talk about a free economy in a way no other Republican can.

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Romney says tax return issue is just Democrats trying to attack people who are successful.

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Paul says he doesn’t need to release his tax returns because he’d be embarrassed to compare his income to the others.

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Romney nails Gingrich on the idea that Washington helped his business. His best moment in the debate.

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Romney, who enjoyed every minute of that exchange, now responds by saying this is why we need an outsider rather than a DC veteran. Romney says Newt deserves no credit for Reagan. Says he got one mention in Reagan’s diaries. Ouch.

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Santorum accuses Gingrich of “grandiosity.” Asks where Newt gets off asking him to get out. “These are not cogent thoughts.” Says he’s the steady, dependable conservative candidate. Newt responds by being proud of being grandiose: takes responsibility for Reagan and defeat of the Soviet Union. Santorum brings up Gingrich’s chaotic leadership and says his breaking open the House Post Office scandal had as much to do with 1994 as Gingrich’s plans.

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At the first break, the buzz is still about Gingrich counter-attacking the media for reporting his ex-wife’s charges. Secondary buzz: Santorum nails Romney and Gingrich on health care. Romney sounds okay but he has yet to score any points tonight.

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Paul expresses skepticism about repeal of Obamacare. Then says we were better off without Medicare or Medicaid. That’s libertarian ideology but not an issue that any major party can defend in November.

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Romney back to drawing distinction between his plan and Obamacare. It’s a strong argument but Santorum’s point about how Obama will attack Romney is right. Strong moment for Santorum. Helps him get back in the fight.

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Gingrich knows better than attack Romney but Santorum launches an all-out Romneycare. Makes it sound gruesome. Then turns on Gingrich with just as much venom.

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Romney is doing well denouncing Obamacare. Waiting for Gingrich or Santorum to talk about Romneycare. Gingrich passes.

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The debate turns to Obamacare. But John King wants Romney to talk about those who benefit from it.

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Newt rightly calls out Paul for not wanting preferences for veterans. The GI bill was crucial. And, oh yes, tax cuts.

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Unanimity about support for veterans. No controversy here.

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Ron Paul uses question about unemployed veterans to brag about military support.

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Santorum goes populist and says he’s for capitalism for working people but not “high finance.”

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Romney goes back to Bain. Says Republicans shouldn’t attack capitalism. Nothing wrong with profit.

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Romney ignores Gingrich attack for the moment and attacks Obama’s crony capitalism. Still focused on general election.

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Newt goes on the offensive against Bain Capital again. This is a less profitable avenue of attack for him.

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Still thinking about whether Gingrich will get away with diverting attention from his wife’s charges to media bias. Probably in the short run for a GOP audience.

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Santorum carefully parses his reaction to Gingrich’s life. Romney says let’s move on. No need for them to say anything.

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Newt claims his friends can prove Marianne’s accusation is false. How could they since they weren’t there when he supposedly asked her the question.

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Newt calls his ex-wife’s interview “trash” and lectures the moderator. We’d still like to know the answer to the question.

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Newt responds to pointed question about his “open marriage” demand to Marianne by attacking the moderator and the media.

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Santorum and especially Romney make prominent mention of their families in their intros. Newt on the spot.

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Why are the rules mandating shorter responses than on Monday with one less candidate?

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Only four men on the stage. A reminder that there were seven candidates only a couple of weeks ago.

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Speculation about where Rick Perry supporters are going isn’t insignificant. If the majority of his five percent goes to Gingrich, that could be the difference.

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We’re waiting for the debate to start watching CNN. The vulnerabilities of the two leading candidates are clear: Romney has to stay away from a discussion of his personal finances. Gingrich has to stay away from a discussion of his personal life.

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Live Blogging the GOP Debate

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the latest Republican presidential debate from South Carolina. So tune in to CNN at 8 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the remaining four GOP contenders have at it once again.

Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the latest Republican presidential debate from South Carolina. So tune in to CNN at 8 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the remaining four GOP contenders have at it once again.

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Infidelity and Double Standards

The revelation by Newt Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne, that he wanted an “open marriage” has once again forced voters to consider to what degree, if any at all, a politician’s private conduct should factor into whom they vote for. My own view, which I’ve written about several times, is that one’s personal character matters — but how much it matters depends on facts and circumstances. (For more, see here:)

Critics of Newt Gingrich will say this information merely confirms their pre-existing concerns about Gingrich — that he’s a man who is self-indulgent, terribly undisciplined, and capable of unusual personal cruelty. Supporters of Gingrich will argue that while his conduct doesn’t reflect well on the former speaker, it happened more than a decade ago and, on top of all that, he’s a changed, and better, man. Gingrich himself is using his daughters to make his case, informing us they have sent a letter to the president of ABC News saying, “from a family perspective, they think this is totally wrong.” And while Gingrich himself insists he won’t say anything negative about his former wife, his aides are referring to her as “bitter.”

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The revelation by Newt Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne, that he wanted an “open marriage” has once again forced voters to consider to what degree, if any at all, a politician’s private conduct should factor into whom they vote for. My own view, which I’ve written about several times, is that one’s personal character matters — but how much it matters depends on facts and circumstances. (For more, see here:)

Critics of Newt Gingrich will say this information merely confirms their pre-existing concerns about Gingrich — that he’s a man who is self-indulgent, terribly undisciplined, and capable of unusual personal cruelty. Supporters of Gingrich will argue that while his conduct doesn’t reflect well on the former speaker, it happened more than a decade ago and, on top of all that, he’s a changed, and better, man. Gingrich himself is using his daughters to make his case, informing us they have sent a letter to the president of ABC News saying, “from a family perspective, they think this is totally wrong.” And while Gingrich himself insists he won’t say anything negative about his former wife, his aides are referring to her as “bitter.”

For now, I’ll set aside my views on the relevance of these newest revelations in order to make a separate point.

When it came to Bill Clinton, those on the left insisted adultery was irrelevant when it came to political figures. Infidelity is a victimless behavior, understandable in many circumstances, and we needed to “compartmentalize” the private actions of a politician from their public duties. We needed to be more like Europe — sophisticated, tolerant, and non-judgmental. Grace and forgiveness were the virtues of the day. Those who criticized Clinton for his “indiscretions” were moralistic, judgmental, and sex-obsessed.

For many on the right, it was very much the opposite. When Bill Clinton was president, private character mattered. It was said those in political power should be individuals of good character. A person who is willing to cheat on his spouse and break his marital vows is highly unreliable. Betrayal is a garment without seams. George Washington, a man of impressive personal virtues, was cited as a model. The danger was bestowing “cheap grace” on those who didn’t merit it.

I understand as much as the next person the difficulty in offering detached judgments about those with whom we agree politically and philosophically versus those with whom we disagree. But often there doesn’t seem to be the slightest inclination to check the impulse of the double standard. Some conservatives who found Bill Clinton’s personal behavior repellent, and very nearly disqualifying, have suddenly developed a good deal more understanding for the wandering eye of a powerful politician (there are some impressive exceptions, including William Bennett). The fact that a self-proclaimed “Reagan conservative” wanted an open marriage while he was speaker of the House is considered old and irrelevant news. In fact, the true victim in all this is Newt Gingrich. And those who were furious about the assault that was leveled against women who claimed they had affairs with Bill Clinton now seem to have a fair amount of tolerance when it comes to dismissing Marianne Gingrich as the “bitter” and “angry” ex-wife.

Hypocrisy is a vice as old as mankind. We all view the world through tinted lenses. And all of us are naturally inclined to cut more slack to those on our side of the aisle than those on the other side. What matters, I suppose, is the degree to which those in the political class place intellectual and moral honesty above partisan and philosophical affiliations. Those who can are impressive. They’re also rare.

 

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Debate Preview: Should Romney Change Tactics?

Debates have been the device that enabled Newt Gingrich to salvage his candidacy during the fall and then to revive it again earlier this week after a strong performance put him back into contention in South Carolina. But with most of the recent polls now showing Gingrich having vaulted into the lead in that state, the pressure is on Mitt Romney to do something in tonight’s debate that will reverse the momentum the former speaker of the House has created in the last few days.

Unlike his GOP rivals who have concentrated their fire on his record, Romney has focused most of his remarks in the debates on Barack Obama; the man he assumes will be his opponent in November. But with his South Carolina lead having evaporated and all eyes on the rhetorical dustup in Charleston to be broadcast on CNN tonight, Romney will be tempted to go on the offensive against Gingrich and echo some of the attacks his super PACs have used against the former speaker. However, that would be a mistake.

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Debates have been the device that enabled Newt Gingrich to salvage his candidacy during the fall and then to revive it again earlier this week after a strong performance put him back into contention in South Carolina. But with most of the recent polls now showing Gingrich having vaulted into the lead in that state, the pressure is on Mitt Romney to do something in tonight’s debate that will reverse the momentum the former speaker of the House has created in the last few days.

Unlike his GOP rivals who have concentrated their fire on his record, Romney has focused most of his remarks in the debates on Barack Obama; the man he assumes will be his opponent in November. But with his South Carolina lead having evaporated and all eyes on the rhetorical dustup in Charleston to be broadcast on CNN tonight, Romney will be tempted to go on the offensive against Gingrich and echo some of the attacks his super PACs have used against the former speaker. However, that would be a mistake.

The accumulated effect of negative advertising and the consolidation of the conservative vote behind Gingrich as Rick Santorum faltered and Rick Perry dropped out appear to have completely erased the lead Romney had amassed in the Palmetto state. That will increase the sense of urgency tonight for Romney as he needs to both avoid falling further behind and to somehow dent Gingrich’s armor. Yet a change of style would be disastrous for the former Massachusetts governor. If he acts in such a way as to lead viewers to sense he no longer believes he has the nomination in the bag, it would be the worst possible outcome for Romney.

While Romney has on the whole done a creditable job in the debates, it may be asking too much to expect him to halt what appears to be a Gingrich surge to victory in South Carolina. Although it seemed likely he could wrap up the nomination with a victory there, Romney need not despair even if Gingrich wins. Though Gingrich can expect a boost from such an outcome, Romney is unlikely to lose the huge lead he has established in Florida, the next state to hold a primary. Just as the other candidates have maintained it will be a long battle, he has to remember he still has a big advantage in most of the states that have yet to hold elections. Romney has to keep his cool and maintain the demeanor of the man who is still the most likely to be accepting the GOP nomination in Tampa later this year.

With Rick Perry no longer on the stage, the four left standing on the debate stage will have even more opportunities to have at each other. Rather than Romney going on the attack, it will be Rick Santorum (whose hopes have taken the biggest hit this week despite the belated announcement of his victory in Iowa), who will have the greatest incentive to lash out at the others. But instead of honing in on Romney’s liabilities, the former Pennsylvania senator will probably talk more about Gingrich’s problems. And no one should be surprised if Santorum, who had hoped to ride evangelical support to victory in South Carolina, doesn’t stay away from Gingrich’s personal problems, which will be highlighted later in the evening when Marianne Gingrich, the speaker’s second wife, appears on “Nightline” to skewer her former husband.

If nothing else, these circumstances should make for good television in the latest episode of what has become America’s favorite political reality show.

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The Power of Ideas–”Israel Lobby” Edition

There is no use denying any longer the cognitive defeat the anti-anti-Semites have suffered in the past decade. In an article published yesterday by Tablet on the successes of the Walt and Mearsheimer thesis, Adam Kirsch has the chops and the will to tell it like it is.

He writes:

In this sense, Walt and Mearsheimer offer a case study in the old truth that ideas have consequences. Language is the most intangible of things, yet the language we use determines the boundaries of the thinkable and, ultimately, the shape of the world we live in. Now we live in a world where it is possible to say in leading publications, without fear of censure, that Jews buy and pay for the U.S. Congress and American troops are sent to die in Israel’s wars. For that, Walt and Mearsheimer deserve their fair share of credit.

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There is no use denying any longer the cognitive defeat the anti-anti-Semites have suffered in the past decade. In an article published yesterday by Tablet on the successes of the Walt and Mearsheimer thesis, Adam Kirsch has the chops and the will to tell it like it is.

He writes:

In this sense, Walt and Mearsheimer offer a case study in the old truth that ideas have consequences. Language is the most intangible of things, yet the language we use determines the boundaries of the thinkable and, ultimately, the shape of the world we live in. Now we live in a world where it is possible to say in leading publications, without fear of censure, that Jews buy and pay for the U.S. Congress and American troops are sent to die in Israel’s wars. For that, Walt and Mearsheimer deserve their fair share of credit.

Kirsch summarizes well both the roundly negative – and often mocking – treatment the duo received from nearly any publication of note (including even the far-left Nation) and how little any of it did to prevent their central thesis about Jewish manipulation of American politics from standing. We must now accept this reality and ask ourselves the perhaps more difficult question of why.

A seemingly unrelated article on the spate of anti-Jewish vandalism in New Jersey’s Bergen County in the JTA, also published this week, may point to an answer. Etzion Neuer, a former colleague of mine and the ADL’s regional director for New Jersey, is quoted saying, “There was a profound sense of unease this past Shabbat in Bergen County.” Living in Bergen County myself and serving on my shul’s security committee, I have seen much the same thing.

Now, it’s true that recent events in Bergen County took an unsettling turn with the firebombing of a shul. Outside of that we have seen aggressive and Jew-hating vandalism, but vandalism alone all the same. Yet this story receives not only roundly condemnatory coverage in publications wherever one might hope it to but also sudden and serious concern from every Jewish organization and institution one can think of along with widespread agreement on the seriousness of the issue and a willingness to pitch in for robust efforts against it.

Jew-hating vandalism is indeed unpleasant, and so too are the consistently high incidents of hate-crimes against Jews compiled each year by the FBI. They are things easy to get one’s head around and to condemn.

But all of this concern serves ultimately to obscure the real problem of Jew-hatred in the West, which is being led by the invidious growing acceptability of anti-Jewish ideas described so well by Kirsch. The “remarkable unanimity of rejection” The Israel Lobby received from all the best publications was a false comfort because it ultimately did so little to check the popularity of the book’s thesis. And rather than serving as a rallying cry for the Jews at least and (one might hope) the larger population beyond that, the book’s ideas were kashered – often by Jews themselves – as an acceptable, if perhaps fringey, point of debate. Far from a round chorus of on the ground condemnation, many were the voices who said and say the book and its thesis do not matter.

It all adds up to a profound failure of imagination and respect for the power of ideas – bad ones, especially – by Jews themselves, who should but strangely do not know better. Theodor Herzl wrote long ago in his own slight earth-shattering work that “only an idea” had the power to move a people. So too was it the idea of Judaism that kept the Jewish people living through its great period of exile.

And now only recognition of the truly dangerous anti-Jewish ideas we face and a respect for their power by enough people willing to do something about it has a chance of changing things.

 

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Review: Fiction, Fiction, Burning Bright

Ben Marcus, The Flame Alphabet (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012). 304 pp. $25.95.

According to the Jews, the world begins with speech. God says, “There is light,” and so there is light. But what if something happened — it doesn’t really matter what — and speech turned lethal?

That’s the premise of The Flame Alphabet, the third novel by Ben Marcus, a creative writing professor at Columbia University and son of the feminist critic Jane Marcus. Sometime in an unspecified future, somewhere in a featureless Midwest, the speech of children begins to sicken their parents. “We feasted on the putrid material because our daughter made it,” explains Samuel, the book’s narrator. “We gorged on it and inside us it steamed, rotted, turned rank.” As the contagion spreads so does the public anxiety. The speech of Jewish children is the first to turn bad, raising official fears of mass anti-Semitic hysteria. It seems, after all, to be a “chosen affliction.” Whoever is in charge resorts to high-sounding vagueness:

From our portable radio came word that studies had returned, pinpointing children as the culprit. The word carrier was used. The word Jew was not. The discussion was wrapped in the vocabulary of viral infection. There was no reason for alarm because this crisis appeared to be genetic in nature, a problem only for certain people, whoever they were.

Before long, though, it becomes clear that all children — not merely Jewish children — are causing adults to fall sick by speech and writing. As an authority theorizes, “Language happens to be a toxin we are very good at producing, but not so good at absorbing.” People begin to die.

The novel’s opening chapters trace the search for an official diagnosis while the disease spreads, the symptoms worsen. The first half of the book ends with children being quarantined, and parents being forced — by a nameless faceless government without apparent ideology — to abandon their children. Samuel and his wife Claire prepare to leave their daughter Esther behind, but at the last minute Claire leaps from the car and is swallowed up by the government health machinery.

In the second half of the book, Samuel goes on without them. Despite the absence of road signs — they have been smudged over to prevent contagion — he somehow arrives in Rochester (probably New York instead of Minnesota, though maybe not), where he goes to work for Forsyth, which seems to be some kind of quasi-governmental mega-corporate medical lab. There Samuel conducts research into alphabetical systems without reference or communication. He creates a disappearing Hebrew, invents a private alphabet, experiments with concealing portions of text to contain the infection. Nothing works:

If we hid the text too much, it could not be seen. If we revealed it so it could be seen, it burned out the mind. No matter what. To see writing was to suffer.

And by now it should be obvious that, although it has the outward appearance of a dystopian novel, The Flame Alphabet is a philosophical allegory about language and literature. A science fiction writer would have taken the trouble to devise a plausible explanation for “a world where speech was lethal.” Not Marcus, though. Heavily influenced by Wittgenstein, he is puzzled and fascinated by the concept of private language. If speech is communication, as popular opinion has it, then meaning is a communicable disease. But if it refers only to inner sensations and locked-in mental intentions, then speech is just weird and mystifying behavior.

The implications for literature might be less obvious. Marcus is well-known (at least to literary critics) as an “experimental” writer and an apostle of “experimental” writing. The term is one that he selected for himself, although even the most passionate advocate of “experimental” writing expressed doubts about it. Marcus unfurled it in a famous attack upon Jonathan Franzen, published as a cover story by Harper’s in 2005 (and available only to subscribers), in which he upheld the principle of “literature as an art form” against the author of The Corrections, who writes a “narrative style that was already embraced by the culture.” By literature as an art form, he means writing that is “more interested in forging complex bursts of meaning that are expressionistic rather than figurative.”

There, in short, is the same opposition between language as communication of diseased meaning (“already embraced by the culture”) and the weird and mystifying artistic text, which “creates in us desires we did not know we had.”

The trouble is that The Flame Alphabet does little more than play with its ideas, refusing to let go until all the air is squeezed out of them. Marcus is nothing at all like the Kafka described by André Gide, who examines a “fantastic universe” with “detailed exactitude.” What interests him about a world in which language is deadly are the speculative games that such a premise gives rise to. What becomes of parents’ attachment when their children are the carriers of a plague? What happens to human community when language can no longer knit it together? What might language be if not communication?

Even then, however, the speculative questions are little more than occasions for an outburst of style:

The Hebrew letter is like a form of nature. In it is the blueprint for some flower whose name I forget, and if this flower doesn’t exist yet, it will. It is said that the twenty-two Hebrew letters, if laid flat and joined properly, then submitted to the correct curves on a table stabbed with pins, would describe the cardiovascular plan of the human body. And not only that.

But a little of that goes a long way. There is a Jewish subplot in The Flame Alphabet (although plot is the wrong word for a novel that is not organized by narrative), but it doesn’t amount to much, because Marcus likes to contrive knowledge, to invent allusions and quotations, in order to frustrate the reader’s desperate search for clues in a mapped and recognizable world.

His title, for example, seems as if it might refer to the classical midrashic description of the Torah as having been written, even before creation, “with black fire on white fire.” (Abraham Isaac Kook’s interpretation of the image is here.) Marcus’s account is pure fabrication:

The flame alphabet was the word of God, written in fire, obliterating to behold. The so-called Torah. . . . We could not say God’s true name, nor could we, if we were devoted, speak of God at all. This was basic stuff. But it was the midrashic spin on the flame alphabet that was more exclusive, spoken of only, as far as I knew, by [the narrator’s rabbi, with whom he has contact only by means of a listening device like the radio]. Since the entire alphabet comprises God’s name, [Rabbi] Burke asserted, since it is written in every arrangement of letters, then all words reference God, do they not? That’s what words are. They are variations on his name. No matter the language. Whatever we say, we say God. . . . Therefore the language itself was, by definition, off-limits. Every single word of it. We were best to be done with it. Our time with it is nearly through. The logic was hard to deny. You could not do it.

These are, of course, Jewish references without any resemblance to the historical existence of a Jewish people to whom the Jewish God spoke words — the Ten Commandments are called, in Hebrew, the aseret hadevarim, the “ten words” — which they have repeated to one another for centuries.

But that is exactly Marcus’s point; or, rather, his literary “experiment.” If it were possible (as he proposes) to write fiction in a language that does not communicate a message — a language does not kill itself in being consumed — so too it might be possible to lead a Jewish life without God, community, traditional religious teaching, or a light carried to the nations. In such a vision of experience, the logic may be hard to deny or even follow, but the speculative enjoyment is endless. For readers who do not agree with Marcus that “our machine of understanding is inferior,” The Flame Alphabet may seem endless too.

Ben Marcus, The Flame Alphabet (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012). 304 pp. $25.95.

According to the Jews, the world begins with speech. God says, “There is light,” and so there is light. But what if something happened — it doesn’t really matter what — and speech turned lethal?

That’s the premise of The Flame Alphabet, the third novel by Ben Marcus, a creative writing professor at Columbia University and son of the feminist critic Jane Marcus. Sometime in an unspecified future, somewhere in a featureless Midwest, the speech of children begins to sicken their parents. “We feasted on the putrid material because our daughter made it,” explains Samuel, the book’s narrator. “We gorged on it and inside us it steamed, rotted, turned rank.” As the contagion spreads so does the public anxiety. The speech of Jewish children is the first to turn bad, raising official fears of mass anti-Semitic hysteria. It seems, after all, to be a “chosen affliction.” Whoever is in charge resorts to high-sounding vagueness:

From our portable radio came word that studies had returned, pinpointing children as the culprit. The word carrier was used. The word Jew was not. The discussion was wrapped in the vocabulary of viral infection. There was no reason for alarm because this crisis appeared to be genetic in nature, a problem only for certain people, whoever they were.

Before long, though, it becomes clear that all children — not merely Jewish children — are causing adults to fall sick by speech and writing. As an authority theorizes, “Language happens to be a toxin we are very good at producing, but not so good at absorbing.” People begin to die.

The novel’s opening chapters trace the search for an official diagnosis while the disease spreads, the symptoms worsen. The first half of the book ends with children being quarantined, and parents being forced — by a nameless faceless government without apparent ideology — to abandon their children. Samuel and his wife Claire prepare to leave their daughter Esther behind, but at the last minute Claire leaps from the car and is swallowed up by the government health machinery.

In the second half of the book, Samuel goes on without them. Despite the absence of road signs — they have been smudged over to prevent contagion — he somehow arrives in Rochester (probably New York instead of Minnesota, though maybe not), where he goes to work for Forsyth, which seems to be some kind of quasi-governmental mega-corporate medical lab. There Samuel conducts research into alphabetical systems without reference or communication. He creates a disappearing Hebrew, invents a private alphabet, experiments with concealing portions of text to contain the infection. Nothing works:

If we hid the text too much, it could not be seen. If we revealed it so it could be seen, it burned out the mind. No matter what. To see writing was to suffer.

And by now it should be obvious that, although it has the outward appearance of a dystopian novel, The Flame Alphabet is a philosophical allegory about language and literature. A science fiction writer would have taken the trouble to devise a plausible explanation for “a world where speech was lethal.” Not Marcus, though. Heavily influenced by Wittgenstein, he is puzzled and fascinated by the concept of private language. If speech is communication, as popular opinion has it, then meaning is a communicable disease. But if it refers only to inner sensations and locked-in mental intentions, then speech is just weird and mystifying behavior.

The implications for literature might be less obvious. Marcus is well-known (at least to literary critics) as an “experimental” writer and an apostle of “experimental” writing. The term is one that he selected for himself, although even the most passionate advocate of “experimental” writing expressed doubts about it. Marcus unfurled it in a famous attack upon Jonathan Franzen, published as a cover story by Harper’s in 2005 (and available only to subscribers), in which he upheld the principle of “literature as an art form” against the author of The Corrections, who writes a “narrative style that was already embraced by the culture.” By literature as an art form, he means writing that is “more interested in forging complex bursts of meaning that are expressionistic rather than figurative.”

There, in short, is the same opposition between language as communication of diseased meaning (“already embraced by the culture”) and the weird and mystifying artistic text, which “creates in us desires we did not know we had.”

The trouble is that The Flame Alphabet does little more than play with its ideas, refusing to let go until all the air is squeezed out of them. Marcus is nothing at all like the Kafka described by André Gide, who examines a “fantastic universe” with “detailed exactitude.” What interests him about a world in which language is deadly are the speculative games that such a premise gives rise to. What becomes of parents’ attachment when their children are the carriers of a plague? What happens to human community when language can no longer knit it together? What might language be if not communication?

Even then, however, the speculative questions are little more than occasions for an outburst of style:

The Hebrew letter is like a form of nature. In it is the blueprint for some flower whose name I forget, and if this flower doesn’t exist yet, it will. It is said that the twenty-two Hebrew letters, if laid flat and joined properly, then submitted to the correct curves on a table stabbed with pins, would describe the cardiovascular plan of the human body. And not only that.

But a little of that goes a long way. There is a Jewish subplot in The Flame Alphabet (although plot is the wrong word for a novel that is not organized by narrative), but it doesn’t amount to much, because Marcus likes to contrive knowledge, to invent allusions and quotations, in order to frustrate the reader’s desperate search for clues in a mapped and recognizable world.

His title, for example, seems as if it might refer to the classical midrashic description of the Torah as having been written, even before creation, “with black fire on white fire.” (Abraham Isaac Kook’s interpretation of the image is here.) Marcus’s account is pure fabrication:

The flame alphabet was the word of God, written in fire, obliterating to behold. The so-called Torah. . . . We could not say God’s true name, nor could we, if we were devoted, speak of God at all. This was basic stuff. But it was the midrashic spin on the flame alphabet that was more exclusive, spoken of only, as far as I knew, by [the narrator’s rabbi, with whom he has contact only by means of a listening device like the radio]. Since the entire alphabet comprises God’s name, [Rabbi] Burke asserted, since it is written in every arrangement of letters, then all words reference God, do they not? That’s what words are. They are variations on his name. No matter the language. Whatever we say, we say God. . . . Therefore the language itself was, by definition, off-limits. Every single word of it. We were best to be done with it. Our time with it is nearly through. The logic was hard to deny. You could not do it.

These are, of course, Jewish references without any resemblance to the historical existence of a Jewish people to whom the Jewish God spoke words — the Ten Commandments are called, in Hebrew, the aseret hadevarim, the “ten words” — which they have repeated to one another for centuries.

But that is exactly Marcus’s point; or, rather, his literary “experiment.” If it were possible (as he proposes) to write fiction in a language that does not communicate a message — a language does not kill itself in being consumed — so too it might be possible to lead a Jewish life without God, community, traditional religious teaching, or a light carried to the nations. In such a vision of experience, the logic may be hard to deny or even follow, but the speculative enjoyment is endless. For readers who do not agree with Marcus that “our machine of understanding is inferior,” The Flame Alphabet may seem endless too.

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Poll: Gingrich Surges in South Carolina

Today’s Rasmussen poll appears to confirms what other surveys have been showing the past day and a half. Newt Gingrich is surging in South Carolina, and now holds a small lead on Mitt Romney:

Gingrich……33%
Romney……31%
Paul…………15%
Santorum….11%
Perry…………2%
Other…………1%
Not Sure…….6%

With just two days until South Carolina voters head to the polls, those numbers could still shift significantly the next 48-hours. As Jonathan wrote earlier, Gingrich will almost certainly get a boost from Rick Perry’s exit and endorsement.

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Today’s Rasmussen poll appears to confirms what other surveys have been showing the past day and a half. Newt Gingrich is surging in South Carolina, and now holds a small lead on Mitt Romney:

Gingrich……33%
Romney……31%
Paul…………15%
Santorum….11%
Perry…………2%
Other…………1%
Not Sure…….6%

With just two days until South Carolina voters head to the polls, those numbers could still shift significantly the next 48-hours. As Jonathan wrote earlier, Gingrich will almost certainly get a boost from Rick Perry’s exit and endorsement.

The Marianne Gingrich interview airing on ABC tonight will also be a factor. Based on the clips ABC has teased out this morning, it could cause real problems for Newt as he and Santorum continue to face off for the evangelical conservatives vote. At the very least, the interview will shift Gingrich’s focus from playing offense against Romney and Santorum to playing defense against the comments from his ex-wife.

But there’s also the chance the interview could actually end up helping Gingrich. As Jonathan pointed out, the timing of its release, and the fact that his disgraceful behavior during his marriage to Marianne is considered “old news,” could raise charges of media bias from conservatives. If it looks like ABC is trying to influence the primary by airing the interview tonight, conservatives may end up rallying around Gingrich and dismissing his ex-wife’s claims.

This would be a mistake. The scandal with Gingrich is much more than just an affair. Voters should ask themselves what kind of person could treat his wife the way Gingrich did, and then go out and give public lectures on morality and family values without shame? This type of hypocrisy, the notion that there’s one set of rules for you and another for the rest of society, is the antithesis of what Americans have always sought from their politicians.

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Gingrich’s Dirty Laundry and Electability

I think it is a given that many if not most conservatives will react to the decision of ABC News to air an interview with Marianne Gingrich, the former speaker of the House’s second wife, with disgust. To them it will seem just another instance of media bias against a Republican as the personal details of Gingrich’s life is subjected to intense national scrutiny rarely given to a liberal or a Democrat. The answer for many will be to accept Gingrich’s somewhat vague apology for unspecified past misdoings and his repeated statement he has asked God for forgiveness. The implication of that avowal is if God has forgiven Newt, who are we to deny him personal redemption? The second Mrs. Gingrich’s intervention in the election is a reminder that the person he wronged is the one whose forgiveness he needed to obtain first.

Republicans may say this is old news and pales in importance to the imperative of nominating the best candidate to face Barak Obama. Yet Gingrich’s past character issues and unfortunate leadership style is very much bound up with the question of whether he can, as he claims, beat Barack Obama in November.

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I think it is a given that many if not most conservatives will react to the decision of ABC News to air an interview with Marianne Gingrich, the former speaker of the House’s second wife, with disgust. To them it will seem just another instance of media bias against a Republican as the personal details of Gingrich’s life is subjected to intense national scrutiny rarely given to a liberal or a Democrat. The answer for many will be to accept Gingrich’s somewhat vague apology for unspecified past misdoings and his repeated statement he has asked God for forgiveness. The implication of that avowal is if God has forgiven Newt, who are we to deny him personal redemption? The second Mrs. Gingrich’s intervention in the election is a reminder that the person he wronged is the one whose forgiveness he needed to obtain first.

Republicans may say this is old news and pales in importance to the imperative of nominating the best candidate to face Barak Obama. Yet Gingrich’s past character issues and unfortunate leadership style is very much bound up with the question of whether he can, as he claims, beat Barack Obama in November.

As Larry Thornberry writes in The American Spectator today, the willingness of the second Mrs. Gingrich to drag Newt’s dirty laundry out of the closet shows the importance of gossip in contemporary politics:

What candidates would survive if required to be vetted by their ex-wives? And how tricky of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum to not have one. Is this fair? Perhaps candidates without ex-wives, including those who cannot afford an ex-wife, should have one appointed at no cost, sort of like pubic defenders. This would help level the playing field in this instance.

In an age when broken marriages and families are the norm rather than the exception, perhaps most Americans won’t hold Gingrich’s past indiscretions against him and might not, as we have noted previously, be able to relate to the squeaky clean Romney. However, I wonder if the sticky part of the Marianne interview for the candidate is not merely the fact that she will rehash his infidelity with the woman who would become the third Mrs. Gingrich. It is, instead, the notion of his public hypocrisy that is the real problem.

The problem for Gingrich is that although the default position of most in the GOP will be to dismiss this story, it is also a given that the country is still entitled to base, at least in part, its judgment about presidential hopefuls on an evaluation of the candidate’s personal character. Because unlike the initial reactions to personal charges made against other politicians, it isn’t likely that very many will dispute the truth of the second Mrs. Gingrich’s accusations, the voters are going to have to decide whether these sordid revelations should be taken into account when electing a president.

Gingrich’s supporters are willing to overlook his problems because of their antipathy for Mitt Romney. They insist Romney cannot be elected because he can’t inspire conservatives. They also think his defeat is likely because he once backed a government health care plan (as did Gingrich) and because he is wealthy and will be subjected to demagogic class warfare attacks by Democrats. That is true, but do they believe Gingrich’s record won’t be used against him? Do they think Democrats will not highlight the fact that the former speaker led an impeachment effort against Bill Clinton that centered on his infidelity while conducting his own illicit affair or that he publicly preached about family values and morality while insisting he not be held to the same standard?

Whether or not such accusations can be considered fair, it is indisputable that they are a serious political liability. Along with his image as an inconsistent and poor leader, the sleaze factor this latest rehashing of Gingrich’s past conjures up undermines the blithe assurances about his electability that we have been hearing recently.

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Romney’s Wealth Problem–And Ours

Today’s New York Times story on Mitt Romney’s personal wealth presents the challenge it will pose to both the Romney and Obama campaigns. There is a fine line between aspiration and ambition, between success and ostentation. But there is also a fine line between admiration and envy, and between class contrast and class warfare.

Ultimately, the Obama campaign may be faced with an opponent who, in one specific way, bears a striking resemblance to its own candidate four years ago. In his forthcoming book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, Charles Murray writes of 1963 America:

In the responses to a Gallup poll taken that fall, 95 percent of the respondents said they were working class (50 percent) or middle class (45 percent). A great many poor people were refusing to identify themselves as lower class, and a great many affluent people were refusing to identify themselves as upper class. Those refusals reflected a national conceit that had prevailed from the beginning of the nation: America didn’t have classes, or, to the extent that it did, Americans should act as if we didn’t.

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Today’s New York Times story on Mitt Romney’s personal wealth presents the challenge it will pose to both the Romney and Obama campaigns. There is a fine line between aspiration and ambition, between success and ostentation. But there is also a fine line between admiration and envy, and between class contrast and class warfare.

Ultimately, the Obama campaign may be faced with an opponent who, in one specific way, bears a striking resemblance to its own candidate four years ago. In his forthcoming book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, Charles Murray writes of 1963 America:

In the responses to a Gallup poll taken that fall, 95 percent of the respondents said they were working class (50 percent) or middle class (45 percent). A great many poor people were refusing to identify themselves as lower class, and a great many affluent people were refusing to identify themselves as upper class. Those refusals reflected a national conceit that had prevailed from the beginning of the nation: America didn’t have classes, or, to the extent that it did, Americans should act as if we didn’t.

Many of the questions surrounding Romney’s finances are just that: questions. And no one is suggesting Romney did anything illegal or unethical in his business dealings. But as the picture of Romney’s monetary success comes into sharper focus, his life is looking less and less like one many Americans can identify with, and Romney seems to know that.

This week, as Romney was dealing with the fallout from the revelation that he pays the 15 percent tax rate because so much of his income is from capital gains, he also earned criticism for saying the income from his speaking fees, which turned out to be about $374,000, was “not very much.” James Joyner offered one defense of how Romney described those fees: “Romney was likely brought up to downplay how much money he had so as not to rub other people’s noses in it.” Just as Murray’s Gallup poll, taken when Romney was a teenager, would indicate.

If Romney is the Republican nominee there is no chance Obama would refrain from the class warfare rhetoric he has already outlined. But the ironic thing about this line of attack is that it must insinuate, because to say it plainly–that Romney is unlike most voters–would outrage many Americans. Obviously Romney’s election would not carry nearly the same cultural significance as Obama’s, but Romney would nonetheless face a challenge somewhat similar to the difficulty Obama had in explaining himself to voters.

In many ways, Obama’s life story is quintessentially American. But his particular experience was so unique. How does he explain to Americans that he is one of them without drawing attention to just how different his upbringing was? In my opinion, he didn’t hit this note perfectly until his stellar victory speech, by which time, of course, it had no effect on the election.

If Romney is elected president, it won’t be quite so dramatic, to say the least. But it will mean he had overcome a parallel challenge: his story, that of an honest, hardworking family man who built a life for himself and his loved ones through effort, education, skill, and yet more effort, is also a classic American story. But this is also an America in which it is significantly less convincing to pretend we don’t have economic classes. The dramatic postwar expansion of American wealth, accelerated by the rise of finance, tethers Mitt Romney to what Americans both hope and fear about our economy–that of which they are both appreciative and suspicious.

The president and his allies have not been subtle about their plans to exploit this tension. But Romney’s story is a good one–and he must tell it. Yet, he should learn an important lesson from his adversary: It’s all in the delivery.

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Can Gingrich’s Latest Surge Last?

After disappointing showings in both Iowa and New Hampshire, it appeared that Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign was about to hit bottom. But improbably, Gingrich has rebounded, and with a new poll showing him holding a small lead over Mitt Romney in South Carolina, it appears that he may be riding one more surge back into contention.

The latest Insider Advantage/Majority Opinion Research poll conducted for the Augusta Chronicle and The Savannah Morning News shows Gingrich holding a 32-29 percent lead over the frontrunner. That’s a reversal of the same poll’s showings published on Sunday that had Romney leading 32-21 percent. Other polls still show Romney ahead — including a Politico/Tarance poll also published yesterday that has him up by seven points. But there’s little question that Gingrich’s strong performance in Monday night’s debate and the accumulated impact of the attacks on Romney has put the former speaker in a position to put the outcome of the GOP race in doubt with a victory in South Carolina on Saturday. It may also bring him closer to the one-on-one matchup with Romney that he and other conservatives have always thought was the only way to defeat him.

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After disappointing showings in both Iowa and New Hampshire, it appeared that Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign was about to hit bottom. But improbably, Gingrich has rebounded, and with a new poll showing him holding a small lead over Mitt Romney in South Carolina, it appears that he may be riding one more surge back into contention.

The latest Insider Advantage/Majority Opinion Research poll conducted for the Augusta Chronicle and The Savannah Morning News shows Gingrich holding a 32-29 percent lead over the frontrunner. That’s a reversal of the same poll’s showings published on Sunday that had Romney leading 32-21 percent. Other polls still show Romney ahead — including a Politico/Tarance poll also published yesterday that has him up by seven points. But there’s little question that Gingrich’s strong performance in Monday night’s debate and the accumulated impact of the attacks on Romney has put the former speaker in a position to put the outcome of the GOP race in doubt with a victory in South Carolina on Saturday. It may also bring him closer to the one-on-one matchup with Romney that he and other conservatives have always thought was the only way to defeat him.

Gingrich’s surge is the product in no small measure of the failure of his conservative rivals. Rick Santorum has not capitalized on what turned out to be a victory for him in Iowa and finds himself now losing ground in South Carolina with both of the most recent polls showing him barely breaking into double digits. Also crucial was the collapse of Rick Perry’s campaign, which ended today with the Texas governor endorsing Gingrich.

Though Santorum is giving every indication he will not pull out after South Carolina no matter what the outcome, his seeming fade out does allow Gingrich to portray himself as the one viable conservative alternative to Romney. Since the latter’s rise to frontrunner status has been more the product of a split conservative field than any great outpouring of enthusiasm for the former Massachusetts governor, it’s fair to say a Gingrich victory in South Carolina could alter the entire dynamic of the race.

Throughout the race Gingrich has benefitted from the many televised GOP debates that have highlighted his rhetorical gifts. Though Romney hasn’t done badly, he cannot match Gingrich’s ability to rally the GOP faithful with stirring rebukes of the media or appeals to Reaganesque critiques of the welfare state. Another such triumph tonight in the last debate before South Carolinians vote could be decisive.

But like the other improbable Gingrich surge in November and December which put him briefly at the top of the Republican heap, his current bubble has the potential to burst at any moment.

The assumption that most Republicans would prefer any conservative alternative to Romney is about to be put to the test. Though the focus on Romney’s business record and tax returns this week have put him on the defensive, if Gingrich is able to climb back into contention, the public’s attention will be focused again on his record. And for a man with as much political and personal baggage as Gingrich, that is never a good thing.

Along those lines, tonight’s ABC “Nightline” interview with Gingrich’s second wife Marianne may strike many Republicans as unfairly timed, coming as it does less than 48 hours before a primary election that might decide Gingrich’s fate. But though this show will produce the usual backlash against the media that always occurs anytime a Republican is put under the microscope, it will also be a reminder of all the nasty bits in his biography that helped sink the last Gingrich surge in December.

Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that Perry’s pullout and Santorum’s collapse puts Gingrich in position this weekend to demolish the notion that Romney’s nomination is inevitable. If the majority of conservatives jump on the Gingrich bandwagon, that should be the formula for victory in South Carolina. But the downside of raised expectations there is if Romney does hold on and emerge the victor, the deflation of this latest Gingrich bubble may soon follow.

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Perry to Abandon Race; Endorse Gingrich

Eric Erickson’s RedState column yesterday should have been a big clue this was coming, but it’s still a surprise that Rick Perry isn’t waiting until after Saturday’s South Carolina primary to make the announcement. Dropping out now and endorsing Newt Gingrich could give the former speaker a major boost. Perry may be polling in the single-digits in South Carolina, but Gingrich is closing in on Romney and he may only need a small bump to put him over the top:

Texas Governor Rick Perry, just months ago a serious contender to become the 2012 Republican U.S. presidential nominee, was set to drop out of the race on Thursday after a series of gaffes and controversies undercut his campaign.

Perry is abandoning his run for his party’s nomination to face Democratic President Barack Obama on November 6, campaign sources said, and will endorse Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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Eric Erickson’s RedState column yesterday should have been a big clue this was coming, but it’s still a surprise that Rick Perry isn’t waiting until after Saturday’s South Carolina primary to make the announcement. Dropping out now and endorsing Newt Gingrich could give the former speaker a major boost. Perry may be polling in the single-digits in South Carolina, but Gingrich is closing in on Romney and he may only need a small bump to put him over the top:

Texas Governor Rick Perry, just months ago a serious contender to become the 2012 Republican U.S. presidential nominee, was set to drop out of the race on Thursday after a series of gaffes and controversies undercut his campaign.

Perry is abandoning his run for his party’s nomination to face Democratic President Barack Obama on November 6, campaign sources said, and will endorse Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

This also sounds like an attempt to create the impression that conservatives are coalescing around the former speaker and increase pressure on Rick Santorum to drop out. Despite Santorum’s big evangelical endorsement, he hasn’t been able to translate that into momentum in South Carolina. Perry’s announcement will also overshadow Santorum’s win today in the certified Iowa tally, ensuring that most of the good press the former Pennsylvania senator would have gotten from it is blotted out. Plus, it frees up key endorsers – i.e. Bobby Jindal – who Perry picked up shortly after he entered the race, who can now go on and support other candidates.

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Santorum Beats Romney in Certified Iowa Vote

There’s still no clear winner – and never will be – thanks to eight precincts in Iowa whose results are missing and couldn’t be certified before the deadline. But as it stands, Rick Santorum now leads Mitt Romney by 34 votes, though state Republican officials are still calling it a tie and saying it won’t change the delegate count:

GOP officials discovered inaccuracies in 131 precincts, although not all the changes affected the two leaders. Changes in one precinct alone shifted the vote by 50 — a margin greater than the certified tally.

The certified numbers: 29,839 for Santorum and 29,805 for Romney. The turnout: 121,503.

It’s not a surprise that the ultra-thin gap of eight votes on caucus night didn’t hold up, but it’s tough to swallow the fact that there will always be a question mark hanging over this race, politics insiders said.

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There’s still no clear winner – and never will be – thanks to eight precincts in Iowa whose results are missing and couldn’t be certified before the deadline. But as it stands, Rick Santorum now leads Mitt Romney by 34 votes, though state Republican officials are still calling it a tie and saying it won’t change the delegate count:

GOP officials discovered inaccuracies in 131 precincts, although not all the changes affected the two leaders. Changes in one precinct alone shifted the vote by 50 — a margin greater than the certified tally.

The certified numbers: 29,839 for Santorum and 29,805 for Romney. The turnout: 121,503.

It’s not a surprise that the ultra-thin gap of eight votes on caucus night didn’t hold up, but it’s tough to swallow the fact that there will always be a question mark hanging over this race, politics insiders said.

If the certification had taken place the day after the initial Iowa results, this could have made a difference, especially for Santorum. But at this point it isn’t going to change the race. Romney has already gotten the bounce from his Iowa “victory,” and South Carolinians aren’t going to suddenly flock to Santorum now that he gained another 42 votes in Iowa.

The minor downside here for Romney is he can’t claim the mantle of being the only GOP candidate to win both the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. Not really a big deal, since that card has already been played out. The upside for Santorum is these results will help him bat down Newt Gingrich’s constant assertions that Santorum should drop out of the race and help the former speaker take down Romney. At least Santorum can claim victory in one of the first two states – Gingrich’s best showing was fourth place.

This could make the race more interesting for other reasons. If Santorum won Iowa, and if Gingrich’s surge in South Carolina puts him over the top there, Romney’s air of inevitability disappears. At the very least, it might bring some excitement back to the primaries.

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Ruling on Terror Suspect Is an Outrage

The British political and media establishments are in an uproar over a ruling issued by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which prevents the UK from deporting to Jordan Abu Qatada, a Jordanian-born cleric who has been called the leading al-Qaeda representative in Europe.

Columnist Matthew D’Ancona neatly summarizes the case against Abu Qatada in the Evening Express; noting “that he was an associate of Zacarias Moussaoui, the 9/11 conspirator, and Richard Reid, the notorious shoe bomber; that he advised Rachid Ramda, the mastermind behind the Paris Metro bombings in 1995; [and] that he was described as a ‘truly dangerous individual’ by a British immigration court.”

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The British political and media establishments are in an uproar over a ruling issued by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which prevents the UK from deporting to Jordan Abu Qatada, a Jordanian-born cleric who has been called the leading al-Qaeda representative in Europe.

Columnist Matthew D’Ancona neatly summarizes the case against Abu Qatada in the Evening Express; noting “that he was an associate of Zacarias Moussaoui, the 9/11 conspirator, and Richard Reid, the notorious shoe bomber; that he advised Rachid Ramda, the mastermind behind the Paris Metro bombings in 1995; [and] that he was described as a ‘truly dangerous individual’ by a British immigration court.”

So why did the European justices decide the UK could not deport him to Jordan where he has been convicted of involvement in terrorist conspiracies? Jordan promised he would be treated according to the letter of the law and not abused, but the court held that some of the case against him was derived from interrogation under torture of one of his co-defendants and that this would fatally taint any case against him. Unless London can win an appeal, it will be left with the unpalatable choices of trying him in a British court (where there may not be enough evidence to convict) or simply releasing him, so that he can preach jihad in Europe in total freedom.

This is indeed an outrage. From the British standpoint, the most salient lesson is the need to lessen the EU’s ability to second-guess British institutions. From an American perspective, I would draw another lesson: the need to agree on universal rules for the handling of terrorist suspects.

The U.S. has improvised its own rules since 9/11, with even the Obama administration reluctantly agreeing to hold some suspects in indefinite detention in Guantanamo and to try them in military tribunals rather than in normal criminal courts. But the administration is so unhappy about this outcome it is refusing to send fresh detainees to Gitmo, which creates major problems in trying to figure out how to deal with freshly captured terrorists. The problem is even more acute in other democratic countries such as the UK which have not created a Gitmo-like set-up—and where public opinion is horrified the U.S. has done so. The reality, however, is terrorism is a special form of warfare and requires its own legal mechanisms—ones that are different either from those used to address ordinary crimes or conventional acts of war carried out by lawful combatants wearing uniforms and observing the Geneva Conventions.

More than a decade after 9/11 there has been no appreciable movement toward such an international standard—a sort of standing Nuremberg Tribunal that might win universal respect. But the Abu Qatada case shows the need for such an innovation remains pressing. President Obama should use a sliver of his popularity abroad to advocate for such a course. If any U.S. president can get it done, he  can.

 

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