Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 2012

Romney’s Big Step to the Nomination

Reviewing the exit poll data from last night’s primaries in Arizona and Michigan – which National Journal’s Ron Brownstein does with typical care and insight — it appears as if several things happened. Mitt Romney did well with demographic groups with which he’s done well in the past: voters who are white collar, upper income, college educated, non-evangelical Christians and somewhat conservative/moderate. For example, Romney beat Rick Santorum by roughly 20 percentage points in Oakland County, a white collar suburb outside of Detroit. Among self-identified Republicans in Michigan, Romney beat Santorum by an impressive 13 points (49 percent v. 36 percent).

Rick Santorum, on the other hand, did well, though not great, with people who consider themselves very conservative and who identify themselves as evangelical Christians. But where Santorum was hurt the most was with blue collar voters. He lost to Romney in Macomb County, a white working class suburb outside of Detroit, and barely won in Genesse Country, which incorporates the blue collar city of Flint. In Michigan, Santorum lost to Romney among Catholics (45 v. 37) and women (42 v. 37, including every category of women polled, including working women, single women, and married women). In Arizona in particular, but also in Michigan, Santorum simply was not able to cobble together a coalition that went much beyond the core of the GOP base.

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Reviewing the exit poll data from last night’s primaries in Arizona and Michigan – which National Journal’s Ron Brownstein does with typical care and insight — it appears as if several things happened. Mitt Romney did well with demographic groups with which he’s done well in the past: voters who are white collar, upper income, college educated, non-evangelical Christians and somewhat conservative/moderate. For example, Romney beat Rick Santorum by roughly 20 percentage points in Oakland County, a white collar suburb outside of Detroit. Among self-identified Republicans in Michigan, Romney beat Santorum by an impressive 13 points (49 percent v. 36 percent).

Rick Santorum, on the other hand, did well, though not great, with people who consider themselves very conservative and who identify themselves as evangelical Christians. But where Santorum was hurt the most was with blue collar voters. He lost to Romney in Macomb County, a white working class suburb outside of Detroit, and barely won in Genesse Country, which incorporates the blue collar city of Flint. In Michigan, Santorum lost to Romney among Catholics (45 v. 37) and women (42 v. 37, including every category of women polled, including working women, single women, and married women). In Arizona in particular, but also in Michigan, Santorum simply was not able to cobble together a coalition that went much beyond the core of the GOP base.

The result of this is that Romney has taken another important (if difficult) step to the nomination. Brownstein writes that while turning points have come and gone in this turbulent GOP race, “Mitt Romney’s narrow victory in Tuesday’s Michigan primary may represent a Battle of the Bulge moment in which he has tipped the balance of the fight by demonstrating the ability to amass a slightly broader coalition than his principal rival, Rick Santorum.”

If so, Santorum may live to regret his blistering attack on John F. Kennedy’s speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association (the one that almost caused Santorum to vomit) and his widely perceived assault on a college education (accusing President Obama of being a “snob” for encouraging people to go to college). At the most important moment in Santorum’s run for the presidency, when Republicans were willing to give him a fresh second look, he confirmed many of the impressions his critics have of him – that he’s a moralizing figure who sets people on edge rather than puts them at ease. It’s a shame, because Santorum is a man of many impressive parts. But one cannot also help but think the former Pennsylvania senator, who is nothing if not authentic, spoke what was in his heart.

A man like Santorum can play a valuable role in a society and a political movement. Few people in American public life are as willing as Santorum to tether political arguments to moral truths. But on the biggest stage of his life, with a chance for the nomination within his grasp, he simply wasn’t able to summon forth rhetoric that conveyed both moral seriousness and a spirit of grace and winsomeness.

The final word on this part of the contest goes to Romney, who said he didn’t win by a lot, but he won by enough.

 

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Romney Heads to Ohio a Weakened Winner

With polls showing Rick Santorum leading in Ohio, Mitt Romney has no time for a breather after his win last night. His challenge now is to keep up the bruising attacks on Santorum, while avoiding the same gaffes about his personal wealth that hurt him in Michigan:

Like Michigan, Ohio’s economy relies heavily on the auto industry, and Romney’s high-profile opposition of the government bailout of the industry is not likely to be received warmly by many voters. He supported an effort last year by Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) to restrict public unions’ collective-bargaining rights — an effort that was overwhelmingly overturned in the fall by voters in this union-heavy state. And Romney’s courtship of religious voters by supporting, for instance, an antiabortion “personhood initiative,” risks alienating female voters. …

Perhaps more than anything else, however, Romney’s difficulty connecting with average Americans may hurt him in a state such as Ohio. Romney acknowledged on Tuesday that his gaffes — including mentioning his wife’s “couple of Cadillacs” — have not been helpful to his cause. Republicans in Ohio agreed.

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With polls showing Rick Santorum leading in Ohio, Mitt Romney has no time for a breather after his win last night. His challenge now is to keep up the bruising attacks on Santorum, while avoiding the same gaffes about his personal wealth that hurt him in Michigan:

Like Michigan, Ohio’s economy relies heavily on the auto industry, and Romney’s high-profile opposition of the government bailout of the industry is not likely to be received warmly by many voters. He supported an effort last year by Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) to restrict public unions’ collective-bargaining rights — an effort that was overwhelmingly overturned in the fall by voters in this union-heavy state. And Romney’s courtship of religious voters by supporting, for instance, an antiabortion “personhood initiative,” risks alienating female voters. …

Perhaps more than anything else, however, Romney’s difficulty connecting with average Americans may hurt him in a state such as Ohio. Romney acknowledged on Tuesday that his gaffes — including mentioning his wife’s “couple of Cadillacs” — have not been helpful to his cause. Republicans in Ohio agreed.

With each victory, Romney has become a weaker general election candidate. He’s unlikely to be attacked for his support for the “personhood initiative” in Ohio, especially because Santorum holds stronger views by comparison. But if he’s goaded into a game of one-upmanship with Santorum on the issue, he could turn off independent voters. Beyond that, Romney’s opponents – both in the GOP field and in the Democratic Party – will jump on any comment that relates to his personal wealth or makes him sound out-of-touch with average voters.

Despite Romney’s weakened status, he’s still arguably the most electable out of the field, and that remains one of his strongest arguments for the nomination. He touched on that in a new ad today, which includes interviews with Democrats who voted for Santorum because they say he’ll be the “weakest” candidate against Obama. This is the point Romney needs to hammer home. If he can quickly convince GOP voters that Santorum is a less viable general election candidate, he’ll be able to stop his own blood loss in the primaries before it does permanent damage.

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Egypt’s Lift on Travel Ban Ends Crisis

Score one for the Obama administration. Egypt has agreed to lift the travel ban on seven Americans charged with a variety of trumped up offenses for promoting democracy. That prevents their being convicted in a show trial and allows them to leave the country. Thus, the administration has avoided an Egyptian hostage crisis.

Unfortunately, there is no indication that the Egyptian government is dropping its case against the many Egyptian co-defendants. The U.S. must continue to exert its muscle to protect those civil society activists from retribution for their admirable activities.

Score one for the Obama administration. Egypt has agreed to lift the travel ban on seven Americans charged with a variety of trumped up offenses for promoting democracy. That prevents their being convicted in a show trial and allows them to leave the country. Thus, the administration has avoided an Egyptian hostage crisis.

Unfortunately, there is no indication that the Egyptian government is dropping its case against the many Egyptian co-defendants. The U.S. must continue to exert its muscle to protect those civil society activists from retribution for their admirable activities.

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Obama Admin Admits Goal Isn’t to Reduce Oil Prices

It’s long been obvious the Obama administration is more interested in reducing oil dependency than reducing gasoline prices. But now Republican operatives have a sound bite to go with it, after Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu acknowledged the policy while addressing Congress this morning:

But Americans need relief now, Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.) said — not high gasoline prices that could eventually push them to alternatives. …

Chu expressed sympathy but said his department is working to lower energy prices in the long term. …

“But is the overall goal to get our price” of gasoline down? asked Nunnelee.

“No, the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil, to build and strengthen our economy,” Chu replied. “We think that if you consider all these energy policies, including energy efficiency, we think that we can go a long way to becoming less dependent on oil and [diversifying] our supply and we’ll help the American economy and the American consumers.”

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It’s long been obvious the Obama administration is more interested in reducing oil dependency than reducing gasoline prices. But now Republican operatives have a sound bite to go with it, after Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu acknowledged the policy while addressing Congress this morning:

But Americans need relief now, Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.) said — not high gasoline prices that could eventually push them to alternatives. …

Chu expressed sympathy but said his department is working to lower energy prices in the long term. …

“But is the overall goal to get our price” of gasoline down? asked Nunnelee.

“No, the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil, to build and strengthen our economy,” Chu replied. “We think that if you consider all these energy policies, including energy efficiency, we think that we can go a long way to becoming less dependent on oil and [diversifying] our supply and we’ll help the American economy and the American consumers.”

President Obama’s delay on the Keystone XL decision has already shown the administration doesn’t view gas price reduction as a top priority. In fact, they tend to embrace high gas prices as a way to reduce usage in the U.S. (at least in non-election years).

But while Chu’s comments will be attacked by Republicans as an example of Obama’s radical environmental agenda, this may actually end up helping the president. His recent decision to support partial construction on the Keystone XL pipeline has hurt his credibility with environmentalists. Chu’s admission that the administration is still more focused on cutting down on gasoline consumption than lowering prices is a signal to green groups that the administration is still with them in overall policy.

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NYC Teachers’ Union’s First Priority Still Isn’t Students

For the sixth time in recent weeks, an employee of the New York City school system has been arrested for allegedly sexually abusing students. This latest case involved an instructor reportedly forcibly touching a 14-year old student at the High School for Graphic Communication Arts. The city is proud that such cases are down from 2007′s high of 619 complaints; last year there were 561 formal complaints filed, a 9 percent decrease. While not all of these formal complaints were found to be of merit, there are certainly unreported cases each year as well. In the midst of this flurry of negative publicity involving the city’s teachers, the main union representing the city’s teachers is actually on the offensive against the city.

This week, the names and scores of 18,000 of the city’s teachers were published, outraging the city’s teachers’ union that has battled for two years to keep the information private. The New York Times reports:

In the days leading up to the release on Friday of the city’s Teacher Data Reports, which are an effort to assess how much individuals added to the progress of students in their charge, many critics worried about the shame and humiliation low-scoring teachers would be subjected to, especially given the ratings’ wide margins of error.

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For the sixth time in recent weeks, an employee of the New York City school system has been arrested for allegedly sexually abusing students. This latest case involved an instructor reportedly forcibly touching a 14-year old student at the High School for Graphic Communication Arts. The city is proud that such cases are down from 2007′s high of 619 complaints; last year there were 561 formal complaints filed, a 9 percent decrease. While not all of these formal complaints were found to be of merit, there are certainly unreported cases each year as well. In the midst of this flurry of negative publicity involving the city’s teachers, the main union representing the city’s teachers is actually on the offensive against the city.

This week, the names and scores of 18,000 of the city’s teachers were published, outraging the city’s teachers’ union that has battled for two years to keep the information private. The New York Times reports:

In the days leading up to the release on Friday of the city’s Teacher Data Reports, which are an effort to assess how much individuals added to the progress of students in their charge, many critics worried about the shame and humiliation low-scoring teachers would be subjected to, especially given the ratings’ wide margins of error.

Critics of the release are concerned about hurting the feelings of adults who have been told they are not effectively doing their jobs. The formation of the ratings, however, seems more than fair to this former grade school teacher. Forty percent of the score is based on test performance; half of this is based on students’ progress from one year to the next on state standardized tests. The other 20 percent allows school districts to measure achievement based on their own benchmarks, for example,”the progress of specific groups of students, like those who are not proficient in English or have special needs. They also could devise their own tests, or use tests developed by a third party, provided that the tests were approved by the state.”

Teachers often complain about the inability of tests to measure student growth, knowledge and achievement. The ratings aim to make up for this by basing the remaining 60 percent of the rating on principal observations, which teachers then complain are too subjective. If they don’t want tests (even if they design them themselves) and they don’t want observations, how exactly are their performances supposed to be measured?

Teachers who are rated as “ineffective” can appeal to an independent panel and outside observers, in addition to the principals who decided 60 percent of the rating, who would reevaluate performance after a development plan is devised. The real issue, I suspect, is the leverage the scores now gives the city in hiring and firing decisions:

In cases in which the observers back the principals’ findings, the city would move to fire the teacher with a presumption of incompetence and an expedited procedure. Currently, the city has the burden of proof, making dismissal much more difficult.

New York City is famous for its “rubber rooms” – a place for teachers to read, sleep and play games on the city’s payroll to spend the day outside the classroom because they have been deemed unfit to teach. While the rooms have since shuttered, teachers are now assigned office busy work while the Department of Education pursues cases to fire teachers on the basis of incompetence or misconduct, which on average takes 18 months to accomplish.

Unfortunately for New York’s students, their teachers’ union prioritizes keeping every teacher in the classroom and on the payroll, fighting to make sure teachers can hide their incompetence. A recent story from the school district of the city of Rochester exemplifies just how difficult firing teachers for alleged sexual misconduct can be. How many of the teachers with complaints made against them in recent weeks will be kept on the city’s payroll for months or years more, incapable of being fired? How many will be let back into the classroom to perhaps abuse again?

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A Defense of Robocalls to Democrats

As the Romney campaign prepares to make Rick Santorum’s robocalls to Democratic voters a regular issue on the trail, the Santorum campaign tells BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray that it doesn’t regret the tactic – and may use it in the future:

The robocalls have been seen as something of a flop — attracting too much attention and not turning out enough Democrats to actually tip the scales in favor of Santorum. But two high-level campaign staffers defended the calls and downplayed the controversy surrounding them.

Santorum spokeswoman Alice Stewart said the campaign isn’t concerned about the Romney side’s plans to make the calls more of an issue in the run-up to Super Tuesday. …

She didn’t rule out the possibility of more calls in that vein. “In terms of what we do next in terms of making those particular kinds of calls, we’ll decide that in the next few days.”

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As the Romney campaign prepares to make Rick Santorum’s robocalls to Democratic voters a regular issue on the trail, the Santorum campaign tells BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray that it doesn’t regret the tactic – and may use it in the future:

The robocalls have been seen as something of a flop — attracting too much attention and not turning out enough Democrats to actually tip the scales in favor of Santorum. But two high-level campaign staffers defended the calls and downplayed the controversy surrounding them.

Santorum spokeswoman Alice Stewart said the campaign isn’t concerned about the Romney side’s plans to make the calls more of an issue in the run-up to Super Tuesday. …

She didn’t rule out the possibility of more calls in that vein. “In terms of what we do next in terms of making those particular kinds of calls, we’ll decide that in the next few days.”

Santorum has nothing to apologize for here. Robocalls that are intentionally designed to cause mischief, a laOperation Hilarity,” are one thing. But it’s hard to criticize Santorum for getting his message out to Democrats, who may honestly be open to supporting a Republican this season. Polls have shown nearly 20 percent of Democrats don’t approve of Obama’s job performance. Reaching out to these people early is just smart politics.

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Time to End the Killing in Syria

Marc Lynch, a blogger and professor of Middle Eastern studies, has penned a lengthy policy brief about Syria for the Center for a New American Security. It is comprised of two parts that appear to be at war with one another. The first part lays out all the reasons why the West must do something about the escalating violence in Syria.

He warns that Syria is descending into a full-blown “internal war” that “could shatter the possibility of a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Syria and reverberate across the region.” He even says “Syria could replicate Lebanon of the 1980s, on steroids.” “Beyond these strategic concerns,” he continues, “there is a humanitarian imperative to help the Syrian people. The horrifying evidence of massacres and regime brutality make it difficult – and wrong – for the world to avert its gaze.”

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Marc Lynch, a blogger and professor of Middle Eastern studies, has penned a lengthy policy brief about Syria for the Center for a New American Security. It is comprised of two parts that appear to be at war with one another. The first part lays out all the reasons why the West must do something about the escalating violence in Syria.

He warns that Syria is descending into a full-blown “internal war” that “could shatter the possibility of a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Syria and reverberate across the region.” He even says “Syria could replicate Lebanon of the 1980s, on steroids.” “Beyond these strategic concerns,” he continues, “there is a humanitarian imperative to help the Syrian people. The horrifying evidence of massacres and regime brutality make it difficult – and wrong – for the world to avert its gaze.”

I couldn’t agree more. Where I disagree is in his recommendations for what to do about this calamity which is now unfolding. He argues against military intervention—even against arming the Syrian opposition—in favor of, you guessed it, more robust diplomacy. He proposes to do the following:

First, the international community should present Assad with an ultimatum: Since Assad can no longer participate in a legitimate Syrian government, he, his vice president and a limited group of top regime officials must resign or be referred to the International Criminal Court for War Crimes (ICC). Second, the international community should continue to tighten the economic and financial sanctions against the Assad regime, its senior leaders and the most senior members of the Syrian military. Third, the international community should conduct a sustained and vigorous effort to isolate the Assad regime diplomatically. Fourth, the international community should strengthen the opposition and encourage it to develop a unified political voice. Finally, the United States and its partners should support a strategic communications campaign to publicize the regime’s atrocities, shame those who continue to support the regime and encourage regime members to defect.

All of these steps are worth taking, but they are not very different from what is currently being done—with scant impact. The Assad regime is able to stay in power because it can count on the loyalty of a substantial portion of its security forces and the backing of unsavory regimes such as Russia and Iran. Lynch himself dismisses airy talk from the administration “that the collapse of the Assad regime is only a matter of time.” He notes, rightly, that “Assad’s fall could take a long time. In the interim, many Syrians will die, and the conflict could evolve into an extended regional proxy war that victimizes the Syrian people.” But if that’s the consequence of our current policy, which is focused exclusively on diplomatic efforts to oust Assad, what reason is there to think more diplomacy will make a difference?

Lynch is right to warn that we need to think through the consequences of various military options such as air strikes, no fly zones, safe havens, and arming of the opposition. All of those policies carry potential downsides that need to be carefully considered. But in the end, I don’t find his objections to any military action terribly compelling, because if we don’t act then we are de facto accepting the unacceptable—i.e., a prolongation of the current civil war, which, aside from being a humanitarian disaster, is likely to further atomize Syrian society and provide an opening for extremists.

No one wants more war. But at this point the international community’s best bet (as it was in Bosnia in 1995 and Kosovo in 1999), is to act to end the killing. Yes, there are significant risks in a post-Assad regime, but by playing an active role in helping the opposition, including providing military help, the U.S. and our allies can win influence to shape the future of Syria.

Lynch himself admits that even if we don’t arm the opposition “arms are likely to flood the country if the civil war continues, regardless of U.S. preferences.” What he neglects to mention is where those arms will come from. A likely source: Gulf regimes such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia and radical groups loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda and its ilk, such as al-Qaeda in Iraq. The longer we stay on the sidelines, the more influence they will exert.

There is no ideal option in Syria, and I commend Lynch for warning about the potential pitfalls of military action, but at this point, I don’t see a good alternative.

 

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Media Undermines its Case Against Israel

The media pressure on Israel to refrain from launching a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities continues apace. The New York Times and Washington Post each have stories dedicated to either downplaying the Iranian threat or exaggerating the costs of attacking Iran, and both stories undermine their arguments.

First, the Times seeks to lay on the guilt with an article titled “U.S. Sees Iran Attacks as Likely if Israel Strikes.” It is a warning to Israel to consider the fact that the U.S. would also be a target of Iranian attacks if the country’s nuclear installations are bombed. But then the reporters seem to make the opposite case:

While a missile retaliation against Israel would be virtually certain, according to these assessments, Iran would also be likely to try to calibrate its response against American targets so as not to give the United States a rationale for taking military action that could permanently cripple Tehran’s nuclear program. “The Iranians have been pretty good masters of escalation control,” said Gen. James E. Cartwright, now retired, who as the top officer at Strategic Command and as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff participated in war games involving both deterrence and retaliation on potential adversaries like Iran.

The Iranian targets, General Cartwright and other American analysts believe, would include petroleum infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, and American troops in Afghanistan, where Iran has been accused of shipping explosives to local insurgent forces.

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The media pressure on Israel to refrain from launching a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities continues apace. The New York Times and Washington Post each have stories dedicated to either downplaying the Iranian threat or exaggerating the costs of attacking Iran, and both stories undermine their arguments.

First, the Times seeks to lay on the guilt with an article titled “U.S. Sees Iran Attacks as Likely if Israel Strikes.” It is a warning to Israel to consider the fact that the U.S. would also be a target of Iranian attacks if the country’s nuclear installations are bombed. But then the reporters seem to make the opposite case:

While a missile retaliation against Israel would be virtually certain, according to these assessments, Iran would also be likely to try to calibrate its response against American targets so as not to give the United States a rationale for taking military action that could permanently cripple Tehran’s nuclear program. “The Iranians have been pretty good masters of escalation control,” said Gen. James E. Cartwright, now retired, who as the top officer at Strategic Command and as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff participated in war games involving both deterrence and retaliation on potential adversaries like Iran.

The Iranian targets, General Cartwright and other American analysts believe, would include petroleum infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, and American troops in Afghanistan, where Iran has been accused of shipping explosives to local insurgent forces.

That is, Iran may possibly target American troops overseas, which it is already doing. Additionally, the U.S. recently prevented a massive Iranian terrorist operation on U.S. soil, so an attack on the homeland would not be an escalation. And Cartwright’s quote suggests an attack on Iran might have the reverse effect. As does this quote from the story:

Both American and Israeli officials who discussed current thinking on the potential ramifications of an Israeli attack believe that the last thing Iran would want is a full-scale war on its territory…. If Israel did attack, officials said, Iran would be foolhardy, even suicidal, to invite an overpowering retaliation by directly attacking United States military targets — by, for example, unleashing its missiles at American bases on the territory of Persian Gulf allies.

So in fact, an attack on Iran might encourage the Iranians to stand down for fear of inviting more attacks on their soil. The Washington Post story, on the other hand, tries to portray Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the boy who cried wolf. He’s been warning the world of an Iranian nuclear threat for 16 years now, the article notes. Most of the story is armchair psychoanalysis that is almost entirely irrelevant, now that we know Iran has indeed been working toward a nuclear weapon all these years. The article also spends some time ridiculing the notion that Netanyahu, for some strange reason, believes that as prime minister of Israel his job entails the protection and safety of the Jewish people.

But the last two paragraphs of the story are where the action is. Here’s the first:

Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of the liberal daily Haaretz, who covered Netanyahu for years as the newspaper’s diplomatic correspondent, said the prime minister had succeeded in shifting the diplomatic conversation, after the Obama administration had been focused previously on peace efforts with the Palestinians. Then, Netanyahu’s rhetoric on Iran was seen as an effort to divert attention from Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, which was loudly opposed by Washington.

Leave aside the fact that Netanyahu’s concentration on Iran “was seen as an effort to divert attention from Israeli settlement building” only by extreme partisans on the left who obsess about Jews adding rooms to their homes in West Bank towns that will be part of Israel in any peace agreement anyway. Also leave aside the fact that anyone who thinks that clearly doesn’t take the Iranian threat seriously, and is thus not paying much attention to reality. The claim itself is disputed by the entire article leading up to it. If Netanyahu has been obsessing about the Iranian threat for 16 years, then it long preceded President Obama’s bizarre decision to pick a fight with Netanyahu about settlements.

And here’s the final paragraph:

“He did a very good job of changing the world’s priorities,” Benn said, “and he achieved that by saber-rattling vis-à-vis Iran. The problem is that you can reach a point when the political price of not going to war becomes too much to bear. If the Iranian nuclear program is a Holocaust, then the question becomes: What did you do, Mr. Netanyahu, to prevent it? You have to deliver.”

Here’s a riddle for you: When, in a democracy, does the political price of not doing something become too much to bear? Answer: When the public overwhelmingly supports that action. The ongoing attempt to paint Netanyahu as the leader of some kind of military junta is exactly the sort of thing you expect to hear from a Haaretz editor, but it’s not something that will earn the Washington Post or its reporter much credibility.

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Obama’s Monday Meeting with Netanyahu

In 2009, after his first White House meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama told the press he hoped to begin a “serious process of engagement” with Iran within months, and would give Iran “what I believe will be a persuasive argument, that there should be a different course to be taken.” Iran turned out to be uninterested in his argument, much less a serious process of engagement.

On Monday, Obama hopes to make a persuasive argument to continue a course that has now failed for more than three years – a “two track” process of engagement (which has yet to occur) and sanctions (which bite but do not deter). Sanctions failed in North Korea (which produced nuclear weapons notwithstanding), Cuba (where they are going on 50 years), and Iraq (where Saddam profited from them). They may benefit China (who will use them to get better terms from Iran for oil purchases) and Russia (who will benefit, as the largest oil producer in the world, from higher oil prices). They will likely not stop Iran.

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In 2009, after his first White House meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama told the press he hoped to begin a “serious process of engagement” with Iran within months, and would give Iran “what I believe will be a persuasive argument, that there should be a different course to be taken.” Iran turned out to be uninterested in his argument, much less a serious process of engagement.

On Monday, Obama hopes to make a persuasive argument to continue a course that has now failed for more than three years – a “two track” process of engagement (which has yet to occur) and sanctions (which bite but do not deter). Sanctions failed in North Korea (which produced nuclear weapons notwithstanding), Cuba (where they are going on 50 years), and Iraq (where Saddam profited from them). They may benefit China (who will use them to get better terms from Iran for oil purchases) and Russia (who will benefit, as the largest oil producer in the world, from higher oil prices). They will likely not stop Iran.

Diplomacy is unlikely to succeed without the “triple track” process recommended by the Bipartisan Policy Center earlier this month, which adds a third track to the first two: “credible, visible preparations for military action on the part of the United States or Israel.” But not only has the Obama administration failed to adopt a third track; it has gone out of its way to reject it. It says all options are on the table, but has studiously avoided any commitment to actually use the ultimate one. It publicly lectures Israel against using it itself.

It has been clear for a long time – well before Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister – that Israel will not stand by as Iran becomes capable of producing sufficient material for a nuclear weapon, much less actually construct one. In Statecraft, his book published in 2007, the year before he became one of Obama’s principal foreign policy advisers, Dennis Ross wrote as follows:

As one leading Israeli defense official said to me, “We think the Iranians intend to use nuclear weapons against us, and we won’t wait for that to happen.” The Israeli impulse toward preemption is likely to be on a hair trigger should its leaders come to believe that Iran is on the verge of producing fissile material by itself. That, alone, argues for preventing Iran’s acquisition of such a capability. [Emphasis added]

The current argument by U.S. intelligence officials that there is no “hard” evidence Iran has made a “final” decision to build a bomb is beside the point. Israel focuses on capability, and its red line is set before Iran actually starts building a bomb. It is unlikely to allow Iran to complete an underground facility that can produce fissile material unobserved and effectively safe from attack, any more than it allowed Iraq and Syria to finish their facilities.

In Monday’s meeting, Netanyahu will likely seek to have the U.S.  add the third track and set a deadline for force — as the last best chance for diplomacy to succeed and the assurance that, if it does not, the final option on the table to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran will in fact be taken.

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The Candidates’ Wives

Out of all the speakers last night, Ann Romney stole the show when she gave an introduction of her husband, replete with an impossibly long thank you list for their Michigan victory:

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Out of all the speakers last night, Ann Romney stole the show when she gave an introduction of her husband, replete with an impossibly long thank you list for their Michigan victory:

Ann has a personal confidence and easy rapport with the audience that her husband, as much as he’s improved as a speaker, has never been able to master. She’s just likeable. When you see her speak, you think, “Well, I guess if she married him, he can’t be all bad.” And Mitt seems to realize his good fortune. As Jonathan tweeted last night, “Mitt looks at Ann the way Nancy looked at Ronald Reagan.”

Meanwhile, Rick Santorum took some time during his concession speech to talk about the “strong women” in his own life, a well-timed move considering that his controversial comments on women in the workplace are still getting picked over by pundits. It was a way for Santorum to try to erase the perception that he’s anti-women, without directly mentioning any hot-button topics. Here’s what he had to say about his mother, a woman who juggled a career and her family at a time when doing both was rare:

But my mom’s in a very — well, unusual person for her time. She’s someone who — who did get a college education in the — in the 1930s, and was a nurse, and got a graduate’s degree, even, as a nurse, and worked full time. And when she married my dad, they worked together at the Veterans Administration. That’s where they met, right after the war.

And later on, they were — they had me and the rest of the family, my brother and sister, and my mom continued to work. She worked all of my childhood years. She balanced time, as my dad did, working different schedules, and she was a very unusual person at that time. She was a professional who actually made more money than her husband.

I grew up with a very strong mom, someone who was a professional person who taught me a lot of things about how to balance work and family, and doing it well, and doing it with a big heart and commitment.

Santorum also spoke about his wife Karen, and her own decision to give up her career to raise her children:

You know, that’s probably one of the reasons that I ended up marrying the person I married here, Karen, someone… someone who’s as strong as they get, someone who is — I met when we were — when she was just about to start the practice of law and I was doing the same. I recruited her, in more ways than one, to my law firm.

Karen was a professional, worked as a nurse for nine years, and then after that, she — she — we got married, and she walked away. And she decided to stay home and raise her children, but she didn’t quit working, obviously. Raising seven children is a lot of work, but she found time also to be an author of two books, those books about — really went to the heart of the family and something that she knows a lot about.

Santorum should be telling these stories whenever he gets a chance, because they’ll help dispel the notion he’s uncomfortable with women in the workplace. As he’s said in the past, he doesn’t object to women working, but to the idea that a career is the sole path to fulfillment.

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Sabbath Observing Texas High School Does More for Faith Than Tebow

The role of faith in the public square has become an issue in the presidential campaign recently, but no candidate has done more to advance the cause of freedom of religion in this country than a Houston-area Jewish school. The Robert M. Beren Academy had won a chance to play in the state’s parochial school basketball championships semi-finals this weekend. But since their game is scheduled for Friday night during the observance of the Sabbath, the team will not compete.While the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools is facing some justified criticism for its refusal to make any accommodation for the Jewish team, the honor the school will win for standing up for their principles far exceeds any glory they might have gotten by playing the game.

The Anti-Defamation League has weighed in on the controversy and asked the organizers of the championships to bend a little and find a way to reconfigure their schedule to allow the Beren Academy their chance. The group’s position is the same rules should apply to all schools, but Beren’s win in the state quarterfinals was made possible because their opponent, Our Lady of the Hills, which is a Catholic school, were willing to move the starting time up last Friday to the afternoon before the Sabbath started. But because the private and parochial school group is a voluntary rather than a state-run outfit, the Jewish school cannot legally demand a reasonable accommodation. The association’s decision seems hard-hearted. But if they choose not to budge, it must be acknowledged that sometimes there is a price to be paid for loyalty to faith and principle. That’s disappointing for the kids at Beren, but it’s also something for them to be proud of.

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The role of faith in the public square has become an issue in the presidential campaign recently, but no candidate has done more to advance the cause of freedom of religion in this country than a Houston-area Jewish school. The Robert M. Beren Academy had won a chance to play in the state’s parochial school basketball championships semi-finals this weekend. But since their game is scheduled for Friday night during the observance of the Sabbath, the team will not compete.While the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools is facing some justified criticism for its refusal to make any accommodation for the Jewish team, the honor the school will win for standing up for their principles far exceeds any glory they might have gotten by playing the game.

The Anti-Defamation League has weighed in on the controversy and asked the organizers of the championships to bend a little and find a way to reconfigure their schedule to allow the Beren Academy their chance. The group’s position is the same rules should apply to all schools, but Beren’s win in the state quarterfinals was made possible because their opponent, Our Lady of the Hills, which is a Catholic school, were willing to move the starting time up last Friday to the afternoon before the Sabbath started. But because the private and parochial school group is a voluntary rather than a state-run outfit, the Jewish school cannot legally demand a reasonable accommodation. The association’s decision seems hard-hearted. But if they choose not to budge, it must be acknowledged that sometimes there is a price to be paid for loyalty to faith and principle. That’s disappointing for the kids at Beren, but it’s also something for them to be proud of.

In his book The Gift of Rest, Senator Joseph Lieberman spoke of the beauty of Sabbath observance. But he also demonstrated that his insistence on not working or conducting business as usual for the 25 hours that stretch from sundown on Friday to the appearance of the first star on Saturday has won him the respect of the non-Jewish majority in his state and the nation. There are times when being faithful to one’s principles will necessitate sacrifice, and it’s a shame the kids at Beren are learning that this week. Yet, in refusing to bend to the dictates of the majority, they have done more to honor the cause of faith than the histrionics of football star Tim Tebow. No matter who wins the state basketball championship in Texas this year, the Beren team is the true champion.

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Santorum Misses His Chance as Romney Dodges Bullet in Michigan

On a night in which he could have lost the presidential nomination, Mitt Romney survived the worst crisis of his campaign by sweeping both the Arizona and Michigan primaries. With polls showing his native Michigan being too close to call, Romney’s 41-38 percentage point win was not impressive, but Rick Santorum lost his one golden opportunity to demolish the frontrunner. Santorum can claim a moral victory of sorts because he managed to come so close to winning in a state in which few gave him a chance several weeks ago.

But Romney’s Michigan win combined with a big victory in Arizona denied his rival the chance to alter the dynamics of the race. A Santorum win in Michigan would have permanently demolished the idea that Romney was the inevitable nominee. Slim though Romney’s margin was, two more states in his column make it highly unlikely anyone else can take the nomination from him.

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On a night in which he could have lost the presidential nomination, Mitt Romney survived the worst crisis of his campaign by sweeping both the Arizona and Michigan primaries. With polls showing his native Michigan being too close to call, Romney’s 41-38 percentage point win was not impressive, but Rick Santorum lost his one golden opportunity to demolish the frontrunner. Santorum can claim a moral victory of sorts because he managed to come so close to winning in a state in which few gave him a chance several weeks ago.

But Romney’s Michigan win combined with a big victory in Arizona denied his rival the chance to alter the dynamics of the race. A Santorum win in Michigan would have permanently demolished the idea that Romney was the inevitable nominee. Slim though Romney’s margin was, two more states in his column make it highly unlikely anyone else can take the nomination from him.

The Romney win was in no small measure due to Santorum’s gaffes on John F. Kennedy and college attendance as well as the unfortunate focus on contraception that highlighted the Pennsylvania’s unpopular views on the subject.  These unforced errors demonstrated Santorum’s poor political judgment and his predilection for outlandish ideology-driven statements. The Super Tuesday primaries and in particular Ohio represent one more big chance for Santorum. But he’ll never have a better opportunity to derail Romney than the one he has just blown in Michigan.

Romney still faces a long, hard slog in the coming months, as the GOP’s delegate allocation rules will prevent him from clinching the nomination for months. That will undermine his chances of winning in November. His inability to close the deal with conservatives and the nasty tone to the Republican race will also make it hard for him to unite his party. Yet, he will wake up on Wednesday firmly in control of the race after spending most of February on the defensive and looking up at Santorum in the national tracking polls.

The battle for the nomination has damaged Romney but if, as seems likely now, he eventually prevails, he will have time to recover before the general election campaign begins. At that point he will be at the mercy of the fates as the economy and possible foreign policy disasters such as Iran will ultimately decide who wins in November. But in order to get to that point, he had to win tonight. Having done so, he can breathe a sigh of relief and move on to the next challenge.

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Is Santorum’s Chance Slipping Away?

As soon as the polls closed in Arizona tonight, the networks declared Mitt Romney the winner of the state’s Republican primary. The state’s winner-take-all format will ensure that all of Arizona’s 29 delegates go to Romney, which makes it a not inconsiderable prize. Romney’s decisive advantage there makes it an impressive win but unfortunately for him, his Arizona triumph won’t mean much if he can’t hold onto the slim lead he currently holds in Michigan.

Michigan remains the true test tonight and a Santorum win there will be a devastating blow to the frontrunner. Santorum’s camp will, not without some justice, proclaim even a close loss there as a moral victory for their candidate. But if Romney escapes his native state with a victory of any kind, it will be a lost opportunity for Santorum. An upset in Michigan is his best chance to knock off his rival.

As soon as the polls closed in Arizona tonight, the networks declared Mitt Romney the winner of the state’s Republican primary. The state’s winner-take-all format will ensure that all of Arizona’s 29 delegates go to Romney, which makes it a not inconsiderable prize. Romney’s decisive advantage there makes it an impressive win but unfortunately for him, his Arizona triumph won’t mean much if he can’t hold onto the slim lead he currently holds in Michigan.

Michigan remains the true test tonight and a Santorum win there will be a devastating blow to the frontrunner. Santorum’s camp will, not without some justice, proclaim even a close loss there as a moral victory for their candidate. But if Romney escapes his native state with a victory of any kind, it will be a lost opportunity for Santorum. An upset in Michigan is his best chance to knock off his rival.

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How Big is Romney’s Money Advantage?

A few minutes ago, CNN showed a graphic of how much the two leading contenders spent on television ads in Michigan. A rough breakdown shows that Mitt Romney spent $3.1 million to $2.1 million for Rick Santorum. A 3-2 edge is a clear advantage for Romney but nowhere near the big edge he had in Florida where he literally drowned Newt Gingrich in negative broadcast advertising. Of course, these figures don’t include the funds available for organizational needs or turnout, but it demonstrates that for all of the talk of Romney’s overwhelming advantage in fundraising, Santorum has demonstrated the capacity to raise enough money to compete.

This means we shouldn’t listen too much to Santorum’s complaints about Romney buying the election if he loses. At the same time, the assumption that Romney has the resources to overwhelm his opponents if the race proves to be a long, drawn-out slugfest may also be incorrect.

A few minutes ago, CNN showed a graphic of how much the two leading contenders spent on television ads in Michigan. A rough breakdown shows that Mitt Romney spent $3.1 million to $2.1 million for Rick Santorum. A 3-2 edge is a clear advantage for Romney but nowhere near the big edge he had in Florida where he literally drowned Newt Gingrich in negative broadcast advertising. Of course, these figures don’t include the funds available for organizational needs or turnout, but it demonstrates that for all of the talk of Romney’s overwhelming advantage in fundraising, Santorum has demonstrated the capacity to raise enough money to compete.

This means we shouldn’t listen too much to Santorum’s complaints about Romney buying the election if he loses. At the same time, the assumption that Romney has the resources to overwhelm his opponents if the race proves to be a long, drawn-out slugfest may also be incorrect.

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Michigan Exit Polls: Dems May Be Decisive

Earlier today we were speculating about the impact of Democrats participating in the Republican primary in Michigan. Would Democrats vote for Rick Santorum as part of a dirty trick in order to promote a less electable Republican, as Mitt Romney seemed to be claiming? Or would these crossovers be legitimate Reagan Democrats who like Santorum’s stands on social issues as well as expressing working class disdain for a swell like Romney? Or would, as Romney hopes, more moderate independents and Democrats prefer him to a candidate whose views on abortion, gays and contraception are considered extreme?

We don’t know the answer to that question but it is clear that whatever their motivation, Michigan Democrats and independents are going to have a disproportionate impact on a crucial Republican contest. The New York Times reports exit polls show that 10 percent of those voting today in Michigan are Democrats. It also says that irrespective of party affiliation, six in ten consider themselves conservative while 30 percent say they are very conservative and another thirty percent say they are moderate. In theory that is a picture of an electorate that might be more sympathetic to Santorum.

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Earlier today we were speculating about the impact of Democrats participating in the Republican primary in Michigan. Would Democrats vote for Rick Santorum as part of a dirty trick in order to promote a less electable Republican, as Mitt Romney seemed to be claiming? Or would these crossovers be legitimate Reagan Democrats who like Santorum’s stands on social issues as well as expressing working class disdain for a swell like Romney? Or would, as Romney hopes, more moderate independents and Democrats prefer him to a candidate whose views on abortion, gays and contraception are considered extreme?

We don’t know the answer to that question but it is clear that whatever their motivation, Michigan Democrats and independents are going to have a disproportionate impact on a crucial Republican contest. The New York Times reports exit polls show that 10 percent of those voting today in Michigan are Democrats. It also says that irrespective of party affiliation, six in ten consider themselves conservative while 30 percent say they are very conservative and another thirty percent say they are moderate. In theory that is a picture of an electorate that might be more sympathetic to Santorum.

The Times also raises an interesting point about the dirty trick allegation. The paper’s Alison Kopicki points out that Romney claimed to have voted in the Democratic Presidential Primary in Massachusetts in 1992. Romney, at that time an independent, has said he cast a ballot for Paul Tsongas because he was the weakest Democrat in the race which is the same thing he is accusing Democrats of doing today. He’d better hope that most of those Democrats voting today are not making an effort to help their party beat the GOP.

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Not a Parody: Peace Now Shocked to Discover Arabs Don’t Want Peace

What will it take to convince supporters of Peace Now the imperative of their organization’s name depends on the Arabs rather than the Jews? After 18+ years of Arab terrorism and rejection of peace offers since the Oslo Accords, it’s hard to say whether anything the Palestinians could do or say would cause them to rethink their myopic view of the world. But give Americans for Peace Now’s Lara Friedman a little credit. After schlepping to an Arab League conference on Jerusalem, she at least had the wit to notice that just about everybody else there was focused on delegitimizing Israel, denouncing its existence within any borders and denying thousands of years of Jewish history.

However, it’s hard not to chuckle a little bit at the indignant tone affected by Friedman in her op-ed published in the Forward as she conveys her shock and dismay to discover the Arab world believes Jews have no rights in Jerusalem or any other part of Israel. She and her group had so convinced themselves all it will take to create peace “now” was for Israelis to support a two-state solution and negotiate, it appears they never took the time or effort to realize the other side has little interest in peace, now or at any other time. This gives her piece the tone of a parody worthy of The Onion even though it was written in deadly earnest. Indeed, it must be considered in writing such an article she has demonstrated the utter cluelessness of her group better than anything the group’s critics could have come up with.

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What will it take to convince supporters of Peace Now the imperative of their organization’s name depends on the Arabs rather than the Jews? After 18+ years of Arab terrorism and rejection of peace offers since the Oslo Accords, it’s hard to say whether anything the Palestinians could do or say would cause them to rethink their myopic view of the world. But give Americans for Peace Now’s Lara Friedman a little credit. After schlepping to an Arab League conference on Jerusalem, she at least had the wit to notice that just about everybody else there was focused on delegitimizing Israel, denouncing its existence within any borders and denying thousands of years of Jewish history.

However, it’s hard not to chuckle a little bit at the indignant tone affected by Friedman in her op-ed published in the Forward as she conveys her shock and dismay to discover the Arab world believes Jews have no rights in Jerusalem or any other part of Israel. She and her group had so convinced themselves all it will take to create peace “now” was for Israelis to support a two-state solution and negotiate, it appears they never took the time or effort to realize the other side has little interest in peace, now or at any other time. This gives her piece the tone of a parody worthy of The Onion even though it was written in deadly earnest. Indeed, it must be considered in writing such an article she has demonstrated the utter cluelessness of her group better than anything the group’s critics could have come up with.

What is so touching (as well as more than a bit comical) about Friedman’s piece is that much of what she says in it is true. For example:

If President Abbas cannot acknowledge Jewish claims in Jerusalem, even as he asserts Palestinian claims (a problem Yasser Arafat suffered from), he should not be surprised if it is more difficult for Israelis and Jews, wherever they are, to believe that he can be trusted in a peace agreement that leaves Jerusalem sites precious to Jews under Palestinian control.

If representatives of the organization that sponsored the Arab Peace Initiative cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the legitimacy of Jewish equities in Jerusalem, they should know that they discredit their own professed interest in peace. …

All throughout the day, it was unfortunately the same story. Participants talked about Jerusalem as if Jewish history did not exist or was a fraud — as if all Jewish claims in the city were just a tactic to dispossess Palestinians.

Friedman is quite right about all of this. But does it really need to be pointed out that she needn’t have traveled to Doha to figure this out? The Palestinians and their cheerleaders have been making this clear for decades. That is why Peace Now in Israel has been discredited by the events that have transpired since the Oslo Accords were signed, and their political supporters in the Knesset have been trounced in election after election. The traditional left in Israel, at least as far as the Palestinian issue is concerned, is barely alive, though you wouldn’t know it from the way many on the Jewish left in the United States talk. The conceit of groups like Americans for Peace Now and J Street — that Israel must be pressured to make peace by the United States for its own good — makes no sense once you realize the Jewish state has repeatedly tried and failed to trade land for peace and the Palestinians have little interest in a two-state solution no matter where Israel’s borders would be drawn.

Friedman archly compares the Arab hate fest she is attending to Jewish conclaves where only pro-Israel speakers participate. This is a bit much as is her insinuation no one who cares for Israel’s future can possibly oppose a partition of Jerusalem that would place Jewish holy places in the tender care of Abbas and his Hamas allies. As she has discovered to her consternation, Palestinians don’t care about Jewish sensibilities, let alone Jewish rights. Her failure to draw any rational conclusions from what she has heard in Doha tells us all we need to know about the irrelevance of Peace Now to any serious discussion about the future of the Middle East.

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GOP Final Four Had Guts to Stick With It

It’s easy for politicians and political commentators, myself included, to focus on the foibles, mistakes and awkward language that sometimes characterizes the current crop of GOP candidates. That’s why Bill McGurn’s words are worth reflecting upon:

As Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum force Republican voters to make their choice in a hotly contested Michigan primary, once again we hear the great lament that we have looked at the candidates and found them all unworthy. Not everyone puts it as harshly as the headline over Conrad Black’s piece in the National Post: “The Republicans Send in the Clowns.” But it’s a popular meme in the campaign coverage.

Like so many others who find the field wanting, Mr. Black laments that “the best Republican candidates—Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan and Haley Barbour—have sat it out.” We’ll never know, will we? Because the “best” Republicans opted not to put their records and statements up for national scrutiny, commit themselves to a grueling campaign trail, and subject themselves to TV debates moderated by media hosts who often seem to be playing for the other team.

So say this for the final four: They had the guts to put themselves out there—and stick with it. That’s something a winner needs.

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It’s easy for politicians and political commentators, myself included, to focus on the foibles, mistakes and awkward language that sometimes characterizes the current crop of GOP candidates. That’s why Bill McGurn’s words are worth reflecting upon:

As Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum force Republican voters to make their choice in a hotly contested Michigan primary, once again we hear the great lament that we have looked at the candidates and found them all unworthy. Not everyone puts it as harshly as the headline over Conrad Black’s piece in the National Post: “The Republicans Send in the Clowns.” But it’s a popular meme in the campaign coverage.

Like so many others who find the field wanting, Mr. Black laments that “the best Republican candidates—Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan and Haley Barbour—have sat it out.” We’ll never know, will we? Because the “best” Republicans opted not to put their records and statements up for national scrutiny, commit themselves to a grueling campaign trail, and subject themselves to TV debates moderated by media hosts who often seem to be playing for the other team.

So say this for the final four: They had the guts to put themselves out there—and stick with it. That’s something a winner needs.

Bill is quite right. For one thing, the non-presidential politicians look good in large part because they’re not in the presidential arena. If they were, they would be reduced in stature, mocked, and ridiculed just like Romney, Santorum, Gingrich and Paul. Their past words and votes and life stories come back to haunt them. Any Republican who becomes a serious contender for the presidency is going to face withering scrutiny not simply from opponents but from the press. And there’s no guarantee any of the names on Black’s list – several of whom I wanted to enter the race – would be doing well at all. They might have met the same fate as Governor Tim Pawlenty, who looked quite good on paper but failed as a presidential candidate.

McGurn is also right to point out that at least Romney, Santorum, Gingrich and Paul – for whatever complicated mix of motives – were willing to put themselves through an exhausting, grinding campaign. It’s all fine and good for commentators and politicians past and present to critique the current combatants, to say how negative, foolish, unprincipled and tone deaf they are. But the truth is that all of us, including politicians of considerable accomplishment and skills — faced with the daily scrutiny and relentless pressure presidential candidates endure on a daily basis — would come off pretty poorly at times. It’s a lot easier to analyze candidates from behind a keyboard, microphone, television studio, and at a resort conference or cruise than it is to actually run day after day, speaking at event after event, taking question after question.

None of this is an argument for withholding honest critiques and opinions. It’s only an argument for a bit of modesty, a smidge of understanding, and the realization that there but for the grace of God go I.

 

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Obama Supporting the Troops?

Could the Obama administration make it any clearer that it has little regard or respect for the men and women who make the world safe so that the president can indulge so happily in the rich man’s game, and his wife and family can gallivant so luxuriously around the globe?

Bill Gertz at the Washington Free Beacon reported yesterday on some strong opposition from the VFW, the Military Officers Association of America, and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon to the Pentagon’s plan to lay some of its budget cutting squarely on the backs of military personnel by raising their healthcare fees.

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Could the Obama administration make it any clearer that it has little regard or respect for the men and women who make the world safe so that the president can indulge so happily in the rich man’s game, and his wife and family can gallivant so luxuriously around the globe?

Bill Gertz at the Washington Free Beacon reported yesterday on some strong opposition from the VFW, the Military Officers Association of America, and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon to the Pentagon’s plan to lay some of its budget cutting squarely on the backs of military personnel by raising their healthcare fees.

Specifically, if President Obama and Defense Secretary Panetta have their way, active duty servicemen and women will have to pay higher co-payments for prescriptions and will no longer get incentives for buying generic drugs.  And military retirees will see 30 percent to 78 percent increases in their annual healthcare premiums for the first year, and after that, five-year increases from 94 percent to 345 percent.

Meanwhile, guess who gets off scot-free in the budget-cutting scheme? Surprise! It’s civilian workers – in the Department of Defense and other agencies – who happen to belong to that last bastion of labor movement power, government employee unions. And just to hedge the president’s bets on another four cushy years in the White House, the increases aren’t scheduled to begin until after the election.

Oh, and, for anyone who still buys Obama’s promise that we’ll be able to keep our current plans if we like them, apparently his administration expects that one of the side benefits of the planned increases will be to push American soldiers, sailors and flyboys (and girls) away from their military healthcare plans and into the waiting arms of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act program.

Hot air about supporting our troops from Mrs. Obama and Dr. (Jill) Biden notwithstanding, it’s pretty obvious where the sympathies of this White House lie.

 

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Obama’s Keystone Retreat a Matter of Time

Environmental activists are already up in arms about the White House’s decision to support the partial construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. But they should prepare themselves for a lot more disappointment down the road.

President Obama has been playing both sides of the Keystone XL debate since the beginning, and his thumbs-up to the partial construction is the latest sign he’s only interested in delaying the pipeline long enough to hold onto environmentalist support until after November 2012.

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Environmental activists are already up in arms about the White House’s decision to support the partial construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. But they should prepare themselves for a lot more disappointment down the road.

President Obama has been playing both sides of the Keystone XL debate since the beginning, and his thumbs-up to the partial construction is the latest sign he’s only interested in delaying the pipeline long enough to hold onto environmentalist support until after November 2012.

Republicans already see this issue causing problems for Obama in the general election. “I think the president is in an untenable position on the pipeline, and I’ll be surprised to see if they don’t figure out a way to retreat in the face of public [opposition] on this issue,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions on a conference call with reporters this afternoon.

With the price of gas rising, Obama has had to rework his initial political calculation on the pipeline. Previously, the issue pitted together two of his key support groups: the environmental left (which opposed the pipeline) versus the labor unions (which supported it). Rather than risk losing either side in the upcoming election, Obama punted the Keystone XL construction decision until 2013.

But now that rising gas prices are likely to become an election issue for independent voters, Obama can’t risk being seen as responsible for the pipeline’s delay. His public support for the partial construction was a nod to that shifting political reality.

Of course, once construction on the pipeline begins, environmentalists lose any hope of ever killing the Keystone XL completely. They also lose the possibility that Obama may come out strongly against the pipeline for green energy reasons. In fact, as gas prices become increasingly important as an election issue, expect Obama to back away even further from his earlier opposition to the pipeline.

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A Model for Medicare Reform

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan held a hearing today with Richard Foster, the chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. During the hearing, this important exchange took place:

CHAIRMAN RYAN: As you may know, I’ve been working across the aisle with a member of the Oregon delegation from the Senate on a premium support plan that uses competitive bidding to help determine the contribution. Competitive bidding we’ve seen has worked well in Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage. I’d like to get your thoughts on choice and competition as it relates to these previous successful reform plans. Given what we’ve seen in these aspects of Medicare, do you believe that competitive bidding is a process that can be successfully applied Medicare-wide?

CMS CHIEF ACTUARY FOSTER: Yes, I think it can. Obviously, it would represent a large change from the status quo, but I think it could work. We’ve seen the signs of this – you mentioned the Part D prescription drug program, for example, where the different drug plans compete against each other on the quality of their benefit package and the premium level. And we’ve seen – every year since Part D started – a migration of beneficiaries to more efficient plans with lower premiums. So that can help. We’ve also seen for durable medical equipment that competitive bidding, in this particular area of Fee-For-Service Medicare, reduced prices that we had to pay by 40 percent.

RYAN: By forty percent?

FOSTER: Forty percent, that’s right.

RYAN: Those are the kinds of cost savings we’re going to have to achieve if want to make good on the promise of the Medicare guarantee.

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House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan held a hearing today with Richard Foster, the chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. During the hearing, this important exchange took place:

CHAIRMAN RYAN: As you may know, I’ve been working across the aisle with a member of the Oregon delegation from the Senate on a premium support plan that uses competitive bidding to help determine the contribution. Competitive bidding we’ve seen has worked well in Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage. I’d like to get your thoughts on choice and competition as it relates to these previous successful reform plans. Given what we’ve seen in these aspects of Medicare, do you believe that competitive bidding is a process that can be successfully applied Medicare-wide?

CMS CHIEF ACTUARY FOSTER: Yes, I think it can. Obviously, it would represent a large change from the status quo, but I think it could work. We’ve seen the signs of this – you mentioned the Part D prescription drug program, for example, where the different drug plans compete against each other on the quality of their benefit package and the premium level. And we’ve seen – every year since Part D started – a migration of beneficiaries to more efficient plans with lower premiums. So that can help. We’ve also seen for durable medical equipment that competitive bidding, in this particular area of Fee-For-Service Medicare, reduced prices that we had to pay by 40 percent.

RYAN: By forty percent?

FOSTER: Forty percent, that’s right.

RYAN: Those are the kinds of cost savings we’re going to have to achieve if want to make good on the promise of the Medicare guarantee.

There are two important things to take away from this exchange.

The first is that the market mechanisms put in place when the Medicare prescription drug plan (Medicare Part D) was passed have worked spectacularly well.

As I pointed out in a Weekly Standard article with my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague James Capretta, pro-market reformers have long contended that, with the right policies, health care could operate more like other sectors of the economy, with strong price and quality competition rewarding those market participants who improved productivity while also satisfying the consumer. The Medicare prescription drug plan allowed us to test that theory against reality.

Medicare beneficiaries choose every year from among competing, privately run drug-coverage plans. The government’s contribution toward this coverage is set at a fixed percentage of the average premium, and no more. If beneficiaries want to enroll in a plan that costs more than the average, they can do so–but they, not the government, must pay the additional premium. This structure provides strong incentives for the drug coverage plans to secure discounts from manufacturers and encourage use of lower cost products over more expensive alternatives. Drug plans that fail to cut costs risk losing enrollment to cheaper competitors. The program’s competitive design is holding down costs for both Medicare beneficiaries and for government – fully 40 percent, according to Foster.

More importantly, the choice and competition that has worked for Medicare Part D can be applied to Medicare more broadly, which is precisely what Chairman Ryan and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden are advocating, against the fierce opposition of reactionary liberals like President Obama.

In the midst of a political year in which many silly things are being said, it’s useful from time to time to pull back to the substance of governing and learn from what works. George W. Bush did what no other president before or since has done: provide a successful, groundbreaking template for addressing the most urgent domestic issue facing America — structurally reforming the entitlement state in general and Medicare in particular. This is the kind of reform that a serious conservative governing movement would celebrate, highlight, and attempt to replicate. Which is precisely what Paul Ryan, conservative-policy-wonk-turned-budget-chairman, is attempting to do.

 

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