Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 6, 2012

The Super Bowl and the GDP 

I rarely watch football, but I watched the Super Bowl the other night and actually enjoyed it. It was a close enough game to be consistently drama-laden and had (for a New Yorker at least) a satisfying ending.

But even the best football games have a lot of down time as teams huddle, referees confer, and every interesting play is shown over and over from a seemingly endless number of camera angles. So, being an economic historian, while waiting for the game to resume, I began thinking about the economics of a remarkable American phenomenon called the Super Bowl. It is one that now consumes the attention of the entire country every February but didn’t even exist 50 years ago. It has no small effect on the GDP.

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I rarely watch football, but I watched the Super Bowl the other night and actually enjoyed it. It was a close enough game to be consistently drama-laden and had (for a New Yorker at least) a satisfying ending.

But even the best football games have a lot of down time as teams huddle, referees confer, and every interesting play is shown over and over from a seemingly endless number of camera angles. So, being an economic historian, while waiting for the game to resume, I began thinking about the economics of a remarkable American phenomenon called the Super Bowl. It is one that now consumes the attention of the entire country every February but didn’t even exist 50 years ago. It has no small effect on the GDP.

The Super Bowl is much more than a football game. It is a continent-wide spectacle as American as apple pie. The hype leading up to the game is enormous, a part of every sports report for two weeks ahead of the game.

Its local economic effect is huge. Indianapolis probably generated somewhere around $500 million in local GDP, thanks to the game, with hotels, restaurants, and caterers doing a land-office business in the days before the kickoff. The amount of fuel consumed by the private jets that choked the Indianapolis airport was prodigious, and the airport parking fees substantial. Best of all, from the city’s standpoint, was the fact that this was all outside money, unlike a regular Colts game at the same stadium. Scalpers, of course, had a field day. A single seat was reported sold for more than $16,000.

But the economic ramifications spread countrywide. A billion Buffalo wings were consumed in tens of thousands of Super Bowl parties from sea to shining sea on Sunday night. Bars were jammed with raucous fans, but I bet there was immediate seating at many upscale restaurants where reservations are usually hard to get.

The TV audience was reported as being 107 million—a third of the country—with no-one-knows how many more watching it streaming on the Internet. The Super Bowl is part of a package of TV rights, one that includes regular season and post-season games, and it rotates among the four major broadcast networks. But the package is an expensive one. The current one cost the networks, plus ESPN, $20.9 billion. The next one, to run from 2014 to 2022, will set them back $39.6 billion for the same rights.

For an indication of just how much the TV rights to the Super Bowl would cost if sold separately, look at the commercials. While commercial breaks on television are usually a time to hit the head or the icebox, the commercials for the Super Bowl have evolved into a spectacle themselves, often as interesting as the game (sometimes more so). The tradition of out-of-the-ordinary Super Bowl commercials dates back to, at least, Super Bowl XVIII, when Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh computer with the now-iconic 1984 commercial.

On Sunday, NBC charged a staggering $3.6 million for a single 30-second spot. At that price, no production expense is spared. They featured such we-don’t-come-cheap stars as Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Clint Eastwood, and Elton John. Many had terrific special effects and computer-generated graphics, as well as great imagination and humor.

Every micro-second of these commercials is carefully, painstakingly thought out, and the shooting schedules extensive. The result, of course, is a lot more generated GDP, as many people are involved in the making of these commercials, all of them well paid.

English professors will tell you that “poetry is the form of literature with the highest correlation between what is said and how it is said.” If that is true, then Super Bowl commercials, at their best, are the poetry of the age.

Alas, the same cannot be said of the half-time show. I’ve seen better—if far less expensive—productions on cruise ships. Madonna was trying, unsuccessfully, to act half her age. The production, while over-the-top, was utterly incoherent. It began with Madonna arriving in a vast float pulled by laboring Roman soldiers (à la Elizabeth Taylor’s arrival in Rome in the movie Cleopatra) and ended with a plea for world peace. Was this a commercial for a return to the Pax Romana? Who knows?

Some singer I have never heard of, named M.I.A. (and too bad she wasn’t), gave the world a middle-finger salute–about as unprofessional as it is possible to be in show business. The songs were lip-synched. There were, I’m told, several songs, but when one ended and another began I know not, as the music all sounded exactly alike and the words were–lip-synched or not–completely incomprehensible. That, I suspect, was a blessing for those who care about careful lyric writing.

In short, it was a disaster. That, perhaps, is not surprising, as it was produced by the NFL, which knows a lot about turning pigskin into profit, but, obviously, not much about how to stage an effective live performance. I’d suggest that in the future they cut Broadway in for a slice of Super Bowl GDP, and hire a producer with a proven track-record of putting on hit musicals.

The Super Bowl, like Christmas and the 4th of July, is now deeply embedded in American culture. Indeed it’s hard to imagine an America without it. And it now generates economic activity that falls somewhere between those two other major events of the American calendar.

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Turkey Paying a Price for Betrayal of Israel

I wrote earlier today about the human rights violations that have become routine under the regime of President Obama’s buddy Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In addition to making hypocrites out of his friends in Washington, this also raises important questions about Turkey’s standing to criticize Israel for measures intended to defend their citizens against terrorist attack. Under Erdoğan, Turkey hasn’t merely abandoned its longstanding strategic alliance with Israel; it has also become Hamas’s new chief sponsor.

The president may consider his friend’s embrace of an Islamist terror group to be of no importance, but Turkey’s rogue diplomacy is having a ripple effect on stability in the eastern Mediterranean. As historian Benny Morris points out in an article in The National Interest published last week, Israel isn’t taking Turkey’s betrayal sitting down.

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I wrote earlier today about the human rights violations that have become routine under the regime of President Obama’s buddy Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In addition to making hypocrites out of his friends in Washington, this also raises important questions about Turkey’s standing to criticize Israel for measures intended to defend their citizens against terrorist attack. Under Erdoğan, Turkey hasn’t merely abandoned its longstanding strategic alliance with Israel; it has also become Hamas’s new chief sponsor.

The president may consider his friend’s embrace of an Islamist terror group to be of no importance, but Turkey’s rogue diplomacy is having a ripple effect on stability in the eastern Mediterranean. As historian Benny Morris points out in an article in The National Interest published last week, Israel isn’t taking Turkey’s betrayal sitting down.

In response to the Turkish embrace of Hamas, Israel has reached out to both Greece and Cyprus. Greece was among the most hostile countries in Europe to Israel but has now achieved a better understanding of the Jewish state since the Turks have become its foe. To seal this new understanding, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning a visit to Cyprus next month.

Israel has long tried to establish alliances with states on the periphery of the region to balance the solid wall of hate from Arab and Muslim states. As Morris notes, that has led to good relations with newly independent Southern Sudan, a mostly Christian country.

Turkey is locked in a decades-long standoff with the Greeks in Cyprus. But now the Greek Cypriots in Nicosia are seriously considering an Israeli request to station military aircraft on their territory. As Morris writes, the Cypriots, who have faced intimidation from a superior Turkish military, are looking to Israel for help:

The Cypriots are apparently interested in Israeli assistance in monitoring the air space above the gas fields and drilling equipment and in augmenting their (small) navy’s patrols in their economic waters. [Israeli Defense Minister Ehud] Barak has asked the Cypriots to allow Israel to station aircraft in the Papandreu Air Base outside the town of Paphos in western Cyprus. And two months ago, the Israeli and Cypriot air forces held a joint exercise.

Turkey, which once prided itself on trying to be part of Europe, now aspires to a new caliphate. They may have thought its erstwhile ally had nowhere to turn once they were dumped. But by pushing Israel into the arms of Turkey’s Cypriot antagonists, they may have considerably worsened their own strategic situation.

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Who Deserves Credit for Iran Sanctions?

President Obama is getting heaps of praise for the tough Iranian bank sanctions he ordered today. But lost in the pro-Obama media coverage are the names of the two lawmakers who made these sanctions happen: Sens. Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez.

The Kirk-Menendez bill – which was signed into law by Obama in December only after he fought for it be watered down – actually required the president to sign the executive order implementing these sanctions. In fact, Obama waited over a month after he signed the law to actually comply with it.

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President Obama is getting heaps of praise for the tough Iranian bank sanctions he ordered today. But lost in the pro-Obama media coverage are the names of the two lawmakers who made these sanctions happen: Sens. Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez.

The Kirk-Menendez bill – which was signed into law by Obama in December only after he fought for it be watered down – actually required the president to sign the executive order implementing these sanctions. In fact, Obama waited over a month after he signed the law to actually comply with it.

The president’s attempt to take sole credit for the sanctions is drawing understandable criticism on the Hill. A senior congressional aide who helped craft the Iran sanctions legislation, fumed: “After taking more than a month to comply with a law he opposed in the first place, the president’s announcement today is heavy on PR and completely empty on substance or news.  The president didn’t wake up and decide to freeze Iranian bank assets because of any newfound sense of urgency on Iran; it’s required in section one of the Menendez-Kirk amendment.”

“Everyone needs to pay extremely close attention to the rule that’s about to be published which will contain all the details on how the Obama Administration intends to implement sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran,” added the aide.

Credit where it’s due: Obama signed the executive order for a round of sanctions that finally have teeth, and may be last hope for averting military action by the U.S. or Israel. His actions today will get them rolling.

But the honorable thing to do would be to recognize the real architects behind the sanctions, Menendez and Kirk.

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An Absurd Abortion Argument

On his blog, Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times writes, “Abortion is legal. It is a safe medical procedure. And it is rare. That’s exactly how it should be. Government has no business violating women’s privacy rights and making decisions about their reproductive rights. It is the worst kind of ‘big government’ imaginable.”

On the claim that abortion is a “safe” medical procedure: it isn’t a particularly safe medical procedure for the unborn child being aborted. As for abortion being rare, there are roughly 1.2 million abortions performed in the United States each year, meaning more than 3,000 per day, and approximately 50 million since the legalization of abortion in 1973. According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly half of pregnancies among American women are unintended, and about four in 10 of these are terminated by abortion. Twenty-two percent of all pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion.

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On his blog, Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times writes, “Abortion is legal. It is a safe medical procedure. And it is rare. That’s exactly how it should be. Government has no business violating women’s privacy rights and making decisions about their reproductive rights. It is the worst kind of ‘big government’ imaginable.”

On the claim that abortion is a “safe” medical procedure: it isn’t a particularly safe medical procedure for the unborn child being aborted. As for abortion being rare, there are roughly 1.2 million abortions performed in the United States each year, meaning more than 3,000 per day, and approximately 50 million since the legalization of abortion in 1973. According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly half of pregnancies among American women are unintended, and about four in 10 of these are terminated by abortion. Twenty-two percent of all pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion.

But let’s focus most of our attention on the claim that conservatives who believe a society should protect life, including innocent, unborn life, are acting in a profoundly un-conservative way by supporting “the worst kind of ‘big government.’”

To begin with: Does Rosenthal believe government should take a stand against abortion when it comes to children in their eighth month in utero and/or children who were marked for abortion but were delivered alive? If Rosenthal believes government should be neutral on such matters, his views are monstrous and radical. If, on the other hand, Rosenthal believes government should say “no” to some abortion procedures, he is acknowledging that at some point the protection of the unborn is, in fact, a state interest. The difference he therefore has with those in the pro-life movement is where he draws the line, not that a line needs to be drawn.

Which brings me to the matter of line drawing. Where does Rosenthal propose to draw it? What objective criteria should we use when it comes to the point at which unborn life should be protected? Brain waves and brain activity? Substantial development of the nervous system? When the unborn child feels pain? When organs, arms and legs develop? Heartbeat and blood flow? Sentience? Rationality? Viability outside the womb? In the second trimester? The third? And then ask yourself this: What medical or moral basis is there to say the state should protect unborn life during the second (or third) trimester but not during the first? The answer is: There is none.

Critics of the pro-life movement, when pressed on the matter, simply throw a dart on the board and decide, for entirely arbitrary reasons, when human life has sufficient value to warrant protection from the state.

It’s worth pointing out as well that on the matter of abortion, we’re dealing with human life. That’s not a “religious” judgment; it’s a scientific one. The fetus is indisputably alive and, if it comes to full term, it won’t be a giraffe or a coyote; it will be a human child. Infants are released from the hospital to go to a home, not a zoo. The question, of course, is at what point in the developmental stage one ascribes moral significance and the protection of the law to unborn life. Intelligent and honorable people disagree on this matter. But even liberals writing for the New York Times must acknowledge, at least to themselves, if not
publicly, that at some point the entity in question has a legitimate moral and legal claim on society; that at some point puncturing the skull of an unborn child and sucking out her brain is an act a decent society should oppose. And even Andrew Rosenthal, if he can escape for just a moment from his left-wing catechism, would see how misguided it is to insist that having government protect the most defenseless members of the human community is not the “worst
kind of ‘big government’ imaginable.” There are, in fact, horrors even worse than defending unborn children.

 

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Obama Embraces Turkish Tyranny

President Obama may have bragged to Fareed Zakaria in TIME last month about his close relations with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan but a better understanding of the sort of leader that the president values via an op-ed in today’s Washington Post. Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu outlined the vast scale of human rights abuses and suppression of dissent that has become routine under Erdoğan with hundreds of journalists, politicians military officers and other dissenters languishing in prison for years without being charged.

While some in Washington excitedly talk of Turkey’s ruling Islamic party being the preferred model for the Muslim world, the reality is that Ankara’s path is one that is headed steadily away from democracy and toward more hostility toward the West and the United States.

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President Obama may have bragged to Fareed Zakaria in TIME last month about his close relations with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan but a better understanding of the sort of leader that the president values via an op-ed in today’s Washington Post. Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu outlined the vast scale of human rights abuses and suppression of dissent that has become routine under Erdoğan with hundreds of journalists, politicians military officers and other dissenters languishing in prison for years without being charged.

While some in Washington excitedly talk of Turkey’s ruling Islamic party being the preferred model for the Muslim world, the reality is that Ankara’s path is one that is headed steadily away from democracy and toward more hostility toward the West and the United States.

As Kılıçdaroğlu makes clear, tyranny is the only word to describe Turkey under Erdoğan and his AKP:

The AKP is systematic and ruthless in its persecution of any opposition to its policies. Authoritarian pressure methods such as heavy tax fines and illegal videotaping and phone tapping are widely used to silence opponents. …

It all boils down to this: In today’s Turkey, when one criticizes the justice system, one is prosecuted. When one appeals to the courts, one is penalized.

Given the fact that the Obama administration is probably less interested in human rights concerns abroad than any American government in generations, it is no surprise that none of this seems to alarm the White House. But it should also put Obama on the spot since he has not only failed to press the Turks on their anti-Israel policy but has become Ankara’s leading cheerleader on the international scene.

The administration has taken a sanguine attitude about the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt while speaking of the Turks as the example they wish the Islamists there to follow. But as troubling as this apathy about the dangers of Islamist rule may be to the regional balance of power with Israel, it is now becoming apparent that the human cost of this decision will also be considerable. The only difference is that it has taken almost a decade for Erdoğan to gain the leverage to suppress his foes. It won’t take that long for the Brotherhood.

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Beware Limitations of Special Ops Forces

In retrospect, the operation to kill Osama bin Laden–Operation Neptune Spear on May 2, 2011–may be viewed as a turning point in the Obama presidency. It bolstered the president’s standing on national security affairs and led him to listen less to the generals, who counseled him against a complete pullout in Iraq and a hasty drawdown in Afghanistan, and more to his own instincts, which, it seems safe to say, are far from hawkish. It has also led to the president’s current infatuation with Special Operations Forces, which recalls John F. Kennedy’s enthusiasm for the Green Berets in the early 1960s and George W. Bush’s and Donald Rumsfeld’s similar passion in the early 2000s after the overthrow of the Taliban.

In those earlier instances, both JFK and Bush wildly exaggerated what Special Operators could do. They could not by themselves win wars in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s no knock on our elite troops to say those challenges were too big to be solved by a few commandos. So too with Afghanistan  and similar challenges today: These wars will not be won by Delta Force and Seal Team Six.

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In retrospect, the operation to kill Osama bin Laden–Operation Neptune Spear on May 2, 2011–may be viewed as a turning point in the Obama presidency. It bolstered the president’s standing on national security affairs and led him to listen less to the generals, who counseled him against a complete pullout in Iraq and a hasty drawdown in Afghanistan, and more to his own instincts, which, it seems safe to say, are far from hawkish. It has also led to the president’s current infatuation with Special Operations Forces, which recalls John F. Kennedy’s enthusiasm for the Green Berets in the early 1960s and George W. Bush’s and Donald Rumsfeld’s similar passion in the early 2000s after the overthrow of the Taliban.

In those earlier instances, both JFK and Bush wildly exaggerated what Special Operators could do. They could not by themselves win wars in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s no knock on our elite troops to say those challenges were too big to be solved by a few commandos. So too with Afghanistan  and similar challenges today: These wars will not be won by Delta Force and Seal Team Six.

The kinds of direct-action strikes that these units carry out are an integral part of any comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy–but they cannot substitute for the absence of such a strategy. That was the mistake we made in Iraq from 2003 to 2007 and in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2009. Now it seems Obama is making that mistake again, to judge from news reports the White House is planning to lean heavily on the Special Operations Forces as they withdraw regular troops from Afghanistan. This is not a way to defeat the Taliban, the Haqqanis, and other dangerous terrorists on the cheap–it is a way to lose the war while pretending you are doing something to win it.

In reality, if conditions deteriorate across Afghanistan, as they surely will if U.S. troops pull back as quickly as the administration envisions, Special Operations Forces will have trouble generating the intelligence to identify insurgent leaders. They will also have trouble finding safe areas from which to launch their raids. But the biggest problem of all is if insurgents control substantial territory it is relatively easy for them to regenerate themselves after decapitating strikes on their leaders–as both Hamas and Hezbollah have done after Israeli counter-terrorist strikes. Al-Qaeda Central has proven a better target for Special Operations raids and drone strikes precisely because it is so small and isolated; but larger insurgent groups will not be defeated by the removal of a few leaders.

The president needs to understand not only the capabilities but also the limitations of the Special Operations Forces. They cannot carry the main burden of a U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, especially not when they are being counted upon to do a lot more in the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa, and other hot spots that are in turmoil.

 

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Obama Buys More Time for Diplomacy

After trying to persuade Congress not to pass sanctions on all entities doing business with Iran’s Central Bank and then warning he might not enforce them after the legislation passed, President Obama went ahead and ordered the ban to proceed via an executive order signed yesterday. The order was announced today in a letter to Congress and lends credence to previous statements from the administration that their problem with Congress’s attempt to impose the sanctions was an issue relating to separation of powers rather than reluctance to confront Iran and halt its efforts to obtain nuclear capability.

It is far from certain the order would have gone through had Congress not acted to mandate such action in the first place. But the prime motivation for acting now, well in advance of the six-month deadline Congress laid down for Obama to enforce the legislation, may have had more to do with fear of an Israeli strike on Iran than scruples about the Constitution. With Israel making it clear it will not wait indefinitely for sanctions and diplomacy to work, Obama had little choice but to implement the legislation, thereby setting in motion a chain of events that could lead to the complete economic isolation of Iran. The question facing Washington now is whether this measure can be quickly implemented, and will it be too little and too late?

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After trying to persuade Congress not to pass sanctions on all entities doing business with Iran’s Central Bank and then warning he might not enforce them after the legislation passed, President Obama went ahead and ordered the ban to proceed via an executive order signed yesterday. The order was announced today in a letter to Congress and lends credence to previous statements from the administration that their problem with Congress’s attempt to impose the sanctions was an issue relating to separation of powers rather than reluctance to confront Iran and halt its efforts to obtain nuclear capability.

It is far from certain the order would have gone through had Congress not acted to mandate such action in the first place. But the prime motivation for acting now, well in advance of the six-month deadline Congress laid down for Obama to enforce the legislation, may have had more to do with fear of an Israeli strike on Iran than scruples about the Constitution. With Israel making it clear it will not wait indefinitely for sanctions and diplomacy to work, Obama had little choice but to implement the legislation, thereby setting in motion a chain of events that could lead to the complete economic isolation of Iran. The question facing Washington now is whether this measure can be quickly implemented, and will it be too little and too late?

In his pre-Super Bowl interview on NBC yesterday, the president acknowledged the gravity of Israel’s security concerns about a nuclear Iran, which he said Americans shared. He declared, “We are going to make sure we work in lock step and work to resolve this, hopefully diplomatically.” But the presidents’s chief concern seemed to be to persuade Israel to give him more time to achieve such a diplomatic resolution before deciding to act on their own.

His problem, however, is that even with the sanctions on the bank in place–a measure that is a prerequisite for an international embargo on Iranian oil sales–it is not clear whether it will be rigorously enforced or respected by Tehran’s chief trading partners. With Russia and China defying Obama on Syria, Israel can have little confidence the president can count on their acquiescence on a far bigger target in Iran. Moreover, just as worrisome is the Treasury Department’s history of providing exemptions to thousands of companies that already do business with companies that trade with Iran.

The bank ban may gain Obama a bit more time, and he is probably right when he says, as he did yesterday, that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak have not yet made up their minds about launching a strike. But the Israelis are not likely to give the bank ban or even the oil embargo all that much time. Just as worrisome is the possibility Iran will switch tactics and attempt to engage Obama in another negotiation that might lead to an agreement that might not be enforceable, much in the same way the North Koreans scammed Obama’s predecessors as they ran out the clock on talks while proceeding to finish their bomb.

While a negotiated settlement that would avert the need to use force is in Israel’s interest as well as that of the United States, Jerusalem has little reason to trust in Obama’s good faith or his willingness to persist in a tough position vis-à-vis Iran. In signing the order, Obama has done the right thing, and for that he deserves credit. But the Israelis and others who understand the profound nature of this threat will be monitoring enforcement of the provision closely and looking to see whether Washington buckles at the first hint of a new round of futile talks with the ayatollahs’ representatives.

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No, Obama Hasn’t “Gotten Better With Time”

It’s easy for conservatives to get disappointed when looking at the mess of a GOP field. But then you hear interviews like this one, and think, maybe, just maybe, there’s a glimmer of hope for Republicans:

In a TODAY exclusive, Matt Lauer asked Obama about his supporters’ disappointment over his first-term performance — that they believe he hasn’t been “the transformational political figure they hoped you would be.”

“What’s frustrated people is that I have not be able to force Congress to implement every aspect of what I said in 2008,” he said.

“That’s just the nature of being president,” he said. “It turns out that our founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change than I would like sometimes.

“What I’m going to just keep on doing is plodding away, very persistent. And you know what? One of the things about being president is you get better as time goes on.”

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It’s easy for conservatives to get disappointed when looking at the mess of a GOP field. But then you hear interviews like this one, and think, maybe, just maybe, there’s a glimmer of hope for Republicans:

In a TODAY exclusive, Matt Lauer asked Obama about his supporters’ disappointment over his first-term performance — that they believe he hasn’t been “the transformational political figure they hoped you would be.”

“What’s frustrated people is that I have not be able to force Congress to implement every aspect of what I said in 2008,” he said.

“That’s just the nature of being president,” he said. “It turns out that our founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change than I would like sometimes.

“What I’m going to just keep on doing is plodding away, very persistent. And you know what? One of the things about being president is you get better as time goes on.”

Have things really gotten so bad for Obama that he’s been forced to campaign on the “Just give me a few more years, I’m starting to get the hang of this” platform?

The worst part about it is it’s completely and utterly false. His only significant legislative accomplishments came early in his presidency, when Democrats still controlled both the House and Senate. The president hasn’t figured out how to work with House Republicans, and his relationship with Speaker Boehner has only deteriorated over time. After the next 10 months, which Obama will spend campaigning against the “do-nothing Congress,” does anybody really expect the ice to melt if he wins a second term?

Obama’s apologia to his disillusioned supporters is “it’s not me, it’s the broken Washington system.” The problem is, that’s the same “broken system” these voters sent him to Washington to fix back in 2008. That excuse won’t cut it.

What’s frustrating Obama supporters isn’t that he hasn’t been able to “force Congress to implement every aspect of what [he] said in 2008.” Nobody ever expected him to “force” Congress to do anything. He was elected based on his brand as a “consensus-builder” and a “post-partisan” – his plan was to persuade, not to coerce. That wasn’t particularly difficult to do back when the people he had to win over were members of his own party. But when the public rejected Obama’s policies and handed the House over to Republicans, his great powers of persuasion were rendered shockingly ineffective. And no, the president hasn’t gotten any better at it.

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Gingrich on the “Age of Austerity”

Talking Points Memo flags this “austerity” criticism from Newt Gingrich as a sign the speaker is out of touch with the rest of the Republican Party:

The 2012 Republican presidential candidate was asked by NBC’s David Gregory on “Meet The Press” whether his hopes for a U.S. colony on the moon fly in the face of the GOP’s fiscal responsibility mantra. Gingrich responded with some choice words about austerity itself before defending his lunar ambitions.

“First of all, David, I don’t think you’ll ever find me talking about an age of austerity. I don’t think that’s the right solution,” Gingrich said. “I am a pro-growth Republican. I’m a pro-growth conservative. I think the answer is to grow the economy, not to punish the American people with austerity.”

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Talking Points Memo flags this “austerity” criticism from Newt Gingrich as a sign the speaker is out of touch with the rest of the Republican Party:

The 2012 Republican presidential candidate was asked by NBC’s David Gregory on “Meet The Press” whether his hopes for a U.S. colony on the moon fly in the face of the GOP’s fiscal responsibility mantra. Gingrich responded with some choice words about austerity itself before defending his lunar ambitions.

“First of all, David, I don’t think you’ll ever find me talking about an age of austerity. I don’t think that’s the right solution,” Gingrich said. “I am a pro-growth Republican. I’m a pro-growth conservative. I think the answer is to grow the economy, not to punish the American people with austerity.”

Writes TPM reporter Sahil Kapur:

His comments are remarkable in that they appear to contradict the core economic belief of the modern Republican Party that Gingrich hopes to lead. In this era of high deficits, austerity is routinely heralded by conservatives and GOP lawmakers as the path to economic prosperity, and the party was successful last year in keeping the issue atop the 2011 legislative agenda.

It’s a little simplistic to say austerity is the “core economic belief” of the Republican Party. Pro-growth policies should go hand-in-hand with necessary budget cuts. But that has little to do with Gingrich’s moon program, which comes off as wildly out-of-touch with what the conservative movement – and independent voters – think is necessary for the country’s future. In fact, according to a poll by The Hill today, just one out of five voters support Gingrich’s permanent moon colony proposal. As the public watches the default disaster unfolding in Greece, and our country’s own debt piles up, the appetite for a moon colony is understandably small.

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Americans Support Strike on Iran Facilities

According to the latest poll by The Hill, nearly half of Americans favor U.S. military action against Iran in order to prevent the regime from building nuclear weapons:

Nearly half of likely voters think the United States should be willing to use military force to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, according to this week’s The Hill Poll.

Forty-nine percent said military force should be used, while 31 percent said it should not and 20 percent were not sure.

Sixty-two percent of likely voters said they were somewhat or very concerned about Iran making a terrorist strike on the United States, while 37 percent said they were not very concerned or not at all concerned about it.

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According to the latest poll by The Hill, nearly half of Americans favor U.S. military action against Iran in order to prevent the regime from building nuclear weapons:

Nearly half of likely voters think the United States should be willing to use military force to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, according to this week’s The Hill Poll.

Forty-nine percent said military force should be used, while 31 percent said it should not and 20 percent were not sure.

Sixty-two percent of likely voters said they were somewhat or very concerned about Iran making a terrorist strike on the United States, while 37 percent said they were not very concerned or not at all concerned about it.

Nearly 70 percent of Republicans back the idea, along with 41 percent (a narrow plurality) of Democrats. The political complications for Obama stem from the fact that 42 percent of liberals oppose a military attack on Iran, while just 32 support it. But while liberals would be up in arms if Obama okayed an attack, they don’t really have any alternative candidates to vote for (unless you count Roseanne Barr). When it comes down to it, Obama may be less constrained by his base than previously thought.

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Did Obama Win the Battle and the War Against Entitlement Reform?

In late January, I noted that Senate Democrats were furious with a member of their own party, Ron Wyden, for attempting to negotiate bipartisan Medicare reform with Paul Ryan. The Democrats expressed frustration that Wyden was taking an election issue off the table for them, by getting Ryan to agree to leave traditional Medicare as an option in future reforms and by putting a bipartisan stamp on what could be a controversial plan.

The Democrats thought they had Ryan beat–but they didn’t want him to retreat just yet. An article in The Hill today buttresses the Democrats’ interpretation of the dustup over Ryan’s “roadmap,” though the issue may have spooked Ryan’s fellow Republicans more than Ryan himself:

Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, was bloodied in the first round after his proposal to revamp Medicare became a campaign poster for Democrats.

Obama, who skirted major proposals to reform Medicare and Social Security in his own budget last year, invited Ryan to a speech and then ripped him from the stage, saying the proposal would “end Medicare as we know it.”

Ryan’s plan soon became a campaign theme that Democrats credited with handing them a special election victory in upstate New York.

One year later, Ryan is showing he can adjust after taking a punch, which would be a good thing, as the president is going to present his fiscal 2013 budget next Monday.

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In late January, I noted that Senate Democrats were furious with a member of their own party, Ron Wyden, for attempting to negotiate bipartisan Medicare reform with Paul Ryan. The Democrats expressed frustration that Wyden was taking an election issue off the table for them, by getting Ryan to agree to leave traditional Medicare as an option in future reforms and by putting a bipartisan stamp on what could be a controversial plan.

The Democrats thought they had Ryan beat–but they didn’t want him to retreat just yet. An article in The Hill today buttresses the Democrats’ interpretation of the dustup over Ryan’s “roadmap,” though the issue may have spooked Ryan’s fellow Republicans more than Ryan himself:

Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, was bloodied in the first round after his proposal to revamp Medicare became a campaign poster for Democrats.

Obama, who skirted major proposals to reform Medicare and Social Security in his own budget last year, invited Ryan to a speech and then ripped him from the stage, saying the proposal would “end Medicare as we know it.”

Ryan’s plan soon became a campaign theme that Democrats credited with handing them a special election victory in upstate New York.

One year later, Ryan is showing he can adjust after taking a punch, which would be a good thing, as the president is going to present his fiscal 2013 budget next Monday.

It should be interesting to see if the president is at all willing to submit a budget that has any chance of actually becoming law. His budget proposal in May 2011 received not a single vote–even from Democrats–and went down 0-97. A Democratic budget that scares every single Democrat into voting against it is not a particularly serious offer, and we’ll learn next week whether we’ll see a repeat of that.

But we’ll also see how serious congressional Republicans are about entitlement reform. Mitt Romney has shown some hesitation on the issue, though The Hill story notes that Romney’s own plan is very similar to Ryan’s new plan. But Republicans may have even less appetite for reform than Romney does.

“I would hope that it’s a thoughtful budget that focuses on the numbers for the next fiscal year rather than being some ‘roadmap’ for the next 10 years that invites criticism,” Ohio Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette told The Hill.

If that’s the attitude among congressional Republicans–that the party should not seek to reform institutions or pass forward-thinking budgets, but rather try to survive year to year until insolvency swallows the country whole–Ryan and Romney will be leaders with no followers. And Obama will have won a larger victory for himself and for the welfare state than even he thought.

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Never Mind Israel, Iran’s First Target Might Be its Arab Neighbors

As Jonathan noted, the New York Times seems determined to downplay Iran’s verbal threats against Israel, first eliminating them from its report on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s speech last week and then dismissing them as mere “posturing and saber-rattling.” And I can understand why: Israel is the only country to be openly weighing military action against Tehran’s nuclear program. So dismiss the validity of the threat Iran poses to Israel, and you’ve also seemingly dismissed any need for military action.

The only problem with this approach is that far from being the only country seriously threatened by Iran, Israel may well not even be at the top of the list. To understand why this is so, it suffices to recall Saddam Hussein. Saddam also threatened night and day to destroy Israel. Yet the country he actually tried to wipe off the map wasn’t Israel, but Kuwait.

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As Jonathan noted, the New York Times seems determined to downplay Iran’s verbal threats against Israel, first eliminating them from its report on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s speech last week and then dismissing them as mere “posturing and saber-rattling.” And I can understand why: Israel is the only country to be openly weighing military action against Tehran’s nuclear program. So dismiss the validity of the threat Iran poses to Israel, and you’ve also seemingly dismissed any need for military action.

The only problem with this approach is that far from being the only country seriously threatened by Iran, Israel may well not even be at the top of the list. To understand why this is so, it suffices to recall Saddam Hussein. Saddam also threatened night and day to destroy Israel. Yet the country he actually tried to wipe off the map wasn’t Israel, but Kuwait.

Nor is this surprising: Saddam’s Iraq, like today’s Iran, aspired to dominate the region. And for that purpose, taking over neighboring Kuwait was far more useful than attacking Israel, both to acquire Kuwait’s bountiful oil fields and to undermine another contender for regional dominance, Kuwaiti ally Saudi Arabia.

Because Israel is isolated from the rest of the Middle East, it is completely irrelevant to the internal jockeying for supremacy among the region’s various Muslim powers. Hence, if Iran’s goal is regional hegemony, then attacking Israel would be a sideshow, just as it was for Saddam – who, while launching a full-scale invasion of Kuwait, made do with lobbing a token 40 Scuds at Israel. The most important targets would be Iran’s regional rivals, first and foremost Saudi Arabia and its allies.

That is why, as Wikileaks revealed two years ago, Arab countries have consistently demanded more forceful American action against Iran. Saudi Arabia, for instance, delivered “frequent exhortations to the U.S. to attack Iran,” demanding it “cut off the head of the snake.” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi warned that “[Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” King Hamad of Bahrain said Iran’s nuclear program “must be stopped,” because “the danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.” Lebanon’s Saad Hariri urged military action by saying, “Iraq was unnecessary. Iran is necessary.” A senior Jordanian official said even though bombing Iran would have “catastrophic” consequences, “he nonetheless thought preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons would pay enough dividends to make it worth the risks.”

What all these countries know is that they, rather than Israel, might well be Iran’s first targets – but unlike Israel, they lack the military capability even to credibly threaten to attack Iran themselves. And because these countries include some of the world’s major oil producers, that should be of great concern to the West.

None of this means the Iranian threat to Israel isn’t real: Even if a nuclear Iran never attacked Israel directly, it could still wreak havoc via satellite groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. But Israel is far from being the only country threatened by Iran. And it’s about time Western pundits and policymakers woke up to that fact.

 

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About the Manliest Sport

Last night’s Super Bowl, in which the the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots by 21 to 17, was one of the most exciting of the XLVI games so far. From the improbable first score — a two-point safety ruled against the Patriots’ Tom Brady on a technical violation — to Ahmad Bradshaw’s turn-around-and-sit-down touchdown with 57 seconds remaining, the Giants’ four-point win was almost enough to blot out the image of 53-year-old Madonna strutting and fretting upon a stage that looked as if it had been left over from an Obama rally.

Three years ago, after the heart-pounding finish to an earlier Super Bowl, I wondered why there are not more American football novels. Not much is new or changed since then. Eli Manning, last night’s winning quarterback, collaborated with his brother Peyton Manning and their father Archie Manning — all three of them signal callers in the NFL — to produce a children’s book called Family Huddle (“Archie was in the front yard in New Orleans, playing with his three sons, Cooper, Peyton, and Eli. It was Peyton’s turn at their favorite game: Amazing catches.”) Ex-players like Tiki and Ronde Barber and Jason Elam also turned out disposable popular titles.

But novels that take the American game seriously are few and far between. Joiner (1971) is the most promising, and not because James Whitehead played football at Vanderbilt before an injury reduced him to literature. Eugene (Sonny) Joiner, narrator and protagonist, is an offensive lineman rather than a glamor player; he squints up at the game from an unusual position. Ultimately, though, the novel falls victim to post-1968 nonsense. Styling himself a “radical historian,” Joiner teaches calculus and spelling to underprivileged children at a progressive school after he quits pro football, and becomes the disciple of a fifteenth-century Hussite.

The late Peter Gent ran routes and caught passes for the Dallas Cowboys for five seasons in the sixties, then wrote North Dallas Forty (1973), a novel that was more distinguished for its rage at the professional sport than for its scenes of action on the field. Dan Jenkins’s Semi-Tough (1972) displayed a raw satiric talent, but was nearly as angry in tone as Gent’s novel, filled with gall. His 1984 novel Life Its Ownself, with the twin linebackers Orangejello and Limejello, is a great favorite of COMMENTARY editor John Podhoretz, who describes it as a work of comic genius. (I think it’s funnier if you don’t already know that Mark Lemongello was a righthanded pitcher for the Houston Astros in the late Seventies.) Don DeLillo’s End Zone (1972) has great fun with the language of the game (“Monsoon sweep, string-in-left, ready right, cradle out, drill-9 shiver, ends chuff”), but it is not about football as the game was played last night at Lucas Oil Stadium, but a wild, wacky football that is more metaphor than reality.

Much the same is true of Howard Nemerov’s far less ambitious novel The Homecoming Game (1957), which does not even try to describe what occurs on the field. Here a professor’s F, leaving the star ineligible for the big game, serves merely as a pretext for an exploration of moral ambiguity. Ivan Doig’s The Eleventh Man (2008), which follows the members of a state championship team after they enlist for the Second World War, is more attentive to life after football. John R. Tunis, perhaps the greatest sports novelist of all time, wrote only one book about football. All-American (1942) is the best of a bad harvest — understanding that it is a boys’ book and that, like all of Tunis’s books, it has more to do with a boy’s fumbling for values than handling a ball. No one is better at describing the action on the field, but many readers will find Tunis dated, and his moral concerns inartistic and unliterary. So too for the other boys’ novelist who wrote about football: the former basketball coach Clair Bee, whose series of “Chip Hilton” books were my passionate favorites as a kid.

Perhaps the problem is that football is understood (wrongly) as the least individual of sports, where ignorant coaching systems clash by night; or perhaps the problem is that The Great Gatsby’s Tom Buchanan cast the mold for football players in American literature, condemning them for all time to being represented as careless brutes. The truth is that it is the most masculine of sports, more so even than boxing, not merely because it requires manliness, which Harvey Mansfield defines as confidence in a situation of risk (boxing takes that too), but because it demands the masculine virtues— patience, patrimony, moral courage, physical strength, loyalty to friends, submission to legitimate authority, service to others.

Especially with the hyperventilating anxiety about concussions in football, the game is rich in moral complexity. You’d think it would attract America’s best literary talents. Not so, apparently. James Wright’s little poem “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio” may be the best thing ever written about football. The best book-length stuff is history and reportage: John J. Miller’s The Big Scrum, Michael Lewis’s The Blind Slide, Lars Anderson’s Carlisle vs. Army: Jim Thorpe, Dwight Eisenhower, Pop Warner, and the Forgotten Story of Football’s Greatest Battle, H. G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights, David Fleming’s Breaker Boys: The NFL’s Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship. The definitive American football novel is yet to be written.

Last night’s Super Bowl, in which the the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots by 21 to 17, was one of the most exciting of the XLVI games so far. From the improbable first score — a two-point safety ruled against the Patriots’ Tom Brady on a technical violation — to Ahmad Bradshaw’s turn-around-and-sit-down touchdown with 57 seconds remaining, the Giants’ four-point win was almost enough to blot out the image of 53-year-old Madonna strutting and fretting upon a stage that looked as if it had been left over from an Obama rally.

Three years ago, after the heart-pounding finish to an earlier Super Bowl, I wondered why there are not more American football novels. Not much is new or changed since then. Eli Manning, last night’s winning quarterback, collaborated with his brother Peyton Manning and their father Archie Manning — all three of them signal callers in the NFL — to produce a children’s book called Family Huddle (“Archie was in the front yard in New Orleans, playing with his three sons, Cooper, Peyton, and Eli. It was Peyton’s turn at their favorite game: Amazing catches.”) Ex-players like Tiki and Ronde Barber and Jason Elam also turned out disposable popular titles.

But novels that take the American game seriously are few and far between. Joiner (1971) is the most promising, and not because James Whitehead played football at Vanderbilt before an injury reduced him to literature. Eugene (Sonny) Joiner, narrator and protagonist, is an offensive lineman rather than a glamor player; he squints up at the game from an unusual position. Ultimately, though, the novel falls victim to post-1968 nonsense. Styling himself a “radical historian,” Joiner teaches calculus and spelling to underprivileged children at a progressive school after he quits pro football, and becomes the disciple of a fifteenth-century Hussite.

The late Peter Gent ran routes and caught passes for the Dallas Cowboys for five seasons in the sixties, then wrote North Dallas Forty (1973), a novel that was more distinguished for its rage at the professional sport than for its scenes of action on the field. Dan Jenkins’s Semi-Tough (1972) displayed a raw satiric talent, but was nearly as angry in tone as Gent’s novel, filled with gall. His 1984 novel Life Its Ownself, with the twin linebackers Orangejello and Limejello, is a great favorite of COMMENTARY editor John Podhoretz, who describes it as a work of comic genius. (I think it’s funnier if you don’t already know that Mark Lemongello was a righthanded pitcher for the Houston Astros in the late Seventies.) Don DeLillo’s End Zone (1972) has great fun with the language of the game (“Monsoon sweep, string-in-left, ready right, cradle out, drill-9 shiver, ends chuff”), but it is not about football as the game was played last night at Lucas Oil Stadium, but a wild, wacky football that is more metaphor than reality.

Much the same is true of Howard Nemerov’s far less ambitious novel The Homecoming Game (1957), which does not even try to describe what occurs on the field. Here a professor’s F, leaving the star ineligible for the big game, serves merely as a pretext for an exploration of moral ambiguity. Ivan Doig’s The Eleventh Man (2008), which follows the members of a state championship team after they enlist for the Second World War, is more attentive to life after football. John R. Tunis, perhaps the greatest sports novelist of all time, wrote only one book about football. All-American (1942) is the best of a bad harvest — understanding that it is a boys’ book and that, like all of Tunis’s books, it has more to do with a boy’s fumbling for values than handling a ball. No one is better at describing the action on the field, but many readers will find Tunis dated, and his moral concerns inartistic and unliterary. So too for the other boys’ novelist who wrote about football: the former basketball coach Clair Bee, whose series of “Chip Hilton” books were my passionate favorites as a kid.

Perhaps the problem is that football is understood (wrongly) as the least individual of sports, where ignorant coaching systems clash by night; or perhaps the problem is that The Great Gatsby’s Tom Buchanan cast the mold for football players in American literature, condemning them for all time to being represented as careless brutes. The truth is that it is the most masculine of sports, more so even than boxing, not merely because it requires manliness, which Harvey Mansfield defines as confidence in a situation of risk (boxing takes that too), but because it demands the masculine virtues— patience, patrimony, moral courage, physical strength, loyalty to friends, submission to legitimate authority, service to others.

Especially with the hyperventilating anxiety about concussions in football, the game is rich in moral complexity. You’d think it would attract America’s best literary talents. Not so, apparently. James Wright’s little poem “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio” may be the best thing ever written about football. The best book-length stuff is history and reportage: John J. Miller’s The Big Scrum, Michael Lewis’s The Blind Slide, Lars Anderson’s Carlisle vs. Army: Jim Thorpe, Dwight Eisenhower, Pop Warner, and the Forgotten Story of Football’s Greatest Battle, H. G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights, David Fleming’s Breaker Boys: The NFL’s Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship. The definitive American football novel is yet to be written.

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Why is Callista Gingrich So Quiet?

Maureen Dowd has a new piece out on Callista Gingrich this week, and while it devolves into unnecessary nastiness at the end, this part about the contrast between Newt’s and Mitt’s wives is worth noting:

Ann Romney often introduces her husband, chatting warmly about his uxorious virtues, and then disappears offstage or to the back of the stage while he talks. But the 45-year-old Callista has created an entirely new model for a spouse, standing mute in her primary color suits and triple-strand pearls looking at the 68-year-old Newt for the whole event, her platinum carapace inclined deferentially toward his shaggy gray mane. …

That may be why she has a largely nonspeaking role in the campaign, as silent as the slender heroine of “The Artist,” even though Newt relays that she has described herself as a hybrid of Nancy Reagan, Laura Bush and Jackie Kennedy. The campaign does not want to remind voters that the relationship, portrayed as so redemptive, was born in sin and hypocrisy.

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Maureen Dowd has a new piece out on Callista Gingrich this week, and while it devolves into unnecessary nastiness at the end, this part about the contrast between Newt’s and Mitt’s wives is worth noting:

Ann Romney often introduces her husband, chatting warmly about his uxorious virtues, and then disappears offstage or to the back of the stage while he talks. But the 45-year-old Callista has created an entirely new model for a spouse, standing mute in her primary color suits and triple-strand pearls looking at the 68-year-old Newt for the whole event, her platinum carapace inclined deferentially toward his shaggy gray mane. …

That may be why she has a largely nonspeaking role in the campaign, as silent as the slender heroine of “The Artist,” even though Newt relays that she has described herself as a hybrid of Nancy Reagan, Laura Bush and Jackie Kennedy. The campaign does not want to remind voters that the relationship, portrayed as so redemptive, was born in sin and hypocrisy.

It wasn’t until after reading this that I realized I couldn’t even remember actually hearing Callista speak. A Google search for Callista Gingrich interviews – which brought up this 2009 clip of her sounding like a museum guide robot – only managed to amplify the Stepford Wife resemblance. This isn’t a person talking, it’s rote memorization. Which raises the question: is Gingrich uncomfortable with his wife speaking off-the-cuff?

This wouldn’t be an issue worth mentioning if Newt didn’t already have a serious problem with women voters, one some pundits say may have cost him Florida. While Gingrich’s advisers may think keeping Callista quiet will draw less attention to Newt’s infidelity, in fact, the exact opposite is probably true. Women see Callista trailing her husband around the country like a silent mannequin and find it instinctively off-putting: Why is he so uncomfortable with his wife taking a normal role in the campaign? What’s wrong with him? If Newt wants to understand his problem with women voters, he has to realize Callista’s odd silence plays a part in it.

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Liberal Racism Canard Won’t Work

While Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 largely on the notion that he was a post-racial and post-partisan political figure, its rapidly becoming apparent that many Democrats are hoping he can be re-elected by smearing his opponents as racists. That’s the upshot of a feature in Politico today that takes note that many liberals are using the image of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer wagging her finger at the president during an airport confrontation as proof that Republicans are racially biased.

The idea that Brewer’s finger wagging was racist is beyond absurd. Their argument had nothing to do with race. Moreover, Obama has made a habit of lecturing and wagging his own finger at opponents while nose-to-nose with them. As Politico notes, Brewer was even criticized for noting that it was Obama who was attempting to intimidate her and that he was intolerant of criticism. But equally absurd is the idea that Obama has been subjected to more abuse than his predecessors or that Republicans are using “dog whistle” racist arguments to whip up sentiment against him. Having failed to govern effectively during his three-plus years in office, Obama can’t run on a record of success. So he must instead seek to demonize his opponents and, indeed, all critics, by trying to still their voices by making them fear they will be accused of the one political sin for which there is no forgiveness in contemporary Western society: racism.

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While Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 largely on the notion that he was a post-racial and post-partisan political figure, its rapidly becoming apparent that many Democrats are hoping he can be re-elected by smearing his opponents as racists. That’s the upshot of a feature in Politico today that takes note that many liberals are using the image of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer wagging her finger at the president during an airport confrontation as proof that Republicans are racially biased.

The idea that Brewer’s finger wagging was racist is beyond absurd. Their argument had nothing to do with race. Moreover, Obama has made a habit of lecturing and wagging his own finger at opponents while nose-to-nose with them. As Politico notes, Brewer was even criticized for noting that it was Obama who was attempting to intimidate her and that he was intolerant of criticism. But equally absurd is the idea that Obama has been subjected to more abuse than his predecessors or that Republicans are using “dog whistle” racist arguments to whip up sentiment against him. Having failed to govern effectively during his three-plus years in office, Obama can’t run on a record of success. So he must instead seek to demonize his opponents and, indeed, all critics, by trying to still their voices by making them fear they will be accused of the one political sin for which there is no forgiveness in contemporary Western society: racism.

Obama and his defenders seem to want to have it both ways. They believe the president should be free to lecture his critics and to employ the crudest sort of class warfare tactics to delegitimize opposing views. But they also seek to categorize any sign of resistance to Obama’s charms as a form of lèse-majesté. Presumably, when governors of states are being intimidated on airport tarmacs by thin-skinned presidents, the only proper attitude is for them to simply stand at attention and take it without demurral.

Obama has been subjected to some brutal criticism and a lot of disrespect, some of which is highly regrettable. But so was his immediate predecessor. Anger at Obama is but an echo of the liberal campaign to delegitimize George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Few in the chattering classes who now carry on about abuse of Obama ever gave a second thought to the vile things said about Bush and Cheney.

As for the dog whistle arguments, this is another form of political trickery that seeks to avoid discussion of certain topics. I’m no fan of Newt Gingrich, but his invocation of Obama as a food stamp president has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with his attempt to remind voters of the same arguments he made during the GOP’s successful attempt to reform welfare. The point is that Democrats like Obama who seek to perpetuate the dependence of the poor on the government — especially racial minorities — are doing far more harm than good. Pointing this out isn’t racism; it’s just sensible and realistic social policy.

Branding Republicans as racists is important for Democrats because so many leading GOP figures are themselves minorities. The Republicans are now a diverse party with Hispanics like Senator Marco Rubio and New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez, Indian-Americans like Governors Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley and, yes, African-Americans like Rep. Allen West and Herman Cain, who present an image of Obama’s opposition that liberals cannot abide. They must try therefore to tar them all with the brush of racism lest the debate focus on their rejection of liberal shibboleths. Talk of racism also mobilizes the Democratic base that is always ready to believe the worst of Republicans even if the charge is utterly without a basis in fact.

But the problem for Obama’s would-be defenders is the racism canard won’t work this time. Having been elected to the presidency on the idea that he was a man who rose above such concerns, it is impossible for him to seek re-election by employing Al Sharpton’s tactics. While prejudice is far from dead in America, the only people seeking to whip up racial resentment these days are liberals who hope to cow those who resent Obama and wish to hold him accountable for his failures. If he is to win in 2012, it will be because of the incompetence of his opponents or by a miraculous economic recovery. But the more time liberals spend time talking about Republican racism the less likely it will be that independents and wavering Democrats who are tired of Obama’s excuses will listen to them.

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The Peace Process is Formally Buried

In a ceremony broadcast live across the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was formally buried. The event, which formalized the unity pact between the Fatah Party and its Hamas rival, marked the formation of a new Palestinian Authority government in which both factions would share power. PA President Mahmoud Abbas will also assume the role of prime minister, ousting Salam Fayyad, the pro-peace and development technocrat who had earned the trust of the West for his efforts to build the Palestinian economy and enforce the rule of law. But Fayyad’s role in the PA is now over, as is, apparently, Abbas’s pretense that he, too, favored peace and development.

There will be those apologists for the Palestinians who will say unity was necessary for peace and even claim this means Hamas is abandoning violence. But they will be either lying or deceiving themselves. Hamas’s goal of Israel’s destruction is unchanged as is, it should be noted, that of their erstwhile Fatah enemies. By signing the pact and now making it a reality, Abbas has for all intents and purposes torn up the Oslo Peace Accords, signed with such hope on the White House Lawn in September 1993.

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In a ceremony broadcast live across the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was formally buried. The event, which formalized the unity pact between the Fatah Party and its Hamas rival, marked the formation of a new Palestinian Authority government in which both factions would share power. PA President Mahmoud Abbas will also assume the role of prime minister, ousting Salam Fayyad, the pro-peace and development technocrat who had earned the trust of the West for his efforts to build the Palestinian economy and enforce the rule of law. But Fayyad’s role in the PA is now over, as is, apparently, Abbas’s pretense that he, too, favored peace and development.

There will be those apologists for the Palestinians who will say unity was necessary for peace and even claim this means Hamas is abandoning violence. But they will be either lying or deceiving themselves. Hamas’s goal of Israel’s destruction is unchanged as is, it should be noted, that of their erstwhile Fatah enemies. By signing the pact and now making it a reality, Abbas has for all intents and purposes torn up the Oslo Peace Accords, signed with such hope on the White House Lawn in September 1993.

Oslo required the Palestinians to give up violence and dedicate themselves to peace and establishing a civil society in exchange for rule over the West Bank and Gaza and the implicit promise of independence. This PLO leader Yasir Arafat did not do. He nurtured terrorists among his own ranks even as he jealously guarded his power against rivals like Hamas. The choice for the Palestinians was clear. Their leaders could act to wipe out those who opposed peace and therefore seal a plan of coexistence with Israel or they could fail to do so and condemn both peoples to another generation or more of conflict. Arafat, who was offered an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem in 2000 and 2001, refused to accept it, and instead chose another round of conflict via the terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada.

Abbas, his successor, turned down another such offer in 2008. Since then, he has refused to negotiate with Israel and has now preferred the embrace of the Islamists of Hamas to that of the West and Israel from whom he could have won independence and peace. While belief in the peace process has been the stuff of fantasy for many years, the consummation of the Fatah-Hamas marriage of convenience marks the formal burial of the idea that the Palestinians had any interest in peace with Israel.

The talk of Hamas changing from an Islamist terrorist group committed to Israel’s destruction and the murder of its Jewish population into a non-violent political group is as genuine as the similar rationalizations that were put forward in the 1990s for Arafat. Bringing Hamas into the PA government means an end to all pretense of hope for peace. There were, after all, never any real differences between the two on the ultimate objective of eliminating Israel. Fatah was no more capable of signing a peace deal that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders were drawn, than Hamas. The influence of the Islamists will now spread from Gaza to the West Bank, renewing the threat of terrorism from that region that Israel’s security fence had largely eliminated.

The Palestinians are counting on both the Europeans and the Obama administration to bend to their desires and keep Western aid flowing to the PA. They believe the West is so committed to its illusions about Palestinian moderation that they will flout their own laws that forbid the transfer of funds to terror groups and those governments they have infiltrated. They also hope the knee-jerk impulse to blame Israel for everything that happens in the Middle East will overwhelm common sense and create a new push for Israeli concessions to the Fatah-Hamas government.

No doubt there will be plenty of support for such a policy from so-called realists and other veteran peace processers who would compromise their own principles rather than admit they were wrong about the Palestinian desire for peace.

Obama has been the most pro-Palestinian of any American president. But his efforts to help them have been rewarded with the same contempt that more pro-Israel administrations have gotten from the PA. If Obama has a shred of common sense or dignity left, he will make it clear to the Palestinians that they have effectively cut themselves off from American aid and a path to independence. Anything else would constitute a U.S. repudiation of Oslo. If Abbas chooses peace with Hamas over peace with Israel then he must be made to understand he will pay a high price for this decision.

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