Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 28, 2012

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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Walker Recall Will Be Referendum on 2010

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has wisely decided not to challenge the validity of the petitions that were presented to the state demanding his recall. Rather than getting involved in a nasty Bush-Gore lawsuit he might lose even before fighting for his office, he’s better off simply going straight to the voters sometime this summer.

The hundreds of thousands of signatures were largely the work of his union opponents who hope to undo the results of the 2010 elections when the people of Wisconsin chose a conservative Republican for the governor’s chair as well as a GOP-run legislature. The vote will be something of a referendum on the 2010 election in which Wisconsin can, in effect, get a mulligan for its choice at that time. The recall will enable us to see whether the state was ready for a politician who meant what he said when he campaigned on a platform of pushing back against civil service unions that are driving states into bankruptcy. While the most recent poll rates this a tossup, the Walker vote represents both an opportunity and a danger to both parties as they seek a leg up heading into this fall’s presidential election.

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has wisely decided not to challenge the validity of the petitions that were presented to the state demanding his recall. Rather than getting involved in a nasty Bush-Gore lawsuit he might lose even before fighting for his office, he’s better off simply going straight to the voters sometime this summer.

The hundreds of thousands of signatures were largely the work of his union opponents who hope to undo the results of the 2010 elections when the people of Wisconsin chose a conservative Republican for the governor’s chair as well as a GOP-run legislature. The vote will be something of a referendum on the 2010 election in which Wisconsin can, in effect, get a mulligan for its choice at that time. The recall will enable us to see whether the state was ready for a politician who meant what he said when he campaigned on a platform of pushing back against civil service unions that are driving states into bankruptcy. While the most recent poll rates this a tossup, the Walker vote represents both an opportunity and a danger to both parties as they seek a leg up heading into this fall’s presidential election.

As today’s Public Policy Polling survey shows, Democrats and their union allies have a real chance to knock off an icon of the GOP’s landslide 2010 midterm victory. Walker’s record is viewed unfavorably by a 52-47 margin, and he trails both likely Democratic challengers, though only by a small amount that is within the margin of error. However, the notion that the vast majority of citizens are clamoring for his eviction from the governor’s office is at best overblown. When asked whether they favor a recall, the result is a flat-footed tie, with 49 percent favoring one and the same number opposing the vote.

It should also be noted that this poll comes at a moment when the GOP is at its nadir in terms of national popularity. A nasty presidential nomination fight is reaching its climax in neighboring Michigan while the economy is on a light uptick, boosting President Obama’s fortunes. Unless you assume, as perhaps some Democrats do, that things will only get worse for Walker and the Republicans during the next few months, the governor may well reason he has nowhere to go but up.

It bears repeating that Democrats are taking a big chance by going after Walker. If they win, they will have effectively reversed the verdict of 2010, and it will be rightly seen as an omen foretelling a big Obama victory in November. But if they lose, it will be just as big a morale boost for Republicans and also set up Walker as a major figure in national politics. Seen in this light, Democrats and state union activists must know if they fail to defeat Walker now, they may well live to rue their defeat in years to come as he rises even higher in national esteem.

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A Death Knell for American Military Power?

Mackenzie Eaglen of the conservative American Enterprise Institute and Michael O’Hanlon of the liberal Brookings Institution make an important point regarding the looming dangers of sequestration, about which much of Washington seems to be in denial. If nothing is done, in January 2013 the Defense Department will have to start chopping another $500 billion or so from its budget–on top of the nearly $500 billion in cuts already being implemented. The results could be catastrophic, and we don’t have until Dec. 31 to head off this disaster. As Eaglen and O’Hanlon note, Congress must act now to avoid the willy-nilly budget cutting that otherwise will occur in less than a year’s time. They warn:

Sequestration will cause its greatest disruptions immediately in early 2013, when mechanistic and severe cuts have to be imposed overnight. The military can adapt to reductions that it sees coming; for all the inefficiencies of the Department of Defense, it is still one of the world’s most competent planning bureaucracies. But this is a whole different kettle of fish: Because spending would have to decline for 2013 based on cuts taking effect only in January, there would be no opportunity to use natural attrition in the force to cut personnel costs, no opportunity to use the natural annual cycle of working with defense industry to restructure contracts and keep alive those weapons programs that are needed and desired, no realistic way to scale back training carefully in a way that saves money yet keeps the military ready.

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Mackenzie Eaglen of the conservative American Enterprise Institute and Michael O’Hanlon of the liberal Brookings Institution make an important point regarding the looming dangers of sequestration, about which much of Washington seems to be in denial. If nothing is done, in January 2013 the Defense Department will have to start chopping another $500 billion or so from its budget–on top of the nearly $500 billion in cuts already being implemented. The results could be catastrophic, and we don’t have until Dec. 31 to head off this disaster. As Eaglen and O’Hanlon note, Congress must act now to avoid the willy-nilly budget cutting that otherwise will occur in less than a year’s time. They warn:

Sequestration will cause its greatest disruptions immediately in early 2013, when mechanistic and severe cuts have to be imposed overnight. The military can adapt to reductions that it sees coming; for all the inefficiencies of the Department of Defense, it is still one of the world’s most competent planning bureaucracies. But this is a whole different kettle of fish: Because spending would have to decline for 2013 based on cuts taking effect only in January, there would be no opportunity to use natural attrition in the force to cut personnel costs, no opportunity to use the natural annual cycle of working with defense industry to restructure contracts and keep alive those weapons programs that are needed and desired, no realistic way to scale back training carefully in a way that saves money yet keeps the military ready.

This could well be the death knell for American military power–or at least a guarantee we will again hit the nadir we last saw in the late 1970s. Congress needs to wake up and act before it’s too late. These cuts will not be averted by wishful thinking; it will require political leadership which, alas, appears to be sorely lacking in Washington at the moment.

 

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Romney Says Gaffes Hurt Him

Intrade is still giving Mitt Romney a 55 percent chance of winning Michigan tonight. But imagine what those internal campaign polls look like if Romney’s holding a press conference like this the day of the primary:

The morning after confidently declaring he would win Michigan’s primary, on Tuesday Mitt Romney acknowledged a series of gaffes had damaged his effort and downplayed expectations for the voting results in the state where he was born. …

When pressed by reporters, Romney acknowledged he had hurt his campaign with a series of comments in which he seemed to casually flaunt his wealth. Over the past several days, Romney mentioned his wife drives “a couple of Cadillacs” and told an Associated Press reporter he has friends who are NASCAR team owners.

A reporter asked if these remarks had hurt him.

“Yes,” Romney said. “Next question.”

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Intrade is still giving Mitt Romney a 55 percent chance of winning Michigan tonight. But imagine what those internal campaign polls look like if Romney’s holding a press conference like this the day of the primary:

The morning after confidently declaring he would win Michigan’s primary, on Tuesday Mitt Romney acknowledged a series of gaffes had damaged his effort and downplayed expectations for the voting results in the state where he was born. …

When pressed by reporters, Romney acknowledged he had hurt his campaign with a series of comments in which he seemed to casually flaunt his wealth. Over the past several days, Romney mentioned his wife drives “a couple of Cadillacs” and told an Associated Press reporter he has friends who are NASCAR team owners.

A reporter asked if these remarks had hurt him.

“Yes,” Romney said. “Next question.”

Romney’s also setting the stage for a loss by continuing to suggest that Democratic dirty tricks would be responsible for a Santorum victory:

“I think the hardest thing about predicting what’s going to happen today is whether Senator Santorum’s effort to call Democrat households and tell them to come out and vote against Mitt Romney is going to be successful or not,” Romney told reporters at his campaign headquarters in Livonia during his first press conference in almost three weeks. “I think Republicans have to recognize there’s a real effort to kidnap our primary process.”

It’s certainly possible that high Democratic turnout could push Santorum over the top. Democrats participating in the primary are supporting Santorum over Romney, 47 percent to 10 percent, according to the latest Public Policy Polling survey. They also make up 8 percent of primary voters, a not-insignificant number.

But this was also a state Romney was expected to lock up, and he’s not going to be able to inoculate himself from criticism by blaming a loss on his recent blunders. It just so happens that Santorum’s made plenty of problematic comments himself, and somehow he’s still managed to end up neck-and-neck with Romney.

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GOP Needs Neither Possums Nor RINOs

Earlier, Alana noted that Mitt Romney’s “indignant tone” concerning Rick Santorum’s attempt to get conservative Democrats to cross over and vote for him in the Michigan primary may embody the concerns David Brooks wrote about today in the New York Times. In his column, Brooks demanded that moderate Republicans — or as conservatives refer to them, RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only — fight back against right-wing “protesters” whom he believes are destroying the GOP and ruining its chances of beating Barack Obama. Brooks reduces the narrative of the last 50 years of American political history to a constant struggle between the grass roots and the elites in which the latter have been consistently routed. He believes this is largely the result of fear on the part of party professionals who have chosen to play possum and not fight back against the influence of people like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. Brooks is right that Republicans appear to be fumbling what had once seemed an excellent chance of unseating an unpopular incumbent. But he’s wrong to blame it on the unwillingness of moderates and party elites to fight back and educate the rebellious hoi polloi who are too stupid to listen to the advice of their betters.

Laments for the extinction of “Rockefeller Republicans” tell us nothing about what conservatives should be doing. What the GOP needs are not more RINOs or right-leaning Washington establishment types like Richard Lugar (whom Brooks lauds but is in fact, a more reliable indicator of conventional wisdom on most issues than any liberal establishment pundit), but leaders who care about ideas and have the ability to convince the nation to get behind them and then govern accordingly. It is the absence of such persons in the presidential race that is the GOP’s problem in 2012.

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Earlier, Alana noted that Mitt Romney’s “indignant tone” concerning Rick Santorum’s attempt to get conservative Democrats to cross over and vote for him in the Michigan primary may embody the concerns David Brooks wrote about today in the New York Times. In his column, Brooks demanded that moderate Republicans — or as conservatives refer to them, RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only — fight back against right-wing “protesters” whom he believes are destroying the GOP and ruining its chances of beating Barack Obama. Brooks reduces the narrative of the last 50 years of American political history to a constant struggle between the grass roots and the elites in which the latter have been consistently routed. He believes this is largely the result of fear on the part of party professionals who have chosen to play possum and not fight back against the influence of people like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. Brooks is right that Republicans appear to be fumbling what had once seemed an excellent chance of unseating an unpopular incumbent. But he’s wrong to blame it on the unwillingness of moderates and party elites to fight back and educate the rebellious hoi polloi who are too stupid to listen to the advice of their betters.

Laments for the extinction of “Rockefeller Republicans” tell us nothing about what conservatives should be doing. What the GOP needs are not more RINOs or right-leaning Washington establishment types like Richard Lugar (whom Brooks lauds but is in fact, a more reliable indicator of conventional wisdom on most issues than any liberal establishment pundit), but leaders who care about ideas and have the ability to convince the nation to get behind them and then govern accordingly. It is the absence of such persons in the presidential race that is the GOP’s problem in 2012.

The problem with the Republicans this year is their leadership choices have been politicians who were either unelectable outliers or lacked a credible conservative vision and/or principles. That means Republicans are now reduced to choosing between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. Both men have their strengths, and certainly the latter is far more electable than the former, but Republicans do have a right to ask themselves why it is they had to settle for such a choice. But the fault for this dilemma cannot be laid at the door of the Tea Party or social conservatives.

The GOP need not be the slave to the Tea Party any more than Ronald Reagan was the servant of the various conservative rebel factions that united in 1980 to ensure the party would not slip back into the hands of the remnants of its once powerful establishment. What is needed is someone whose commitment to conservative ideas on governance is sufficiently passionate to harness the protesters’ enthusiasm while also putting forth a credible plan to govern the nation. If Mitt Romney has failed so far to do so, it is not because he is bowing down to the false idol of Tea Party activism, but because too few believe he is serious about governing as a conservative rather than the sort of pragmatic compromiser of principle that Brooks seems to want.

Let’s remember the “Rockefeller Republicans” weren’t merely another brand of conservative but outright liberals who had to be sent packing if the GOP was to present an actual alternative to left-wing patent nostrums that had been foisted on the country. The “moderates” who were wiped out by initial conservative uprisings were a similar obstacle to the creation of the conservative party that has won five national elections in the last three decades. If you want to know what the party would look like if this had not happened, you need only to look at Arlen Specter, the turncoat senator from Pennsylvania whose name has come up in the scrum between Romney and Santorum. For all of the current party’s ills, a Republican Party populated largely by unprincipled trimmers and place servers like Specter is what the conservative revolution has avoided. That is an achievement that should not be deprecated.

Populist lowbrow politicians and pundits such as Palin and Beck have always been with us and always will. They will never be able to completely control a major party such as the GOP. But in the absence of more credible conservative leaders, their influence increases. Yet rather than fight a colonial anti-insurgency campaign against the Tea Party as Brooks recommends, what Republicans need is a rebel leader who is ready to govern. People like that, such as Paul Ryan and Chris Christie, do exist. But in their absence, the GOP will have to make do and hope for the best.

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Is an Israeli Strike on Iran Inevitable?

The Associated Press is getting some attention for its article alleging that Israel will not warn the U.S. if it decides to launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Kimberly Dozier reports:

The pronouncement, delivered in a series of private, top-level conversations with U.S. officials, sets a tense tone ahead of meetings in the coming days at the White House and on Capitol Hill.

Israeli officials said that if they eventually decide a strike is necessary, they would keep the Americans in the dark to decrease the likelihood that the U.S. would be held responsible for failing to stop Israel’s potential attack, said one U.S. intelligence official familiar with the discussions. The U.S. has been working with the Israelis for months to convince them that an attack would be only a temporary setback to Iran’s nuclear program.

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The Associated Press is getting some attention for its article alleging that Israel will not warn the U.S. if it decides to launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Kimberly Dozier reports:

The pronouncement, delivered in a series of private, top-level conversations with U.S. officials, sets a tense tone ahead of meetings in the coming days at the White House and on Capitol Hill.

Israeli officials said that if they eventually decide a strike is necessary, they would keep the Americans in the dark to decrease the likelihood that the U.S. would be held responsible for failing to stop Israel’s potential attack, said one U.S. intelligence official familiar with the discussions. The U.S. has been working with the Israelis for months to convince them that an attack would be only a temporary setback to Iran’s nuclear program.

It seems unlikely Israel would do this unless the Obama administration is requesting plausible deniability–something indicated by the second sentence in that quote. As usual, it’s doubtful the unnamed source knows as much as the reporter would like him to know, but the administration should be furious with this particular leaker. Telling reporters the Obama administration believes an attack on Iran would only be a temporary setback and is therefore inadvisable is that unnamed source’s way of telling Iran that all options are not on the table, and that the credible threat of force has either been removed or is in the process of being removed from the equation, thus undermining any negotiations the administration insists it wants to hold.

That’s not the only way this unnamed source is attempting to sabotage the Obama administration’s Iran policy. Later on in the article we learn that Republican Congressman Mike Rogers, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and his Democratic counterpart, Dutch Ruppersberger, met with the Israeli leadership as well. According to Ruppersberger, they discussed “presenting a unified front to Iran, to counter the media reports that the two countries are at odds over how and when to attack Iran.”

One presumes the Obama administration’s anger at this unnamed source will be tempered by their ability to find humor in Ruppersberger explaining to the Associated Press the U.S. and Israel are trying to present a united front for an article about how the U.S. and Israel are unable to present a united front.

This wouldn’t be the first time there was confusion about Israel’s coordination with the U.S. about such a strike. In Ronald Reagan’s diaries, the former president writes of Menachem Begin after Israel destroyed the Osirak reactor in Iraq, “He should have told us & the French.” In an entry a week later, he writes:

We have just learned that Israel & the previous Admin. did communicate about Iraq & the nuclear threat & the U.S. agreed it was a threat. There was never a mention of this to us by the outgoing admin. Amb. Lewis cabled word to us after the Israeli attack on Iraq & now we find there was a stack of cables & memos tucked away in St. Dept. files.

Jimmy Carter was an especially nasty politician, but sometimes I can still be surprised by how willing he was to subvert and disrupt American security–concerning something as serious and dangerous as nuclear proliferation in the Middle East–in a vengeful fit about losing the election.

But if the current administration is really unwilling to launch or support a preemptive strike on Iran–as the AP’s source and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta keep insisting–they will be wholly reliant on other means to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Those means will be weakened significantly if Panetta and other administration officials keep telling reporters the Iranian leadership has nothing to worry about. Those means will be further weakened if President Obama continues trying to water down Iran sanctions and opposing sanctions that garner all 100 votes in the Senate.

If Obama persists in his efforts to prevent tough Iran sanctions and keeps signaling to Iran his administration has taken military action off the table, the president is unlikely to find much success at the negotiating table. All of which would, in turn, only encourage the Israelis to take action themselves.

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Desperation Sets in for Romney in Michigan

After days of Mitt Romney and his advisors insisting he will win his home state of Michigan, today’s too-close-to-call polls are clearly taking a toll on his nerves. Romney lashed out at the right wing today, and again accused Rick Santorum of trying to hijack the election with dirty tricks. AP reports:

Mitt Romney says he’s struggling with the Republican Party’s right wing in Michigan because he’s unwilling to make “incendiary” comments. He also accused rival Rick Santorum of trying to “kidnap” the presidential nominating process with automated calls urging Democrats to vote in Tuesday’s primary in Michigan.

Speaking to reporters hours after the polls opened, Romney suggested his rivals are making headway with the GOP base because they are willing to say “outrageous things” that help them in the polls.

Romney says he’s not willing to light his “hair on fire” to try to earn support.

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After days of Mitt Romney and his advisors insisting he will win his home state of Michigan, today’s too-close-to-call polls are clearly taking a toll on his nerves. Romney lashed out at the right wing today, and again accused Rick Santorum of trying to hijack the election with dirty tricks. AP reports:

Mitt Romney says he’s struggling with the Republican Party’s right wing in Michigan because he’s unwilling to make “incendiary” comments. He also accused rival Rick Santorum of trying to “kidnap” the presidential nominating process with automated calls urging Democrats to vote in Tuesday’s primary in Michigan.

Speaking to reporters hours after the polls opened, Romney suggested his rivals are making headway with the GOP base because they are willing to say “outrageous things” that help them in the polls.

Romney says he’s not willing to light his “hair on fire” to try to earn support.

However you feel about Santorum’s robocall outreach to Democratic voters, Romney’s comments scream desperation. He needs to dial it back a notch. If there was any mistake his campaign made during the past week, it was making unequivocal statements about Romney’s certain victory in Michigan. But there’s nothing he can do to fix that at this point.

Unless, of course, Romney’s indignant tone isn’t a sign he’s gone into panic mode, but instead a sign that he’s been reading David Brooks this morning. According to Brooks, the real problem with RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) is they shrink from a fight with the right-wingers and pretend to be more conservative than they really are in order to get elected:

Leaders of a party are supposed to educate the party, to police against its worst indulgences, to guard against insular information loops. They’re supposed to define a creed and establish boundaries. Republican leaders haven’t done that. Now the old pious cliché applies:

First they went after the Rockefeller Republicans, but I was not a Rockefeller Republican. Then they went after the compassionate conservatives, but I was not a compassionate conservative. Then they went after the mainstream conservatives, and there was no one left to speak for me.

So maybe Romney’s just trying to take a stand for RINOs everywhere by pushing back against the conservative base. Of course, that ignores the obvious reason why Republicans are forced to tack right during primaries – because the conservative base is the one voting.

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Michigan’s Reagan Democrats May Spoil Romney’s Homecoming

Mitt Romney has been running for the Republican presidential nomination for more than five years. But after all the millions of dollars he has spent on attaining this goal and the endless trips and speeches he has made and all the debates in which he has participated, it may just come down to what happens today in Michigan. A loss in the Michigan primary isn’t necessarily fatal to his hopes. He is expected to win easily in Arizona today and given the fact that many in the party would regard Rick Santorum’s nomination as an unmitigated disaster, it should be expected that even after a defeat in his home state, Romney could eventually prevail in a long race. But a loss in Michigan would puncture, perhaps fatally, the notion of Romney’s inevitability. And it could also set in a motion a series of events, heretofore considered highly unlikely, that could lead to a deadlocked convention and the emergence of an alternative Republican candidate. All of which is to say if Romney intends to take the presidential oath in Washington next January, he had better pull out a win today.

Yet with the polls tightening in the last days before the Michigan primary, a Romney victory is very much in doubt. As Alana noted, Romney is complaining about Santorum’s effort to get Democrats to vote for him, something he considers a dirty trick. But while he might consider the robocalls underhanded, the attempt to get registered Democrats to cross over and vote for Santorum is a reflection of Romney’s weakness, not a dirty trick. Though the former Pennsylvania senator may be unelectable in November, he is well placed to appeal to one element of the old Ronald Reagan coalition: the working class Democrats who voted their values and backed the GOP in 1980 and were immortalized in Stanley Greenberg’s study that centered on Macomb County, Michigan.

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Mitt Romney has been running for the Republican presidential nomination for more than five years. But after all the millions of dollars he has spent on attaining this goal and the endless trips and speeches he has made and all the debates in which he has participated, it may just come down to what happens today in Michigan. A loss in the Michigan primary isn’t necessarily fatal to his hopes. He is expected to win easily in Arizona today and given the fact that many in the party would regard Rick Santorum’s nomination as an unmitigated disaster, it should be expected that even after a defeat in his home state, Romney could eventually prevail in a long race. But a loss in Michigan would puncture, perhaps fatally, the notion of Romney’s inevitability. And it could also set in a motion a series of events, heretofore considered highly unlikely, that could lead to a deadlocked convention and the emergence of an alternative Republican candidate. All of which is to say if Romney intends to take the presidential oath in Washington next January, he had better pull out a win today.

Yet with the polls tightening in the last days before the Michigan primary, a Romney victory is very much in doubt. As Alana noted, Romney is complaining about Santorum’s effort to get Democrats to vote for him, something he considers a dirty trick. But while he might consider the robocalls underhanded, the attempt to get registered Democrats to cross over and vote for Santorum is a reflection of Romney’s weakness, not a dirty trick. Though the former Pennsylvania senator may be unelectable in November, he is well placed to appeal to one element of the old Ronald Reagan coalition: the working class Democrats who voted their values and backed the GOP in 1980 and were immortalized in Stanley Greenberg’s study that centered on Macomb County, Michigan.

Santorum’s appeal to working class sentiments and the lost era of labor intensive American manufacturing has been overshadowed by his recent absurd comments about John F. Kennedy and the separation of church and state as well as his gaffe about President Obama’s snobbery in wanting everyone to go to college. But Santorum’s pitch to this group to back him on the basis of his conservative positions on social issues and economics poses a genuine threat to the assumption that Romney can win Michigan. It also plays into Romney’s greatest weakness: the perception that he is an inauthentic elitist whose pretensions to conservatism are phony.

It is, of course, somewhat ironic that Santorum should have blasted JFK while seeking to appeal to Reagan Democrats because, as Greenberg noted, the interesting statistic about Macomb County was that it went 63 percent for John Kennedy in 1960 but also gave 66 percent of its votes to Ronald Reagan because it perceived the Democratic Party as having abandoned the interests and values of white working class voters.

The question for Romney is whether he can mobilize enough mainstream Republicans to overwhelm Santorum’s advantage with Christian conservatives and those crossover Democrats to squeeze out a victory today. If he doesn’t, the Republican contest is about to get a lot more interesting.

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Michigan a Tossup?

At the New York Times, Nate Silver writes that the race in Michigan is too close to accurately predict:

People sometimes apply the term “tossup” a bit too broadly, using it to refer to anything close enough that they don’t want to render a prediction about it.

In Michigan, however, the term is appropriate. Rick Santorum, who once trailed Mitt Romney badly in the state, then surged to a clear lead there, then saw Romney regain his footing and pull back ahead, appears to have some late momentum in the race — perhaps just enough to win, and perhaps not.

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At the New York Times, Nate Silver writes that the race in Michigan is too close to accurately predict:

People sometimes apply the term “tossup” a bit too broadly, using it to refer to anything close enough that they don’t want to render a prediction about it.

In Michigan, however, the term is appropriate. Rick Santorum, who once trailed Mitt Romney badly in the state, then surged to a clear lead there, then saw Romney regain his footing and pull back ahead, appears to have some late momentum in the race — perhaps just enough to win, and perhaps not.

According to Silver’s projections, Romney gets 38.7 percent of the vote, while Santorum gets 38 percent. It sounds like this is going to be another race that comes down to the wire like Iowa.

Meanwhile, Santorum’s scrambling to get out the vote – to Democrats, who are allowed to vote in the Michigan primary:

Santorum’s campaign, meanwhile, confirmed it was also using a robo call urging Michigan Democrats to cross over and vote for Santorum on Tuesday.

Oddly enough, some Michigan Democrats had the same idea:

Michigan Democratic strategist Joe DiSano has taken it upon himself to become a leading mischief maker.

DiSano says he targeted nearly 50,000 Democratic voters in Michigan through email and a robo call to their homes, asking them to go to the polls Tuesday to vote for Rick Santorum in attempt to hurt Romney.

“Democrats can get in there and cause havoc for Romney all the way to the Republican convention,” DiSano told CNN.

These Democrat-targeted campaign calls could definitely have an impact in a race this tight, considering Romney initially won Iowa by just 8 votes (before losing the title to Santorum, who won the final tally by 34 votes).

Romney went on Sean Hannity’s show last night and blasted Santorum’s robo calls to Democrats as a “dirty trick.” The fact that this is the issue Romney chose to talk about on the eve of the primary shows just how nervous his campaign actually is. A Santorum win today would no doubt be chalked up by the Romney campaign to underhanded tactics and Democratic tampering. If Romney loses his home state, he’s going to need any excuse he can get.

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Israelis Flock to See Iranian Oscar Winner

The Iranian regime’s reaction to the country’s Oscar victory, in which the Iranian film “A Separation” beat out Israeli contender “Footnote” for best foreign-language film, was indeed revealing, as Alana noted. But far more revealing was the fact that Israelis have been flocking to see the Iranian entry. For that one fact constitutes an eloquent rebuttal of all those who seek to paint Israel as being “undemocratic” and “anti-peace.”

Here’s how AP, after noting that “an impressive 30,000 Israeli filmgoers” have seen “A Separation” since it opened a week and a half ago, described the scene in Israel: “Ticket buyers stood in a long line on Sunday night at the Lev Smadar movie theater in Jerusalem. Omer Dilian, manager of the theater’s cafe, said ‘A Separation’ has drawn hundreds of viewers, even on weeknights … All the screenings in Lev theaters were sold out last Friday and Saturday.”

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The Iranian regime’s reaction to the country’s Oscar victory, in which the Iranian film “A Separation” beat out Israeli contender “Footnote” for best foreign-language film, was indeed revealing, as Alana noted. But far more revealing was the fact that Israelis have been flocking to see the Iranian entry. For that one fact constitutes an eloquent rebuttal of all those who seek to paint Israel as being “undemocratic” and “anti-peace.”

Here’s how AP, after noting that “an impressive 30,000 Israeli filmgoers” have seen “A Separation” since it opened a week and a half ago, described the scene in Israel: “Ticket buyers stood in a long line on Sunday night at the Lev Smadar movie theater in Jerusalem. Omer Dilian, manager of the theater’s cafe, said ‘A Separation’ has drawn hundreds of viewers, even on weeknights … All the screenings in Lev theaters were sold out last Friday and Saturday.”

So let’s start with the obvious: “Undemocratic” countries don’t show films produced by their worst enemies in theaters throughout the country; they ban them. You won’t, for instance, be able to see “Footnote” at a movie theater in Tehran. That this even needs saying is a disgrace. But given the frequency with which Israel’s critics have been hurling the “undemocratic” label at it, it’s clear many self-proclaimed Western liberals need a refresher course in the basics of democracy.

What’s equally true, however, is that “anti-peace” regimes generally don’t want their citizens to learn about their neighbors’ culture, for very good reason: If a regime really seeks to prevent peace, dehumanization of the enemy is vital. Thus, it’s important to shield the public from anything that might cause it to view enemy nationals as people more or less like themselves. That’s precisely why, for instance, Israeli books are almost never translated into Arabic, nor are Israeli movies shown almost anywhere in the Arab world.

In contrast, a country that seeks peace is intensely interested in getting to know its neighbors’ human side, because humanization enhances the prospects for peace. That is why, for instance, you can easily find translated Arabic literature in Israel, and it’s also why “A Separation” has been such a hit. It’s not just that it’s an award-winning movie, though that obviously helps. It’s because Israelis, to quote AP again, were intrigued “by the rare glimpse it offered into the living rooms of a country they regard as a threat.”

And indeed, that was evident in the movie-goers’ responses. “You see them driving cars and going to movies and they look exactly like us,” wrote an Israeli reviewer. One audience member told AP “she was struck by Tehran’s modernity, which jarred with the image of black-clad women and religious conservatism that has become iconic of Iran”; another “said she was surprised by the humaneness of the Iranian bureaucrats portrayed in the film.”

So next time anyone you know gets confused abpit whether Israel is really democratic or peace-seeking, I recommend the following simple test: Just ask which country shows its enemies’ films and which doesn’t – and in which country the public flocks to see them.

 

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Where’s the Moral Urgency About Syria?

On March 28, 2011, when President Barack Obama addressed the nation to explain U.S. forces’ involvement in operations over Libyan skies, he made a compelling moral argument. In his speech, Obama illustrated the rapid chain of events that led to U.S. and international intervention and referred to Libya’s late dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s forces closing in on Benghazi by saying, “If we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”

Benghazi, noted the president, is a city of 700,000 people – the size of a big American city.

Expecting the worst, then, the rationale for U.S. intervention was driven by humanitarian considerations – a pre-emptive strike to save human lives from an anticipated massacre that had not happened yet and was in America’s power to avoid.

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On March 28, 2011, when President Barack Obama addressed the nation to explain U.S. forces’ involvement in operations over Libyan skies, he made a compelling moral argument. In his speech, Obama illustrated the rapid chain of events that led to U.S. and international intervention and referred to Libya’s late dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s forces closing in on Benghazi by saying, “If we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”

Benghazi, noted the president, is a city of 700,000 people – the size of a big American city.

Expecting the worst, then, the rationale for U.S. intervention was driven by humanitarian considerations – a pre-emptive strike to save human lives from an anticipated massacre that had not happened yet and was in America’s power to avoid.

Fast forward 11 months. Syrian regime forces have already slaughtered thousands of innocent civilians – proving that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is no better than Qaddafi. Women and children have been killed by the regime–as Qaddafi had done and President Obama had recorded in his speech as proof of the righteousness of his decision.

Syrian forces have been conducting a slow-motion massacre of a similar scale in Homs, “a city nearly the size of Charlotte” just like Benghazi, for months now.

So where’s the conscience of the world, or does Syrian innocent blood stain less?

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to explain the difference, by warning that arming the rebels would possibly play into al-Qaeda’s hands:

“We know al-Qaeda [leader Ayman al-] Zawahiri is supporting the opposition in Syria. Are we supporting al-Qaeda in Syria? Hamas is now supporting the opposition. Are we supporting Hamas in Syria?” Clinton said. “If you’re a military planner or if you’re a secretary of state and you’re trying to figure out do you have the elements of an opposition that is actually viable, that we don’t see. We see immense human suffering that is heartbreaking.” But she added, this was not like Libya.

Thanks heaven for such astuteness – clearly, in Libya there was none of the above. All those who got Western support to topple Qaddafi were Geneva Convention abiding New England liberals – like this guy.

They got passing grades on human rights:

“Armed militia groups in Libya that formed along tribal lines after the ouster of the Muammar Qaddafi regime have turned on one another and now rule most of the country, torturing their opponents with impunity,” Amnesty International says.” It’s not just the revenge attacks or tribe-on-tribe feuding, but the gross human rights abuses that go unchallenged by Libya’s new government…”

And they have brought a measure of stability to the region:

“Weapons smuggled from Libya after the collapse of Muammar Qaddafi’s government are flowing through the surrounding region,” the president of the west African nation of Niger said Friday, “a development that threatens to destabilize a swath of the continent already struggling against ethnic unrest and a regional branch of al-Qaeda.”

Secretary Clinton is, no doubt, one of the savviest foreign policy minds in the current administration.

Still, when all is said and done, it is hard to spot the difference between the moral stain caused by the Benghazi massacre that did not happen and the Homs massacre that is happening.

If the argument is humanitarian, the president should live by the moral standards he admirably spelled out in his Libya speech. If you can’t intervene, then at least arm the rebels.

If the argument is one of viability, expediency, and consequences – a realist argument, shall we say? – then Secretary Clinton should be a tad more honest (she is not running for a second term, after all) and say: “In Libya we got carried away by our sentimental views of human suffering, and the heartbreak made us choose humanitarian concerns over their consequences. Since then, we got smarter – and this time we will not deploy anything until we know that a post-Assad Syria will not be a repeat of post-Qaddafi Libya.”

That would be an honest take on why U.S. (and European) Syria policy does not have the same moral urgency of March 2011.

So don’t hold your breath – a city like Charlotte will be overrun by bloodthirsty regime forces. A massacre that stains the conscience of the world might happen. Its consequences will reverberate across the region. And all that Western policymakers will do is speak, condemn, and extend Kofi Annan’s mandate.

 

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