Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 2012

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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Obamacare’s Stepchildren: The Food Police

The debate about Obamacare and the way the government is using it to mandate that institutions pay for services they oppose such as contraception has brought the whole question of intrusive federal regulation back into the public eye. But those who believe this is something that will be limited to health care are probably deceiving themselves. The impulse to tell people how they should live and what they should do is implicit in the ideology that gave birth to Obamacare. If some influential people have their way, Washington’s power to impose its will may be extended into other spheres that were heretofore considered so far out of the government’s purview as to have been considered laughable. But as New York Times Magazine food columnist Mark Bittman wrote yesterday, the day may be fast approaching when government bureaucrats will be telling some, if not all citizens, what foods they may or may not eat.

Bittman picks up on the attempt by a conservative Republican in the Florida legislature to pass a bill that would prevent recipients of food stamps from spending their chits on junk food like candy, chips or soda. The willingness of a right-winger to join the food police encourages Bittman to think the time will not be long before sugar is regulated the way the production and marketing of alcohol and tobacco are controlled by the government. While Bittman’s nutritional advice about the dangers of over-consumption of products drenched in sugar and corn syrup is well taken, the notion that such choices will be taken out of the hands of consumers ought to frighten anyone who values individual freedom and understands the perils of a nanny state. Some may scoff at this possibility, but the Obamacare precedent and the power the president’s signature program will give the government may change everything in the future. Bittman’s argument that the costs of health care will make such government micro-managing of our lives inevitable may prove prophetic if Obamacare is not repealed next year.

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The debate about Obamacare and the way the government is using it to mandate that institutions pay for services they oppose such as contraception has brought the whole question of intrusive federal regulation back into the public eye. But those who believe this is something that will be limited to health care are probably deceiving themselves. The impulse to tell people how they should live and what they should do is implicit in the ideology that gave birth to Obamacare. If some influential people have their way, Washington’s power to impose its will may be extended into other spheres that were heretofore considered so far out of the government’s purview as to have been considered laughable. But as New York Times Magazine food columnist Mark Bittman wrote yesterday, the day may be fast approaching when government bureaucrats will be telling some, if not all citizens, what foods they may or may not eat.

Bittman picks up on the attempt by a conservative Republican in the Florida legislature to pass a bill that would prevent recipients of food stamps from spending their chits on junk food like candy, chips or soda. The willingness of a right-winger to join the food police encourages Bittman to think the time will not be long before sugar is regulated the way the production and marketing of alcohol and tobacco are controlled by the government. While Bittman’s nutritional advice about the dangers of over-consumption of products drenched in sugar and corn syrup is well taken, the notion that such choices will be taken out of the hands of consumers ought to frighten anyone who values individual freedom and understands the perils of a nanny state. Some may scoff at this possibility, but the Obamacare precedent and the power the president’s signature program will give the government may change everything in the future. Bittman’s argument that the costs of health care will make such government micro-managing of our lives inevitable may prove prophetic if Obamacare is not repealed next year.

Bittman is right to say obesity has become a major national health problem. Nor would I dispute his arguments that American nutritional habits are doing us and the country no good. But the notion that this is reason enough to give the government the power to prevent people from buying the food they wish to eat is a fundamental assault on individual liberty.

Food stamp recipients are vulnerable to such regulation because their poverty and dependence renders them helpless against such intrusions. If they are taking our money, some people reason, then we should be able to tell them what to do, especially if it is obviously for their own good. But this sort of utilitarian argument has no limits. If the national exchequer is burdened by the costs of caring for those who suffer from obesity, then we can just as easily be told that sugar or any other substance selected by the food police (Bittman prefers the term “vigilantes”) can be regulated or banned for everyone, not just those who rely on government handouts.

The ideological underpinning of this thinking can be found in Bittman’s assertion that it is the government’s job to take care of itself. If, as he believes, the government is failing to sufficiently protect us from ourselves, then it is time for enlightened souls to step in and force it to take control. However well-intentioned Bittman’s prescription for the national diet may be, government involvement on the scale that he is discussing is the epitome of the political trend that Jonah Goldberg aptly styled Liberal Fascism.

One might assume the food industry will fight this expansion of government control tooth and nail. But the example of Obamacare demonstrates all too well how businesses can be co-opted into acquiescing to a takeover by the federal leviathan. Unless Obamacare is stopped next year by a new president and Congress, we may well eventually find out just how far the reach of an empowered government can go.

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Mitt Romney’s Opportunism

Earlier today, I made the case that Rick Santorum’s language has been intemperate of late. The problem for Mitt Romney is a different one: opportunism. I have in mind, among other things, last week’s debate, when Governor Romney, in criticizing Santorum, said, “Well, I’m looking at [Santorum’s] historic record” — including “a whole series of votes. Voting to fund Planned Parenthood…” and more.

This charge is technically correct but incomplete. In fact, it creates an utterly false impression. Santorum voted for a large spending bill that included funding for Planned Parenthood, the kind of difficult and prudential judgment members of Congress are often forced to make. (It helps explain why long-serving members of Congress rarely win the presidency.) But that vote cannot obscure this fact: Santorum has been one of America’s most vocal champions for the pro-life cause, to the point that he opposes abortion even in the case of rape and incest, and we all know he would defund Planned Parenthood in a millisecond if he could have his way. On culture of life issues, Rick Santorum is among the least compromised of all politicians.

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Earlier today, I made the case that Rick Santorum’s language has been intemperate of late. The problem for Mitt Romney is a different one: opportunism. I have in mind, among other things, last week’s debate, when Governor Romney, in criticizing Santorum, said, “Well, I’m looking at [Santorum’s] historic record” — including “a whole series of votes. Voting to fund Planned Parenthood…” and more.

This charge is technically correct but incomplete. In fact, it creates an utterly false impression. Santorum voted for a large spending bill that included funding for Planned Parenthood, the kind of difficult and prudential judgment members of Congress are often forced to make. (It helps explain why long-serving members of Congress rarely win the presidency.) But that vote cannot obscure this fact: Santorum has been one of America’s most vocal champions for the pro-life cause, to the point that he opposes abortion even in the case of rape and incest, and we all know he would defund Planned Parenthood in a millisecond if he could have his way. On culture of life issues, Rick Santorum is among the least compromised of all politicians.

Beyond that, though, what makes the charge particularly unfair is that Romney, at one time in his career, strongly favored the right to an abortion, attended a Planned Parenthood fundraiser in 1994, and according to press reports, his wife Ann donated to Planned Parenthood. So to have Romney attack Santorum for being insufficiently pro-life is a bit much.

Romney has shifted his position on abortion, and I’m glad he has. But for him to portray Santorum as unprincipled on this issue strikes me as deeply unfair. It might work in a narrow tactical sense. But these attacks are dangerous for Romney, because they can easily reinforce a pre-existing impression, which is that there’s a shamelessness to Romney’s attacks that can be discrediting. (Trying to lay blame for Obamacare at the feet of Santorum is also a fairly brazen charge.)

There are plenty of arguments Romney can make on his own behalf, as well as criticisms he can level against Santorum. But Santorum being an ally of Planned Parenthood is an argument Romney really should stay away from.

 

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Is There a Romney-Paul “Alliance”?

Rick Santorum is claiming Mitt Romney and Ron Paul forged some secret backroom non-aggression pact with each other, and today a Think Progress study is adding fuel to that story. Out of the 20 debates Paul has participated in so far, he’s directly attacked the other candidates 39 times – but hasn’t once laid his gloves on Romney:

Rick Santorum has directly accused Paul and Romney of working together, noting “their commercials look a lot alike, and so do their attacks.” A review by ThinkProgress of the 20 GOP debates suggests Santorum might be onto something.

While Paul has freely attacked Romney’s top rivals, he has never once attacked Romney.

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Rick Santorum is claiming Mitt Romney and Ron Paul forged some secret backroom non-aggression pact with each other, and today a Think Progress study is adding fuel to that story. Out of the 20 debates Paul has participated in so far, he’s directly attacked the other candidates 39 times – but hasn’t once laid his gloves on Romney:

Rick Santorum has directly accused Paul and Romney of working together, noting “their commercials look a lot alike, and so do their attacks.” A review by ThinkProgress of the 20 GOP debates suggests Santorum might be onto something.

While Paul has freely attacked Romney’s top rivals, he has never once attacked Romney.

Twenty debates and no Romney attacks? As Allahpundit quips, “Out: Conspiracy theories advanced by Ron Paul. In: Conspiracy theories involving Ron Paul.”

There’s clearly a pattern here, but it’s important to get perspective. The same “Romney alliance” rumor has gone around about other candidates, including Michele Bachmann before she dropped out. Legal Insurrection detailed the theory last December:

The speculation was fueled by Bachmann’s relentless and often inaccurate attacks on everyone who rose to be the lead challenger to Romney, first Pawlenty, then Perry, then Cain, and most recently Newt.  Yet Romney was spared the wrath of Bachmann, other than the “Newt Romney” line.

Bachmann’s former campaign manager Ed Rollins later speculated that she took it easy on Romney because she was holding out for a VP slot. A less calculated reason could be that she knew she wasn’t going to win and didn’t want to alienate the party’s most likely nominee.

But Paul also has a personal and professional interest in maintaining good relations with Romney. Like Bachmann, he knows he can’t win the nomination. But he’d like some signs of respect at the GOP convention, and wants to leave as many bridges intact in the party as he can for his son. Beyond that, Paul and Romney seem to have a friendly rapport, while Paul has had a rocky personal history with both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. It’s a perfectly logical reason, but not a scandalous one.

 

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Religion and the Public Square

Like Alana, I re-read John F. Kennedy’s address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in light of Senator Santorum’s statement that he wanted to “throw up” in reaction to it. I concur with much of what Kennedy said, even as I’m familiar with (and somewhat sympathetic to) those who believe the speech went too far in dividing people’s private beliefs from their public duties and keeping religious convictions from shaping our public debate. Respectful disagreement with a serious speech is one thing; feeling the need to vomit all over it is quite another.

There are some important things missing from Santorum’s critique of Kennedy’s address. One is context. Those who served by Kennedy’s side have said no obstacle to the presidency handicapped Kennedy more than the widespread charge that a Catholic in the White House could not uphold America’s traditional and constitutional distance between the church and the state. The fear was that Kennedy would take his orders from the Vatican. Polls showed that well over half of Hubert Humphrey’s support was based solely on Kennedy’s religion. “People here aren’t anti-Kennedy,” said the publisher of West Virginia’s Coal Valley News. “They are simply concerned about the domination of the Catholic Church.” One article, written prior to the 1960 Wisconsin primary, mentioned the word “Catholic” 20 times in 15 paragraphs, even as it overlooked Kennedy’s positions on key public policy matters. That is what Kennedy was facing at the time.

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Like Alana, I re-read John F. Kennedy’s address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in light of Senator Santorum’s statement that he wanted to “throw up” in reaction to it. I concur with much of what Kennedy said, even as I’m familiar with (and somewhat sympathetic to) those who believe the speech went too far in dividing people’s private beliefs from their public duties and keeping religious convictions from shaping our public debate. Respectful disagreement with a serious speech is one thing; feeling the need to vomit all over it is quite another.

There are some important things missing from Santorum’s critique of Kennedy’s address. One is context. Those who served by Kennedy’s side have said no obstacle to the presidency handicapped Kennedy more than the widespread charge that a Catholic in the White House could not uphold America’s traditional and constitutional distance between the church and the state. The fear was that Kennedy would take his orders from the Vatican. Polls showed that well over half of Hubert Humphrey’s support was based solely on Kennedy’s religion. “People here aren’t anti-Kennedy,” said the publisher of West Virginia’s Coal Valley News. “They are simply concerned about the domination of the Catholic Church.” One article, written prior to the 1960 Wisconsin primary, mentioned the word “Catholic” 20 times in 15 paragraphs, even as it overlooked Kennedy’s positions on key public policy matters. That is what Kennedy was facing at the time.

“For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed,” JFK said in Houston, “in other years it has been — and may someday be again — a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.”

That is a warning worth heeding. And when Kennedy insisted that “I do not speak for the Catholic Church on issues of public policy,” he was simply saying what Santorum is saying today on the matter of contraception. Senator Santorum says he has his own personal views on contraception, which track with the teaching of the Catholic Church, but that he has no intention of banning contraception. (Hopefully, no faithful Catholic will develop emesis based on Santorum’s stand.)

The core argument Kennedy was making in his 1960 speech is that there should be no religious test for public office – and in making that argument, Kennedy was upholding the Constitution (specifically Article VI). To Kennedy’s credit, he said, “If the time should ever come – and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible – when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.” Kennedy also stated he would not “disavow my views or my church in order to win this election.”

I’d simply add that President Kennedy, in his remarkable inaugural address, gave one of the most eloquent reaffirmations of the animating spirit of the Declaration of Independence. “And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe,” President Kennedy said, “the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.” Obviously, Kennedy was not in favor of a completely naked public square.

There are many Democrats Rick Santorum could target with wrath and contempt; John F. Kennedy should not be one of them.

 

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Romney Not Out of the Woods in Michigan

Up until today, the trend in Michigan had seemed to be running heavily in Mitt Romney’s favor as Rick Santorum’s February surge sputtered to a halt amid his controversial social issue stands and poor debate performance. But the results from two of the latest polls are a portrait of a race still up for grabs. Both Rasmussen and the Mitchell/Rosetta Stone surveys of Michigan Republicans showed a slight uptick for Santorum. The previous Rasmussen poll taken last Thursday (immediately after Santorum’s bad debate night) showed Romney leading by a 40-34-percentage point margin. Their latest poll conducted on Sunday shows Romney only up by 2 points at 38-36. Last Thursday, Mitchell/Rosetta Stone had Romney up 36-33. By Sunday, their pollsters found Santorum was leading 37-35.

What does this mean? The experience of the last month illustrates plainly that anyone who tries to predict the outcome of anything to do with the GOP presidential race is likely to be wrong the majority of the time. How Santorum managed to gain ground during a three-day period when he seemed to do nothing but stumble is beyond me. But perhaps we are looking at this problem from the wrong end of the telescope. Every time Romney has seemed ready to cruise to an inevitable victory, his failure to connect with grass-roots voters has dealt him setbacks. It may be that more Michiganders thought Romney looked silly speaking to a tiny crowd in cavernous Ford Field or found his comment about his wife’s Cadillac collection off-putting than paid attention to Santorum’s swipes at John F. Kennedy. But no matter what the explanation, Romney’s well-oiled organization and party establishment support will need to turn out the vote for him tomorrow lest he be dealt a devastating setback.

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Up until today, the trend in Michigan had seemed to be running heavily in Mitt Romney’s favor as Rick Santorum’s February surge sputtered to a halt amid his controversial social issue stands and poor debate performance. But the results from two of the latest polls are a portrait of a race still up for grabs. Both Rasmussen and the Mitchell/Rosetta Stone surveys of Michigan Republicans showed a slight uptick for Santorum. The previous Rasmussen poll taken last Thursday (immediately after Santorum’s bad debate night) showed Romney leading by a 40-34-percentage point margin. Their latest poll conducted on Sunday shows Romney only up by 2 points at 38-36. Last Thursday, Mitchell/Rosetta Stone had Romney up 36-33. By Sunday, their pollsters found Santorum was leading 37-35.

What does this mean? The experience of the last month illustrates plainly that anyone who tries to predict the outcome of anything to do with the GOP presidential race is likely to be wrong the majority of the time. How Santorum managed to gain ground during a three-day period when he seemed to do nothing but stumble is beyond me. But perhaps we are looking at this problem from the wrong end of the telescope. Every time Romney has seemed ready to cruise to an inevitable victory, his failure to connect with grass-roots voters has dealt him setbacks. It may be that more Michiganders thought Romney looked silly speaking to a tiny crowd in cavernous Ford Field or found his comment about his wife’s Cadillac collection off-putting than paid attention to Santorum’s swipes at John F. Kennedy. But no matter what the explanation, Romney’s well-oiled organization and party establishment support will need to turn out the vote for him tomorrow lest he be dealt a devastating setback.

The main takeaway from a bruising Michigan primary may be that even if Romney prevails in a state that many thought would be in his pocket, his difficulty in closing the deal with conservatives will affect his long-range prospects. As a result of an increasingly bitter fight, Santorum and Romney have suffered setbacks in terms of their appeal to independents. Though a win by any margin in the state where he was born would be welcome for Romney, any outcome that gives hope to Santorum to keep fighting will not be helpful to his prospects in November.

That’s because no matter who loses in Michigan there is the possibility that due to the state’s delegate allocation rules that treat each congressional district as a separate entity, the loser may end up the winner in terms of delegates. As the New York Times’s Nate Silver explains, the GOP’s fuzzy delegate math makes the outcome of a protracted and close race difficult to predict. The longer the Republican race lasts, the weaker the eventual winner will be. Which means that absent a big Romney win tomorrow in Michigan, the GOP will be mired in a nasty internecine war for weeks, if not months, to come.

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The Hypocrisy of the “Cultural Boycotters”

Abe’s post about the hypocrisy of rock stars who preach morality while cozying up to dictators inevitably brings the anti-Israel cultural boycotters to mind. Take, for instance, Grammy-winning jazz singer Cassandra Wilson, who canceled a planned performance in Israel last week at the behest of pro-Palestinian activists. But somehow, she discovered her moral conscience only one day after having received full payment for the scheduled show – of which she has so far agreed to refund only part. In other words, this paragon of morality used her newfound passion for the Palestinian cause to commit robbery in broad daylight.

Or then there’s indie pop group, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, which recently canceled their planned performance in Israel. They, too, cited “political” reasons, in addition to scheduling pressures. But somehow, their moral conscience awoke only after they had managed to book a more lucrative gig in Malaysia for the same time.

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Abe’s post about the hypocrisy of rock stars who preach morality while cozying up to dictators inevitably brings the anti-Israel cultural boycotters to mind. Take, for instance, Grammy-winning jazz singer Cassandra Wilson, who canceled a planned performance in Israel last week at the behest of pro-Palestinian activists. But somehow, she discovered her moral conscience only one day after having received full payment for the scheduled show – of which she has so far agreed to refund only part. In other words, this paragon of morality used her newfound passion for the Palestinian cause to commit robbery in broad daylight.

Or then there’s indie pop group, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, which recently canceled their planned performance in Israel. They, too, cited “political” reasons, in addition to scheduling pressures. But somehow, their moral conscience awoke only after they had managed to book a more lucrative gig in Malaysia for the same time.

If this naked greed posing as morality is the best the cultural boycotters can do, I don’t think Israel has much to worry about on the moral high ground front. But it’s time for the rest of the world, including Israel, to start calling a spade a spade. These artists don’t give a fig about either Palestinian suffering or Israeli “human-rights abuses”; if they did, they wouldn’t have booked gigs in Israel in the first place. At best, all they care about is earning some positive publicity by feigning concern for Palestinian rights. And at worst, as with Cassandra Wilson and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, their crocodile tears are merely a convenient way to earn some extra lucre.

In short, they aren’t “cultural boycotters,” and they shouldn’t be dignified as such – because that term at least implies taking a moral stand, however warped. They are cynical poseurs who have found a way to exploit the Palestinian cause for their own gain.

 

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Media Matters’ Worst Nightmare?

If you’ve been keeping up with Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, you know he’s recently been battering President Obama for his association with the anti-Israel group Media Matters. While Dershowitz is a Democrat who supported Obama in 2008, he’s demanded the president cut ties with the left-wing media watchdog group, whose writers have made anti-Semitic remarks.

Today, Dershowitz took it a step further, promising to turn the issue into an election matter during an interview with WABC’s Aaron Klein (via BuzzFeed):

Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, a leading Democratic lawyer who takes a hawkish line on Israel, has declared a personal war on the liberal group Media Matters, which has branched out into sharp criticism of Israel.

“Not only will [the Media Matters controversy] be an election matter, I will personally make it an election matter,” Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law School, told WABC’s Aaron Klein today. …

“I don’t know whether President Obama has any idea that Media Matters has turned the corner against Israel in this way,” he said. “I can tell you this, he will know very shortly because I am beginning a serious campaign on this issue and I will not let it drop until and unless [writer and activist MJ] Rosenberg is fired from Media Matters, or Media Matters changes its policy or the White House disassociates itself from Media Matters.”

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If you’ve been keeping up with Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, you know he’s recently been battering President Obama for his association with the anti-Israel group Media Matters. While Dershowitz is a Democrat who supported Obama in 2008, he’s demanded the president cut ties with the left-wing media watchdog group, whose writers have made anti-Semitic remarks.

Today, Dershowitz took it a step further, promising to turn the issue into an election matter during an interview with WABC’s Aaron Klein (via BuzzFeed):

Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, a leading Democratic lawyer who takes a hawkish line on Israel, has declared a personal war on the liberal group Media Matters, which has branched out into sharp criticism of Israel.

“Not only will [the Media Matters controversy] be an election matter, I will personally make it an election matter,” Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law School, told WABC’s Aaron Klein today. …

“I don’t know whether President Obama has any idea that Media Matters has turned the corner against Israel in this way,” he said. “I can tell you this, he will know very shortly because I am beginning a serious campaign on this issue and I will not let it drop until and unless [writer and activist MJ] Rosenberg is fired from Media Matters, or Media Matters changes its policy or the White House disassociates itself from Media Matters.”

Dershowitz launched his campaign today with a column denouncing Media Matters’ use of the term “Israel Firster” in the New York Daily News. The law professor has successfully battled left-wing anti-Israel groups in the past, including J Street. Here’s what Dershowitz had to say about J Street during a debate with its president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, last year:

“The reason you have to attack me is very simple: I am J Street’s nightmare. Let me tell you why. Because I am a liberal Democratic Jew who strongly opposes the settlements, who strongly favors a two-state solution, who supports Obama, who supports Hillary Clinton, who supports Petraeus, but who does not support J Street. You have to create the illusion that everybody against J Street is a member of the right, and is part of the Sarah Palin-Rush Limbaugh group. And you can’t explain me.”

A vocal campaign against Media Matters, especially if it includes other prominent Democrats in the Jewish community, could cause major problems for Media Matters and increase pressure on Obama to distance himself from the group.

But it will also be a test of whether Democrats are willing to call out anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing within their own ranks. After former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block criticized Media Matters staffers for making anti-Semitic comments late last year, the Truman Institute cut its association with him, claiming Block was trying to shut down “honest debate.” Will Democratic Party institutions side with Dershowitz on this issue? Or will they continue to stay silent on the uncomfortable but very real Israel problem at Media Matters?

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In Honor of Steinbeck’s Birthday

In honor of John Steinbeck’s 110th birthday — it is also Peter De Vries’s 102nd, Lawrence Durrell’s 100th, N. Scott Momaday’s 78th, and my 60th — the used-book site AbeBooks has compiled a list of the bestsellers from the Great Depression. There you can enjoy the original jackets of such novels as Anne Douglas Sedgwick’s Dark Hester, Gladys Hasty Carroll’s As the World Turns, Kenneth Roberts’s Northwest Passage, and Warwick Deeping’s Old Wine and New. The whole list is a welcome reminder that not even ripe avocados are more perishable than literary fame.

A definitive list of Depression Era literature would have to include Steinbeck, although at this distance in time it is clearer than ever that he was really a master of midcult. The Grapes of Wrath is a potboiler of overwrought lyricism. A more representative novel of the era is In Dubious Battle (1936), his radical strike novel.

The decade 1929–1939 was the heyday of proletarian literature, the great bulk of it unreadable now. Edward Dahlberg’s Bottom Dogs and Mike Gold’s Jews Without Money, both published in 1930, are exceptions. The Studs Lonigan trilogy of James T. Farrell (also born on February 27, coincidentally enough) has not stood up, but Nelson Algren’s Somebody in Boots (1935) was the first novel of a writer who does not merit his current neglect.

Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep (1934) has been wrongly described as a proletarian novel. It is, instead, a deeply Jewish novel — and only one of several that belong to the decade, creating an American Jewish literature before the boom of the Fifties and Sixties.

The others include Myron Brinig’s Singermann (1929), the first American novel about a Jewish department-store family, Vera Caspary’s Thicker Than Water (1932), the first novel about American Sephardim, Nathanel West’s pitiless Miss Lonelyhearts (1933), Daniel Fuchs’s Summer in Williamsburg (1934), an unsentimental tour of immigrant Brooklyn, Tess Slesinger’s The Unpossessed (1934), about over-energetic New York Jewish intellectuals who start a magazine, Meyer Levin’s The Old Bunch (1937), which follows a legion of Chicago adolescents from the Twenties to the World’s Fair and beyond, and Milton Steinberg’s historical novel about the Talmudic Era, As a Driven Leaf (1939).

The decade started with A Farewell to Arms, although Hemingway’s novel looks back on the First World War. It was also the decade of Faulkner’s greatest productivity: The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Sanctuary (1931), Light in August (1932), Absalom, Absalom! (1936). Faulkner’s Thirties are not Steinbeck’s. Nor Anne Douglas Sedgwick’s nor Gladys Hasty Carroll’s either, for that matter. And yet they may be the second third best decade in American literary history.*
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* After the 1850s and 1920s.

In honor of John Steinbeck’s 110th birthday — it is also Peter De Vries’s 102nd, Lawrence Durrell’s 100th, N. Scott Momaday’s 78th, and my 60th — the used-book site AbeBooks has compiled a list of the bestsellers from the Great Depression. There you can enjoy the original jackets of such novels as Anne Douglas Sedgwick’s Dark Hester, Gladys Hasty Carroll’s As the World Turns, Kenneth Roberts’s Northwest Passage, and Warwick Deeping’s Old Wine and New. The whole list is a welcome reminder that not even ripe avocados are more perishable than literary fame.

A definitive list of Depression Era literature would have to include Steinbeck, although at this distance in time it is clearer than ever that he was really a master of midcult. The Grapes of Wrath is a potboiler of overwrought lyricism. A more representative novel of the era is In Dubious Battle (1936), his radical strike novel.

The decade 1929–1939 was the heyday of proletarian literature, the great bulk of it unreadable now. Edward Dahlberg’s Bottom Dogs and Mike Gold’s Jews Without Money, both published in 1930, are exceptions. The Studs Lonigan trilogy of James T. Farrell (also born on February 27, coincidentally enough) has not stood up, but Nelson Algren’s Somebody in Boots (1935) was the first novel of a writer who does not merit his current neglect.

Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep (1934) has been wrongly described as a proletarian novel. It is, instead, a deeply Jewish novel — and only one of several that belong to the decade, creating an American Jewish literature before the boom of the Fifties and Sixties.

The others include Myron Brinig’s Singermann (1929), the first American novel about a Jewish department-store family, Vera Caspary’s Thicker Than Water (1932), the first novel about American Sephardim, Nathanel West’s pitiless Miss Lonelyhearts (1933), Daniel Fuchs’s Summer in Williamsburg (1934), an unsentimental tour of immigrant Brooklyn, Tess Slesinger’s The Unpossessed (1934), about over-energetic New York Jewish intellectuals who start a magazine, Meyer Levin’s The Old Bunch (1937), which follows a legion of Chicago adolescents from the Twenties to the World’s Fair and beyond, and Milton Steinberg’s historical novel about the Talmudic Era, As a Driven Leaf (1939).

The decade started with A Farewell to Arms, although Hemingway’s novel looks back on the First World War. It was also the decade of Faulkner’s greatest productivity: The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Sanctuary (1931), Light in August (1932), Absalom, Absalom! (1936). Faulkner’s Thirties are not Steinbeck’s. Nor Anne Douglas Sedgwick’s nor Gladys Hasty Carroll’s either, for that matter. And yet they may be the second third best decade in American literary history.*
____________________

* After the 1850s and 1920s.

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Muslims and the First Amendment

For the past several years, there have been two competing narratives about Islam in America. One put forward by groups that purport to represent believers in Islam and the liberal media would have it that in the post-9/11 era, American Muslims are besieged by a wave of hatred and violence (even though there is no statistical evidence to back up such claims). The other is one articulated by critics of Islam who argue that Muslims are demanding and getting accommodations from government and other institutions that are an unconstitutional establishment of Islamic or Sharia law. Advocates of this point of view are the driving force behind efforts to enact laws that would prohibit recognition or use of Sharia law in U.S. courts. This cause has often seemed to be, at best, the result of overblown fears because, unlike in Asia and Africa where Muslim efforts to make Sharia the law of the land, there is little danger of that happening in Oklahoma or other states where anti-Sharia statutes have been proposed.

However, every now and then a story pops up which makes such fears seem more reasonable. One concerns the assault by a local Muslim on a man wearing a costume during a Halloween parade in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, last year. The attacker said the costume depicted a zombie version of the Prophet Muhammad. The attack was recorded on film and witnessed by a police officer who promptly arrested the assailant, who was later charged with harassment. But, as legal scholar Jonathan Turley notes in his blog, the judge who heard the case not only dismissed the case on the grounds that the offense to Islam was not protected speech but also lectured the victim on the wrongheaded nature of his views. Judge Mark Martin’s decision was based on the idea that the assailant, one Talaag Elbayomy, was merely defending “his culture.” Turley, who posted a video of the assault and a partial transcript of the judge’s comments, concludes that Martin’s decision “raises serious questions of judicial temperament, if not misconduct.” But I would go farther and point out that the judge’s behavior seems to reflect a bizarre notion of Muslim entitlement that is by no means unrelated to the attempt to sell the country on the myth of a post 9/11 backlash.

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For the past several years, there have been two competing narratives about Islam in America. One put forward by groups that purport to represent believers in Islam and the liberal media would have it that in the post-9/11 era, American Muslims are besieged by a wave of hatred and violence (even though there is no statistical evidence to back up such claims). The other is one articulated by critics of Islam who argue that Muslims are demanding and getting accommodations from government and other institutions that are an unconstitutional establishment of Islamic or Sharia law. Advocates of this point of view are the driving force behind efforts to enact laws that would prohibit recognition or use of Sharia law in U.S. courts. This cause has often seemed to be, at best, the result of overblown fears because, unlike in Asia and Africa where Muslim efforts to make Sharia the law of the land, there is little danger of that happening in Oklahoma or other states where anti-Sharia statutes have been proposed.

However, every now and then a story pops up which makes such fears seem more reasonable. One concerns the assault by a local Muslim on a man wearing a costume during a Halloween parade in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, last year. The attacker said the costume depicted a zombie version of the Prophet Muhammad. The attack was recorded on film and witnessed by a police officer who promptly arrested the assailant, who was later charged with harassment. But, as legal scholar Jonathan Turley notes in his blog, the judge who heard the case not only dismissed the case on the grounds that the offense to Islam was not protected speech but also lectured the victim on the wrongheaded nature of his views. Judge Mark Martin’s decision was based on the idea that the assailant, one Talaag Elbayomy, was merely defending “his culture.” Turley, who posted a video of the assault and a partial transcript of the judge’s comments, concludes that Martin’s decision “raises serious questions of judicial temperament, if not misconduct.” But I would go farther and point out that the judge’s behavior seems to reflect a bizarre notion of Muslim entitlement that is by no means unrelated to the attempt to sell the country on the myth of a post 9/11 backlash.

Martin called Ernie Perce, the Pennsylvania director of American Atheists, a “doofus” and, citing his own experiences serving in Iraq and other Muslim countries, told him his conduct could be punished by death in such countries. He went on to claim the Framers did not intend the First Amendment to be used to “piss off other peoples and cultures” and therefore did not protect his right to criticize Islam even in the context of a Halloween parade. Martin not only seemed to accept the idea that Elbayomy was conditioned to attack critics of Islam by his background and faith but that the law ought to recognize his need to not be so offended. This “cultural defense” seems to treat Muslims as so inherently aggrieved by living in a country where their religion is not the law of the land that they deserve some sort of special legal protection for their own blatantly illegal behavior.

As Turley states, the fact that the victim was a recognized antagonist of the Muslim faith had no bearing on whether he ought to be allowed to exercise his right to speak his mind without being physically attacked. Though insulting the prophet is a death-penalty offense in much of the world, such behavior is not illegal in a country that recognizes the right to free speech.

It should be specified that this is just one clearly incompetent judge who used his godlike control of his courtroom to vent his personal opinions and perpetrated a miscarriage of justice. But what is really troubling is the way his decision seems to reflect a growing sense that Muslim sensibilities are so delicate they may override the rights of others to comment on their faith. One need not endorse the insult of any faith to understand Perce’s conduct was legal and his attacker was in the wrong.

It is hardly a stretch to point out the connection between this case and something all too common in Muslim countries where insults or perceived attacks on Islam — such as the recent incident in Afghanistan — are treated as justifying riots and murder. For all of the unsubstantiated talk about a rising tide of Islamophobia, critics of Islam are still far more likely to be subjected to attacks than are Muslims. Like all Americans, Muslims are entitled to the full protection of the law for the expression of their beliefs. But attempts to enshrine their notion of what is a sacrilege into secular law are a path to the destruction of the Constitution.

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Paying the Price in Egypt and Iran

I have already compared the trial of 16 Americans, along with a number of Egyptians, in an Egyptian court on trumped-up charges of violating various laws to the Iranian hostage crisis in terms of the challenge it poses to American power. There is another similarity worth noting: In both cases we were in some sense reaping what we sowed.

Much of the reason Iranians were so anti-American in 1979, after all, was the unlimited backing we had given to an unpopular dictator, the Shah. Likewise, much of the reason Egyptians are anti-American is because of the unlimited backing we gave to another unpopular dictator, Hosni Mubarak. It did not matter in either case that at the last minute, when both men were in danger of toppling, the U.S. effectively withdrew its backing. All that the people of Egypt and Iran would remember was the decades of support for a dictator which preceded the regime’s demise.

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I have already compared the trial of 16 Americans, along with a number of Egyptians, in an Egyptian court on trumped-up charges of violating various laws to the Iranian hostage crisis in terms of the challenge it poses to American power. There is another similarity worth noting: In both cases we were in some sense reaping what we sowed.

Much of the reason Iranians were so anti-American in 1979, after all, was the unlimited backing we had given to an unpopular dictator, the Shah. Likewise, much of the reason Egyptians are anti-American is because of the unlimited backing we gave to another unpopular dictator, Hosni Mubarak. It did not matter in either case that at the last minute, when both men were in danger of toppling, the U.S. effectively withdrew its backing. All that the people of Egypt and Iran would remember was the decades of support for a dictator which preceded the regime’s demise.

Needless to say, I do not condone this anti-Americanism, but I can understand it–just as I can understand why so many American governments found it prudent to back the Shah and Mubarak. The regime which succeeded the Shah makes his rule seem paradisiacal by comparison; the same might yet be said of whatever regime emerges in Egypt, which will be dominated by Islamists. Perhaps there was no “third way” possible (to evoke that Cold War phrase), but we should have at least tried harder to find it by pushing our dictatorial allies to reform and providing support to moderate opposition elements.

We didn’t do that in the case of Egypt and Iran and are now paying the price. It is not too late in the case of other regional allies such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. We need to push them to liberalize, or else we can expect more hostage crises and show trials in our future.

 

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