Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 2012

Rough Justice for Keith Olbermann

I have shocking news to report. Current TV has fired Keith Olbermann. One can only imagine what the hundreds of people who tuned into Olbermann on a nightly basis will do now that he’s been handed his walking papers.

Fox Sports, ESPN, MSNBC fired Mr. Olbermann, and now Current TV (in some instances, Olbermann was fired, brought back, and fired again) has added its name to his list of former employers. He has napalmed just about every bridge that exists in television. It seemed as if almost every person who worked with him had bad things to say about him. It’s hard to image who would hire Olbermann given his destructive, and self-destructive, personality.

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I have shocking news to report. Current TV has fired Keith Olbermann. One can only imagine what the hundreds of people who tuned into Olbermann on a nightly basis will do now that he’s been handed his walking papers.

Fox Sports, ESPN, MSNBC fired Mr. Olbermann, and now Current TV (in some instances, Olbermann was fired, brought back, and fired again) has added its name to his list of former employers. He has napalmed just about every bridge that exists in television. It seemed as if almost every person who worked with him had bad things to say about him. It’s hard to image who would hire Olbermann given his destructive, and self-destructive, personality.

I suppose there is some rough justice in seeing a man who has treated other people so poorly over the years — and who is motivated by such transparent hate and rage — end up this way. On the other hand, watching a person consumed by his own demons can also be poignant and unsettling. It was clear to many observers a long time ago that Keith Olbermann’s journey would not end well. And it hasn’t.

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Confusing Liberty With Coercion

Before the Supreme Court’s oral argument on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, I was told by people I trust that Paul Clement was an outstanding lawyer. He proved it. The New York Times’ coverage of one exchange illustrates why.

Reporter Adam Liptak, after claiming that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s “touchstone and guiding principle” is liberty, went on to write this:

The point was not lost on Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who concluded his defense of the law at the court this week with remarks aimed squarely at Justice Kennedy. Mr. Verrilli said there was “a profound connection” between health care and liberty.

“There will be millions of people with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease,” he said, “and as a result of the health care that they will get, they will be unshackled from the disabilities that those diseases put on them and have the opportunity to enjoy the blessings of liberty.”

Paul D. Clement, representing 26 states challenging the law, had a comeback. “I would respectfully suggest,” he said, “that it’s a very funny conception of liberty that forces somebody to purchase an insurance policy whether they want it or not.”

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Before the Supreme Court’s oral argument on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, I was told by people I trust that Paul Clement was an outstanding lawyer. He proved it. The New York Times’ coverage of one exchange illustrates why.

Reporter Adam Liptak, after claiming that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s “touchstone and guiding principle” is liberty, went on to write this:

The point was not lost on Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who concluded his defense of the law at the court this week with remarks aimed squarely at Justice Kennedy. Mr. Verrilli said there was “a profound connection” between health care and liberty.

“There will be millions of people with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease,” he said, “and as a result of the health care that they will get, they will be unshackled from the disabilities that those diseases put on them and have the opportunity to enjoy the blessings of liberty.”

Paul D. Clement, representing 26 states challenging the law, had a comeback. “I would respectfully suggest,” he said, “that it’s a very funny conception of liberty that forces somebody to purchase an insurance policy whether they want it or not.”

Clement is quite correct; it is a very funny conception of liberty. A distorted one, in fact. And it perfectly represents the intellectual state of modern liberalism, where coercion is synonymous with liberty.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the times.

 

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Can the GOP Gain Ground With Hispanics?

Political observers have been warning Republicans for the last several years that the willingness of many of its leaders to indulge in immigrant bashing was a mistake. While Americans have every right to ask that their laws be enforced, the hyping of illegal immigration as a major campaign issue is a decision that may affect the GOP’s ability to appeal to Hispanic voters for years to come. The question is, are there enough Republicans willing to take the flack from the party’s grass roots to work on legislation that is not only fair-minded but might actually give Republicans a fighting chance to win Hispanic support?

The answer from Senator Marco Rubio is yes. Politico reports the rising Republican star is hoping to gather enough GOP votes to enable the Senate to pass some version of the DREAM act which would create a path to citizenship for children of illegals who seek higher education or military service. But though Rubio’s plan makes sense, Senate Democrats are not wrong to point out that this bill has zero chance of being passed by the Republican House this year.

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Political observers have been warning Republicans for the last several years that the willingness of many of its leaders to indulge in immigrant bashing was a mistake. While Americans have every right to ask that their laws be enforced, the hyping of illegal immigration as a major campaign issue is a decision that may affect the GOP’s ability to appeal to Hispanic voters for years to come. The question is, are there enough Republicans willing to take the flack from the party’s grass roots to work on legislation that is not only fair-minded but might actually give Republicans a fighting chance to win Hispanic support?

The answer from Senator Marco Rubio is yes. Politico reports the rising Republican star is hoping to gather enough GOP votes to enable the Senate to pass some version of the DREAM act which would create a path to citizenship for children of illegals who seek higher education or military service. But though Rubio’s plan makes sense, Senate Democrats are not wrong to point out that this bill has zero chance of being passed by the Republican House this year.

That’s hardly surprising given the way most of the Republican presidential candidates pandered to anti-illegal immigrant sentiment during the primaries. Though accused by conservatives of being a Massachusetts moderate, immigration was one issue on which Mitt Romney was able to get to the right of most of the field. The one outlier on immigration was Newt Gingrich. Gingrich was correct to point out that it was both heartless and impractical to think that 12 million illegals were going to be deported. But his scheme that envisioned the creation of local immigration boards — after the pattern of the draft-era Selective Service boards — was a non-starter.

Romney, who was endorsed this week by Rubio, is opposed to the DREAM act in its current form but has said he would be open to a version that was restricted to those children of undocumented immigrants who wished to join the military. Other Republicans have been willing to go along provided that the act stops short of granting such persons full citizenship.

Given the popularity of a harsh response to illegals within Republican ranks, it’s doubtful that Rubio’s initiative has much chance. Denouncing measures, such as Texas’ decision to grant in-state tuition discounts to such children, as Romney did during the presidential debates, is an easy applause line among conservatives. But, as Rubio points out, penalizing the children of illegals, who broke no laws on their own, doesn’t make much sense or help the country. America needs more productive and educated citizens. Stigmatizing the illegals merely keeps them working in a shadow economy and does no one any good.

As for the GOP, it would do well to follow Rubio’s advice. While Romney won’t lose the 2012 election because of his stance on immigration, in the long run, Republicans need to find a way to reach Hispanic voters. Given the social conservatism of much of that demographic, they ought to be fertile ground for the Republicans. But until the party stops using illegals as a punching bag, Hispanics will remain firmly in the Democrats’ pockets.

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German SPD Youth Group Calls for Attack on Iran if Sanctions Fail

Jerusalem Post journalist Benjamin Weinthal, who has thankfully returned to regular blogging, just posted about a potentially significant, albeit somewhat counter-intuitive, development on the German left. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) leadership is much more hostile to Israel and much more sympathetic to Iran than is the party’s youth organization Jusos. That’s the opposite of what you usually get when you juxtapose party elders with young European political activists, and the dynamic is increasingly fueling talk of a generation gap.

Earlier this month, SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel, who hopes one day to be chancellor and might very well succeed, triggered a controversy by slamming Israel for “apartheid.” The statement was hailed as “courageous” by the Palestinians but drew a strong rebuke from Jusos’s Berlin chapter, which called on him to distance himself from the remarks and insisted that there is “in no way a justification” for the accusation.

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Jerusalem Post journalist Benjamin Weinthal, who has thankfully returned to regular blogging, just posted about a potentially significant, albeit somewhat counter-intuitive, development on the German left. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) leadership is much more hostile to Israel and much more sympathetic to Iran than is the party’s youth organization Jusos. That’s the opposite of what you usually get when you juxtapose party elders with young European political activists, and the dynamic is increasingly fueling talk of a generation gap.

Earlier this month, SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel, who hopes one day to be chancellor and might very well succeed, triggered a controversy by slamming Israel for “apartheid.” The statement was hailed as “courageous” by the Palestinians but drew a strong rebuke from Jusos’s Berlin chapter, which called on him to distance himself from the remarks and insisted that there is “in no way a justification” for the accusation.

Now Weinthal reports the same Jusos chapter has gone further than ever before on the issues of the Jewish State and its security, using an SPD party conference to emphasize unconditional solidarity with Israel. Cognizant of Iran’s stated intention to destroy Israel and its Jews, they demanded the global community do what needs to be done to block the mullahs. Said Berlin Jusos chairman Kevin Kühnert, “If Iran continues to work on a nuclear weapon, we are arguing for a preventive attack.”

The resolution is designed to “jumpstart” discussions about the German-Israeli relationship in German political circles. Germany has become increasingly close to Israel’s declared enemies – a German group even awarded Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan a prize for tolerance two weeks ago – and increasingly hostile to Israel. When Germany piled on against Israel in the UN recently, that decision was made at the highest levels.

And of course, Iran. State-funded German universities promote trade with Tehran. Germany’s federal government indirectly sold a jet used by German chancellors to a sanctioned Iranian airline company. Iranian officials visit Germany and take meetings with German parliamentarians, and they use their visits to deny the Holocaust. Just this week, German TV station ZDF broadcast without objection a Holocaust-denying speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Given that context, the Jusos resolution is at a minimum heartening. But it’s going to take a long time to reverse the lazy anti-Israel ideology that has taken hold on the left in Germany and across much of the rest of Europe, which long ago extended to accepting anti-Semitic Iranian declarations.

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Rep. Ryan Wrong to Question Generals?

The progressive movement – which I seem to remember accusing a certain general of betraying the country in a full-page New York Times ad a few years back – is suddenly apoplectic that Rep. Paul Ryan would dare suggest that Pentagon leadership may not be expressing their full reservations about President Obama’s defense budget cuts.

The Rachel Maddow blog slams Ryan’s “unbridled chutzpah,” and concludes:

And finally, there’s the biggest, most jaw-dropping angle of them all: Paul Ryan, who has never served in the military a day in his life, believes he knows better than the U.S. military leadership what funding levels are needed to “keep people safe.”

Amazing. Just amazing.

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The progressive movement – which I seem to remember accusing a certain general of betraying the country in a full-page New York Times ad a few years back – is suddenly apoplectic that Rep. Paul Ryan would dare suggest that Pentagon leadership may not be expressing their full reservations about President Obama’s defense budget cuts.

The Rachel Maddow blog slams Ryan’s “unbridled chutzpah,” and concludes:

And finally, there’s the biggest, most jaw-dropping angle of them all: Paul Ryan, who has never served in the military a day in his life, believes he knows better than the U.S. military leadership what funding levels are needed to “keep people safe.”

Amazing. Just amazing.

This, from a pundit who just published a book this week premised on the idea the U.S. needs to shrink national defense – and who also has no military experience. Maybe not the best time to be throwing stones.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey disputed Ryan’s remarks, and said he stood by his support for the defense cuts:

“There’s a difference between having someone say they don’t believe what you said versus … calling us, collectively, liars,” Gen. Dempsey told reporters aboard a U.S. military aircraft after a four-day visit to Latin America.  ”My response is: I stand by my testimony. This was very much a strategy-driven process to which we mapped the budget.”

Gen. Dempsey said the budget “was a collaborative effort” among the top officers of the military branches as well as combat leaders.

It didn’t sound like Ryan was calling the generals liars or questioning their integrity, but simply acknowledging that they work at the behest and under the authority of the Commander in Chief. And that could limit what they feel they can say publicly.

The Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano, who has served in the Pentagon, defends Ryan’s comments:

Why is the brass signing off on this? Well, that’s their job. I know well how this works. I saw it first hand serving in the Pentagon. The Constitution establishes civilian supremacy over the military. The president is commander in chief. He defines strategic requirements, so the way he gets the military leaders to agree is simple: He just lowers the bar of expectations. He dumbs down the requirements.

So when Congress asks the brass, “Do you have enough?” They have no choice but to answer “yes.” It is like telling marathoner who has not had time to train that he only has to run a 5-K race. Sure, he’s ready—unless he actually has to run a marathon.

So we shouldn’t be surprised when the military rubber-stamps the president’s budget. Nor should we be surprised when Congress questions them. That is the job of the Congress.

That doesn’t mean Ryan didn’t make a mistake here. His comment was still poorly-worded, giving his opponents fodder to attack him and distract from the issue. He also put military leaders in an uncomfortable position, forcing them to defend their previous statements on budget cuts to the media. But his broader argument wasn’t necessarily inaccurate.

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Administration Iran Leakfest Means Obama’s Tough Stance is Just Talk

Nothing annoys foreign policy establishment types more than the need for presidents to pander to the opinions of the voters. That’s even more true this year than most as President Obama’s desire to pose as Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House has caused him to take stands that not only bother veteran Foggy Bottom “realists” but also his core supporters and staffers who apparently take a dim view of the desire of the overwhelming majority of the American people to support Israel and to vigorously oppose Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But though Obama’s Jewish charm offensive may still be in full swing, government insiders are apparently working overtime to send Israel and the rest of the world the signal that the president’s political commitments ought not to be taken all that seriously.

That’s the upshot of a week of heavy duty leaking on the part of administration officials who are less than thrilled about the fact that the president has publicly enlisted them in an effort to stop Iran. Yesterday, there was the attempt by Washington to expose Israel’s secret alliance with Azerbaijan and thereby ensure that it would be broken off so as to render an attack on Iran more difficult. Today, the New York Times has another leaked story in which anonymous government figures state their concern the president’s public rhetoric on Iran has boxed them into a spot that neither he nor they want to be in.

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Nothing annoys foreign policy establishment types more than the need for presidents to pander to the opinions of the voters. That’s even more true this year than most as President Obama’s desire to pose as Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House has caused him to take stands that not only bother veteran Foggy Bottom “realists” but also his core supporters and staffers who apparently take a dim view of the desire of the overwhelming majority of the American people to support Israel and to vigorously oppose Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But though Obama’s Jewish charm offensive may still be in full swing, government insiders are apparently working overtime to send Israel and the rest of the world the signal that the president’s political commitments ought not to be taken all that seriously.

That’s the upshot of a week of heavy duty leaking on the part of administration officials who are less than thrilled about the fact that the president has publicly enlisted them in an effort to stop Iran. Yesterday, there was the attempt by Washington to expose Israel’s secret alliance with Azerbaijan and thereby ensure that it would be broken off so as to render an attack on Iran more difficult. Today, the New York Times has another leaked story in which anonymous government figures state their concern the president’s public rhetoric on Iran has boxed them into a spot that neither he nor they want to be in.

The leaking demonstrates just how unhappy the Washington foreign and defense policy establishment is about the way the president’s re-election campaign has led him to commit himself to action on Iran. Lest there be any doubt about the purpose of these disclosures, the officials tell the Times their hope is these stories as well as the recent leak about a Pentagon war simulation that was specifically crafted to feed speculation about possible U.S. casualties in the event of a conflict with Iran are designed to “provide the president with some political cover.”

The “cover” will presumably be necessary because the administration has no intention of ever actually going to the mat with Iran in spite of all the tough talk that comes out of the president’s mouth when addressing pro-Israel audiences. Some of the anonymous sources for the Times story are worried about the tough talk taking on a life of its own and overwhelming their proposed diplomatic plans on Iran. But the underlying assumption of these leaks is that the real truth about the president’s plans was revealed in his “hot mic” moment with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev when he spoke of having more “flexibility” after his “last election,” not his speech to AIPAC.

But for all the duplicity involved in the formulation of current U.S. policy toward Iran, the leakers have brought attention to a genuine dilemma. The president has condemned “loose talk” about war with Iran and has stuck to his belief that diplomacy can find a way to beguile the Iranians to abandon their nuclear plans. But the talkative administration officials understand all too well that the president’s “window of diplomacy” never really existed. No matter how much they boast of their success in creating an international coalition to back sanctions against Iran, they know this is mere talk. The Iranians don’t believe the Europeans will, when push comes to shove, enforce crippling sanctions against them. And they have no intention of backing down.

That means sooner or later, President Obama will have to choose between actually taking action on Iran and breaking his promise to ensure that Iran never goes nuclear. His staffers just hope that moment comes after November when, they presume, he can safely break his word. After all these leaks, if the Iranians didn’t already know this to be true, they know it now.

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Marilynne Robinson Does Politics (Badly)

Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012). 206 pages. $24.00.

Marilynne Robinson’s third collection of essays is her most political book since Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State, and Nuclear Pollution (1989). It is also her weakest to date. Absence of Mind, her last book, established Robinson as the most forceful critic of the New Atheism and a thrilling defender of the religious understanding of man. (My review is here.) When she continues to pursue this project, she continues to write brilliantly. Robinson singlehandedly demolishes the “neo-Darwinism” (as she calls it), which denies to human religion anything more than a proneness to error, violence, evil. In her new collection of ten essays, she adds the important biographical detail that she considers herself to be writing in the tradition of liberal 19th-century evangelists like Charles Finney and Theodore D. Weld. In one remarkable passage, she reveals that the fictional town of Gilead, Iowa — the setting of her brilliant novel Gilead and its sequel Home — was modeled upon a historical settlement founded by liberal evangelists “as a fallback for John Brown.” When she turns from defending religion, however (and criticizing its exclusion from the human picture) — when she turns to a practical political application of her thinking — Robinson falters badly.

Perhaps the most glaring example of Robinson’s contradictions is between the “open-handedness” she urges as a social policy and her own failure to extend an open hand to those with whom she disagrees politically. A self-described Calvinist, Robinson founds her “ethics of non-judgmental, nonexclusive generosity” upon John Calvin’s conviction that “every human encounter is of moment,” because “the other in the encounter is always ‘sent’ or ‘offered.’ ” This is a first principle with her. “It may be mere historical conditioning,” she writes in the book’s title essay, recalling the effect upon her of growing up in Idaho, “but when I see a man or a woman alone, he or she looks mysterious to me, which is only to stay that for a moment I see another human being clearly.”

The mystery dissolves, though, when she glimpses a “pickup truck with a bumper sticker that read DON’T DISTRIBUTE MY WEALTH. DISTRIBUTE MY WORK ETHIC.” The “offering” of the pickup driver, the possibility that he has been “sent” to her, is rejected out of hand. Robinson knows for a certainty what stands behind his bumper sticker: a “grudge against the populace at large,” who are characterized by some ungenerous Americans “as a burden, a threat to their well-being, to their ‘values.’ ” The swine! No longer a human being who is seen clearly for a moment, the pickup driver is transmogrified into the symbol of a politics that Robinson reviles. The irony is that her own failure of generosity is entirely invisible to her. For immediately she sniffs: “There is at present a dearth of humane imagination for the integrity and mystery of other lives.” Very much including the lives of pickup drivers, apparently, if they oppose higher taxes!

This close-fisted attitude toward her political opponents is neither isolated nor accidental. In Absence of Mind, Robinson was relentless with her antagonists, but she was also generous. She joyously embraced the open-handedness of debate, exhibiting a readiness to lay out arguments, to supply evidence, to expose herself to rebuttal, to take the chance of being proved wrong. She named names and quoted offending passages from offensive books. She engaged in a direct face-to-face conflict; she accepted the responsibility of philosophical animus; she herself furnished the materials for an intelligent reply. In When I Was a Child I Read Books, not so much:

On what is conventionally called the conservative side, those attitudes and qualities that are at present revered, or are at least polemically useful, constitute the very slender whole of historical memory. This approach treats context as an impertinence and change as decline. It yields a robust sense of loyalty to certain national values — a loyalty which is inevitably lacking in those whose reading of history leads them to draw up a different set of national values. Its certitudes do not provide the basis for a complex or nuanced view of either the present or the past.

How would anyone begin to go about refuting this passage? The dearth of specifics, the illiberality of paraphrase, the absence of quotation, the lack of integrity toward the other side in debate make it impossible to respond with much beyond an guttural monosyllabic snort.

The most embarrassing moment in the book occurs when Robinson crumples into self-parody while trying to be ironic. In “Wondrous Love,” a long essay that lifts off from a “great old American hymn that sounds like astonishment itself,” she contrasts the doctrine of Christ’s love to a number of contemporary American perversions of it: doctrinal conflicts “within the household of Christ, the family of Christ, that fly in the face of that last commandment” (John 15:12), the “assertion by certain excitable people that this is a Christian country,” the failure to appreciate that freedom of religion really means freedom from established religion. Robinson reserves her deepest scorn, however, for “self-declared patriots.” She tries out several variations of an ironic response to them (whoever they are):

• “I am the sort of Christian whose patriotism might be called into question by some on the grounds that I do not take the United States to be more beloved of God than France, let us say, or Russia, or Argentina, or Iran.”

• “I am so unpatriotic as to believe that most Americans are good people, committed to living good lives. . . .”

• “I know there are those who feel it is unpatriotic to care what the world thinks.”

• “I am so unpatriotic as to attach great importance to the day-to-day practical well-being of my fellow citizens.”

To achieve their full effect, these lines should be recited by Margaret Dumont. I know there are writers who feel it is their duty to distinguish themselves from “self-declared patriots,” but must they do so with such farcical self-righteousness?

The partisanship and intellectual negligence of When I Was a Child I Read Books is a pity, because scattered throughout the book are fugitive remarks that throw a rich and satisfying light upon Robinson’s fiction, which is among the greatest written by an American over the past three decades. A challenging revisionist theory of the novel could be built up from the asides in her essays, but someone else will have to do the building. Or Marilynne Robinson will have to abandon political sloganeering and return to her first loves — religion and literature — to accomplish something else worth looking into.

Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012). 206 pages. $24.00.

Marilynne Robinson’s third collection of essays is her most political book since Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State, and Nuclear Pollution (1989). It is also her weakest to date. Absence of Mind, her last book, established Robinson as the most forceful critic of the New Atheism and a thrilling defender of the religious understanding of man. (My review is here.) When she continues to pursue this project, she continues to write brilliantly. Robinson singlehandedly demolishes the “neo-Darwinism” (as she calls it), which denies to human religion anything more than a proneness to error, violence, evil. In her new collection of ten essays, she adds the important biographical detail that she considers herself to be writing in the tradition of liberal 19th-century evangelists like Charles Finney and Theodore D. Weld. In one remarkable passage, she reveals that the fictional town of Gilead, Iowa — the setting of her brilliant novel Gilead and its sequel Home — was modeled upon a historical settlement founded by liberal evangelists “as a fallback for John Brown.” When she turns from defending religion, however (and criticizing its exclusion from the human picture) — when she turns to a practical political application of her thinking — Robinson falters badly.

Perhaps the most glaring example of Robinson’s contradictions is between the “open-handedness” she urges as a social policy and her own failure to extend an open hand to those with whom she disagrees politically. A self-described Calvinist, Robinson founds her “ethics of non-judgmental, nonexclusive generosity” upon John Calvin’s conviction that “every human encounter is of moment,” because “the other in the encounter is always ‘sent’ or ‘offered.’ ” This is a first principle with her. “It may be mere historical conditioning,” she writes in the book’s title essay, recalling the effect upon her of growing up in Idaho, “but when I see a man or a woman alone, he or she looks mysterious to me, which is only to stay that for a moment I see another human being clearly.”

The mystery dissolves, though, when she glimpses a “pickup truck with a bumper sticker that read DON’T DISTRIBUTE MY WEALTH. DISTRIBUTE MY WORK ETHIC.” The “offering” of the pickup driver, the possibility that he has been “sent” to her, is rejected out of hand. Robinson knows for a certainty what stands behind his bumper sticker: a “grudge against the populace at large,” who are characterized by some ungenerous Americans “as a burden, a threat to their well-being, to their ‘values.’ ” The swine! No longer a human being who is seen clearly for a moment, the pickup driver is transmogrified into the symbol of a politics that Robinson reviles. The irony is that her own failure of generosity is entirely invisible to her. For immediately she sniffs: “There is at present a dearth of humane imagination for the integrity and mystery of other lives.” Very much including the lives of pickup drivers, apparently, if they oppose higher taxes!

This close-fisted attitude toward her political opponents is neither isolated nor accidental. In Absence of Mind, Robinson was relentless with her antagonists, but she was also generous. She joyously embraced the open-handedness of debate, exhibiting a readiness to lay out arguments, to supply evidence, to expose herself to rebuttal, to take the chance of being proved wrong. She named names and quoted offending passages from offensive books. She engaged in a direct face-to-face conflict; she accepted the responsibility of philosophical animus; she herself furnished the materials for an intelligent reply. In When I Was a Child I Read Books, not so much:

On what is conventionally called the conservative side, those attitudes and qualities that are at present revered, or are at least polemically useful, constitute the very slender whole of historical memory. This approach treats context as an impertinence and change as decline. It yields a robust sense of loyalty to certain national values — a loyalty which is inevitably lacking in those whose reading of history leads them to draw up a different set of national values. Its certitudes do not provide the basis for a complex or nuanced view of either the present or the past.

How would anyone begin to go about refuting this passage? The dearth of specifics, the illiberality of paraphrase, the absence of quotation, the lack of integrity toward the other side in debate make it impossible to respond with much beyond an guttural monosyllabic snort.

The most embarrassing moment in the book occurs when Robinson crumples into self-parody while trying to be ironic. In “Wondrous Love,” a long essay that lifts off from a “great old American hymn that sounds like astonishment itself,” she contrasts the doctrine of Christ’s love to a number of contemporary American perversions of it: doctrinal conflicts “within the household of Christ, the family of Christ, that fly in the face of that last commandment” (John 15:12), the “assertion by certain excitable people that this is a Christian country,” the failure to appreciate that freedom of religion really means freedom from established religion. Robinson reserves her deepest scorn, however, for “self-declared patriots.” She tries out several variations of an ironic response to them (whoever they are):

• “I am the sort of Christian whose patriotism might be called into question by some on the grounds that I do not take the United States to be more beloved of God than France, let us say, or Russia, or Argentina, or Iran.”

• “I am so unpatriotic as to believe that most Americans are good people, committed to living good lives. . . .”

• “I know there are those who feel it is unpatriotic to care what the world thinks.”

• “I am so unpatriotic as to attach great importance to the day-to-day practical well-being of my fellow citizens.”

To achieve their full effect, these lines should be recited by Margaret Dumont. I know there are writers who feel it is their duty to distinguish themselves from “self-declared patriots,” but must they do so with such farcical self-righteousness?

The partisanship and intellectual negligence of When I Was a Child I Read Books is a pity, because scattered throughout the book are fugitive remarks that throw a rich and satisfying light upon Robinson’s fiction, which is among the greatest written by an American over the past three decades. A challenging revisionist theory of the novel could be built up from the asides in her essays, but someone else will have to do the building. Or Marilynne Robinson will have to abandon political sloganeering and return to her first loves — religion and literature — to accomplish something else worth looking into.

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Hot Mic Attack Ad: You Only Run Twice

President Obama’s hot mic slip-up with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is bound to provide endless attack ad fodder for Republicans, but it’s going to be hard to top this ad out today from American Crossroads:

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President Obama’s hot mic slip-up with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is bound to provide endless attack ad fodder for Republicans, but it’s going to be hard to top this ad out today from American Crossroads:

At the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer can’t imagine why Obama thinks he owes Vladimir Putin any “flexibility” on missile defense after the way Russia has tampered with U.S. policy goals in Iran and Syria, and the unnecessary concessions the U.S. already has made on Eastern European missile defense and START. And Obama’s hot mic comments certainly send a detrimental message to our allies:

Can you imagine the kind of pressure a reelected Obama will put on Israel, the kind of anxiety he will induce from Georgia to the Persian Gulf, the nervousness among our most loyal East European friends who, having been left out on a limb by Obama once before, are now wondering what new flexibility Obama will show Putin — the man who famously proclaimed that the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century was Russia’s loss of its Soviet empire?

They don’t know. We don’t know. We didn’t even know this was coming — until the mic was left open. Only Putin was to know. “I will transmit this information to Vladimir,” Medvedev assured Obama.

That’s the most troubling part – that we wouldn’t even have known if there hadn’t been a technological slip-up. How concerned you are about the hot mic moment probably depends on whether you think this was a one-time, off-the-cuff remark or a glimpse into Obama’s mindset on foreign policy.

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Obama’s Presidency Is Now Changed

In the Washington Times, Charles Hurt claims this “has been, without any doubt, the worst week yet for President Obama.” He cites the fatal multi-car pile-up that is the Trayvon Martin controversy, the hot-mic incident with Dmitry Medvedev, Obamacare on the ropes at the Supreme Court, and the congressional defeat of Obama’s budget. It’s true this has been Obama’s worst week ever. But it’s also more than that. There are all sorts of ways to have a bad political week, and most don’t involve secretly colluding with the Kremlin and watching your signature policy initiative deliquesce at the Supreme Court.

For Obama detractors, this week was the mother of all “told-ya-so’s”: the disaster predictions of his presidency made manifest; all the contents of 2008’s dire prophecies conjured into the real world. The brazen courting of international bad actors, the constitutionally unfeasible leftism, and the political illiteracy have been summoned at last in the space of a few days. You no longer need conservative pundits to paint a worrisome picture when you can just go to the videotape.

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In the Washington Times, Charles Hurt claims this “has been, without any doubt, the worst week yet for President Obama.” He cites the fatal multi-car pile-up that is the Trayvon Martin controversy, the hot-mic incident with Dmitry Medvedev, Obamacare on the ropes at the Supreme Court, and the congressional defeat of Obama’s budget. It’s true this has been Obama’s worst week ever. But it’s also more than that. There are all sorts of ways to have a bad political week, and most don’t involve secretly colluding with the Kremlin and watching your signature policy initiative deliquesce at the Supreme Court.

For Obama detractors, this week was the mother of all “told-ya-so’s”: the disaster predictions of his presidency made manifest; all the contents of 2008’s dire prophecies conjured into the real world. The brazen courting of international bad actors, the constitutionally unfeasible leftism, and the political illiteracy have been summoned at last in the space of a few days. You no longer need conservative pundits to paint a worrisome picture when you can just go to the videotape.

Worst of all is the clear, bright line connecting the health-care showdown and the Putin pander: Barack Obama’s casual indifference to democratic principle. That the healthcare overhaul was a federally enforced protection racket is no more relevant to him than Vladimir Putin’s aggressive anti-freedom agenda. Expedience means the state compels the people to do what’s in their best interest. No one said change is easy.

The told-ya-so business is high risk.  If in June it turns out that the Court didn’t shoot down all or part of Obamacare, the president will get a considerable lift. The larger context of this week from hell will be history and Obama critics will eat a plate of crow as large as the seeming political corpse on which they now feast. But that’s only politics. The essential nature of Obama’s presidency is fundamentally changed no matter what. Recovering support after the catastrophes of this week, which is certainly possible, would mean inaugurating a new kind of Obama advocacy. One no longer based on idealism or hope but rather on the kind of cynicism and opportunism that were brought to light over the last several days.

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Paul Ryan’s Timely Endorsement

Coming as it did months after the Florida primary, Senator Marco Rubio’s endorsement of Mitt Romney earlier this week could be said to be more an indication of the frontrunner’s inevitability than a gesture that provided any tangible assistance. But the same cannot be said of Rep. Paul Ryan’s announcement today that he is supporting Romney.

With just four days left before the Wisconsin Primary on Tuesday, Ryan’s backing is a telling blow to any hopes Rick Santorum might have harbored about an upset in the Badger state. Ryan is a popular figure in his home state, and while endorsements do not guarantee votes, there’s no denying it will give Romney a boost at a time when he is maintaining a steady but not overwhelming lead. The warmth of the endorsement and the way Ryan addressed the fears of conservatives about his candidate’s moderate tendencies should also go a long way toward putting a fork in a GOP race that appears to be winding down.

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Coming as it did months after the Florida primary, Senator Marco Rubio’s endorsement of Mitt Romney earlier this week could be said to be more an indication of the frontrunner’s inevitability than a gesture that provided any tangible assistance. But the same cannot be said of Rep. Paul Ryan’s announcement today that he is supporting Romney.

With just four days left before the Wisconsin Primary on Tuesday, Ryan’s backing is a telling blow to any hopes Rick Santorum might have harbored about an upset in the Badger state. Ryan is a popular figure in his home state, and while endorsements do not guarantee votes, there’s no denying it will give Romney a boost at a time when he is maintaining a steady but not overwhelming lead. The warmth of the endorsement and the way Ryan addressed the fears of conservatives about his candidate’s moderate tendencies should also go a long way toward putting a fork in a GOP race that appears to be winding down.

Given the fact that Romney has been more supportive of Ryan’s entitlement reform efforts as well as his proposed budget, the endorsement should have surprised no one. But Ryan’s attempt to draw a distinction between Romney and past GOP losers who tilted to the center is noteworthy. As Politico reports:

Ryan told Wisconsin radio host Charlie Sykes that Romney, unlike past GOP presidential nominees Bob Dole and John McCain, is a true conservative.

“I was not a fan of Bob Dole being our nominee in ‘96, I didn’t support John McCain throughout the primary, I supported other people last time,” he said. “This is not the same kind of candidate.”

Ryan also said that his decision to support Romney isn’t him “settling,” saying the candidate won’t “cut and run” from conservative principles if he’s elected.

“I do believe we’re not settling,” he said. “If I did, I wouldn’t do this.”

Of course, Democrats will regard the Ryan endorsement as a kiss of death to Romney as they fully intend on running in the fall on the same sort of Mediscare tactics that they have employed in the last year. Demonizing Ryan will be a cornerstone of the Obama campaign. But the idea that the reformist congressman will hurt Romney and the GOP nationally is based on an assumption that most Americans are more afraid of losing their entitlements than they are about the economic future of the country.

They would also be delighted should Romney tap Ryan for the vice presidential nomination. But while Ryan is not viewed as being as much of a potential asset as Rubio, Democrats would making a mistake if they think they can do to the Wisconsin congressman what they did to Sarah Palin four years ago. Ryan is brilliant, articulate and deeply principled. The more Americans are exposed to his ideas, the less Democrats are going to like it.

Ryan’s proposals may be controversial in Washington, but the Democrats’ belief that they can duplicate the success throughout the nation they had with this issue in one special congressional election in Western New York last spring may not be justified. His presence on the GOP ticket might play into Obama’s strategy of making the election a referendum on the GOP’s budget. But it would also allow Romney and his running mate to stake out a position on the nation’s future that could galvanize mainstream support.

Paul Ryan may be an important factor in the Wisconsin GOP primary. But he might turn out to be even more important in the fall.

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Demolishing Peter Beinart’s Book

In his review of Peter Beinart’s book The Crisis of Zionism, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal offers up what he calls a “harsh” critique. That would be one way to describe it. Devastating would be another.

Stephens eviscerates Beinart’s book by highlighting some of its errors, including false claims about the Sasson study (which measured how American Jews feel about U.S. support for Israel); asserting that Israel’s blockade shattered Gaza’s economy, with 90 percent of Gaza’s industrial complex closed in 2008 – even though the source of this claim is a study conducted by the IMF in 2003; relying on incomplete quotes by former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami; and insisting that the Egyptian leaders who have emerged in Hosni Mubarak’s wake have not called for Israel’s destruction. (Essam El-Eryah, who heads the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Egyptian Parliament, has said the Arab Spring will “mark the end of the Zionist entity.”)

“There’s more of this,” according to Stephens. “Much more. In fact, the errors in Beinart’s book pile up at such a rate that they become almost impossible to track.” Stephens then broadens his critique:

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In his review of Peter Beinart’s book The Crisis of Zionism, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal offers up what he calls a “harsh” critique. That would be one way to describe it. Devastating would be another.

Stephens eviscerates Beinart’s book by highlighting some of its errors, including false claims about the Sasson study (which measured how American Jews feel about U.S. support for Israel); asserting that Israel’s blockade shattered Gaza’s economy, with 90 percent of Gaza’s industrial complex closed in 2008 – even though the source of this claim is a study conducted by the IMF in 2003; relying on incomplete quotes by former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami; and insisting that the Egyptian leaders who have emerged in Hosni Mubarak’s wake have not called for Israel’s destruction. (Essam El-Eryah, who heads the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Egyptian Parliament, has said the Arab Spring will “mark the end of the Zionist entity.”)

“There’s more of this,” according to Stephens. “Much more. In fact, the errors in Beinart’s book pile up at such a rate that they become almost impossible to track.” Stephens then broadens his critique:

Still, the deeper problem isn’t that there’s so much in Beinart’s book that is untrue, but rather so much that is half-true: the accurate quote used in a misleading way; the treatment of highly partisan sources as objective and unobjectionable; the settlement of ferocious debates among historians in a single, dismissive sentence; the one-sided giving—and withholding—of the benefit of the doubt; the “to be sure” and “of course” clauses that do more to erase balance than introduce it. It’s a cheap kind of slipperiness that’s hard to detect but leaves its stain on nearly every page.

And this:

Beinart is singularly intent on scolding Israel, like an angry ex who has lost all grip on the proportions of the original dispute. To him, no Israeli misdeed is too small that it can’t serve as an alibi for Palestinian malfeasance. And no Palestinian crime is so great that it can justify even a moment’s pause in Israel’s quest to do right by its neighbor.

The book demonstrates “mental slovenliness” and is written with a “spirit of icy contempt and patent insincerity.”

None of this is surprising; Beinart’s antipathy toward Israel has been in full public view for a while now, and he has made sloppy and stupid arguments before. But to see bad arguments so systematically demolished, and bad faith so systematically exposed, is rare. It’s also a genuine public service. That sound you hear is Peter Beinart trying to escape from under the pile of ruin he finds himself.

 

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GOP Shift on Gay Marriage Opposition

Politico reports this morning on the internal shift within the Republican Party on the gay marriage opposition issue, which has been taking place quietly for the past few years. The change has mirrored polling numbers, which show that public opinion has moved sharply in favor of gay marriage since 2008. But it’s still noteworthy that the Republican leadership in Congress isn’t just being passive on this. It has even worked to kill amendments that oppose gay marriage:

Even more than that, Republican leadership has evolved, too. It has quietly worked behind the scenes to kill amendments that reaffirm opposition to same-sex unions, several sources told Politico.

It’s not like the GOP has become a bastion of progressiveness on gay rights, but there has been an evolution in the political approach — and an acknowledgment of a cultural shift in the country. Same-sex relationships are more prominent and accepted. There are more gay public figures — including politicians — and it’s likely that many Washington Republicans have gay friends and coworkers. Just as important — there’s also a libertarian streak of acceptance on people’s sexuality coursing through the House Republican Conference.

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Politico reports this morning on the internal shift within the Republican Party on the gay marriage opposition issue, which has been taking place quietly for the past few years. The change has mirrored polling numbers, which show that public opinion has moved sharply in favor of gay marriage since 2008. But it’s still noteworthy that the Republican leadership in Congress isn’t just being passive on this. It has even worked to kill amendments that oppose gay marriage:

Even more than that, Republican leadership has evolved, too. It has quietly worked behind the scenes to kill amendments that reaffirm opposition to same-sex unions, several sources told Politico.

It’s not like the GOP has become a bastion of progressiveness on gay rights, but there has been an evolution in the political approach — and an acknowledgment of a cultural shift in the country. Same-sex relationships are more prominent and accepted. There are more gay public figures — including politicians — and it’s likely that many Washington Republicans have gay friends and coworkers. Just as important — there’s also a libertarian streak of acceptance on people’s sexuality coursing through the House Republican Conference.

Part of this is about the current political atmosphere. Republicans want to keep the message focused on jobs, the deficit and the economy – issues that will actually get voters mobilized. Bringing up gay marriage at this point would have no benefit for the GOP.

But there’s also the sense that the long-term trend is moving toward acceptance of gay marriage, even within the conservative movement. And Republicans just don’t have the appetite to fight a battle that will be lost, if not next year, then five or 10 years down the line:

Then there are those Republicans who have been fighting for gay rights for decades — people like Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Ros-Lehtinen, who has a transgender son named Rodrigo, was the first Republican to co-sponsor the repeal of DOMA.

“Also,” she wrote in an email to Politico, “the younger generation is not as fixated on many social issues, as important as they are to other folks. Marriage equality is an issue that is evolving in people’s minds and hearts. As with many controversial issues, the passage of time makes us more comfortable with change.”

If you want to get a sense of where the traditional marriage movement is heading, the recent controversy over the National Organization for Marriage’s leaked action plan – which called for driving a wedge between gay and black people after Proposition 8 – is a good place to start. As correct as NOM may have been from a tactical standpoint (the black community’s support for Prop. 8 helped kill gay marriage in California), the ick-factor here is incredibly high. Just look at the language: NOM said it was seeking to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks”; “provoke” gay marriage supporters into “denouncing these [African American] spokesmen and women as bigots”; and “fanning the hostility raised in the wake of Prop. 8.” This isn’t the language or the vision of a noble cause, and it certainly doesn’t sound like one that supporters can feel good about belonging to.

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The Move to Single-Payer Health Care

Do voters exist? In the United States, that is–do we still have voters? All available evidence points to yes, we have millions upon millions of them who vote in national elections. But maybe I’m getting too caught up in the numbers. Recent anecdotal evidence challenges my theory. I’m referring, of course, to the obvious consequences if the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare. The result, everyone says, will be single-payer, government-run health care for all.

The problem, though, is that this was suggested and polled repeatedly during the health care debates in 2009-10. As the debates dragged on, a single-payer health care program repeatedly polled as the least popular path to universal coverage, and its poll numbers dropped over time. So I’ll pose a simple question: If the entire Obamacare law is struck down, will President Obama campaign on a single-payer system? No, he won’t. And the reason is because it will hurt him with voters, who in the end really do exist. Ezra Klein has, however, proposed a feasible way for the Democrats to move toward a default single-payer system:

I think that path would look something like this: With health-care reform either repealed or overturned, both Democrats and Republicans shy away from proposing any big changes to the health-care system for the next decade or so. But with continued increases in the cost of health insurance and a steady erosion in employer-based coverage, Democrats begin dipping their toes in the water with a strategy based around incremental expansions of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. They move these policies through budget reconciliation, where they can be passed with 51 votes in the Senate, and, over time, this leads to more and more Americans being covered through public insurance. Eventually, we end up with something close to a single-payer system, as a majority of Americans — and particularly a majority of Americans who have significant health risks — are covered by the government.

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Do voters exist? In the United States, that is–do we still have voters? All available evidence points to yes, we have millions upon millions of them who vote in national elections. But maybe I’m getting too caught up in the numbers. Recent anecdotal evidence challenges my theory. I’m referring, of course, to the obvious consequences if the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare. The result, everyone says, will be single-payer, government-run health care for all.

The problem, though, is that this was suggested and polled repeatedly during the health care debates in 2009-10. As the debates dragged on, a single-payer health care program repeatedly polled as the least popular path to universal coverage, and its poll numbers dropped over time. So I’ll pose a simple question: If the entire Obamacare law is struck down, will President Obama campaign on a single-payer system? No, he won’t. And the reason is because it will hurt him with voters, who in the end really do exist. Ezra Klein has, however, proposed a feasible way for the Democrats to move toward a default single-payer system:

I think that path would look something like this: With health-care reform either repealed or overturned, both Democrats and Republicans shy away from proposing any big changes to the health-care system for the next decade or so. But with continued increases in the cost of health insurance and a steady erosion in employer-based coverage, Democrats begin dipping their toes in the water with a strategy based around incremental expansions of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. They move these policies through budget reconciliation, where they can be passed with 51 votes in the Senate, and, over time, this leads to more and more Americans being covered through public insurance. Eventually, we end up with something close to a single-payer system, as a majority of Americans — and particularly a majority of Americans who have significant health risks — are covered by the government.

It certainly could happen. Klein isn’t in love with the idea, to say the least. But yes, it’s a possibility. But the part I take issue with is the first sentence, in which Klein says everybody walks away from the health insurance issue for a decade. I don’t think Obama would do that, and I don’t think the election could pass by without health care thrust right back in the debate, only this time centered on the question of how to replace Obamacare.

So in that case, politically, what does Obama do? Like I said, I don’t think he runs as an advocate for single-payer. Klein’s suggestion is probably workable in the long run, but Obama can’t run on it. He cannot stage a re-election campaign on the idea that he’ll give up the reform game and that it’s now up to Harry Reid to slowly and quietly bring us to the cusp of single-payer while everyone else is distracted watching “Mad Men” and arguing over Tim Tebow.

Again, I don’t doubt the feasibility of this incremental Medicare-for-all approach. But elections include voters, and voters will want to know what the candidates are going to do about health care if Obamacare disappears entirely. The president cannot say “nothing.” He cannot say “trust us, we’ll take care of it in a way that requires no public discussion and no voter input.” And he cannot say: “We’ll do what Canada and Britain have done.” So what will he say?

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Trayvon Martin’s Death Turned Into Media-Driven Circus

In the aftermath of the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are attempting to use the dead 17-year-old to do what they have spent so much of their adult lives doing: dividing America over racial lines. So are some Members of Congress. President Obama’s words have certainly been more subtle and less polarizing than some others. Still Obama, having waded once before into a local law enforcement issue he chose to interpret through a racial lens (the 2009 arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates by a Cambridge police officer), decided he’d speak out on the Martin tragedy – even before the facts are all in and even before an arrest has been made. That is courting trouble. Newt Gingrich fired back with typical restraint, calling the president’s comments “disgraceful.”

MSNBC (among other news outlets) has been obsessing on the story. Film director Spike Lee re-tweeted the wrong address of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who shot Martin, with the result being that an elderly couple in their 70s were forced to flee their home after receiving death threats (Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart, liberal but often responsible, takes apart Spike Lee here). And the New Black Panther party has put out a bounty on Zimmerman and called for his capture “dead or alive.”

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In the aftermath of the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are attempting to use the dead 17-year-old to do what they have spent so much of their adult lives doing: dividing America over racial lines. So are some Members of Congress. President Obama’s words have certainly been more subtle and less polarizing than some others. Still Obama, having waded once before into a local law enforcement issue he chose to interpret through a racial lens (the 2009 arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates by a Cambridge police officer), decided he’d speak out on the Martin tragedy – even before the facts are all in and even before an arrest has been made. That is courting trouble. Newt Gingrich fired back with typical restraint, calling the president’s comments “disgraceful.”

MSNBC (among other news outlets) has been obsessing on the story. Film director Spike Lee re-tweeted the wrong address of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who shot Martin, with the result being that an elderly couple in their 70s were forced to flee their home after receiving death threats (Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart, liberal but often responsible, takes apart Spike Lee here). And the New Black Panther party has put out a bounty on Zimmerman and called for his capture “dead or alive.”

We don’t know exactly what happened on the night of February 26. But we do know one thing for sure: Trayvon Martin did not deserve to be shot through the chest by a 9 mm handgun that killed him. Whether or not Zimmerman acted maliciously, recklessly, or mistakenly hasn’t been determined. How one views him depends on facts that are still unclear. But one life has been ended and the lives of many other people have been ruined.

We need to allow justice to be done – and justice might well mean the arrest and trial of Zimmerman. At the same time, a decent society would give the parents, family members and friends of those caught up in this nightmare the room to grieve. In days gone by, it would have been viewed as somewhat unseemly to take what ought to be private moments and feelings and have them played out on a public stage; to turn a human tragedy into a PR war. No more. One side wants to conduct a trial by television. The other feels compelled to respond. As a result, Trayvon Martin’s death has been turned into a media-driven circus.

The impulse of those who comprise the political class to reduce every single event in life – including tears and sorrows beyond measure – to partisan political ends isn’t the worst thing in the world. But it’s bad enough. And it needs to stop.

 

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NBC/Marist: Romney Up 7 in Wisconsin

This poll is similar to one put out by Marquette Law School earlier this week, which also shows Mitt Romney with a small (but growing) advantage over Rick Santorum:

In Wisconsin’s April 3 Republican contest, the former Massachusetts governor gets support from 40 percent of likely primary voters, including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a particular candidate. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum gets 33 percent, Texas Rep. Ron Paul gets 11 percent,  and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich gets 8 percent. Seven percent of respondents are undecided.

The poll follows the trend we’ve been seeing in other states: Romney polls better with moderate Republicans, while Santorum polls better with Tea Partiers and evangelical Christians.

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This poll is similar to one put out by Marquette Law School earlier this week, which also shows Mitt Romney with a small (but growing) advantage over Rick Santorum:

In Wisconsin’s April 3 Republican contest, the former Massachusetts governor gets support from 40 percent of likely primary voters, including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a particular candidate. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum gets 33 percent, Texas Rep. Ron Paul gets 11 percent,  and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich gets 8 percent. Seven percent of respondents are undecided.

The poll follows the trend we’ve been seeing in other states: Romney polls better with moderate Republicans, while Santorum polls better with Tea Partiers and evangelical Christians.

Wisconsin is really the last state that will actually matter for Santorum in April. It’s the only state he has a chance of winning (though it does seem to be dwindling) before Pennsylvania. And the demographics are stacked against him. NBC points out that Santorum has been successful in states where evangelical voters have made up a high percentage of the electorate, and this isn’t the case in Wisconsin:

So far in all the GOP contests where there has been exit polling, Romney has won in every contest where evangelical voters have accounted for less than 50 percent of the electorate. And he has lost in every contest where that number has been higher than 50 percent.

The evangelical percentage among likely Wisconsin GOP primary voters, according to the NBC/Marist poll: 41 percent.

Of course, one of the reasons why the polls missed Santorum’s surge in Alabama and Mississippi was because some of them had actually underestimated the percentage of evangelicals in the electorate by as much as 10 percent. Perhaps those blunders prompted pollsters to be more careful with their estimates in future states, but it’s still something to keep in mind.

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Violence and Rejectionism at the Heart of Palestinian “Land Day” Show

Today’s “Land Day” demonstrations at various places in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza border, as well as a march on the Israeli-Lebanese border, are all intended to bring attention to the Palestinian campaign against Israel and to increase international sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians. But the violent nature of the protests and the demands raised by those participating give the lie to the notion that any of this has anything to do with the cause of Middle East peace.

By flinging rocks at Israeli forces in the hope that they will respond with deadly force, the Palestinians are playing their usual game in which they hope to sacrifice some of their youth in exchange for damaging the reputation of the Jewish state. More to the point, should anyone actually be listening to what they are screaming, the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders are also making it clear their goal is Israel’s destruction.

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Today’s “Land Day” demonstrations at various places in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza border, as well as a march on the Israeli-Lebanese border, are all intended to bring attention to the Palestinian campaign against Israel and to increase international sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians. But the violent nature of the protests and the demands raised by those participating give the lie to the notion that any of this has anything to do with the cause of Middle East peace.

By flinging rocks at Israeli forces in the hope that they will respond with deadly force, the Palestinians are playing their usual game in which they hope to sacrifice some of their youth in exchange for damaging the reputation of the Jewish state. More to the point, should anyone actually be listening to what they are screaming, the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders are also making it clear their goal is Israel’s destruction.

“Land Day” is an annual event that commemorates a dispute over the property of some Arab villages that turned violent in the 1970s. But it is no civil libertarian holiday. As today’s demonstrations have once again reminded us, the goal of the Palestinian street as well as those foreigners who parachute into the country to help stir the point on the issue, is to promote the “right of return” by which Arabs hope to flood the Jewish state with the descendants of the 1948 refugees.

Many of Israel’s critics — including those Jews who pose as Zionists while preaching boycotts and sanctions that give cover to a rising tide of anti-Semitic incitement around the globe — ignore what the Palestinians say they want and instead, pretend that the dispute is about borders and settlements. But as today’s events illustrate, they have but minimal interest in the Jewish communities in the West Bank, the vast majority of which are near the 1967 lines. Instead, they are focused on the nature of the Jewish state itself. The Land Day extravaganza is about an attempt to reverse the verdict of 1948, not to place an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Moreover, despite the fact that the Palestinians are constantly talking about transforming the conflict by adopting the non-violent protest methods of Gandhi, the nature of their political culture is such that they appear incapable of doing so. Violence is always a given at these events.

That is due in part to the desire of the organizers to create a new batch of martyrs to be celebrated so as to blacken Israel’s name. As accounts of today’s events make clear, the whole point is to create theatre for the cameras of the international press.

But the violence is also a function of Palestinian politics that has unfortunately always valued the spilling of blood over anything else. This is also related to the plain fact that Palestinian nationalism came into existence in the 20th century as a reaction to Zionism rather than as part of a national cultural revival as was the case with other modern national cultures. This negative impulse is why recognition of Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state is something no Palestinian leader can accept. It is also why violence against Jews and Israel is still the only way for such leaders to establish their own bona fides.

The “Land Day” show will accomplish nothing for the Palestinians except to further confirm the dead-end path of violence and confrontation in which they are stuck. If their foreign friends wish to help them, they could do so by ceasing to support these pointless exercises in violence and to begin coming to terms with the permanence of the Jewish state.

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Court Defeat Will Hurt Obama

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s hearings on the constitutionality of ObamaCare this week, speculation is now rife about the impact of a defeat for the president’s signature legislative achievement. Arguments are being marshaled that claim an overturning of the legislation will help the Republicans, while others insist it will rally the Democrats. That all of this is a bit premature is a given. No matter how the question and answer session with the justices went, we still don’t know for sure how they will vote. But even if we are to assume, as panicky liberals and triumphant conservatives are saying today, that the bill is headed to the dustbin of history, the ultimate impact of such a decision can only be guessed at.

The issue can help and hurt both the Republicans and the Democrats. Each party has something to gain and something to lose from the outcome. Nevertheless, the two main points to be derived from a defeat is that it will diminish President Obama and get Mitt Romney off the hook for his own Massachusetts health care bill. Seen in that light, if the judges vote the way so many people seem to think they will, the decision may well be a harbinger of defeat in November for the president.

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In the wake of the Supreme Court’s hearings on the constitutionality of ObamaCare this week, speculation is now rife about the impact of a defeat for the president’s signature legislative achievement. Arguments are being marshaled that claim an overturning of the legislation will help the Republicans, while others insist it will rally the Democrats. That all of this is a bit premature is a given. No matter how the question and answer session with the justices went, we still don’t know for sure how they will vote. But even if we are to assume, as panicky liberals and triumphant conservatives are saying today, that the bill is headed to the dustbin of history, the ultimate impact of such a decision can only be guessed at.

The issue can help and hurt both the Republicans and the Democrats. Each party has something to gain and something to lose from the outcome. Nevertheless, the two main points to be derived from a defeat is that it will diminish President Obama and get Mitt Romney off the hook for his own Massachusetts health care bill. Seen in that light, if the judges vote the way so many people seem to think they will, the decision may well be a harbinger of defeat in November for the president.

There is a good deal of merit to the point of view that a defeat will energize Democrats. If there is a narrow 5-4 conservative majority against ObamaCare, it will allow the president and his party to go on the offensive against the GOP rather than having to play defense, as they would have, as their opponents pointed out the cost and the shortcomings of their healthcare regime. Railing against the conservatives on the court would, along with the Democrats’ Mediscare tactics in which they will try to demonize Rep. Paul Ryan’s efforts to reform entitlements, be part of a holistic strategy which would try to portray the election as a battle between the forces of GOP greed and Democrats resolved to soak the rich.

It should also be conceded that striking down the bill would remove the one issue that was the impetus of the Republicans’ historic midterm victory in 2010. Without ObamaCare to kick around, some of the steam comes out of a Tea Party movement that had already begun to diminish during last summer’s debt-ceiling crisis.

But the defeat of ObamaCare would also remove the main item on the president’s already small list of achievements. While it is already clear Obama cannot run on his record, the defeat of ObamaCare would remind the electorate he had shoved it down the throats of an unwilling public despite widespread concerns about its legitimacy. Though the president wants the election to be about what he considers the radicalism of his opponents, a Supreme Court defeat for his health care plan would effectively put that label on him rather than the GOP. While he had hoped his election would signal a revival for liberalism, the end to the centerpiece of the left’s wish list will make clear America is not “evolving” toward European-style social democracy.

The defeat of ObamaCare would also free up Romney from the burden of trying to prove why his bill was not the spiritual father of Obama’s. That would help him with the GOP base as well as give him space to concentrate on his economic expertise and to flay the president’s record on employment.

If one adds up all these factors, it is difficult to understand how a defeat for ObamaCare would not be a problem for Obama. On the other hand, should the court somehow defy current expectations, there is just as little doubt that it would be a major boost for the president.

Thus, while the court will not by any stretch of the imagination decide the November election, a lot is on the line for both parties. Just as the resolution of the dispute about Obamacare’s constitutionality will have an enormous impact on the power of the government to intervene in the economy, it will also play a not insignificant role in deciding who sits in the White House next year.

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Ryan Budget Will Be GOP Blueprint

As Pete wrote earlier, Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan passed the House as expected this afternoon. And while that’s probably going to be the furthest it goes this year, Republicans are looking to make it their guiding message heading into the general election season.

House Speaker John Boehner kicked off this effort shortly after the budget plan passed:

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday afternoon that the budget proposal put forward by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is a “real vision” of how Republicans would govern if they had more control of Washington.

“So I applaud my colleagues,” he said of those who worked on the Ryan budget, “for the tough decisions they’ve made, to try to do the right thing for the country, to lay out a real vision of what we were to do if we get more control here in this town. It’s still a Democrat-run town.” …

“You look at all the proposals we’ve seen in this debate, it’s all more of the same,” Boehner said. “Two things that are prevalent: let’s raise taxes on the American people once again, and secondly, let’s kick the can down the road as if no one knows that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are going broke.” …

“While we did a budget last year, we’re doing another budget this year, we’re making tough decisions to help preserve Social Security and preserve Medicare, the United States Senate… it’s been 1,065 days since they passed a budget,” he said. “Almost three years since they’ve had the courage to show the American people what their solutions are.”

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As Pete wrote earlier, Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan passed the House as expected this afternoon. And while that’s probably going to be the furthest it goes this year, Republicans are looking to make it their guiding message heading into the general election season.

House Speaker John Boehner kicked off this effort shortly after the budget plan passed:

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday afternoon that the budget proposal put forward by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is a “real vision” of how Republicans would govern if they had more control of Washington.

“So I applaud my colleagues,” he said of those who worked on the Ryan budget, “for the tough decisions they’ve made, to try to do the right thing for the country, to lay out a real vision of what we were to do if we get more control here in this town. It’s still a Democrat-run town.” …

“You look at all the proposals we’ve seen in this debate, it’s all more of the same,” Boehner said. “Two things that are prevalent: let’s raise taxes on the American people once again, and secondly, let’s kick the can down the road as if no one knows that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are going broke.” …

“While we did a budget last year, we’re doing another budget this year, we’re making tough decisions to help preserve Social Security and preserve Medicare, the United States Senate… it’s been 1,065 days since they passed a budget,” he said. “Almost three years since they’ve had the courage to show the American people what their solutions are.”

If you want a perfect example of the contrast Republicans are trying to create between their own vision and the vision of the Democratic Party, take a look at this exchange between Ryan and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. On the floor yesterday, DWS launched into a dramatic spiel about how the Medicare growth rate in Ryan’s plan would ravage the lives of the elderly. But as Ryan points out, the growth rate he proposes is the same as the one in another plan DWS should be very, very familiar with:

Of course, the way Ryan and Obama each choose to deal with the growth rate is very different. While Obama’s seeking to put price-control power under the jurisdiction of a board of unelected bureaucrats, Ryan’s proposal would rein in costs through competitive bidding provisions. Private choice as opposed to government management. And that’s the contrast the GOP will work to highlight between now and the fall.

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Iran Isolated? Not According to Turkey

We know President Obama prides himself on the close relationship he has developed with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. If you listen to administration sources, despite Turkey’s attempt to sabotage Middle East peace, Erdoğan is part of the powerful international coalition the president has assembled to pressure Iran to give up its quest for nuclear capability. But it’s not clear how they can spin Erdoğan’s trip to Tehran this week. Meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, Erdoğan not only defended Iran’s right to nuclear research, he made common cause with the Islamist regime on their response “to the arrogance of the Western countries.”

Earlier today, Emanuele Ottolenghi speculated as to whether Erdoğan was taking a message to Tehran on behalf of his friend in the White House. But if that is true, neither the message nor its reply seems to be anything that should reassure the world that the Iranians are about to back down. If anything, the visit and the successful trade negotiations between Iran and Turkey appear to make it clear that Obama’s diplomatic coalition is a house of cards. Even worse, the Iranians know it.

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We know President Obama prides himself on the close relationship he has developed with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. If you listen to administration sources, despite Turkey’s attempt to sabotage Middle East peace, Erdoğan is part of the powerful international coalition the president has assembled to pressure Iran to give up its quest for nuclear capability. But it’s not clear how they can spin Erdoğan’s trip to Tehran this week. Meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, Erdoğan not only defended Iran’s right to nuclear research, he made common cause with the Islamist regime on their response “to the arrogance of the Western countries.”

Earlier today, Emanuele Ottolenghi speculated as to whether Erdoğan was taking a message to Tehran on behalf of his friend in the White House. But if that is true, neither the message nor its reply seems to be anything that should reassure the world that the Iranians are about to back down. If anything, the visit and the successful trade negotiations between Iran and Turkey appear to make it clear that Obama’s diplomatic coalition is a house of cards. Even worse, the Iranians know it.

Iran is scheduled to begin a new round of talks with the European Union-led group that is seeking to find a way to keep President Obama’s “diplomatic window” with Tehran open. The Europeans and the Americans have both stated they will not allow this latest opening to be used as a delaying tactic by the Iranians. But the Iranians are giving every indication they are prepared to call the West’s bluff about an oil embargo. By securing ongoing trade relationships with Turkey and China, Iran hopes to weather the storm should the Europeans and Americans make good on their threat of imposing the tough sanctions they have talked about for years but never enforced.

While Obama has boasted of his success in isolating Iran, events such as Erdoğan’s visit to Tehran gives the lie to the notion that the coalition he has assembled actually means business. More to the point, so long as Iran can count on its neighbor Turkey and an economic dynamo such as China to continue to trade with it, it need not worry about the consequences of continuing to stall the West on the nuclear issue.

The president is thought to have achieved a tacit understanding with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that diplomacy be given more time to work before they consider a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Whether that is true or not, the spectacle of Obama’s close friend embracing Ahmadinejad and promising to work together with him to thwart the West’s “arrogance” ought to give pause to anyone who continues to buy into the administration’s optimism about diplomacy. With Turkey beside them, the Iranians, who have always doubted Obama’s resolve, may believe they have little to fear.

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In Praise of Speaker John Boehner

Earlier today, the House of Representatives passed the GOP budget authored by Representative Paul Ryan by a vote of 228-191 (a day after President Obama’s budget was voted down in the House 414-0, which comes a year after Obama’s budget was voted down in the Senate 97-0). It’s therefore worth a tip of the hat not simply to Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee, but also to Speaker John Boehner.

It was Boehner who a year ago gave the green light to Ryan to push ahead with his bold budget, even though then (and now) it calls for fundamentally reforming Medicare. Last year in particular the fear among many Republicans and conservatives was that advocating a restructuring of Medicare was political suicide. It hasn’t turned out that way, but that wasn’t known at the time. And Boehner’s support was crucial to Ryan; without it, the Wisconsin representative could never have pushed ahead.

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Earlier today, the House of Representatives passed the GOP budget authored by Representative Paul Ryan by a vote of 228-191 (a day after President Obama’s budget was voted down in the House 414-0, which comes a year after Obama’s budget was voted down in the Senate 97-0). It’s therefore worth a tip of the hat not simply to Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee, but also to Speaker John Boehner.

It was Boehner who a year ago gave the green light to Ryan to push ahead with his bold budget, even though then (and now) it calls for fundamentally reforming Medicare. Last year in particular the fear among many Republicans and conservatives was that advocating a restructuring of Medicare was political suicide. It hasn’t turned out that way, but that wasn’t known at the time. And Boehner’s support was crucial to Ryan; without it, the Wisconsin representative could never have pushed ahead.

More broadly, Boehner has shown himself to be a first-rate Speaker – trustworthy, keeping his caucus together during trying moments, avoiding (for the most part) missteps, and demonstrating both pragmatism and a commitment to conservative principles. Boehner isn’t perfect, he’s not the flashiest speaker in history, and he doesn’t see his role as saving Western civilization and standing between us and Auschwitz. But he’s a very able and experienced politician, a steady hand on the wheel, and he’s shown courage in his own understated way.

That isn’t acknowledged nearly as often as it should be by conservatives.

 

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