Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 28, 2012

Santorum’s Jeremiah Wright Moment?

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism released a video yesterday criticizing Rick Santorum for sitting and listening and then later applauding a sermon by Reverend Dennis Terry at the Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Louisiana. The video shows Terry encouraging those who do not believe that America is a “Christian nation” — specifically Buddhists and Muslims — to “get out” of America. The RAC’s leader, Rabbi David Saperstein, took Santorum to task for going up to Terry after this tirade to get the pastor’s blessings. While acknowledging that Santorum later distanced himself from Terry’s views, Saperstein said the Republican presidential candidate had a special responsibility as someone who has given issues of faith a prominent role in his campaign to address “hateful” or “bigoted” speech.

Saperstein is right about that. Candidates who sit and listen to hate speech by their supporters, especially when it is spouted from religious pulpits, have a duty to draw a bright line between such views and the political mainstream. In that respect, Santorum appears to have failed. He was clearly more interested in getting the endorsement of Terry and the backing of other evangelicals in the Louisiana Primary than in doing the right thing during his visit to Greenwell Springs. But while I think the pointed questions that Saperstein posed to Santorum are very much on target, if the subject of politicians sitting and listening to hateful sermons seems vaguely familiar, maybe we should flash back to 2008 when a longtime member of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s congregation was running for president.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism released a video yesterday criticizing Rick Santorum for sitting and listening and then later applauding a sermon by Reverend Dennis Terry at the Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Louisiana. The video shows Terry encouraging those who do not believe that America is a “Christian nation” — specifically Buddhists and Muslims — to “get out” of America. The RAC’s leader, Rabbi David Saperstein, took Santorum to task for going up to Terry after this tirade to get the pastor’s blessings. While acknowledging that Santorum later distanced himself from Terry’s views, Saperstein said the Republican presidential candidate had a special responsibility as someone who has given issues of faith a prominent role in his campaign to address “hateful” or “bigoted” speech.

Saperstein is right about that. Candidates who sit and listen to hate speech by their supporters, especially when it is spouted from religious pulpits, have a duty to draw a bright line between such views and the political mainstream. In that respect, Santorum appears to have failed. He was clearly more interested in getting the endorsement of Terry and the backing of other evangelicals in the Louisiana Primary than in doing the right thing during his visit to Greenwell Springs. But while I think the pointed questions that Saperstein posed to Santorum are very much on target, if the subject of politicians sitting and listening to hateful sermons seems vaguely familiar, maybe we should flash back to 2008 when a longtime member of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s congregation was running for president.

Then-candidate Barack Obama managed to evade criticism for the fact that he spent 20 years listening to Wright’s hate speech and received his blessing at his wedding. Using some verbal jujitsu, Obama turned the whole issue into one about race rather than hate or anti-Semitism in his Philadelphia speech on the subject. It was only much later after Wright attacked him as a sellout that Obama went so far as to actually condemn his pastor.

Saperstein asked Santorum:

What responsibility do you believe elected officials or candidates have to address hateful or bigoted speech when it takes place in their presence? Is the responsibility greater if it is said by one of the candidate’s supporters? Are there are circumstances in which you would refuse to stand by someone espousing hate speech? What are they and why not here?

So while Saperstein is on firm ground when he points out Santorum is at fault in this case, it’s worth remembering that candidate Obama didn’t exactly measure up to the standard he’s asking the Republicans to live up to. That’s especially true as Obama’s connection with Wright was a lot more serious than Santorum’s with Terry. We wish the RAC, which did condemn Wright’s hate speech, and its constituency had been as frank with Obama when he was running for office.

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The Supreme Court: Conservatism’s Intellectual Crown Jewel

Listening to the oral arguments on the Supreme Court during the last three days is a reminder of why it is, in many respects, the intellectual crown jewel for conservatives, and why it’s vital that those appointed to the high court aren’t simply reliable votes but are capable of making compelling arguments.

To hear Justices Scalia, Alito, Roberts, and even Kennedy slice and dice Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was sheer delight, as they exposed one bad argument and one flawed premise after another. Among other things, they pressed Verrilli on what the limiting principle was under the Commerce Clause. “Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?” Justice Kennedy asked. Justice Alito brought up the market for burial services and asked if the government could mandate funeral insurance (the argument being that because we all die eventually, why shouldn’’t we transfer the costs of our deaths to the rest of society). When Justice Scalia asked Verrilli to defend the individual mandate provision of ObamaCare, he wondered why the federal government couldn’t also make citizens buy vegetables. “Could you define the market — everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli,” Scalia asked. Justice Roberts asked if the federal government can make you buy a cell phone.

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Listening to the oral arguments on the Supreme Court during the last three days is a reminder of why it is, in many respects, the intellectual crown jewel for conservatives, and why it’s vital that those appointed to the high court aren’t simply reliable votes but are capable of making compelling arguments.

To hear Justices Scalia, Alito, Roberts, and even Kennedy slice and dice Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was sheer delight, as they exposed one bad argument and one flawed premise after another. Among other things, they pressed Verrilli on what the limiting principle was under the Commerce Clause. “Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?” Justice Kennedy asked. Justice Alito brought up the market for burial services and asked if the government could mandate funeral insurance (the argument being that because we all die eventually, why shouldn’’t we transfer the costs of our deaths to the rest of society). When Justice Scalia asked Verrilli to defend the individual mandate provision of ObamaCare, he wondered why the federal government couldn’t also make citizens buy vegetables. “Could you define the market — everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli,” Scalia asked. Justice Roberts asked if the federal government can make you buy a cell phone.

The solicitor general wasn’t able to offer a principled reason why, if the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is ruled as constitutional, the federal government won’t have the power to regulate virtually every area of our lives. Perhaps because there is none. The belief of the founders — that the federal government has limited and enumerated powers — would be dealt a crushing blow. That is why this case is so important and has garnered so much intense interest. The stakes could hardly be higher.

I have no idea what the final vote will be and whether or not the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will live or die. But the last three days have provided us with a blessed reprieve from the silliness that often characterizes political campaigns. What we’ve been able to witness is a serious, substantive, and at times even an elevated debate about the Constitution, self-government, and American first principles. Conservatives had their most able advocates articulating their case and their cause. It was an intellectual treat. And it was a rout.

 

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Pope’s Divisions Need Some Help in Cuba

Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba presented a unique challenge to the Communist dictatorship that continues to oppress the island. Though Raul Castro met with the Pope and did his best to associate the regime with the religious spectacle of the public Mass, there was no mistaking the Pontiff’s message. Calling for “authentic freedom,” he said spiritual freedom isn’t possible without political liberty.

Yet while Pope Benedict’s words will inspire the Cuban people to hope for something better in the future, Cuba remains one of the least free nations on the planet. Reportedly, the Communist authorities took no chances about the papal visit encouraging agitation for freedom by arresting known dissidents and blocking their cell phone transmissions. The question now is whether Western intellectuals and others who have been campaigning for more trade with Cuba and efforts to normalize relations with the Castro government will draw the right conclusions from these events.

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Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba presented a unique challenge to the Communist dictatorship that continues to oppress the island. Though Raul Castro met with the Pope and did his best to associate the regime with the religious spectacle of the public Mass, there was no mistaking the Pontiff’s message. Calling for “authentic freedom,” he said spiritual freedom isn’t possible without political liberty.

Yet while Pope Benedict’s words will inspire the Cuban people to hope for something better in the future, Cuba remains one of the least free nations on the planet. Reportedly, the Communist authorities took no chances about the papal visit encouraging agitation for freedom by arresting known dissidents and blocking their cell phone transmissions. The question now is whether Western intellectuals and others who have been campaigning for more trade with Cuba and efforts to normalize relations with the Castro government will draw the right conclusions from these events.

Much of the recent discussion about Cuba in the United States has centered on the idea that American sanctions and continued attempts to isolate the island are counter-productive. It’s true that the Castro brothers and their minions have used the U.S. boycott to foster a sense of paranoia that has buttressed the Communists’ hold on power. But the idea that Cuban freedom can be won by American trade is a myth. In the best case scenario, the Communists might move toward a hybrid systems like China’s in which capitalism is encouraged while allowing the regime to maintain its vise-like grip on political power. The result might be more wealth but no freedom. That’s why the Pope’s clarion call for “authentic freedom” is so important.

Soviet mass-murderer Josef Stalin once mocked the power of the Papacy by asking how many divisions the Pope had. The answer was one that wouldn’t be properly understood in the Kremlin until a generation later when the courageous Pope John Paul II used his bully pulpit to advance the cause of liberty in Eastern Europe. But the Pope’s spiritual divisions didn’t topple the Berlin Wall by themselves. They needed the assistance of an American superpower whose leader wasn’t afraid to speak up for the cause of freedom.

But Pope Benedict can’t count on the assistance of a president like Ronald Reagan. In its three-plus years in office the Obama administration has been the least interested of any American government in a generation. Though U.S. officials asked the Vatican for assistance in securing the freedom of Alan Gross, an American who is unjustly incarcerated in Cuba, the Castro regime knows it need not fear a concerted push from Washington.

The Pope’s divisions in Cuba should not be underestimated but, like the dissidents behind the Iron Curtain, they need active and vocal assistance from the United States. Were President Obama to prioritize Cuban freedom, the pressure on the weakened regime might make a difference. It’s time for this administration to put itself on the side of those actively working for the Cuban people, not businessmen looking to profit from cooperating with tyrants.

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Love for Iran Takes Ayatollahs Off the Hook

A peculiar phenomenon has been dominating Israeli social media. As tensions between Israel and Iran reach fever pitch, a young Israeli couple has launched a campaign showing pictures of couples kissing under the heading “Iran, we love you, we will never bomb your country.” Some Iranians have reciprocated with rosy memes of their own carrying a similar message to their Israeli courtiers. Cute. Last Saturday, the campaign hit the streets of Tel Aviv. Hundreds waved banners and shouted into megaphones their disapproval of what they perceive to be Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “needless” warmongering. Calls for Netanyahu’s resignation were heard over chants for “social justice instead of war.”

Most pundits would agree that Iran’s nuclear program has little, if anything, to do with Israel, even though a nuclear Iran would certainly make the region more unstable and dangerous for the Jewish state. The demonstrators’ claims aren’t likely to be taken seriously by Israeli decision makers who are focused more on intelligence evaluations of the Iranian challenge than social media.

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A peculiar phenomenon has been dominating Israeli social media. As tensions between Israel and Iran reach fever pitch, a young Israeli couple has launched a campaign showing pictures of couples kissing under the heading “Iran, we love you, we will never bomb your country.” Some Iranians have reciprocated with rosy memes of their own carrying a similar message to their Israeli courtiers. Cute. Last Saturday, the campaign hit the streets of Tel Aviv. Hundreds waved banners and shouted into megaphones their disapproval of what they perceive to be Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “needless” warmongering. Calls for Netanyahu’s resignation were heard over chants for “social justice instead of war.”

Most pundits would agree that Iran’s nuclear program has little, if anything, to do with Israel, even though a nuclear Iran would certainly make the region more unstable and dangerous for the Jewish state. The demonstrators’ claims aren’t likely to be taken seriously by Israeli decision makers who are focused more on intelligence evaluations of the Iranian challenge than social media.

Saturday’s demonstration is most remarkable for its curious intellectual undercurrent. The protesters seemed to have expressed a remarkable sense of inflated self-importance that stems from the fallacy that all of the Middle East’s problems are the result of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Contrary to this myth, Israel doesn’t hold the key to regional stability and peace. The blind faith that a little less bellicosity from Israel will solve everything is based on a premise that treats Iranian domestic politics, American interests in Iraq, the destabilization of Syria, the rise of Sunni neo-Ottomanism on Iran’s western front, and Iran’s paranoia over its disgruntled non-Persian minorities as if they were problems that can all be resolved by a wave of the Jewish magic wand.

Beyond the pure naiveté of assuming that taking the military option off the table will somehow turn down the political temperature of an increasingly heated Middle East, the demonstration exposed beliefs underpinning much of the discourse on the Israeli Left: beliefs in Israel’s ability to control the trajectory of current affairs.

Such assumptions are not only factually unfounded, they are also downright dangerous to peace.

To say the Jewish state pulls the levers of conflict and resolution at its own convenience is to believe the other sides involved in any of the region’s conflict have little, if any, responsibility for how events transpire. The image of Jews having absolute control over international politics (especially in the Middle East) has equally plagued much (though not all) of the criticism toward AIPAC, America’s largest and most influential pro-Israel lobby. Not surprisingly, AIPAC also came under attack on Saturday in the Tel Aviv demonstration, with one malicious sign reading “AIPAC Damn You” surrounded by pictures of skulls.

These charges usually lead to a distorted perception of regional and domestic politics, and, consequently, to unfair allegations against Israel. The tacit assumption being that if Israel (with the help of AIPAC) is in complete control of Middle Eastern peace and stability, then a lack of peace and stability can only be Israel’s fault. Why is this belief dangerous? Because these unilateral narratives, as we have seen so clearly in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, lead to nothing but the kind of romanticized victimization that excuses Palestinians and Iranians from responsibility for their own faults.

Luckily, marginalized political groups such as those chanting on Saturday on Tel Aviv’s King George Street will never have to put their money where their mouth is. Shouting irresponsible and unfounded slogans is the one advantage radical opposition groups can still enjoy.

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The Peter Panization of a Generation

The Department of Education, one of the nation’s leading student loan lenders, is getting serious about collecting on $67 billion in defaulted loans. Yesterday, Bloomberg News reported the mob-like lengths the government agency is going to in order to cash in:

The debt collector on the other end of the phone gave Oswaldo Campos an ultimatum:

Pay $219 a month toward his more than $20,000 in defaulted student loans, or Pioneer Credit Recovery, a contractor with the U.S. Education Department, would confiscate his pay. Campos, disabled from liver disease, makes about $20,000 a year.

“We’re not playing here,” Campos recalled the collector telling him in December. “You’re dealing with the federal government. You have no other options.”

Campos agreed to have the money deducted each month from his bank account, even though federal student-loan rules would let him pay less and become eligible for a plan — approved by Congress and touted by President Barack Obama – requiring him to lay out about $50 a month. To satisfy Pioneer, Campos borrowed from friends, cut meat from his diet and stopped buying gas to drive his 82-year-old mother to doctor’s visits for her Parkinson’s Disease.

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The Department of Education, one of the nation’s leading student loan lenders, is getting serious about collecting on $67 billion in defaulted loans. Yesterday, Bloomberg News reported the mob-like lengths the government agency is going to in order to cash in:

The debt collector on the other end of the phone gave Oswaldo Campos an ultimatum:

Pay $219 a month toward his more than $20,000 in defaulted student loans, or Pioneer Credit Recovery, a contractor with the U.S. Education Department, would confiscate his pay. Campos, disabled from liver disease, makes about $20,000 a year.

“We’re not playing here,” Campos recalled the collector telling him in December. “You’re dealing with the federal government. You have no other options.”

Campos agreed to have the money deducted each month from his bank account, even though federal student-loan rules would let him pay less and become eligible for a plan — approved by Congress and touted by President Barack Obama – requiring him to lay out about $50 a month. To satisfy Pioneer, Campos borrowed from friends, cut meat from his diet and stopped buying gas to drive his 82-year-old mother to doctor’s visits for her Parkinson’s Disease.

The average student graduating with a bachelor’s degree comes away with over $25,000 in loans, which would require a monthly repayment of more than $200 for at least ten years. If the average is more than $25,000 — however — there is a large group of students who are walking away with significantly more, especially if they have then gone on to complete a post-graduate degree.

I’ve heard it argued that the student loan bubble burst will be bigger than the housing burst — the debt is held by a large proportion of one age bracket of the population, unlike a home cannot be sold (even at a loss), and unlike other debt is virtually impossible to be rid of, even after filing for bankruptcy. This year, the amount of debt held by America’s students will surpass the debt held by all of America’s credit card holders, while the rate of borrowing continues to increase for student loans at a faster rate than for any other kind of debt.

Instead of putting a stop to the extension of credit, the Obama administration has continued to allow the Department of Education to blindly loan tens of thousands of dollars to America’s students without so much as a notice informing borrowers how much their monthly payments will be upon graduation. After they are unable to pay it back, the Department of Education farms out the collection to private agencies who will stop at nothing to collect. Another solution, limiting the amount of debt offered to 18-year-olds, has seemingly never been considered as an option.

A new Pew Research Center survey found that almost 30 percent of people between 25 and 34 are living at home — and they are actually okay with the arrangement. The Pew study also showed the numbers of multigenerational households in the United States is at its highest level since the 1950s.

An entire generation of Americans is now reliant on their parents much later in life than any previous generation. Under ObamaCare, Americans can expect to be on their parents’ insurance plans until the age of 26, and they can also expect to be still living at home, putting off marriage until the average age of 27.

President Obama has fought to keep adults on their parents’ healthcare plans long after they should have moved out, gotten married, and started independent lives. He is trapping a generation (which he has narcissistically dubbed Gen44 after his presidency) in a cycle of personal debt, preventing them from being able to survive when the weight of the national debt comes crashing down. When the bell does start to toll on our historic debt burden, turning Washington, D.C., into Athens, don’t expect Gen44 to do anything but lead riots from their parents’ basements.

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With ObamaCare in Danger, Liberals Decide the Court’s Power Should Be Limited

For most of the last century, liberals have preached that the Constitution is a living document that needs to be interpreted and re-interpreted to fit the needs of the times. In the name of this legal faith they have championed a vast expansion of government power as well as the enumeration of various rights that are nowhere to be found in the actual text of the document. Generations of liberal activist judges have consistently thwarted the will of both the legislative and executive branches of government without a blush as they imposed their own ideas about every conceivable issue on the country. In doing so they changed the way we think about government and established its presence in our lives in ways that the founders would have thought unthinkable.

But now that there is a possibility that a conservative majority on the Supreme Court might rule ObamaCare unconstitutional, liberal thinkers are doing a 180-degree turn. In the wake of yesterday’s Supreme Court hearing on the case in which it was apparent that several justices were skeptical about the government’s argument that it could force citizens to engage in commerce which it could then regulate, the editorial writers at the New York Times were up in arms at the mere notion that the court would have the temerity to overturn a bill passed by Congress. As the Times put it, “the Supreme Court faces a central test: whether it will recognize limits on its own authority to overturn well-founded acts of Congress.” Now that the shoe is on the other foot, liberals are shocked at the notion of judges stepping in to teach the legislature a lesson.

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For most of the last century, liberals have preached that the Constitution is a living document that needs to be interpreted and re-interpreted to fit the needs of the times. In the name of this legal faith they have championed a vast expansion of government power as well as the enumeration of various rights that are nowhere to be found in the actual text of the document. Generations of liberal activist judges have consistently thwarted the will of both the legislative and executive branches of government without a blush as they imposed their own ideas about every conceivable issue on the country. In doing so they changed the way we think about government and established its presence in our lives in ways that the founders would have thought unthinkable.

But now that there is a possibility that a conservative majority on the Supreme Court might rule ObamaCare unconstitutional, liberal thinkers are doing a 180-degree turn. In the wake of yesterday’s Supreme Court hearing on the case in which it was apparent that several justices were skeptical about the government’s argument that it could force citizens to engage in commerce which it could then regulate, the editorial writers at the New York Times were up in arms at the mere notion that the court would have the temerity to overturn a bill passed by Congress. As the Times put it, “the Supreme Court faces a central test: whether it will recognize limits on its own authority to overturn well-founded acts of Congress.” Now that the shoe is on the other foot, liberals are shocked at the notion of judges stepping in to teach the legislature a lesson.

The irony of this outrage is clearly lost on the Times and the rest of President Obama’s cheering section in the mainstream press. The Times believes if the court overturns ObamaCare it will be a “willful rejection” of “established constitutional principles that have been upheld for generations.”

In a sense that’s true. For more than a century, liberal judges trashed the original meaning of the Commerce Clause and twisted it to allow the federal government the right to intervene in virtually any activity that struck its fancy. The individual mandate is an unprecedented expansion of the “principle” of untrammeled federal power. But it certainly is well within the scope of previous decisions that created the leviathan in Washington that is sinking the nation in debt.

But the idea that all precedents must be respected is not one that any serious legal theorist can support. The passage of ObamaCare is one such instance. The idea that the court must “hew to established law” would have prevented every famous liberal victory in which the expansion of government power was justified. Times change and the law sometimes must change with it. If the court was able to justify the expansion of the scope of Washington’s power in the 20th century in order to do what a majority of judges deemed to be good, the same principle can allow the courts to step in and say that the current situation demands that someone establish clear limits on federal power.

The genius of our constitutional system is that the checks and balances that the three braches of government can exercise serve to prevent the aggregation of too much power in one at the expense of the people. The truth is the court has always crafted the law to “argue the merits of the bill” as Justice Breyer said of those arguing against ObamaCare. In the past, this worked in favor of liberal goals. Today, it works against them.

We don’t know whether the panic on the left about the court’s inclinations on this case is justified. We certainly hope so. But the idea that the Supreme Court must forebear from striking down this unconstitutional power grab by Washington because to do so would transgress the limits of its power is not a serious argument. Especially when it comes from those who have long held that the court can exercise any authority it likes so long as it is promoting liberal objectives.

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Dems Spinning Possible Health Care Loss

These comments from James Carville are a testament to how shaken Democrats are after yesterday’s health care arguments, which didn’t appear to bode well for the administration. The political strategist told CNN that SCOTUS overturning Obama’s health care law would be the “best thing” that could ever happen to the Democratic Party. Right. Because having the president’s only noteworthy achievement invalidated about five months before his reelection is a sure recipe for political success.

“I think that this will be the best thing that ever happens to the Democratic party because health care costs are gonna escalate unbelievably,” Carville told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer of a possible Supreme Court decision to strike down the law. “I honestly believe this, this is not spin.”

“You know what the Democrats are going to say – and it is completely justified: ‘We tried, we did something, go see a 5-4 Supreme Court majority,’” Carville added. “The public has these guys figured out. Our polls show that half think this whole thing is political.”

“Just as a professional Democrat, there’s nothing better to me than overturning this thing 5-4 and then the Republican Party will own the health care system for the foreseeable future. And I really believe that. That is not spin,” Carville said.

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These comments from James Carville are a testament to how shaken Democrats are after yesterday’s health care arguments, which didn’t appear to bode well for the administration. The political strategist told CNN that SCOTUS overturning Obama’s health care law would be the “best thing” that could ever happen to the Democratic Party. Right. Because having the president’s only noteworthy achievement invalidated about five months before his reelection is a sure recipe for political success.

“I think that this will be the best thing that ever happens to the Democratic party because health care costs are gonna escalate unbelievably,” Carville told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer of a possible Supreme Court decision to strike down the law. “I honestly believe this, this is not spin.”

“You know what the Democrats are going to say – and it is completely justified: ‘We tried, we did something, go see a 5-4 Supreme Court majority,’” Carville added. “The public has these guys figured out. Our polls show that half think this whole thing is political.”

“Just as a professional Democrat, there’s nothing better to me than overturning this thing 5-4 and then the Republican Party will own the health care system for the foreseeable future. And I really believe that. That is not spin,” Carville said.

Carville’s probably correct to the extent that it will energize Democratic voters to get another liberal on the Supreme Court (though it’s not as if they weren’t already trying). But in terms of a general public campaign message, I’m not sure this is really very effective. Are we supposed to believe the average independent voter will suddenly be fired up to vote Democrat, based on the hope that there might be a chance to appoint a new justice in the next four years who will support the individual mandate? Considering the fact that the majority of Americans oppose the mandate, this seems highly unrealistic.

No matter how it’s spun, the Supreme Court striking down ObamaCare would be a major blow to the Democratic Party, just as it would be a blow to the Republican Party if the law was upheld in full. There are silver linings for both parties no matter what the outcome – for example, if ObamaCare is upheld, the only way for Americans to get rid of the unpopular law may be to vote Republican – but it’s a stretch to say that would be the best possible scenario for the GOP.

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Conservatism and the Common Good

In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, two liberal Catholics, Bryan Massingale and John Gehring, wrote a column asserting that Representative Paul Ryan’s budget “fails the moral test of his own faith tradition and disregards our nation’s responsibility to care for the most vulnerable.” The budget “acts like a schoolyard bully. It kicks those who are already down.” The writers then offer us “a refresher course in basic Catholic teaching. The Catholic justice tradition … holds a positive role for government, advocates a ‘preferential option for the poor’ and recognizes that those with greater means should contribute a fair share in taxes to serve the common good.” A Catholic vision for a just economy is “rooted in the conviction that we are all in this together, and not just isolated individuals locked in a Darwinian struggle for survival.”

These writers have opted for moralizing over serious arguments, banalities over facts. There’s not a word in their column, for example, about (a) the explosion in domestic spending we’ve seen during the last three years or (b) how Medicare is the main driver of our debt, why our debt trajectory is different and unprecedented, and why the failure to fundamentally restructure Medicare would lead to a fiscal catastrophe and eventually to dismantling the program. There is no acknowledgement that Ryan’s budget increases spending on programs like S-CHIP and Medicaid, that it keeps domestic cuts from harming anti-poverty programs, and that it respects the principle of subsidiarity. But the column by  Massingale and Gehring is worth highlighting not simply for its substantive ignorance but for its moral confusion, which is at the core of modern liberalism.

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In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, two liberal Catholics, Bryan Massingale and John Gehring, wrote a column asserting that Representative Paul Ryan’s budget “fails the moral test of his own faith tradition and disregards our nation’s responsibility to care for the most vulnerable.” The budget “acts like a schoolyard bully. It kicks those who are already down.” The writers then offer us “a refresher course in basic Catholic teaching. The Catholic justice tradition … holds a positive role for government, advocates a ‘preferential option for the poor’ and recognizes that those with greater means should contribute a fair share in taxes to serve the common good.” A Catholic vision for a just economy is “rooted in the conviction that we are all in this together, and not just isolated individuals locked in a Darwinian struggle for survival.”

These writers have opted for moralizing over serious arguments, banalities over facts. There’s not a word in their column, for example, about (a) the explosion in domestic spending we’ve seen during the last three years or (b) how Medicare is the main driver of our debt, why our debt trajectory is different and unprecedented, and why the failure to fundamentally restructure Medicare would lead to a fiscal catastrophe and eventually to dismantling the program. There is no acknowledgement that Ryan’s budget increases spending on programs like S-CHIP and Medicaid, that it keeps domestic cuts from harming anti-poverty programs, and that it respects the principle of subsidiarity. But the column by  Massingale and Gehring is worth highlighting not simply for its substantive ignorance but for its moral confusion, which is at the core of modern liberalism.

In this case, the confusion is that “preferential treatment for the poor” is synonymous with a massive, centralized state. Au contraire. A positive role for government means a limited role for government. I recall a similar debate in the 1990s, when conservatives championed welfare reform over the fierce criticisms of the left. (In effect, the new law ended the legal entitlement to federally funded welfare benefits, imposing a five-year time limit on the receipt of such benefits and requiring a large percentage of current recipients to seek and obtain work.) Liberal religious figures like Jim Wallis said that reforms championed by conservatives would lead to an explosion of poverty and hunger. Millions of innocent children would suffer. What was being proposed was cruel, brutal, Darwinian.

In fact, the 1996 welfare-reform bill was the most dramatic and successful social innovation in decades, reversing 60 years of federal policy that had long since grown not just useless but positively counterproductive. State welfare rolls plummeted—and poverty, instead of rising, decreased. A decade after the 1996 welfare-reform bill was passed into law, overall poverty, child poverty, black child poverty, and child hunger all decreased, while employment figures for single mothers rose. Rather than giving up on the poor, the new policy assumed that the able-bodied were capable of working, expected them to work, and was rooted in a confident belief that, materially and otherwise, they would be better off for it. In each of these particulars, welfare reform advocates were proved correct.

The thundering moral condemnations of the left were wrong then and they are wrong now. What progressives don’t seem to understand is that if we don’t reform entitlement programs, it will leave virtually no room for anything else, including domestic discretionary spending. The crowding out effects of keeping the current Medicare program in place will be massive, then catastrophic, and eventually unsustainable. Unless we alter the current course of fiscal events, we will end up like European nations, in which cuts in government programs are drastic, painful, immediate, and disproportionately targeted on the vulnerable and powerless.

In our current moment, understanding fiscal reality, including the ability to read charts and graphs and do basic math, has become something of an ethical imperative. What Representative Ryan appreciates, unlike some of his critics, is that putting forth a responsible governing document is more challenging (and more satisfying) than moral preening.

Paul Ryan’s budget provides a path to opportunity and greater prosperity; if it were to become law, it would avert considerable heartache and human suffering. That is an impressive moral achievement, one that puts human dignity at the heart of public policy. Genuine solidarity with the poor was once a hallmark of liberalism. I hope it becomes so again one day.

 

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Newt Gingrich Needs an Intervention

Newt Gingrich has been dragging out his futile campaign, long after the rest of the world realized it was over. Long after it started getting slightly uncomfortable to see him still on TV giving speeches. But there was always some hope he might snap back to reality once the money ran out. Apparently that’s not the case:

Newt Gingrich is cutting back his campaign schedule, will lay off about a third of his cash-strapped campaign’s full-time staff, and has replaced his manager as part of what aides are calling a “big-choice convention” strategy, communications director Joe DeSantis told POLITICO. …

“We’re focusing exclusively on what it’ll take to win what we’re going to be calling a big-choice convention in August,” DeSantis said in a phone interview Tuesday night.

There is no real reason to believe that these drastic measures to turn around a flailing campaign can save the former House speaker’s candidacy for a third time.

Following a string of embarrassing primary losses, it was only a matter of time before Gingrich had to make some kind of decision about the way forward. But the betting was on an actual withdrawal from the race rather than slapping a band-aid on the problem.

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Newt Gingrich has been dragging out his futile campaign, long after the rest of the world realized it was over. Long after it started getting slightly uncomfortable to see him still on TV giving speeches. But there was always some hope he might snap back to reality once the money ran out. Apparently that’s not the case:

Newt Gingrich is cutting back his campaign schedule, will lay off about a third of his cash-strapped campaign’s full-time staff, and has replaced his manager as part of what aides are calling a “big-choice convention” strategy, communications director Joe DeSantis told POLITICO. …

“We’re focusing exclusively on what it’ll take to win what we’re going to be calling a big-choice convention in August,” DeSantis said in a phone interview Tuesday night.

There is no real reason to believe that these drastic measures to turn around a flailing campaign can save the former House speaker’s candidacy for a third time.

Following a string of embarrassing primary losses, it was only a matter of time before Gingrich had to make some kind of decision about the way forward. But the betting was on an actual withdrawal from the race rather than slapping a band-aid on the problem.

What exactly is Newt’s end-game here? If he was trying to pressure Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum into cutting some sort of deal with him, he missed that boat weeks ago. The only possible reasons for staying in the race at this point seem to be 1.) He’s consumed with bitterness toward Romney and Santorum, and thinks he can do more damage in the race than out of it; 2.) He figures he has nothing better to do for awhile, and might as well stick it out; 3.) He sincerely believes he still has a chance at the nomination.

But even in the implausible scenario that there is a contested convention, why would Gingrich honestly think he’s a likely choice? It’s not like Republican voters haven’t had a chance to consider his candidacy. He’s been in the race since the beginning, and if the party wanted him as the nominee, he’d have won more than two states at this point.

As Allahpundit writes, “If you’ve reached the point in a convention floor fight where, for whatever reason, both Romney and Santorum are deemed unacceptable, why wouldn’t you roll the dice on a dark horse outsider? You’re much better off with someone like Christie or Paul Ryan who’s young, appealing, superb on the seminal issue of fiscal reform, and yet to have their national image defined than you are with High-Negatives Newt.”

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The Brooklyn BDS Failure

Yesterday, Seth ran down the background of that evening’s Park Slope boycott vote. The motion asked the unintentionally hilarious members of the popular Brooklyn, New York, food co-op to vote on whether they should vote on boycotting Israeli products.

In the end it wasn’t even close:

Initially discussed at a co-op member board meeting over two years ago, the proposed boycott was brought to a vote on Tuesday night, with 1,005 members voting against the boycott and 653 voting in favor. Public Advocate and Brooklyn resident Bill de Blasio said he was proud of his neighbors for doing the right thing, calling the proposal inflammatory and destructive.

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Yesterday, Seth ran down the background of that evening’s Park Slope boycott vote. The motion asked the unintentionally hilarious members of the popular Brooklyn, New York, food co-op to vote on whether they should vote on boycotting Israeli products.

In the end it wasn’t even close:

Initially discussed at a co-op member board meeting over two years ago, the proposed boycott was brought to a vote on Tuesday night, with 1,005 members voting against the boycott and 653 voting in favor. Public Advocate and Brooklyn resident Bill de Blasio said he was proud of his neighbors for doing the right thing, calling the proposal inflammatory and destructive.

The Guardian’s U.S. News blog has a darkly entertaining rundown of highlights from the debate. You have to get past the predictable headline pitting Israeli goods against “human rights,” but after that there are treats like:

“Belonging to the co-op means belonging to justice. And injustice anywhere is an attack on justice everywhere,” said one young woman, who never quite made it clear which way she was leaning. A midwife announced that she had delivered babies on both sides of this argument, and that “peace on earth begins at birth.”

There were also references to hummus-inspired music, musings about the double-valenced implications of Chomsky quotes, and an explanation of how Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) can be properly and positively analogized to uncomfortable “house cleaning” enemas (and now you can’t unknow that!) By all appearances, the debate exceeded even the expectations laid out by the preemptive NY Daily News profile of BDS co-op advocates.

In many ways and on many levels, the Park Slope BDS failure is a perfect update to the failure of BDS across the United States. First BDS pushers tried to get entire left-leaning states to boycott Israel, and they failed. Then they tried to get left-leaning university campuses to divest, at which point they failed again. Now this.

Pity Norman Finkelstein. Having spent decades trying to demonize Israel in the highest international forums, he and his ilk now have to complain bitterly from the sidelines as 21st century anti-Israel activism is reduced to some guy trotting out intestinal cleansing metaphors in a futile effort to get vegan Israeli marshmallows banned from grocery stores in Brooklyn.

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Romney Does the “Tonight Show”

Did my ears deceive me? Was that the “Tonight Show” audience Tuesday night giving Mitt Romney big ovations? On everything from foreign policy to health care and the tax code to Rick Santorum?

They cheered when Mitt said President Obama shouldn’t have hinted to Dmitri Medvedev – even away from a hot mic – that there would be more “flexibility” on missile defense once Obama was reelected. They cheered when Mitt said that if Vladimir Putin was really on our side, he would be fighting for freedom, not for oppression. They cheered when Mitt said he hopes to be the Republican nominee (and laughed when he spontaneously suggested Santorum as press secretary in a Romney administration). They cheered when Mitt said we should encourage businesses to bring foreign profits back to the U.S. They even cheered when Mitt said it’s a dangerous world, and we shouldn’t reduce the size of our military! Oh, and there was a smattering of applause for Marco Rubio; maybe a few tourists from Florida?

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Did my ears deceive me? Was that the “Tonight Show” audience Tuesday night giving Mitt Romney big ovations? On everything from foreign policy to health care and the tax code to Rick Santorum?

They cheered when Mitt said President Obama shouldn’t have hinted to Dmitri Medvedev – even away from a hot mic – that there would be more “flexibility” on missile defense once Obama was reelected. They cheered when Mitt said that if Vladimir Putin was really on our side, he would be fighting for freedom, not for oppression. They cheered when Mitt said he hopes to be the Republican nominee (and laughed when he spontaneously suggested Santorum as press secretary in a Romney administration). They cheered when Mitt said we should encourage businesses to bring foreign profits back to the U.S. They even cheered when Mitt said it’s a dangerous world, and we shouldn’t reduce the size of our military! Oh, and there was a smattering of applause for Marco Rubio; maybe a few tourists from Florida?

Not quite the reaction one might have expected from a sophisticated audience in La La Land.

And, by the way, as for the stiff, awkward, plastic Romney of legend? If he ever existed, he certainly didn’t put in an appearance at Jay Leno’s desk.  In fact, Romney was at ease, relaxed, smart and funny throughout. Really. Check out in particular his brief free associations on possible VP candidates.

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Ranking American Novelists in 1929

“The worst thing about American fiction these days is the blah that gets printed about it,” a critic wrote to two psychologists who proposed a ranking system for American novelists — “and here you are, proposing to provide the blah-blah-black sheep with valuable assistance in the guise of a scientific survey!”

Nevertheless, 83 years ago next month, two psychologists went ahead with their plan. They sent questionnaires to 65 critics, asking them to rank the living American novelists in order of merit. Whether their “scientific survey” has any methodological advantages over my own survey of literary scholarship is a good question. Their rankings are fascinating, though, if only as a historical curiosity. The novelists are ranked on the basis of how many critics listed them and how much the critics agreed on them. The results were published in the English Journal in April 1929:

( 1.) Willa Cather (30, 0.96)
( 2.) Edith Wharton (30, 0.78)
( 3.) Theodore Dreiser (31, 2.18)
( 4.) James Branch Cabell (29, 1.85)
( 5.) Sherwood Anderson (30, 1.54)
( 6.) Sinclair Lewis (31, 2.36)
( 7.) Thornton Wilder (24, 1.97)
( 8.) Glenway Wescott (22, 1.95)
( 9.) Joseph Hergesheimer (30, 1.67)
(10.) Zona Gale (29, 1.43)
(11.) Booth Tarkington (29, 1.94)
(12.) Ellen Glasgow (29, 1.99)
(13.) Elizabeth Madox Roberts (20, 2.28)
(14.) Ruth Suckow (27, 2.02)
(15.) William McFee (27, 1.85)
(16.) Robert Welch Herrick (28, 1.31)
(17.) Thomas Beer (26, 1.52)
(18.) Elinor Wylie (28, 2.10)
(19.) Louis Bromfield (27, 1.40)
(20.) Edna Ferber (29, 1.95)
(21.) DuBose Heyward (21, 2.17)
(22.) Hamlin Garland (26, 2.44)
(23.) F. Scott Fitzgerald (28, 1.81)
(24.) Mary Austin (26, 1.44)
(25.) John Dos Passos (28, 2.33)

(Note: The numbers in parentheses indicate, first, the number of critics who ranked the novelist and, second, the degree of agreement among the critics. The smaller the number, the greater the agreement.)

“Ernest Hemingway was not included on the original list,” the psychologists explained, “because we judged him primarily as a short-story writer rather than a novelist.” Nine critics ignored their instructions and ranked him anyway — after all, The Sun Also Rises had been published three years earlier, although A Farewell to Arms was not due out until September 1929 — and the degree of agreement among them would have put him somewhere between Wilder and Glasgow on the final poll.

The critics agreed most strongly on two writers — Edith Wharton and Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Tarzan books. They agreed that Wharton is wonderful and Burroughs is “not worth reading.” Harold Bell Wright, the preacher who wrote The Winning of Barbara Worth, and Thomas Dixon Jr., author of The Clansman, joined Burroughs at the bottom of the heap.

After studying the results of their survey, the psychologists concluded that an intelligent reader in 1929 who “desires to keep up with The Best” should concentrate on the top 12, also including Hemingway. Today’s quota hawks, who complain about the exclusion of women from the American literary canon, have every reason to cheer the rankings from 1929. Not only do women head the list, but nine of the top 25 are women.

If scholars buckle down to work on Zona Gale (the subject of 36 scholarly items in the MLA International Bibliography since 1947), Ellen Glasgow (419 items), Elizabeth Madox Roberts (117), Ruth Suckow (34), Elinor Wylie (46), Edna Ferber (48), and Mary Austin (148), who knows what the MLA Rankings of American Novelists will look like in another ten years?

“The worst thing about American fiction these days is the blah that gets printed about it,” a critic wrote to two psychologists who proposed a ranking system for American novelists — “and here you are, proposing to provide the blah-blah-black sheep with valuable assistance in the guise of a scientific survey!”

Nevertheless, 83 years ago next month, two psychologists went ahead with their plan. They sent questionnaires to 65 critics, asking them to rank the living American novelists in order of merit. Whether their “scientific survey” has any methodological advantages over my own survey of literary scholarship is a good question. Their rankings are fascinating, though, if only as a historical curiosity. The novelists are ranked on the basis of how many critics listed them and how much the critics agreed on them. The results were published in the English Journal in April 1929:

( 1.) Willa Cather (30, 0.96)
( 2.) Edith Wharton (30, 0.78)
( 3.) Theodore Dreiser (31, 2.18)
( 4.) James Branch Cabell (29, 1.85)
( 5.) Sherwood Anderson (30, 1.54)
( 6.) Sinclair Lewis (31, 2.36)
( 7.) Thornton Wilder (24, 1.97)
( 8.) Glenway Wescott (22, 1.95)
( 9.) Joseph Hergesheimer (30, 1.67)
(10.) Zona Gale (29, 1.43)
(11.) Booth Tarkington (29, 1.94)
(12.) Ellen Glasgow (29, 1.99)
(13.) Elizabeth Madox Roberts (20, 2.28)
(14.) Ruth Suckow (27, 2.02)
(15.) William McFee (27, 1.85)
(16.) Robert Welch Herrick (28, 1.31)
(17.) Thomas Beer (26, 1.52)
(18.) Elinor Wylie (28, 2.10)
(19.) Louis Bromfield (27, 1.40)
(20.) Edna Ferber (29, 1.95)
(21.) DuBose Heyward (21, 2.17)
(22.) Hamlin Garland (26, 2.44)
(23.) F. Scott Fitzgerald (28, 1.81)
(24.) Mary Austin (26, 1.44)
(25.) John Dos Passos (28, 2.33)

(Note: The numbers in parentheses indicate, first, the number of critics who ranked the novelist and, second, the degree of agreement among the critics. The smaller the number, the greater the agreement.)

“Ernest Hemingway was not included on the original list,” the psychologists explained, “because we judged him primarily as a short-story writer rather than a novelist.” Nine critics ignored their instructions and ranked him anyway — after all, The Sun Also Rises had been published three years earlier, although A Farewell to Arms was not due out until September 1929 — and the degree of agreement among them would have put him somewhere between Wilder and Glasgow on the final poll.

The critics agreed most strongly on two writers — Edith Wharton and Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Tarzan books. They agreed that Wharton is wonderful and Burroughs is “not worth reading.” Harold Bell Wright, the preacher who wrote The Winning of Barbara Worth, and Thomas Dixon Jr., author of The Clansman, joined Burroughs at the bottom of the heap.

After studying the results of their survey, the psychologists concluded that an intelligent reader in 1929 who “desires to keep up with The Best” should concentrate on the top 12, also including Hemingway. Today’s quota hawks, who complain about the exclusion of women from the American literary canon, have every reason to cheer the rankings from 1929. Not only do women head the list, but nine of the top 25 are women.

If scholars buckle down to work on Zona Gale (the subject of 36 scholarly items in the MLA International Bibliography since 1947), Ellen Glasgow (419 items), Elizabeth Madox Roberts (117), Ruth Suckow (34), Elinor Wylie (46), Edna Ferber (48), and Mary Austin (148), who knows what the MLA Rankings of American Novelists will look like in another ten years?

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Final Blow to Anti-Israel Linkage Myths?

Of the two pivots in debates about Middle East geopolitics – which side is responsible for continued Israeli-Palestinian hostilities, and in which direction does the “linkage” between those hostilities and Iranian-driven instability run – the Obama administration entered office taking an anti-Israel position on both.

The White House immediately identified the Israelis as the intransigent party. The president put the onus for new concessions on Jerusalem, established “daylight” between the U.S. and the Jewish State, and demanded that Israel implement a full construction freeze beyond the Green Line. Built as it was on shrill ideology rather than sober analysis, that diplomatic offensive failed to the tune of detonating the peace process. The White House eventually grudgingly reversed course.

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Of the two pivots in debates about Middle East geopolitics – which side is responsible for continued Israeli-Palestinian hostilities, and in which direction does the “linkage” between those hostilities and Iranian-driven instability run – the Obama administration entered office taking an anti-Israel position on both.

The White House immediately identified the Israelis as the intransigent party. The president put the onus for new concessions on Jerusalem, established “daylight” between the U.S. and the Jewish State, and demanded that Israel implement a full construction freeze beyond the Green Line. Built as it was on shrill ideology rather than sober analysis, that diplomatic offensive failed to the tune of detonating the peace process. The White House eventually grudgingly reversed course.

“Linkage” is an analytic disagreement over direction and a pragmatic question of sequencing. Meeting with Obama in 2009, Netanyahu insisted no progress could be made on Israeli-Palestinian peace as long as Iran had a free hand regionally, since the mullahs would always use their Hamas and Hezbollah proxies to spoil negotiations. Obama answered by explicitly declaring “if there is a linkage… it actually runs the other way,” and that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations built on Israeli concessions were necessary for mobilizing a regional coalition against Iran.

It used to be that these competing theories were up for debate, with at least coherent arguments on both sides and insufficient evidence to choose one over the other. Not so much any more.

We’ve known since WikiLeaks the Obama administration and its water carriers were more or less lying about Sunni unwillingness to endorse anti-Iran efforts in the absence of Israeli concessions (or at least administration officials were more or less lying; foreign policy experts in think tanks and media outlets may just have been casually inventing anti-Israel and pro-Iran pseudo-sophistication out of habit). Saudi officials were in fact aghast at the president’s naive confidence in Iranian engagement and his languid approach to Iranian nuclearization, seeing him as a blustering amateur stumbling into one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

And now we know that, for their part, the Israelis were right about the role that Iran plays as a spoiler:

Iran paid the Islamist group Hamas to block a deal with the rival Fatah movement that would have ended a five-year rift between the two main Palestinian factions, a Fatah spokesman said on Tuesday… “We have information that Iran paid tens of millions of dollars to Zahar and Haniyeh in their visits to Iran,” said Ahmed Assaf, referring to Hamas leaders Mahmoud al-Zahar who visited Tehran last week and Ismail Haniyeh who was there in February.

Ironically, even if the president was right at the outset, his public linkage declaration guaranteed he would become wrong (a neat little example of Heisenbergian dynamics in international diplomacy: leaders aren’t free to analyze global affairs without changing them). By signaling that Israeli-Palestinian progress was a prerequisite to regional action against Iran, he incentivized Tehran to either begin or continue interfering in the peace process. Under the oft-repeated assumption the president is a Spock-like Grandmaster playing 3-Dimensional Geopolitical Chess while the rest of us struggle to follow along, he must have known as much. Maybe he just couldn’t help himself.

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Another Pennsylvania Humiliation in Store for Santorum?

Rick Santorum’s supporters are still bravely pretending he has a viable chance to stop Mitt Romney from winning the Republican presidential nomination. There’s little chance of that happening, but the one prerequisite for his campaign to continue past April is for the former senator to win a smashing victory in his home state of Pennsylvania. But a Philadelphia Daily News/Franklin & Marshall poll published today shows that Santorum will be lucky to squeak out even a narrow victory in the one large state he has any hope of winning in the upcoming weeks. The survey shows Santorum holding a narrow 30-28-percentage point lead over Romney with Ron Paul at 9 percent and Newt Gingrich fading into complete insignificance at 6 percent.

To say that such a result is a potential catastrophe for the tottering Santorum campaign is an understatement. Earlier this week, Santorum said he was looking ahead to winning primaries in May in some states where he might hope his strong backing from evangelicals would make the difference. But if Santorum is trounced in every other state that votes in April, a narrow win or even a loss in Pennsylvania would be a clear sign  his run is coming to an end.

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Rick Santorum’s supporters are still bravely pretending he has a viable chance to stop Mitt Romney from winning the Republican presidential nomination. There’s little chance of that happening, but the one prerequisite for his campaign to continue past April is for the former senator to win a smashing victory in his home state of Pennsylvania. But a Philadelphia Daily News/Franklin & Marshall poll published today shows that Santorum will be lucky to squeak out even a narrow victory in the one large state he has any hope of winning in the upcoming weeks. The survey shows Santorum holding a narrow 30-28-percentage point lead over Romney with Ron Paul at 9 percent and Newt Gingrich fading into complete insignificance at 6 percent.

To say that such a result is a potential catastrophe for the tottering Santorum campaign is an understatement. Earlier this week, Santorum said he was looking ahead to winning primaries in May in some states where he might hope his strong backing from evangelicals would make the difference. But if Santorum is trounced in every other state that votes in April, a narrow win or even a loss in Pennsylvania would be a clear sign  his run is coming to an end.

Santorum’s difficulties at home should come as no surprise to those who have been following his efforts. Though Santorum’s impressive victories in the Middle West and South have erased some of the sting from his landslide defeat for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2006, that defeat is still very much in the minds of most Pennsylvanians. If, as James Carville memorably said of the state, Pennsylvania is “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between,” Santorum lost six years ago in no small measure because he forgot you can’t run there as if the Alabama part was the only place that voted. Santorum’s appeal on social issues has won him a string of victories in the Deep South, but it is not to be forgotten that his perceived extremism was a major factor in his 2006 defeat.

Mitt Romney is a good fit for many Pennsylvania Republicans. They think his more centrist approach, which is anathema in the Deep South, might actually give them a chance to carry the state in November. Many Tea Partiers still hold a grudge against Santorum for backing Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in a 2004 senatorial primary. The fact that Toomey vouched for Romney’s conservative credentials at a conference in the state last week was not lost on many in the state GOP.

With four weeks to go until Pennsylvanians go to the polls on April 24, Santorum has plenty of time to try and pad his slim lead. But his biggest problem is that it is going to be increasingly difficult to maintain the illusion he actually still has a chance to be the Republican nominee. With nearly half the delegates already chosen and with most of the states that have yet to vote not dominated by the evangelicals who helped win him several primaries, it is no longer enough for Santorum to merely be the leading “not Romney.” Gingrich’s collapse means he really does have the one-on-one matchup with Romney that he always desired, but it turns out this doesn’t guarantee him victory. Indeed, with Pennsylvania evenly split between the two, the end may be nearer for Santorum’s campaign than even his critics may have thought.

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The Fall of Obama’s Favorite Israeli

For the past three years, figures in America’s foreign policy establishment as well as media kibbitzers who knew little about Israel had a constant refrain: Tzipi Livni, the glamorous head of the Kadmia Party, should replace Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister. In the aftermath of Netanyahu’s election in February 2009, the Obama administration openly plotted to topple the new leader and replace him with Livni, whom they viewed as more pliable on the Palestinian issue. Once that ploy failed as President Obama’s attacks on Netanyahu only strengthened him at home, Netanyahu’s American critics could only sit back and wait patiently until Livni defeated him on her own. But the wait is going to be a lot longer than many in Washington thought.

Last night, Livni lost her perch as opposition leader as the members of her rapidly shrinking party rejected her in favor of former General Shaul Mofaz in a primary to determine who will top the party’s list in  the next election that is currently scheduled for October 2013. That Livni, who was feted abroad and was prominently placed on lists of the world’s most important women, was defeated at all will come as a shock to her foreign admirers. But this was no ordinary defeat. The lady who only a couple of weeks ago was lauded as Israel’s “voice of reason” in a fawning piece by John Avlon in the Daily Beast, was slaughtered by Mofaz, 62-38 percent. The question now is whether Americans who were under the delusion that Livni represented a viable alternative to Netanyahu’s popular government will get the message.

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For the past three years, figures in America’s foreign policy establishment as well as media kibbitzers who knew little about Israel had a constant refrain: Tzipi Livni, the glamorous head of the Kadmia Party, should replace Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister. In the aftermath of Netanyahu’s election in February 2009, the Obama administration openly plotted to topple the new leader and replace him with Livni, whom they viewed as more pliable on the Palestinian issue. Once that ploy failed as President Obama’s attacks on Netanyahu only strengthened him at home, Netanyahu’s American critics could only sit back and wait patiently until Livni defeated him on her own. But the wait is going to be a lot longer than many in Washington thought.

Last night, Livni lost her perch as opposition leader as the members of her rapidly shrinking party rejected her in favor of former General Shaul Mofaz in a primary to determine who will top the party’s list in  the next election that is currently scheduled for October 2013. That Livni, who was feted abroad and was prominently placed on lists of the world’s most important women, was defeated at all will come as a shock to her foreign admirers. But this was no ordinary defeat. The lady who only a couple of weeks ago was lauded as Israel’s “voice of reason” in a fawning piece by John Avlon in the Daily Beast, was slaughtered by Mofaz, 62-38 percent. The question now is whether Americans who were under the delusion that Livni represented a viable alternative to Netanyahu’s popular government will get the message.

The Kadima that Mofaz will lead into the next election is vastly diminished from the juggernaut formed by Ariel Sharon when he left Likud in the wake of the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. Sharon skimmed the biggest opportunists in Labor and Likud to create what many imagined to be the first viable centrist political grouping in the country’s history. But after its bigger-than-life leader was removed from the scene by a stroke, Kadima was seen to be an empty shell whose only purpose was to find government posts for its leading personalities. Ehud Olmert led it to an election victory in 2006 in the immediate aftermath of Sharon’s illness but was soon proved to be hopelessly over his head.

Livni served as his foreign minister and hoped to replace him after the disastrous Lebanon war but was outmaneuvered by Olmert. That was an early sign she had no capacity for leadership. She got her chance to run for prime minister in 2009. As a fresh face with no corruption charges currently pending against her, Livni ran a good campaign and enabled Kadima to win the most seats. However Netanyahu’s coalition of center-right parties far eclipsed its total. But rather than serve under another rival, she made the fatal mistake of leading Kadima into the opposition. The problem was that Livni and Kadima lacked any coherent vision of a different approach to Israel’s problems. Though Americans who disliked Netanyahu saw her as the pro-peace alternative, Israelis were aware her views on the issues were almost indistinguishable from those of the Likud leader. Her only real disagreement with him was based in her conviction that she ought to be Israel’s prime minister, a point on which few of her countrymen, even the members of her own party, agreed.

Some Israeli pundits think the selection of Mofaz is a blow to Netanyahu, as he was obviously relishing a chance to trounce her at the polls. But the former general will be another disappointment to American Bibi-haters. The gruff former military man won’t win the hearts of Westerners longing for a weak Israeli leader. He will try to carve out a position slightly to the left of Netanyahu, but Israelis understand the Palestinians have no interest in negotiating a two-state solution under any terms they can live with. Though he may prevent Kadima from collapsing at the next ballot, the party is facing stiff competition from a newly revived Labor and another new centrist party led by Yair Lapid. Polls show that none have a ghost’s chance of beating Netanyahu and Likud.

Livni will, no doubt, have a successful career ahead of her speaking to liberal American Jewish groups for large speaking fees much as her former boss Olmert got cheers at the J Street conference last week that the former PM, who is a pariah in Israel, could never hope to get at home. But the lesson here is that Israelis who are more popular in Washington than in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are not to be taken seriously.

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