Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 2012

Obama Probably Also Has Their Back

Jonathan Karl of ABC News posted a very funny video from Danish television on President Obama’s welcome of the Danish prime minister last month, when Obama said the Danes “punch above their weight in international affairs.”

The video shows Obama previously telling the Norwegian prime minister (twice) that Norway “punches above its weight.” And before that, he told the Irish president that Ireland “punches above its weight.” And before that — the Phillippines.  And before that — the Netherlands. The Danish commentator then notes that Obama told the Netherlands – but not Denmark – that there was “no stronger ally,” and then strings together multiple videos of Obama calling country after country “one of our strongest allies.”  It seems all our allies are above average — with the possible exception of Denmark.

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Jonathan Karl of ABC News posted a very funny video from Danish television on President Obama’s welcome of the Danish prime minister last month, when Obama said the Danes “punch above their weight in international affairs.”

The video shows Obama previously telling the Norwegian prime minister (twice) that Norway “punches above its weight.” And before that, he told the Irish president that Ireland “punches above its weight.” And before that — the Phillippines.  And before that — the Netherlands. The Danish commentator then notes that Obama told the Netherlands – but not Denmark – that there was “no stronger ally,” and then strings together multiple videos of Obama calling country after country “one of our strongest allies.”  It seems all our allies are above average — with the possible exception of Denmark.

The Danish video questions “how much should we read into Obama’s words,” which is reminiscent of Obama’s March 4 assurance to AIPAC that “when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back” – which was followed two days later by his explanation to ABC’s Jake Tapper about what that meant:

What it means is, is that, historically, we have always cooperated with Israel with respect to the defense of Israel, just like we do with a whole range of other allies — just like we do with Great Britain, just like we do with Japan.

Great Britain and Japan are two of our strongest allies (just watch the video). They undoubtedly punch above their weight. They are not currently under an existential threat, but if they ever face one, they can be sure Obama will have their back. Which means he will be leading from behind.

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Obama’s Weak “Hot Mic” Explanation

The president is trying to brush away concerns about his disturbing comments to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, but his excuse is a lot of the same spin we’ve been hearing from the White House since yesterday:

“The only way I get this stuff done is If I’m consulting with the Pentagon, with Congress, if I’ve got bipartisan support and frankly, the current environment is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations,” Obama told reporters following a meeting with the presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan. “I think the stories you guys have been writing over the last 24 hours is pretty good evidence of that.” …

On Tuesday, Obama said his comments, though not intended for public consumption, were “not a matter of hiding the ball — I’m on record” about wanting to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles. Though he spoke bluntly to Medvedev, Obama insisted that the thrust of his remarks was in line with what he said in his Monday speech at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and in other public statements.

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The president is trying to brush away concerns about his disturbing comments to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, but his excuse is a lot of the same spin we’ve been hearing from the White House since yesterday:

“The only way I get this stuff done is If I’m consulting with the Pentagon, with Congress, if I’ve got bipartisan support and frankly, the current environment is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations,” Obama told reporters following a meeting with the presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan. “I think the stories you guys have been writing over the last 24 hours is pretty good evidence of that.” …

On Tuesday, Obama said his comments, though not intended for public consumption, were “not a matter of hiding the ball — I’m on record” about wanting to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles. Though he spoke bluntly to Medvedev, Obama insisted that the thrust of his remarks was in line with what he said in his Monday speech at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and in other public statements.

Read the New York Times coverage of Obama’s explanation this morning to get an idea of how fast the media is trying to sink this story. The spin is that Obama was simply being pragmatic. Of course he can’t deal with an issue as complex as missile defense during an election year, what with all those radical Republicans in Congress trying to sabotage his chances in November, and the media jumping all over every little perceived controversy. “I think the stories you guys have been writing over the last 24 hours is pretty good evidence of that,” Obama told reporters this morning. Can you believe the nerve of the press to actually report on the president’s hot-mic conversation with Medvedev?

If Obama had been caught on the hot mic saying, “This is my reelection year. After my election, I can actually get something done on this,” that might mesh with his excuse today that he can’t “get this stuff done” because the politically-charged election year “is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations.”

But Obama didn’t say that. He said: “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.” That doesn’t sound like someone who is primarily concerned about reaching a bipartisan agreement with Congress. That sounds like someone implying that he can personally offer more after he’s no longer beholden to voters (the key words being “my last election”).

As Charles Krauthammer explained on Fox News last night:

‘This is my last election.’ That’s his way of saying with a nod and a wink, ‘Look, you guys have a free hand because you run a dictatorship, your elections are rigged. Well, ours aren’t rigged, but once I get passed my last election, I’m unleashed. I can do anything I want.

And what he’s saying is, ‘you know that reset I began three years ago where I completely undermined our allies in Eastern Europe. I cancelled the missile defense system and I began a process in which our supremacy in missile defenses is now negotiable, which the Republicans have never allowed to be negotiable.’

‘Well, after election day, I can’t speak about it now of course because it’s my last election and Americans won’t actually like that — after election day, I’ll be open.’

This speaks to the deepest concerns conservatives have about an Obama second term.

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Enormous Changes in 25 Years: The Case of Kate Chopin

The MLA Rankings of American Writers that I posted yesterday have been greeted with some skepticism. There are still only five women in the top 25, the quota-minded observe — without bothering to name the women who ought to be ranked or the men who ought to be bumped off the list in their favor. The implication is that nothing has really changed. Despite the rise of literary feminism, despite the calls to shake up the canon, the same male writers are studied in the same old numbers.

Or maybe not. Take the case of Kate Chopin, for example. A minor novelist of the late 19th century who is described in The Oxford Companion to American Literature as belonging to “the local-color movement,” she was rediscovered by the male critic Kenneth Elbe, who wrote an essay on her “forgotten novel” The Awakening in 1956 for the Western Humanities Review. His essay did nothing to resuscitate Chopin’s reputation, however. Nor did the new edition of The Awakening that Elbe saw into print eight years later. Starting in the Seventies, interest in Chopin began to pick up. In 1975, a Kate Chopin Newsletter was founded, although it lasted only two years. (Typical article: Cathy N. Davidson’s comparison of The Awakening to Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing.) By the end of 1986, slightly more than 200 pieces of scholarship had been written on her.

Then came the explosion. In just seven years, the scholarly output on Chopin doubled. While scholars have slowed down, probably because there is less and less to say about a writer who published only four books in her lifetime, the fact remains that more than 550 stretches of scholarly prose have been laid across Chopin’s domain in the past 25 years — nearly four times the amount that was written on the Louisiana novelist over the previous forty years. This chart vividly shows the boom in Chopin scholarship:

The Awakening is a central text for literary feminism because of the main character’s refusal to be treated like “a valuable piece of personal property” by her husband. Edna Pontellier leaves him and their young children and takes up a Bohemian existence in New Orleans, where she experiences a sexual awakening. When confronted by a friend (“think of the little ones”), she hotly announces that she would never sacrifice herself for her children. “I would give up the unessential,” Edna says; “I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself.” Perhaps needless to say, literary feminists celebrate Edna’s decision, although it is not at all clear that Chopin does so.

Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar included The Awakening, complete and unabridged, in the first edition of The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Tradition in English (1985). And when copious amounts of scholarship poured in afterwards, Chopin’s place in the American literary canon — an enormous change from her almost total obscurity just 15 years earlier — was secure and self-evident. Those who laugh contentedly that race, class, and gender have had small effect upon American literature could not be more wrong.

The MLA Rankings of American Writers that I posted yesterday have been greeted with some skepticism. There are still only five women in the top 25, the quota-minded observe — without bothering to name the women who ought to be ranked or the men who ought to be bumped off the list in their favor. The implication is that nothing has really changed. Despite the rise of literary feminism, despite the calls to shake up the canon, the same male writers are studied in the same old numbers.

Or maybe not. Take the case of Kate Chopin, for example. A minor novelist of the late 19th century who is described in The Oxford Companion to American Literature as belonging to “the local-color movement,” she was rediscovered by the male critic Kenneth Elbe, who wrote an essay on her “forgotten novel” The Awakening in 1956 for the Western Humanities Review. His essay did nothing to resuscitate Chopin’s reputation, however. Nor did the new edition of The Awakening that Elbe saw into print eight years later. Starting in the Seventies, interest in Chopin began to pick up. In 1975, a Kate Chopin Newsletter was founded, although it lasted only two years. (Typical article: Cathy N. Davidson’s comparison of The Awakening to Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing.) By the end of 1986, slightly more than 200 pieces of scholarship had been written on her.

Then came the explosion. In just seven years, the scholarly output on Chopin doubled. While scholars have slowed down, probably because there is less and less to say about a writer who published only four books in her lifetime, the fact remains that more than 550 stretches of scholarly prose have been laid across Chopin’s domain in the past 25 years — nearly four times the amount that was written on the Louisiana novelist over the previous forty years. This chart vividly shows the boom in Chopin scholarship:

The Awakening is a central text for literary feminism because of the main character’s refusal to be treated like “a valuable piece of personal property” by her husband. Edna Pontellier leaves him and their young children and takes up a Bohemian existence in New Orleans, where she experiences a sexual awakening. When confronted by a friend (“think of the little ones”), she hotly announces that she would never sacrifice herself for her children. “I would give up the unessential,” Edna says; “I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself.” Perhaps needless to say, literary feminists celebrate Edna’s decision, although it is not at all clear that Chopin does so.

Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar included The Awakening, complete and unabridged, in the first edition of The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Tradition in English (1985). And when copious amounts of scholarship poured in afterwards, Chopin’s place in the American literary canon — an enormous change from her almost total obscurity just 15 years earlier — was secure and self-evident. Those who laugh contentedly that race, class, and gender have had small effect upon American literature could not be more wrong.

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Has the Rubio Smear Campaign Hurt His VP Prospects?

There have been several Sen. Marco Rubio “bombshells” out during the past six months or so that initially receive a lot of attention in the press but fizzle under scrutiny.

First there was the escandalo Univision story about the senator’s brother-in-law who was arrested on a drug-dealing charge – when Rubio was 16-years-old. Then there was the WaPo scoop about Rubio supposedly lying about the timeline about his family’s escape from Cuba – when in fact there has been no evidence that the timeline discrepancies were anything other than an honest mistake. Finally, BuzzFeed broke the “Rubio was a Mormon” story, which revealed that his family briefly converted to Mormonism for a few years when he was in elementary school.

At WaPo, Marc Thiessen writes about how this whisper-campaign against Rubio has already started shifting the mainstream narrative about him. While he’s still at the top of most analysts’ lists for the VP pick, they’re starting to express doubts about his past:

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There have been several Sen. Marco Rubio “bombshells” out during the past six months or so that initially receive a lot of attention in the press but fizzle under scrutiny.

First there was the escandalo Univision story about the senator’s brother-in-law who was arrested on a drug-dealing charge – when Rubio was 16-years-old. Then there was the WaPo scoop about Rubio supposedly lying about the timeline about his family’s escape from Cuba – when in fact there has been no evidence that the timeline discrepancies were anything other than an honest mistake. Finally, BuzzFeed broke the “Rubio was a Mormon” story, which revealed that his family briefly converted to Mormonism for a few years when he was in elementary school.

At WaPo, Marc Thiessen writes about how this whisper-campaign against Rubio has already started shifting the mainstream narrative about him. While he’s still at the top of most analysts’ lists for the VP pick, they’re starting to express doubts about his past:

The Great Whisperer has used these stories to plant seeds of doubt about Rubio: How well do we really know this guy? What else is there in his record? Indeed, the whispers are making their way into the mainstream commentary. Even in ranking Rubio first on his vice presidential list, The Post’s Chris Cillizza writes, “We hear whispers that his time in the state legislature could be mined by a good opposition researcher.” And this month, the National Journal downgraded Rubio’s position on its vice presidential power rankings because, it claimed, Rubio “skated into office without much of his past being vetted in the media. That would change in a hurry if he’s tapped for the vice presidency, and coming four years after Sarah Palin had such trouble adjusting to harsh scrutiny, that’s a very real concern for some Republicans. After all, Tallahassee has its own secrets.” (Miami Herald political reporter Marc Caputo vigorously disputes the suggestion that Rubio was elected without proper scrutiny by the Florida press corps.)

The National Journal makes the Sarah Palin 2008 comparison, which might make some iota of sense if Rubio hadn’t been a prominent figure on the national stage for the past two years. And are we supposed to believe he never came under scrutiny prior to that from the very capable and very ample Florida press corps during his years as Speaker of the House of Representatives in the state?

Rubio has also just hired his own opposition researcher to rummage through his past, Thiessen reports – a sure sign that his seriousness far outpaces Palin’s in 2008. So the fact that reporters are still being spun up about the supposed lack of vetting Rubio is clearly an indication of how nervous Democrats are about the prospects of him being tapped for the Republican VP slot.

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Hilton Kramer, 1928-2012

Hilton Kramer, who died today at the age of 84, put his money where his mouth was. He was one of the most important men in American culture, the chief art critic of the New York Times from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s when being the chief art critic for the New York Times made him perhaps the central figure in American aesthetics. And yet he chose to vacate that position to start a small monthly journal about the arts called the New Criterion, in which he could give free rein to his own highly refined understanding of what it meant, in a time of relaxing standards and decaying distinctions, to be truly engaged in keeping the flame of high culture alive.

He wrote with exceptional clarity and even a certain ferocity about issues that might seem gossamer to most—the understanding of a certain painting, the tone and perspective of a certain fashionable book. For Hilton, art was not to be admired but to be argued over, to be taken with the utmost seriousness. It was not to be treated as though it were a fragile thing ready to break at the slightest pressure; if it broke under critical study, if it wasn’t made of heartier and tougher stuff, it wasn’t deserving of the attention. (Here’s an example: His “Age of the Avant-Garde,” which appeared in COMMENTARY in 1972.)

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Hilton Kramer, who died today at the age of 84, put his money where his mouth was. He was one of the most important men in American culture, the chief art critic of the New York Times from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s when being the chief art critic for the New York Times made him perhaps the central figure in American aesthetics. And yet he chose to vacate that position to start a small monthly journal about the arts called the New Criterion, in which he could give free rein to his own highly refined understanding of what it meant, in a time of relaxing standards and decaying distinctions, to be truly engaged in keeping the flame of high culture alive.

He wrote with exceptional clarity and even a certain ferocity about issues that might seem gossamer to most—the understanding of a certain painting, the tone and perspective of a certain fashionable book. For Hilton, art was not to be admired but to be argued over, to be taken with the utmost seriousness. It was not to be treated as though it were a fragile thing ready to break at the slightest pressure; if it broke under critical study, if it wasn’t made of heartier and tougher stuff, it wasn’t deserving of the attention. (Here’s an example: His “Age of the Avant-Garde,” which appeared in COMMENTARY in 1972.)

This tough-mindedness—and Hilton was nothing if not tough-minded—is what hastened this Greenwich Village bohemian’s ideological journey from Left to Right. The philistinism of the New Left and the 1960s radicals, their arrant sentimentality and their belief that art should exist in service to their political views, inspired both contempt and outrage in him. He became an American conservative because only American conservatives had come to believe that Western culture was the great flowering of man, and that it had to be defended and upheld.

Hilton came to occupy an almost uninhabitable critical space of his own construction, in which he entered mid-century Modernism into the Pantheon of greatness and then stoutly defended that Pantheon against any later intruders. The daring and experimental art and fiction and poetry of his own youth was considered highly praiseworthy, whereas the transgressive efforts created and displayed in his middle age drew from him exactly the sort of response the Abstract Expressionists had drawn from leading critics in his own early days. While it is almost certain that the work to which he took a hatchet will not survive the test of time, it’s far from clear that the work he did champion will either—outside the world of collectors and academics.

I didn’t like him—and he didn’t like me more—but there was never any question Hilton Kramer was a man to reckon with, a formidable intellect and a writer of great exactitude, incorruptible and dedicated, and in Hilton’s own terms, there could probably not be higher praise. Our intellectual life cannot survive without people like him. Hilton took it as his mission to enlighten, to talk about what was enduringly great, to defend critical standards against the constant efforts to coarsen them, and to live as though art and culture were all that mattered.

He wrote two dozen pieces for COMMENTARY, and this is my favorite—a review of two novels, one by V.S. Naipaul and one by Joyce Carol Oates, that shows his gift for finding interesting and unexpected things to praise and his even more exemplary talent for the eviscerating attack.

I won’t say we shall not see his like again, because if that is so, then we’re sunk, and we’re not.

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Etch A Sketch Versus Flexibility

Mitt Romney’s greatest liability heading into the fall campaign has been his well-earned reputation for flip-flopping on the issues. That’s why last week’s gaffe by longtime Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, in which he described the “reset” of his Republican primary campaign to a more centrist one in the general election as similar to an Etch A Sketch toy, was so telling. But though that line will dog Romney all the way to November, President Obama has now supplied the GOP with one that will more than balance it.

Though his unscripted “hot mic” moment with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has been rightly excoriated as evidence of the president’s feckless foreign policy principles, it is also one that should take a bit of the fizz out of the Democrat’s attempt to portray Romney as a phony. While it is fair to judge Romney as someone who might be adjusting his campaign rhetoric for a general audience after tilting to the right when trying to win his party’s nomination, Obama’s promised post-election tilt to the left ought to scare the electorate even more.

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Mitt Romney’s greatest liability heading into the fall campaign has been his well-earned reputation for flip-flopping on the issues. That’s why last week’s gaffe by longtime Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, in which he described the “reset” of his Republican primary campaign to a more centrist one in the general election as similar to an Etch A Sketch toy, was so telling. But though that line will dog Romney all the way to November, President Obama has now supplied the GOP with one that will more than balance it.

Though his unscripted “hot mic” moment with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has been rightly excoriated as evidence of the president’s feckless foreign policy principles, it is also one that should take a bit of the fizz out of the Democrat’s attempt to portray Romney as a phony. While it is fair to judge Romney as someone who might be adjusting his campaign rhetoric for a general audience after tilting to the right when trying to win his party’s nomination, Obama’s promised post-election tilt to the left ought to scare the electorate even more.

The Obama presidency has been short on achievements. After the passage of his signature health care plan (whose constitutionality will be decided by the Supreme Court this spring), the stimulus boondoggle and the car bailout, he has had little to show for himself. Most of the last three-plus years have been spent on tactical maneuvering to no great end. But as Obama’s revealing remarks to Medvedev make clear, he is looking forward to a second term to show his true colors. The pose of centrism — of being the only adult in the room as he tried to portray himself during the debt-ceiling crisis — will be gone. If he is given a more pliable Congress in 2013, another round of over-the-top expenditures, higher taxes and expansions of government power are a virtual certainty.

On foreign policy, more “flexibility” to appease Russia is just the tip of the iceberg. Of even greater interest to most Americans should be how the president shifts his stance on the Middle East. Obama has devoted a great deal of energy in recent months to his charm offensive aimed at Jewish voters in which he has portrayed himself as Israel’s greatest friend. But it takes no stretch of the imagination to conjure up exactly how friendly a second Obama administration will be to the Jewish state once the constraints of his “last election” are removed. It should be little different from his first three years in office that were marked by constant fights with Israel’s government and initiatives that tilted the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians.

In the Middle East, Obama’s “flexibility” will likely mean recognition of Hamas and its role in the Palestinian Authority and efforts to bring the United States closer to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as well as a return to pressure tactics aimed at Israel.

When placed against the Etch A Sketch charge lodged against Romney, Obama’s second term “flexibility” seems a much more serious charge.

Though Romney may be accused of catering to conservatives in the primaries, the basic outlines of a Romney presidency aren’t in much doubt. We know he will work to repeal ObamaCare (should it not be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court), work to reform entitlements and strengthen national defense. That he is not someone who is inclined to radical shifts or revolutionary efforts to overturn the existing system is troubling to the right who want a complete paradigm change in Washington rather than a competent manager or reformer. There is no deception here, just a matter of managing perceptions, as we all know Romney will attempt to govern in a moderate fashion.

By contrast, the mendacity of Obama’s attempt to portray himself as a moderate is stunning, and a second term will be the only way to find out just how far to the left he willing to go. This makes for a general election campaign that should turn on rival charges of deception. The certainty that Obama’s flexibility will mean a hard shift to the left ought to outweigh worries about Romney’s Etch A Sketch proclivities.

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Obama World Bank Pick: Growth Kills

It’s come to light that Barack Obama’s nominee for president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, has some zany ideas about free markets, growth, and “social equity.” If recently found quotes from Kim’s published works are representative, Obama should have redirected his resume to the Human Resource Department of the Central Bank of Cuba.

In 2000, Kim co-edited the subtly titled Dying for Growth: Global Inequality and the Health of the Poor. The Noam Chomsky inspired work seems to make the case that the World Bank is an evil capitalist tool and that economic growth in developing countries . . . kills:

“This book seeks to fill an important gap in knowledge by examining the documentable health effects of economic development policies and strategies promoted by the governments of wealthy countries and by international agencies such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organization.”

“The studies in this book present evidence that the quest for growth in GDP and corporate profits has in fact worsened the lives of millions of women and men.”

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It’s come to light that Barack Obama’s nominee for president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, has some zany ideas about free markets, growth, and “social equity.” If recently found quotes from Kim’s published works are representative, Obama should have redirected his resume to the Human Resource Department of the Central Bank of Cuba.

In 2000, Kim co-edited the subtly titled Dying for Growth: Global Inequality and the Health of the Poor. The Noam Chomsky inspired work seems to make the case that the World Bank is an evil capitalist tool and that economic growth in developing countries . . . kills:

“This book seeks to fill an important gap in knowledge by examining the documentable health effects of economic development policies and strategies promoted by the governments of wealthy countries and by international agencies such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organization.”

“The studies in this book present evidence that the quest for growth in GDP and corporate profits has in fact worsened the lives of millions of women and men.”

You know what doesn’t worsen lives, according to Kim and Co? Castronomics:

“Using Cuba as an example, Chapter Thirteen makes the case that when leaders prioritize social equity and the fundamental right of all citizens to health care, even economically strapped governments can achieve improved and more equitable health outcomes.”

The editors quote Chomsky approvingly on the tyrannical brutality of economic growth:

“Today, Chomsky notes, we see widespread ‘efforts to make people feel helpless, as if there is some kind of mysterious economic law that forces things to happen in a particular way, like the law of gravitation.’ Yet belief in such an immutable law is simply ‘nonsense.’  ‘These are all human institutions, they are subject to human will, and they can be eliminated like other tyrannical institutions have been.’”

Perhaps when Obama gets back from fine tuning the details of his second term with his Moscow cabinet, he’ll have a perfectly good explanation for why the only person he could find to head the World Bank was a man who seems interested in realigning it with Havana economic policy.  Then again, perhaps Obama is entering into one of those PR nightmare phases of his. A hot-mic moment, a radical World Bank president. Who knows what’s next.

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Is the Brotherhood Moderating Hamas?

During the weekend, the New York Times reported that the Muslim Brotherhood, a rising force in post-Mubarak Egypt, is exerting pressure on its Hamas allies to do what is necessary to make its unity pact with Fatah work. The upshot of the report is that by seeking to influence the terrorist movement to join the Palestinian Authority, the Brotherhood is advancing the cause of peace. But the assumption that either Fatah or the newly moderate Hamas is actually interested in signing a peace agreement with Israel is utterly without foundation.

The Times buys into the Brotherhood’s spin that its effort to induce its ally to become a partner in the PA is a sign it has evolved from its fundamentalist origins. Rather than merely asserting its goal of destroying Israel and unceasing war with the West, these Islamist parties seek to co-opt existing Arab institutions such as the Egyptian government and the Palestinian Authority. In the sense that the Egyptian party is taking a more nuanced approach to power, they’re right. But the assumption that the ultimate aim of this tactic is peace, is a mistake.

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During the weekend, the New York Times reported that the Muslim Brotherhood, a rising force in post-Mubarak Egypt, is exerting pressure on its Hamas allies to do what is necessary to make its unity pact with Fatah work. The upshot of the report is that by seeking to influence the terrorist movement to join the Palestinian Authority, the Brotherhood is advancing the cause of peace. But the assumption that either Fatah or the newly moderate Hamas is actually interested in signing a peace agreement with Israel is utterly without foundation.

The Times buys into the Brotherhood’s spin that its effort to induce its ally to become a partner in the PA is a sign it has evolved from its fundamentalist origins. Rather than merely asserting its goal of destroying Israel and unceasing war with the West, these Islamist parties seek to co-opt existing Arab institutions such as the Egyptian government and the Palestinian Authority. In the sense that the Egyptian party is taking a more nuanced approach to power, they’re right. But the assumption that the ultimate aim of this tactic is peace, is a mistake.

Like Hamas, the Brotherhood’s long-term goal is still the eradication of Israel. But it knows that even if it could command the loyalty of the Egyptian Army — whose acquiescence it needs to consolidate its hold on a share of power in Cairo — this isn’t realistic. Rather, it seeks to govern Egypt and impose its ideology on the largest Arab nation. If it is advising Hamas to try to do the same thing, it does so on the assumption that sooner or later its ally will marginalize Fatah.

The last thing the Brotherhood needs right now is for Hamas to involve Egypt in a conflict that the country’s army wishes to avoid at all costs. But what is occurring is not a transition to an era that will herald a new dawn of peace. Rather, the clear aim is to create an alliance of Islamist-oriented Arab nations in which both moderates and liberals will be shunted aside.

The goal of this charm offensive on the part of the Brotherhood is to help lure both the United States and the European Union away from Israel on the question of Hamas’s designation as a terrorist group. Underlying this effort is the misleading notion that Palestinian unity is a necessary prerequisite to peace with Israel. Those who urge the United States to recognize Hamas are now arguing that including it in the PA will, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s support, create a situation in which there is a Palestinian consensus in favor of peace. But just because Hamas is now, with the Brotherhood’s encouragement, saying it will accept a state whose borders run along the 1967 lines, does not mean they will ever recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state on the other side of the border.

Rather, both Hamas and the Brotherhood seem to have come to the conclusion that they have a lot to gain from fostering a situation under which they assume power in the territories while maintaining a state of being armed. Indeed, many in Israel might be willing to accept a Hamas-dominated PA provided that cross-border violence was kept to a minimum.

The United States should not be fooled by this shift in tactics. The consolidation of power in both Cairo and Ramallah of Islamist parties will make the achievement of real peace impossible as well as undermining U.S. interests. A Brotherhood-dominated Egypt means that country will leave the fold of Arab moderates and be a reliable opponent of the United States. A PA in which Hamas has the upper hand will mean that the terrorist haven in Gaza will now expand to the West Bank, creating even more instability in the region and threatening Jordan.

While there may not be much the Obama administration can do to retrieve the situation in Egypt at this date, it is not too late to prevent the West Bank from becoming another Islamist stronghold. But if the U.S. weakens in its resolve to continue the ban on contacts with Hamas, that is exactly what will happen.

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ObamaCare and the Constitution

I agree with the Wall Street Journal that the Supreme Court’s case deciding the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (with oral arguments commencing today) is among the most important and consequential in our lifetime. “The powers that the Obama Administration is claiming change the structure of the American government as it has existed for 225 years,” according to the Journal. “It is not an exaggeration to say that the Supreme Court’s answers may constitute a hinge in the history of American liberty and limited and enumerated government. The Justices must decide if those principles still mean something.”

But while President Obama is pushing the boundaries of federal power to the breaking point, his actions can also be seen as the logical extension of the progressive movement, what with its collectivist impulses, its disregard for the separation of powers, and its basic contempt for the American Constitution. The Constitution, after all, is (among other things) a check on the power of the state. Which means that James Madison’s handiwork is an impediment to the designs of progressives, who want to cede ever greater authority to the federal government.

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I agree with the Wall Street Journal that the Supreme Court’s case deciding the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (with oral arguments commencing today) is among the most important and consequential in our lifetime. “The powers that the Obama Administration is claiming change the structure of the American government as it has existed for 225 years,” according to the Journal. “It is not an exaggeration to say that the Supreme Court’s answers may constitute a hinge in the history of American liberty and limited and enumerated government. The Justices must decide if those principles still mean something.”

But while President Obama is pushing the boundaries of federal power to the breaking point, his actions can also be seen as the logical extension of the progressive movement, what with its collectivist impulses, its disregard for the separation of powers, and its basic contempt for the American Constitution. The Constitution, after all, is (among other things) a check on the power of the state. Which means that James Madison’s handiwork is an impediment to the designs of progressives, who want to cede ever greater authority to the federal government.

Rather than publicly argue that we ought to jettison the Constitution, those on the left have settled on a strategy to fundamentally reinterpret it. This project travels under the banner of a “living Constitution.” What this means in reality is that the Constitution has no fixed meaning; it is as malleable as hot wax, to the point that new rights can be invented and old rights can be jettisoned based on judges’ predilections, ideologies, passions, and will; on the season of the year, the day of the week, the time of the day. It really doesn’t matter, since the Constitution is viewed as a means to a (political) end. It is a rootless document. Everything is up for grabs.

In that sense, what liberal judges and justices do is something of a charade. They will simply make the Constitution conform to their pre-ordained conclusions (and so abortion is deemed to be a constitutional right, the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment, the Commerce Clause allows for an individual health care mandate, et cetera). But for a variety of reasons, they cannot be fully candid about how low their regard for the Constitution is. And so they often go through contortions that are intellectually unserious and, if the stakes were less, comical.

The Constitution is an “evolving” document, we’re told by those on the left, conforming to “standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” But who gets to decide which direction the evolution goes? Who is the arbiter of enlightenment, the adjudicator of decent standards, the fount of all human wisdom? Give yourself a gold star if you answered “a Supreme Court Justice.” Because surely Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer know more about standards of decency than — well, than whom exactly?

As Justice Scalia has written, “As soon as the discussion goes beyond the issue of whether the Constitution is static, the evolutionists divide into as many camps as there are individual views of the good, the true, and the beautiful. I think that is inevitably so, which means that evolutionism is simply not a practicable constitutional philosophy.”

For progressives, that may be precisely the point.

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Why is the White House Suddenly Calling it “ObamaCare”?

The amount of energy Democrats and the administration devoted to fighting the ObamaCare label never really made much sense. So President Obama thinks it’s a really phenomenal law, his signature presidential accomplishment, but also finds it insulting when people attach his name to it? That’s kind of weird.

Now all of a sudden, White House officials have started to embrace the term. David Plouffe, David Axelrod, and even the president himself have all mentioned it during the past few days. In the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza considers why:

Embracing the term “Obamacare” is a recognition that the president owns the law politically-speaking no matter what the Court decides. That reality means he must re-define “Obamacare” in the eyes (or, more accurately, ears) of the public. “Obamacare” currently stands for everything people don’t like about the law. The White House has to make it stand for all the good things in the law.

We’ve written previously that the lack of movement in the Affordable Care Act’s poll numbers leads us to believe that very few people are either undecided or persuadable on the issue. The White House begs to differ, and the embrace of “Obamacare” is a leading edge of a strategy to change minds on what the law means.

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The amount of energy Democrats and the administration devoted to fighting the ObamaCare label never really made much sense. So President Obama thinks it’s a really phenomenal law, his signature presidential accomplishment, but also finds it insulting when people attach his name to it? That’s kind of weird.

Now all of a sudden, White House officials have started to embrace the term. David Plouffe, David Axelrod, and even the president himself have all mentioned it during the past few days. In the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza considers why:

Embracing the term “Obamacare” is a recognition that the president owns the law politically-speaking no matter what the Court decides. That reality means he must re-define “Obamacare” in the eyes (or, more accurately, ears) of the public. “Obamacare” currently stands for everything people don’t like about the law. The White House has to make it stand for all the good things in the law.

We’ve written previously that the lack of movement in the Affordable Care Act’s poll numbers leads us to believe that very few people are either undecided or persuadable on the issue. The White House begs to differ, and the embrace of “Obamacare” is a leading edge of a strategy to change minds on what the law means.

Oddly, this shift in rhetoric comes on the heels of reports last week that Obama was trying to back away from his health care law. Many noted that the president didn’t personally mark the two-year anniversary of the law. The Wall Street Journal reported last Thursday:

With the law still unpopular with many Americans, the White House has concluded that it is virtually impossible to change negative public opinions, particularly if Mr. Obama is front and center, a senior administration official said.

Instead, the White House wants to spotlight health-care officials and regular Americans who have benefited from the law, in hopes of draining politics from the issue. Involving Mr. Obama makes the matter more political and is therefore counterproductive to the long-term goal of boosting public support for the overhaul, the official said.

Apparently this was a pretty short-lived strategy. Either the White House was never seriously planning to go through with it, or the reports sparked enough backlash from Obama supporters to get his advisers to nix the idea.

When you think about it, the notion that Obama could ever hope to distance himself from his health care law just doesn’t seem logical. Americans who oppose the law aren’t just going to forget the president’s role in it if he stops mentioning it in speeches. But he risks losing support from his progressive base if he appears to be backing away from it. And Obama will need that group more than ever next November if the Supreme Court ends up striking the law down.

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Yelling at the NYT Won’t Help Santorum

At one time or another, it’s something most conservatives have wanted to do. While campaigning in Wisconsin, Santorum did: He blew up on a New York Times‘ reporter, questioning his journalistic integrity, his willingness to report on instead of create the news. Many conservatives cheered Santorum’s bravery, his willingness to take on the media bias at the New York Times and elsewhere. Will this be enough to fire up the conservative base in time for Santorum to have a shot at beating Romney for the nomination? In a word: no. Nothing short of a miracle could make that happen at this point, looking at the delegate math.

During the debates Newt Gingrich gained serious traction taking on the liberal establishment of all stripes, leading to the only standing ovation during a debate that I can remember. Has Santorum decided to take a page from his opponent’s book, deciding to go on the offensive to remind conservatives why he’s their only logical pick?

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At one time or another, it’s something most conservatives have wanted to do. While campaigning in Wisconsin, Santorum did: He blew up on a New York Times‘ reporter, questioning his journalistic integrity, his willingness to report on instead of create the news. Many conservatives cheered Santorum’s bravery, his willingness to take on the media bias at the New York Times and elsewhere. Will this be enough to fire up the conservative base in time for Santorum to have a shot at beating Romney for the nomination? In a word: no. Nothing short of a miracle could make that happen at this point, looking at the delegate math.

During the debates Newt Gingrich gained serious traction taking on the liberal establishment of all stripes, leading to the only standing ovation during a debate that I can remember. Has Santorum decided to take a page from his opponent’s book, deciding to go on the offensive to remind conservatives why he’s their only logical pick?

Since those debates, Gingrich’s support has plummeted and pundits are now on deathwatch, waiting for his campaign to finally announce its conclusion. Santorum’s appeal, meanwhile, has kept him in the final two contenders past Super Tuesday, something next to no one saw coming even a few months ago. Many a pundit has commented on what they believe Santorum’s appeal is to the base, why he has outlasted every other hype candidate to the final mile of the GOP nomination race. I think his ability to stay in the race this late in the game is thanks primarily to two factors: He stuck it out, kept his cool, and stayed on message long enough to become the Not-Romney at the right time. He also comes across as a pretty nice guy, if you don’t read into the liberal media narrative that he’s a General in the War on Women, that is.

Santorum appeals to the socially conservative that were faced with Gingrich, a serial philanderer and Cain, a man whose candidacy unraveled with new reports of shady behavior with women every day until he eventually succumbed and dropped out. He’s a family man who, at the apex of his run, took a few days off to spend time with his special needs daughter who had been hospitalized with serious complications. He wears a sweater vest unironically; he really does come across as the guy next door.

It’s best for Santorum to keep in mind what it is about his candidacy that appeals to voters. While videos of dust-ups with the New York Times may get a lot of spin, airtime and YouTube hits, the first thing I noticed was this: Twenty seconds after Santorum exclaims “It’s bullshit!” – a blonde head, half the height of everyone else around her, comes into view. Santorum lost his cool and cursed in front of what appears to be a young girl who was standing in line to get her campaign placard signed. This isn’t the candidate social conservatives have rallied around and it won’t get Santorum any closer to the nomination.

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Re: Obama’s Revealing Comments to Medvedev

To add to Pete’s post on President Obama’s revealing exchange with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, it should be noted that we now have two such incidents from the president. His first saw him insulting Benjamin Netanyahu with his French counterpart when he thought the microphones were off. In this regard, Obama fares quite poorly when compared with his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Bush had a memorable hot-mic moment during his presidency. It occurred as the Second Lebanon War raged on and the international community was hoping for a cease-fire. Bush was talking to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, both of whom suggested, while they thought their microphones were off, that they didn’t much like UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan for a cease-fire, as it would not actually solve anything. Bush said to Blair:

The irony is, what they really need to do is to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this sh–, and it’s over.

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To add to Pete’s post on President Obama’s revealing exchange with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, it should be noted that we now have two such incidents from the president. His first saw him insulting Benjamin Netanyahu with his French counterpart when he thought the microphones were off. In this regard, Obama fares quite poorly when compared with his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Bush had a memorable hot-mic moment during his presidency. It occurred as the Second Lebanon War raged on and the international community was hoping for a cease-fire. Bush was talking to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, both of whom suggested, while they thought their microphones were off, that they didn’t much like UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan for a cease-fire, as it would not actually solve anything. Bush said to Blair:

The irony is, what they really need to do is to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this sh–, and it’s over.

He was, of course, correct. But the point is that when the microphones were off, Bush was–to no one’s surprise–just as supportive of our allies and as tough on our adversaries as he was in public. These moments might seem insignificant, but they reveal why some presidents are able to win the trust of our allies, and others are not. Our most candid moments will always play an outsized role in others’ approximations of our moral compass. This is even more so when they confirm a pattern of behavior.

I don’t remember if Bush had any hot-mic incidents with his Russian counterpart, but Condoleezza Rice had a famous one with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in 2006. The two were arguing about Russia’s lack of support for the American-led aid effort in Iraq. Here is the UK Telegraph’s writeup of the exchange:

Mr Lavrov tried to explain that the international community should not become involved in Iraq’s political process – something that Miss Rice opposes – but should be involved “in support of the political process.”

“What does that mean?” Miss Rice demanded.

After a long pause, Mr Lavrov replied with a sneer: “I think you understand.”

“No, I don’t,” she shot back. As Mr Lavrov refused to lend Russian support to the new aid programme, Miss Rice grew increasingly irritated.

“I just want to register that I think it’s a pity that we can’t endorse something that’s been endorsed by the Iraqis and by the UN,” she said. “But if that’s how Russia sees it, that’s fine.”

The article notes that the other foreign ministers barely spoke at all during the exchange. That’s because they usually rely on the Americans to register the West’s disapproval of Russia’s mischief making.

Well, they used to.

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CPAC Head: Conservatives Must Unite Behind Romney

Mitt Romney is racking up some key endorsements today, including one from House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy. But the biggest indicator that the conservative movement is starting to coalesce behind Romney is today’s endorsement from the head of the American Conservative Union, Al Cardenas.

Cardenas, the figurehead behind the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), gently tells the other candidates he thinks it’s time for them to step aside. From his Daily Caller op-ed:

As of today, it is clear neither Senator Santorum nor Speaker Gingrich nor Congressman Paul can amass the majority of delegates required to be the Republican nominee. Their only paths to victory feature a contested, anarchic floor fight just weeks before Americans vote on whether or not to give President Obama a second term.

With all due respect to my fellow conservative leaders determined to oppose Governor Romney, that is not a worthy endeavor. For the sake of our Republic, I’m not willing to wait until the Republican National Convention to sort this out. It’s time to unite behind a worthy presidential candidate, build our organization and raise the resources necessary to defeat the liberal electoral machine. …

Governor Romney is an honorable, worthy, competent, conservative candidate for our next commander-in-chief. I’m proud to support his campaign for president.

I’m calling on my fellow conservatives, for goals both lofty and pragmatic, to join me in supporting the only candidate that can ensure President Obama’s legacy is limited to just four years of fiscal irresponsibility and disregard for our Constitution, and not eight.

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Mitt Romney is racking up some key endorsements today, including one from House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy. But the biggest indicator that the conservative movement is starting to coalesce behind Romney is today’s endorsement from the head of the American Conservative Union, Al Cardenas.

Cardenas, the figurehead behind the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), gently tells the other candidates he thinks it’s time for them to step aside. From his Daily Caller op-ed:

As of today, it is clear neither Senator Santorum nor Speaker Gingrich nor Congressman Paul can amass the majority of delegates required to be the Republican nominee. Their only paths to victory feature a contested, anarchic floor fight just weeks before Americans vote on whether or not to give President Obama a second term.

With all due respect to my fellow conservative leaders determined to oppose Governor Romney, that is not a worthy endeavor. For the sake of our Republic, I’m not willing to wait until the Republican National Convention to sort this out. It’s time to unite behind a worthy presidential candidate, build our organization and raise the resources necessary to defeat the liberal electoral machine. …

Governor Romney is an honorable, worthy, competent, conservative candidate for our next commander-in-chief. I’m proud to support his campaign for president.

I’m calling on my fellow conservatives, for goals both lofty and pragmatic, to join me in supporting the only candidate that can ensure President Obama’s legacy is limited to just four years of fiscal irresponsibility and disregard for our Constitution, and not eight.

This is the general conclusion many analysts have been coming to the past few weeks. But Santorum’s campaign has been arguing that his big win in Louisiana during the weekend is a sign Romney isn’t inevitable. The fact that Cardenas published this column right on the heels of Santorum’s victory is a pretty direct repudiation of that argument.

Despite the outcome in Louisiana, the next month looks pretty grim for Santorum. He’s projected to lose in Wisconsin and the handful of other April primaries, and it’s not necessarily a given that he’ll win in his home state of Pennsylvania. It may not be long before he exits the race, though he could be the first candidate to do so. It wouldn’t be a major surprise if Newt Gingrich keeps up his novelty campaign until the convention, and Ron Paul still seems content to play out his own unique delegate strategy.

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Santorum Wants to be “Mr. May”

Byron York reports that Rick Santorum told a gathering of Washington reporters today while he knows the outlook for him isn’t bright in Wisconsin next week, he’s looking forward to winning in lots of states the following month. Given that the latest poll shows him losing badly in Wisconsin, his lowering of expectations there is smart. But the problem with his attempt to rationalize the defeats that are in store for him in the near future is that by the time May rolls around the landscape of the race may have been altered to his disadvantage.

The problem with being “Mr. May” is that even if Santorum can win some primaries that month — and even he concedes that running the table in a diverse group of states including some that Romney will probably win is unlikely — is that he really needed to be the man of the month in February and March when the nomination was still up for grabs. Santorum did win some states in those months, but he also lost some big ones, and the result is that waiting until deep into the spring to play catch up means he’s doomed himself to runner-up status.

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Byron York reports that Rick Santorum told a gathering of Washington reporters today while he knows the outlook for him isn’t bright in Wisconsin next week, he’s looking forward to winning in lots of states the following month. Given that the latest poll shows him losing badly in Wisconsin, his lowering of expectations there is smart. But the problem with his attempt to rationalize the defeats that are in store for him in the near future is that by the time May rolls around the landscape of the race may have been altered to his disadvantage.

The problem with being “Mr. May” is that even if Santorum can win some primaries that month — and even he concedes that running the table in a diverse group of states including some that Romney will probably win is unlikely — is that he really needed to be the man of the month in February and March when the nomination was still up for grabs. Santorum did win some states in those months, but he also lost some big ones, and the result is that waiting until deep into the spring to play catch up means he’s doomed himself to runner-up status.

In the wake of his victory during the weekend in Louisiana, Santorum is still pretending the Republican race is far from decided and that, as was the case earlier in the campaign, several more momentum changes are to be expected. But having already had the chance to really alter the dynamic of the GOP contest in states like Michigan, Ohio and Illinois and lost, it’s just not possible to go on pretending he has a ghost of a chance to win a majority of delegates. Even more to the point, by the time May arrives, he will have already lost another few contests that will make the current hole in which he finds himself (relative to Mitt Romney) far deeper.

If we concede, as Santorum already seems to have done, that he will lose Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia next week and almost certainly get creamed in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware later in the month, that leaves his home state of Pennsylvania as the only one where he has a chance in April. Even if he wins there, and that is by no means a certainty and will in any case be diminished by his failure to again field a full slate of delegates, Santorum will enter May even farther behind than he already is now. His prospects may be better in North Carolina, Indiana and West Virginia on May 8, but by then even most conservatives will have gotten the message that prolonging the GOP contest is pointless. Even if Santorum refuses to take the hint and pull out sometime that month, by June, Romney will be so close to winning the necessary majority of delegates that any decision on Santorum’s part won’t be significant.

Of course, being a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, Santorum may not be aware that the designation of “Mr. May” isn’t necessarily a good thing. Some 30 years ago, the late George Steinbrenner labeled outfielder Dave Winfield with that moniker–and didn’t mean it as a compliment. What the New York Yankees needed he said was another “Mr. October” (i.e. Reggie Jackson) not a “Mr. May” who played like a star when the chips weren’t on the line. In this case, most Republicans seem to have decided that Romney is their “Mr. November” this year. It remains to be seen whether he can deliver, but whether he does or not, Santorum’s boasts about potential victories in the spring will be long forgotten by the time the real action happens in the fall.

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The CIA’s Muslim Terror Head

In some quarters of the right it is considered, so to speak, an article of faith that the war against al-Qaeda and its ilk is really a war against Islam, and that no Muslim can possibly be trusted to be an ally in this fight. Even talk of allowing Muslim judges in Afghanistan to issue warrants for “night raids” has been greeted with contempt by some even though many Muslim Afghan soldiers now go out on those raids. Indeed, thousands of Iraqi and Afghan soldiers have lost their lives fighting alongside American allies against our mutual foes in extremist groups such as al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Mahdist Army.

Further discrediting the anti-Muslim propaganda is the fact disclosed yesterday by the Washington Post that the long-serving head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center–the architect of policies which have sent countless jihadists to an early grave in drone strikes–is himself a Muslim. He converted after marrying a Muslim woman while serving abroad.

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In some quarters of the right it is considered, so to speak, an article of faith that the war against al-Qaeda and its ilk is really a war against Islam, and that no Muslim can possibly be trusted to be an ally in this fight. Even talk of allowing Muslim judges in Afghanistan to issue warrants for “night raids” has been greeted with contempt by some even though many Muslim Afghan soldiers now go out on those raids. Indeed, thousands of Iraqi and Afghan soldiers have lost their lives fighting alongside American allies against our mutual foes in extremist groups such as al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Mahdist Army.

Further discrediting the anti-Muslim propaganda is the fact disclosed yesterday by the Washington Post that the long-serving head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center–the architect of policies which have sent countless jihadists to an early grave in drone strikes–is himself a Muslim. He converted after marrying a Muslim woman while serving abroad.

The Post quotes CIA Director David Petraeus as saying, “No officer in the agency has been more relentless, focused, or committed to the fight against al-Qaeda than has the chief of the Counterterrorism Center.” The fact that the officer in question is a Muslim should hardly be cause for comment–except to the extent that it unsettles some objectionable assumptions about where most Muslims supposedly stand in the battle against violent extremists.

 

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MLA Rankings of American Writers

Since the 1980’s, literary scholars have complained of a “fixed” and “restrictive” canon of American literature. While working on another project, my curiosity was aroused. What actually is the American literary canon, as determined by what literary scholars actually work on?

Over the past 25 years, Henry James has been the top-ranked American writer, according to the latest MLA International Bibliography. More than 3,000 pieces of scholarship have been devoted to him in whole or part since 1987. Only William Faulkner approaches him in volume. If the scholarship is counted since 1947, however (the date of the earliest entries in the Bib), Faulkner is the runaway leader with 7,108 scholarly pieces on him. And James trails with 6,760.

One of the changes over the past 25 years, then, is that James has supplanted Faulkner as America’s best or most important writer. T. S. Eliot and Herman Melville have also swapped places. After that, things get interesting. Vladimir Nabokov has become of the five most talked-about American writers, and Toni Morrison (whose Beloved will be 25 years old in September) has jumped from far back into the top ten. The reputations of Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Twain, Fitzgerald, and Frost have slipped badly. Poor William Dean Howells has fallen out of the top 25 altogether (to be replaced by Richard Wright). Has the literary scholars’ 25-year worship at the holy shrine of race, class, and gender brought about major changes in the canon? You be the judge.

Here are the top 25 American writers as determined by the amount of scholarship on each. In brackets is the rise or fall of each writer when compared to his or her ranking since 1947.

( 1.) Henry James (3,188 items) [+1]
( 2.) William Faulkner (2,955) [-1]
( 3.) T. S. Eliot (2,659) [+1]
( 4.) Herman Melville (2,579) [-1]
( 5.) Vladimir Nabokov (2,290) [+5]
( 6.) Ernest Hemingway (2,220) [-0-]
( 7.) Edgar Allan Poe (1,958) [-2]
( 8.) Toni Morrison (1,950) [+9]
( 9.) Nathaniel Hawthorne (1,751) [-4]
(10.) Walt Whitman (1,647) [-2]
(11.) Emily Dickinson (1,623) [+2]
(12.) Ezra Pound (1,620) [-3]
(13.) Willa Cather (1,482) [+5]
(14.) Ralph Waldo Emerson (1,326) [-3]
(15.) Wallace Stevens (1,122) [-1]
(16.) Edith Wharton (1,087) [+5]
(17.) Henry David Thoreau (1,076) [-5]
(18.) F. Scott Fitzgerald (1,002) [-3]
(19.) Flannery O’Connor (935) [+3]
(20.) Mark Twain (882) [-4]
(21.) John Steinbeck (823) [+2]
(22.) William Carlos Williams (772) [-0-]
(23.) Saul Bellow (706) [+2]
(24.) Richard Wright (670) [+2]
(25.) Robert Frost (661) [-5]

Disclaimer: These rankings are based entirely on the research of the author, and do not reflect the opinions or policies of the Modern Language Association in any way.

Since the 1980’s, literary scholars have complained of a “fixed” and “restrictive” canon of American literature. While working on another project, my curiosity was aroused. What actually is the American literary canon, as determined by what literary scholars actually work on?

Over the past 25 years, Henry James has been the top-ranked American writer, according to the latest MLA International Bibliography. More than 3,000 pieces of scholarship have been devoted to him in whole or part since 1987. Only William Faulkner approaches him in volume. If the scholarship is counted since 1947, however (the date of the earliest entries in the Bib), Faulkner is the runaway leader with 7,108 scholarly pieces on him. And James trails with 6,760.

One of the changes over the past 25 years, then, is that James has supplanted Faulkner as America’s best or most important writer. T. S. Eliot and Herman Melville have also swapped places. After that, things get interesting. Vladimir Nabokov has become of the five most talked-about American writers, and Toni Morrison (whose Beloved will be 25 years old in September) has jumped from far back into the top ten. The reputations of Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Twain, Fitzgerald, and Frost have slipped badly. Poor William Dean Howells has fallen out of the top 25 altogether (to be replaced by Richard Wright). Has the literary scholars’ 25-year worship at the holy shrine of race, class, and gender brought about major changes in the canon? You be the judge.

Here are the top 25 American writers as determined by the amount of scholarship on each. In brackets is the rise or fall of each writer when compared to his or her ranking since 1947.

( 1.) Henry James (3,188 items) [+1]
( 2.) William Faulkner (2,955) [-1]
( 3.) T. S. Eliot (2,659) [+1]
( 4.) Herman Melville (2,579) [-1]
( 5.) Vladimir Nabokov (2,290) [+5]
( 6.) Ernest Hemingway (2,220) [-0-]
( 7.) Edgar Allan Poe (1,958) [-2]
( 8.) Toni Morrison (1,950) [+9]
( 9.) Nathaniel Hawthorne (1,751) [-4]
(10.) Walt Whitman (1,647) [-2]
(11.) Emily Dickinson (1,623) [+2]
(12.) Ezra Pound (1,620) [-3]
(13.) Willa Cather (1,482) [+5]
(14.) Ralph Waldo Emerson (1,326) [-3]
(15.) Wallace Stevens (1,122) [-1]
(16.) Edith Wharton (1,087) [+5]
(17.) Henry David Thoreau (1,076) [-5]
(18.) F. Scott Fitzgerald (1,002) [-3]
(19.) Flannery O’Connor (935) [+3]
(20.) Mark Twain (882) [-4]
(21.) John Steinbeck (823) [+2]
(22.) William Carlos Williams (772) [-0-]
(23.) Saul Bellow (706) [+2]
(24.) Richard Wright (670) [+2]
(25.) Robert Frost (661) [-5]

Disclaimer: These rankings are based entirely on the research of the author, and do not reflect the opinions or policies of the Modern Language Association in any way.

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Gannett Reporters Sign Walker Petition

On Sunday, Gannett’s Wisconsin team broke the news that 29 Wisconsin judges had signed a petition to recall Gov. Scott Walker. Today, in an embarrassing follow-up, the paper’s publisher reports that 25 Gannett reporters apparently signed the petition as well. So, thanks for ruining it for the whole news team, guys:

In the interest of full transparency, we are informing readers today that 25 Gannett Wisconsin Media journalists, including seven at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, signed the recall petition. It was wrong, and those who signed the petition were in breach of Gannett’s principles of ethical conduct.

It is little consolation to us that none of the editorial employees who signed a petition has any involvement in our news or political coverage or decides how those stories are developed and presented. None of the employees serve on the investigative team. Had they been directly involved, we would identify them.

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On Sunday, Gannett’s Wisconsin team broke the news that 29 Wisconsin judges had signed a petition to recall Gov. Scott Walker. Today, in an embarrassing follow-up, the paper’s publisher reports that 25 Gannett reporters apparently signed the petition as well. So, thanks for ruining it for the whole news team, guys:

In the interest of full transparency, we are informing readers today that 25 Gannett Wisconsin Media journalists, including seven at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, signed the recall petition. It was wrong, and those who signed the petition were in breach of Gannett’s principles of ethical conduct.

It is little consolation to us that none of the editorial employees who signed a petition has any involvement in our news or political coverage or decides how those stories are developed and presented. None of the employees serve on the investigative team. Had they been directly involved, we would identify them.

The paper’s publisher really beats himself and the staff up in the apology today, which makes you wonder – if this lapse was taken so seriously by Gannett, why wasn’t it disclosed along with the initial story on the judges yesterday? You would imagine the Gannett i-team noticed that some of their fellow reporters’ signatures were on the list when they were first reporting the story. Waiting a whole day makes it look like the paper was forced into disclosing it, even if that wasn’t actually the case.

But it’s hard to get too worked up over this. When it comes to ideology and journalism, Jay Rosen seems to have the most reasonable philosophy. Having strong political opinions doesn’t preclude someone from being a quality reporter, and acknowledging those political opinions is probably a good step toward building trust with the public. At the same time, these journalists who signed the petition were in violation of Gannett’s own ethics rules. And considering the fact that Gannett was reporting on the potential ethical lapses of public officials, that blunder certainly undermines its credibility.

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Time May Be Running Out in Syria

The Washington Post reports:

Syrian rebels battling the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad are running out of ammunition as black market supplies dry up, neighboring countries tighten their borders and international promises of help fail to materialize, according to rebel commanders and defected soldiers who have crossed into this Turkish border town in recent days in a quest for money to buy arms.

They describe what appear to be desperate conditions for the already lightly armed and loosely organized rebel force, made up of defected soldiers and civilians who in recent months have banded together in the name of the Free Syrian Army, transforming what had been an overwhelmingly peaceful uprising into an armed revolt.

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The Washington Post reports:

Syrian rebels battling the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad are running out of ammunition as black market supplies dry up, neighboring countries tighten their borders and international promises of help fail to materialize, according to rebel commanders and defected soldiers who have crossed into this Turkish border town in recent days in a quest for money to buy arms.

They describe what appear to be desperate conditions for the already lightly armed and loosely organized rebel force, made up of defected soldiers and civilians who in recent months have banded together in the name of the Free Syrian Army, transforming what had been an overwhelmingly peaceful uprising into an armed revolt.

This news, if true, is a tragedy and a disgrace. The Free Syrian Army is, at this point, the best chance to force Basher Assad and his criminal regime from power–if only by putting enough pressure on him to lead to a negotiated transition. Yet the Syrian army is on the offensive and, having taken Homs with great brutality, now has the rebels on the run–and the rebels can’t even find enough bullets with which to defend themselves.

It did not have to be this way. This is a direct result of the Obama administration’s failure to engage actively in favor of a revolt that could tip the balance of power in the Levant in favor of the West and against Iran and its allies. All sorts of arguments have been made as to why we should not arm the rebels. All need to be taken account, but none is particularly persuasive in light of the likely fact that, unless we do more to arm the rebels, Assad will remain in power and will remain more dependent than ever on Iranian support. This would be both a humanitarian and a strategic tragedy, hurting not only the people of Syria but American interests in the region. It is still not too late for the administration to act in concert with our allies. But time may be running out.

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Militias Out of Control in Libya

One Libyan militia has taken to mounting raids against hotels over unpaid bills. Another militia recently captured and held two British PressTV journalists because militia members mistakenly believed Welsh materials in the journalists’ possession were written in Hebrew, and that the Iranian-employed Brits were Israeli agents.

Meanwhile, official Libyan police have finally gotten around to rounding up the vandals responsible for the disgraceful desecration of Christian and Jewish tombstones in a WWII-era cemetery. The problem is they’re too scared to do anything about it:

Police in Libya captured three members of an armed mob that desecrated British war graves in Benghazi – but released them after a few hours because they were ‘too dangerous.’ The extremists, who admitted smashing the gravestones with sledgehammers, belong to an Islamist militia with links to al-Qaeda. During questioning, police were so nervous they made the men wear blindfolds so they would not be able to identify their interrogators.

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One Libyan militia has taken to mounting raids against hotels over unpaid bills. Another militia recently captured and held two British PressTV journalists because militia members mistakenly believed Welsh materials in the journalists’ possession were written in Hebrew, and that the Iranian-employed Brits were Israeli agents.

Meanwhile, official Libyan police have finally gotten around to rounding up the vandals responsible for the disgraceful desecration of Christian and Jewish tombstones in a WWII-era cemetery. The problem is they’re too scared to do anything about it:

Police in Libya captured three members of an armed mob that desecrated British war graves in Benghazi – but released them after a few hours because they were ‘too dangerous.’ The extremists, who admitted smashing the gravestones with sledgehammers, belong to an Islamist militia with links to al-Qaeda. During questioning, police were so nervous they made the men wear blindfolds so they would not be able to identify their interrogators.

After the liberation of Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein’s crime family, liberal critics endlessly intoned that the Bush administration had made inadequate preparations for “winning the peace.” Bracketing the somewhat obnoxious spectacle of 20 year old DC newcomers suddenly declared themselves to be sage military historians, the argument was not wholly undue.

Criticism regarding the current administration’s lack of post-Qaddafi preparation has not reached a similar pitch, circumspection that’s doubly perplexing given how in contrast to Iraq there really was a hasty rush to war on Libya. Had a Bush-era official underwhelmingly expressed himself “concerned” about tens of thousands of airline-busting missiles falling into the hands of terrorists – while UN officials were acknowledging that nobody had a sense for the magnitude of the problem because “nobody has had a chance to look… across the country” – the howls of derision would have lasted weeks.

Al-Qaeda-linked militias are functionally in control of key parts of Libya, and have been for many months. Senior Libyan officers admit they “have no control over these men, they are too dangerous, they have more weapons.” Past attempts to reign in militia-linked criminals triggered raids on police stations, with the buildings overrun and the arrested militia members freed.

The post-Saddam/post-Qaddafi parellels run so close that Libya has even seen priceless archaeological artifacts stolen in the chaos. When the Iraqi Museum was raided, it led to no end of outrage and White House resignations. There are published books on the incident with titles that have words like “rape and “cultural cleansing.” The din in response to NATO’s hasty and underplanned intervention into Libya has been somewhat more muted, for some reason.

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Opposition to ObamaCare High Among Women, Youth

During the past year, opinion polls have consistently shown widespread public disapproval of President Obama’s health care reform law. The Hill has a new survey out reaffirming this, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the law later today.

The most interesting takeaway from the poll is that the disapproval for ObamaCare is spread across most voting demographics, including two key groups that Democrats have argued benefit most from the law: young people and women. From The Hill:

By a 52-percent-to-39-percent margin women are more opposed to it than men, who oppose it 48 percent to 45 percent, a difference that matches the poll’s 3-point margin of error. …

While even the youngest voters oppose the law (47 percent to 42 percent among those aged 18-39), opposition grows to 53 percent among voters aged 65 and older.

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During the past year, opinion polls have consistently shown widespread public disapproval of President Obama’s health care reform law. The Hill has a new survey out reaffirming this, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the law later today.

The most interesting takeaway from the poll is that the disapproval for ObamaCare is spread across most voting demographics, including two key groups that Democrats have argued benefit most from the law: young people and women. From The Hill:

By a 52-percent-to-39-percent margin women are more opposed to it than men, who oppose it 48 percent to 45 percent, a difference that matches the poll’s 3-point margin of error. …

While even the youngest voters oppose the law (47 percent to 42 percent among those aged 18-39), opposition grows to 53 percent among voters aged 65 and older.

While President Obama didn’t personally commemorate the two-year anniversary of his health care law last week, his campaign has been emphasizing the supposedly positive impact the law will have on women and young Americans. Obviously, the numbers in The Hill poll complicate that message. The fact that women are more likely to oppose the law than men is particularly interesting, and gives the GOP an opening to try to frame this as a women’s issue.

But the poll also bolsters one of the main arguments we may hear from Democrats if the Supreme Court does end up overturning the law or portions of it. While voters want to see the law repealed, they also believe the justices’ eventual decisions may be politically motivated:

Although voters want the Court to strike the law, they don’t necessarily trust the justices’ motivations. Fifty-six percent of likely voters believe the justices are swayed by their own political beliefs, while just 27 percent believe they “make impartial decisions based on their reading of the Constitution.”

Skepticism about the justices relying on their political beliefs ran consistently among age, racial and philosophical categories, with a majority of whites (54 percent), blacks (59 percent), Republicans (56 percent), Democrats (59 percent), conservatives (54 percent), centrists (56 percent) and liberals (59 percent) expressing the same viewpoint.

When people decry “judicial activism,” often they’re really using it as a euphemism for a decision they don’t like or don’t agree with. If the law is struck down, the health care issue will likely become an election-year motivator for Democratic voters, and the blame will no doubt be pinned on conservative activist judges.

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