Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 9, 2012

Is it Okay to Love a Murdering Dictator?

Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen will be using his day off to fly back to Florida today to hold a news conference tomorrow to make a public apology for his published remarks in which he spoke of his “love” for longtime Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. While the famously loquacious and largely unrestrained Guillen is entitled to his opinion, the fact that the institution that employs him understands that a public mea culpa is necessary illustrates that at least in southern Florida, expressing affection for a Communist murderer is not deemed acceptable behavior.

Guillen, a native of Venezuela who stirred up a much smaller controversy when he previously spoke of his admiration for that country’s authoritarian leader Hugo Chavez, has a reputation for shooting off his mouth about just about anything rather than being a political activist. Though Cuban-Americans are rightly up in arms about what he said and any hint of a boycott of the Marlins game would be disastrous for a franchise desperate to attract fans to their new ballpark, it is likely that Guillen will survive this mess. But what is interesting about this kerfuffle is the fact that it may be one of the last gasps of an effort to hold the Havana regime in opprobrium despite the efforts of many liberals (and the Obama administration) to lower the volume of protests about human rights in Cuba.

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Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen will be using his day off to fly back to Florida today to hold a news conference tomorrow to make a public apology for his published remarks in which he spoke of his “love” for longtime Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. While the famously loquacious and largely unrestrained Guillen is entitled to his opinion, the fact that the institution that employs him understands that a public mea culpa is necessary illustrates that at least in southern Florida, expressing affection for a Communist murderer is not deemed acceptable behavior.

Guillen, a native of Venezuela who stirred up a much smaller controversy when he previously spoke of his admiration for that country’s authoritarian leader Hugo Chavez, has a reputation for shooting off his mouth about just about anything rather than being a political activist. Though Cuban-Americans are rightly up in arms about what he said and any hint of a boycott of the Marlins game would be disastrous for a franchise desperate to attract fans to their new ballpark, it is likely that Guillen will survive this mess. But what is interesting about this kerfuffle is the fact that it may be one of the last gasps of an effort to hold the Havana regime in opprobrium despite the efforts of many liberals (and the Obama administration) to lower the volume of protests about human rights in Cuba.

Guillen is far from the only person who has given Castro some love lately. Hollywood leftists such as Sean Penn and Oliver Stone have lauded the Cuban regime and even mainstream media stars like Andrea Mitchell have bought into Michael Moore’s lies about the Communist regime’s health care system being better than that of the United States. For many liberals, focusing on Cuba’s lack of political freedom is an unwelcome throwback to the Cold War. The plight of Cubans who lack basic human rights and live in squalor largely due to their government’s Stalinist ideology means little to most Americans who have come to view the cause of Cuban freedom with indifference if not distaste. There’s little doubt that had Guillen stayed with the Chicago White Sox or gone to some other team without a potent Cuban-American constituency, he would not be on the hot seat on which he currently finds himself.

That alone is a reason to think that firing would be unfair even if it is difficult to sympathize with him. He is fortunate to have expressed sympathy for a mere Communist murderer rather than to have uttered anything that could be construed as racist. This is, after all, the 30th anniversary of the interview on ABC’s “Nightline” program in which Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis lost his job when he claimed African-Americans lacked the “necessities” to be baseball managers and executives. Though Campanis had earned far more goodwill in a long career of racial fair dealing than the obnoxious Guillen has ever done (Guillen dodged a similar bullet earlier in his career for uttering an anti-gay slur), his career vanished in an instant with one foolish and wrongheaded remark.

Those who cry for Guillen’s head will probably be disappointed, and that’s not an entirely bad thing. The practice of making celebrities walk the plank for saying the wrong thing in the wrong place for things for which they might otherwise get a pass for under other circumstances is not a particularly attractive aspect of American popular culture. But while I’m not sorry to see Guillen forced to apologize for his “love” for Castro, no one should be under the misapprehension that a sea change on attitudes toward the Cuban regime has not already happened. It is that willingness to appease the tyrants of Havana that we should be regretting more than a stupid comment by an overly talkative baseball manager.

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Can Obama Interpret Iran’s Mixed Signals?

As we first noted last week, Iran’s program of diplomatic gamesmanship aimed at confusing and unnerving the Obama administration has begun. Last week, the Iranians started to dicker about the site of the scheduled talks with the West about their nuclear program that had already been decided. Now, as this report shows, the Iranians are proceeding to muddy the waters further by sending out conflicting messages–with one of their high-ranking officials signaling their willingness to compromise on their uranium enrichment and another that they would not. It’s the same old song they’ve been singing for years whose only purpose is drag out any negotiations so as to give their scientists more time to get closer to their nuclear goal.

But to focus on these shenanigans is somewhat beside the point. The problem is not what the Iranians are saying but Washington’s ability to interpret its true meaning. And it is on that score that Washington seems to be the most at sea. The Obama administration has been leaking reports about its intelligence prowess so as to undermine any notion that its evaluation of Iran’s capabilities is not underestimating Tehran’s nuclear progress or wrong about its not having made a decision to build a bomb. But as with previous intelligence disasters, including the one in Iraq that the CIA seeks to atone for, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to the president or his team that they are desperately short of human insight on what the ayatollahs are thinking.

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As we first noted last week, Iran’s program of diplomatic gamesmanship aimed at confusing and unnerving the Obama administration has begun. Last week, the Iranians started to dicker about the site of the scheduled talks with the West about their nuclear program that had already been decided. Now, as this report shows, the Iranians are proceeding to muddy the waters further by sending out conflicting messages–with one of their high-ranking officials signaling their willingness to compromise on their uranium enrichment and another that they would not. It’s the same old song they’ve been singing for years whose only purpose is drag out any negotiations so as to give their scientists more time to get closer to their nuclear goal.

But to focus on these shenanigans is somewhat beside the point. The problem is not what the Iranians are saying but Washington’s ability to interpret its true meaning. And it is on that score that Washington seems to be the most at sea. The Obama administration has been leaking reports about its intelligence prowess so as to undermine any notion that its evaluation of Iran’s capabilities is not underestimating Tehran’s nuclear progress or wrong about its not having made a decision to build a bomb. But as with previous intelligence disasters, including the one in Iraq that the CIA seeks to atone for, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to the president or his team that they are desperately short of human insight on what the ayatollahs are thinking.

The latest in the administration’s Iran leakfest was a Washington Post story published this past weekend in which a “senior intelligence official” bragged of the CIA’s high-tech spy drones that have produced so much interesting material for them to analyze. The piece was intended to portray the Iran task force in which the CIA, the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence operatives combine their efforts as having produced enough input as to give their political masters confidence there is no imminent danger of Iran succeeding in building a bomb or that they had even decided to build one in the first place.

Let’s hope they’re right, but the smug tone of this and similar pieces of puffery aimed at lionizing America’s spooks and pouring cold water on other, less optimistic evaluations of Iran’s nuclear program ought to worry anyone relying on this assessment. The problem is that even though America’s remote spying may be effective, as a previous leaked story from within the intelligence fold admitted, all the intercepted messages and satellite photos don’t give you the ability to understand what you are looking at. For that you need human intelligence, and on that score, Washington has admitted it has even less of that commodity from Iran than it does from North Korea. When it comes to understanding what the Islamist regime’s leaders are thinking, the U.S. is still flying blind.

That’s why the Iranians’ stall tactics and mixed signals on negotiations must be maddening to the administration. None of the satellite photos can tell them what Grand Ayatollah Ali Khameini’s intentions are or whether he is capable of walking his country back from the brink of a conflict with the West that few believe President Obama really wants. Nor can they be sure they are taking the right pictures from the satellites.

As Iran prepares to once again try to hold the ball and run out the clock on Obama, none of the leaks whose purpose it is to instill perhaps unwarranted confidence in American intelligence can assure us that either he or his staff understands what the Iranians intend. So long as that is true, it is the Iranians who should be feeling confident.

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A Powerful Argument for Voter ID Laws

The latest video out by James O’Keefe is a powerful argument for voter ID laws, with a cameo from Eric Holder (actually his would-be voting impersonator). As a requisite disclaimer, O’Keefe has been accused of selectively editing videos in the past, but this one appears to include the full conversation.

New York Magazine says there’s nothing to see here:

The question is whether anyone should really care. Yes, if you wanted to, you could risk five years in prison and a $10,000 fine to vote for someone else, but we’re not sure why you would, since a single vote, or even a few votes, will never make a difference. (Okay, almost never.) Could a group of hundreds or thousands of fraudsters be mobilized to go around to different polling stations on election day and vote for one particular candidate or issue, possibly altering the outcome of an election? It would be difficult to organize surreptitiously, but sure, it’s probably doable. But it has never happened.

That’s like the government saying it’s pointless for bars to check IDs, because underage drinkers will face a hefty fine if they’re caught. The punishment becomes less of a deterrent if there’s a very high probability of getting away with the crime.

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The latest video out by James O’Keefe is a powerful argument for voter ID laws, with a cameo from Eric Holder (actually his would-be voting impersonator). As a requisite disclaimer, O’Keefe has been accused of selectively editing videos in the past, but this one appears to include the full conversation.

New York Magazine says there’s nothing to see here:

The question is whether anyone should really care. Yes, if you wanted to, you could risk five years in prison and a $10,000 fine to vote for someone else, but we’re not sure why you would, since a single vote, or even a few votes, will never make a difference. (Okay, almost never.) Could a group of hundreds or thousands of fraudsters be mobilized to go around to different polling stations on election day and vote for one particular candidate or issue, possibly altering the outcome of an election? It would be difficult to organize surreptitiously, but sure, it’s probably doable. But it has never happened.

That’s like the government saying it’s pointless for bars to check IDs, because underage drinkers will face a hefty fine if they’re caught. The punishment becomes less of a deterrent if there’s a very high probability of getting away with the crime.

Voter fraud, by the way, is notoriously difficult to prosecute. Unless the fraudster sparks the suspicion of a polling official, the incident is unlikely to be reported or investigated. Often a fake name and/or address are used, which means there’s little chance of tracking this person down once he’s left the premises. And even if the suspect is reported and somehow located, it’s difficult to prove intentional fraud – can anyone demonstrate that this was the same individual at the polling location? Was the fraud intentional, or could it have been done in error?

And yes, voting fraud is a big deal, even if, as New York Magazine stipulates, the fraud doesn’t sway the election one way or another. Every false ballot cast for Candidate A undermines the democratic process by canceling out a legitimate ballot cast for Candidate B. Is it an epidemic? Maybe not. But the whole blasé “what’s a little bit of voter fraud anyway?” attitude seems to be the exact opposite of what the media should be espousing. It’s a message that welcomes corruption. Conservatives have proposed voter ID laws; some others may argue these laws are ineffective. That’s a debate to have. But denying that there’s a problem – or at least loopholes that could easily lead to a serious problem – isn’t a constructive way to deal with the issue.

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From Healer to Divider-in-Chief

It has become a familiar refrain: conservatives reach for “wedge” (read: social) issues in presidential campaigns in order to distract and divide voters. That narrative has always been suspect. But I wonder when it will dawn on political reporters and commentators that it is Barack Obama who is compulsively reaching for “wedge” issues in the hopes of dividing Americans against one another.

In just the last few weeks, for example, the president has weighed in on the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke controversy, the membership policies of Augusta National Golf Club, the Trayvon Martin shooting, as well as altering the status quo when it comes to requiring Catholic hospitals, charities and universities to provide insurance coverage that includes contraceptives and abortifacients, in violation of their conscience and creed.

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It has become a familiar refrain: conservatives reach for “wedge” (read: social) issues in presidential campaigns in order to distract and divide voters. That narrative has always been suspect. But I wonder when it will dawn on political reporters and commentators that it is Barack Obama who is compulsively reaching for “wedge” issues in the hopes of dividing Americans against one another.

In just the last few weeks, for example, the president has weighed in on the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke controversy, the membership policies of Augusta National Golf Club, the Trayvon Martin shooting, as well as altering the status quo when it comes to requiring Catholic hospitals, charities and universities to provide insurance coverage that includes contraceptives and abortifacients, in violation of their conscience and creed.

On the first three issues, Obama is acting more like Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell than president. And if you take the four issues together, it’s clear what’s occurring. Obama cannot defend his record and has no compelling second term agenda; his goal is to toss dust in the wind, to draw attention away from the economy and the increasing disorder in the world so that his allies can portray the GOP as engaged in a “war on women.”

This tactic is an important concession of sorts. Barack Obama has shown he can’t govern and won’t even try. But he does know how to campaign. It’s the one thing he seems to relish and has (along with community organizing) shown some skill at. The fact that Obama is campaigning in 2012 in precisely the opposite manner he portrayed himself in 2008 isn’t lost on anyone – including the RNC (see this effective new ad).

The president has gone from being a healer of the breach to the divider-in-chief. Hope and change has given way to slash-and-burn. On the campaign trail he’s now referring to Republicans as members of the “flat earth society” and the House GOP budget as an example of “Social Darwinism.” (If Obama is going to attack Republicans, at least he could be creatively vicious instead of banal and mean-spirited.) To have a president engage in these tactics with such relish, and to do so this early in the campaign cycle, will do significant damage to our political culture. But it’s clear to any detached observer that it doesn’t matter to Obama. After all, he has an election to win, power to keep, and an opponent to destroy.

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Freedom in Post-Democratic Europe

If America must shoulder the burden of global security because others will not or cannot, America also shoulders the burden of a global idealism always present, if dormant, that is now–20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union–again rearing its head on a massive scale throughout the Arab world (and in Iran and to some extent, Russia). Today, Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt wonders aloud why President Obama has remained so dismissive toward the outward expression of freedom for its own sake. Hiatt guesses that it’s a kind of post-nationalism:

But his stance also reflects his own brand of idealism, which values international law and alliances more than the promotion of freedom. The democrats’ uprising in Iran threatened his hopes of negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran’s rulers. Aid to Syria’s democrats requires approval from the UN Security Council, which is unattainable without Russian and Chinese acquiescence.

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If America must shoulder the burden of global security because others will not or cannot, America also shoulders the burden of a global idealism always present, if dormant, that is now–20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union–again rearing its head on a massive scale throughout the Arab world (and in Iran and to some extent, Russia). Today, Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt wonders aloud why President Obama has remained so dismissive toward the outward expression of freedom for its own sake. Hiatt guesses that it’s a kind of post-nationalism:

But his stance also reflects his own brand of idealism, which values international law and alliances more than the promotion of freedom. The democrats’ uprising in Iran threatened his hopes of negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran’s rulers. Aid to Syria’s democrats requires approval from the UN Security Council, which is unattainable without Russian and Chinese acquiescence.

Hiatt thinks Obama sorely and mistakenly undervalues the practical uses of the so-called freedom agenda, to the detriment of his own stated policy goals. But there is another relevant facet to this debate. The trend in the rest of the West, notably Europe, is away from democracy. Who, then, will proclaim the virtues of freedom and self-rule if we don’t? The answer is: no one.

Daniel Hannan, writing in the magazine Standpoint, noted that the European Union is, on its face, manifestly undemocratic, as more and more of the continent’s policy is made by unelected committees, whose members are appointed by other unelected committees, in Brussels. The euro is the symbol of this union, and the union’s most powerful and influential state (though we have now begun using the term “state” loosely), within and probably without, is Germany. So what happens when you ask the most obvious question to the most relevant official? When you ask German Chancellor Angela Merkel why the euro should not be dissolved, what does she say? Hannan quotes her response:

Nobody should take for granted another 50 years of peace and prosperity in Europe, and that’s why I say, if the euro fails, Europe fails. We have a historical obligation: to protect by all means Europe’s unification process begun by our forefathers after centuries of hatred and bloodshed.

Hannan adds: “Put in those terms, of course, the issue is literally beyond argument. If you oppose the euro, Mrs Merkel suggests, you’re in favour of war.” Eurocrats are shown the door when they even glance at the hoi polloi. Hannan notes what happened when Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou proposed a referendum on the bailout package offered his country by Europe. Less than a week later, Papandreou had been forced out of office. Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian premier and no euroskeptic himself, expressed his ambivalence toward his country staying in the euro. At an EU summit, an official boasted they were about to be rid of Berlusconi. That was a promise, not a threat; five days later the deed was done.

Hannan then upends the conventional wisdom of the European Union:

People sometimes talk of the EU’s democratic deficit as if it were accidental. In fact, it is essential to the whole design. Having lived through the 1920s and 1930s, the founders had little faith in democracy — especially the plebiscitary democracy which they saw as a prelude to demagoguery and fascism. They were therefore unapologetic about vesting supreme power in the hands of appointed commissioners who were to be invulnerable to public opinion. They were disarmingly honest, too, about the fact that their dream of common European statehood would never be realised if successive transfers of power to Brussels had to be approved by the national electorates.

The euro was the culmination of their scheme.

The democracy deficit–in this case forcing the single-currency suicide pact on disapproving commoners–has led to increasing actual deficits. Those financial debts, in turn, have a corrosive effect on freedom abroad. For example, as Justin Vaïsse wrote in February, European governments promised “money, markets access, mobility” to emerging Arab states, especially Tunisia and Libya, during the Arab Spring. But the debt crisis at home resulted in modest, and disappointing, results–just as those countries needed it the most.

But more than cash, and certainly more than immigration opportunities, the awakening human spirit needs an atlas of ideas. Those North African countries may look across the Mediterranean and wonder what all the fuss is about. Where will the inspiration come from? Not Europe, which sticks its fingers in its ears when it hears the noise of the people. And certainly not the leader of the pack–Germany–slow to act against Iranian bank interests and offering diplomatic support to Vladimir Putin, a fraud and a thug who requests, and receives, Germany’s acquiescence in preventing the further enlargement of NATO, whose raison d’être is explicitly tied to promoting and protecting democracy.

No doubt Hiatt’s column will be derided by those on the left who delight in sounding the alarm of a creeping conservatism on the Post’s editorial page (if only!), and by those enlightened observers who scoff at the caveman barbarism of nationalism and identity. But if Europe’s leaders are indeed ready to put their experiment in democracy behind them, there will be one nation, and one office, left to carry the banner. As president of the United States, this is Barack Obama’s mission, whether or not he chooses to accept it.

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Egyptian Outlook Grows More Desperate

While the Obama administration appears to be convincing itself that there’s nothing wrong with the Muslim Brotherhood acquiring a monopoly on power in Egypt, it looks as if that country’s military is panicking about the prospect. Though the Egyptian presidential race–in which the Brotherhood’s candidate and one from an even more extreme Islamist party are the favorites–may be in a state of flux, the decision of a former key member of the army leadership to enter the race may be a sign the generals are far from confident about what may be about to happen in Cairo.

The entry of Omar Suleiman, who served as head of military intelligence during the regime of Hosni Mubarak, into Egypt’s presidential sweepstakes adds one more element of uncertainty in a situation that may be about to unravel. Suleiman, who reportedly is still close with the army’s ruling council, is a much-hated figure among both secular liberals and the Islamists for his role in suppressing dissent under the Mubarak dictatorship. Even though observers give him little chance of winning, the decision of the army to have one of their own get into the race may show just how scared they are of the Brotherhood and its allies imposing its beliefs on the country. The fact that President Obama isn’t scared too may be even more frightening to those Egyptians wondering what their fate will be once the Brotherhood assumes control of the presidency as well as the parliament and the constituent assembly writing a new constitution.

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While the Obama administration appears to be convincing itself that there’s nothing wrong with the Muslim Brotherhood acquiring a monopoly on power in Egypt, it looks as if that country’s military is panicking about the prospect. Though the Egyptian presidential race–in which the Brotherhood’s candidate and one from an even more extreme Islamist party are the favorites–may be in a state of flux, the decision of a former key member of the army leadership to enter the race may be a sign the generals are far from confident about what may be about to happen in Cairo.

The entry of Omar Suleiman, who served as head of military intelligence during the regime of Hosni Mubarak, into Egypt’s presidential sweepstakes adds one more element of uncertainty in a situation that may be about to unravel. Suleiman, who reportedly is still close with the army’s ruling council, is a much-hated figure among both secular liberals and the Islamists for his role in suppressing dissent under the Mubarak dictatorship. Even though observers give him little chance of winning, the decision of the army to have one of their own get into the race may show just how scared they are of the Brotherhood and its allies imposing its beliefs on the country. The fact that President Obama isn’t scared too may be even more frightening to those Egyptians wondering what their fate will be once the Brotherhood assumes control of the presidency as well as the parliament and the constituent assembly writing a new constitution.

As Eric Trager writes in The New Republic, the Brotherhood’s Washington offensive has convinced many in Washington that there is nothing to fear from their drive to obtain absolute power in Cairo. But for the military, which seemed for a while to be confident it could go on governing Egypt in partnership with the Brotherhood without allowing the latter to enact fundamental changes in society, the group’s behavior in recent months is alarming. Though it has presented a smiling face of tolerance to American journalists, as Trager points out, there has been no alteration of their ideology or of their determination to transform Egypt into a theocracy.

As for Suleiman, he can expect especially rough treatment from the Brotherhood if he actually gets on the ballot for the May election. As the Associated Press pointed out, the Islamists were quick to brand him not so much as the official torturer of the Mubarak era but as the man whose task it was to manage the country’s relationships with the United States and Israel. The Brotherhood’s mocking welcome to the Suleiman candidacy was to post a picture of him in which he is posed against the backdrop of an Israeli flag. Those administration officials confident that a Brotherhood-run Egypt will keep the peace treaty with Israel or remain an ally of the United States (for which they receive more than $1 billion in annual U.S. aid) may eventually have a lot of explaining to do.

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Romney Pulls Anti-Santorum Ads in Respect for Hospitalized Daughter

Mitt Romney didn’t have to cancel his anti-Santorum ads (at least there wasn’t any obvious political pressure for him to do so), but it was the right thing to do. The Romney campaign was set to bombard Rick Santorum with negative ads in Pennsylvania, a state Santorum will have even more trouble winning now that he’s canceled his campaign events for the next few days to stay by his young daughter Bella’s hospital bedside.

ABC News reports:

With Rick Santorum’s young daughter, Bella, in the hospital, Mitt Romney is yanking a negative television ad from the Pennsylvania airwaves “until further notice,” campaign officials said on Monday.

The ad, part of the Romney campaign’s plan to blanket Pennsylvania media markets ahead of the state’s April 24 primary, was originally meant to remind voters of Santorum’s landslide 2006 Senate re-election loss …

“We have done this out of deference to Sen. Santorum’s decision to suspend his campaign for personal family reasons,” Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for the former Massachusetts governor said in a statement. Saul said the campaign informed television stations to pull the ad Monday morning and that broadcasters would “comply with this request as soon as they are technically able.”

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Mitt Romney didn’t have to cancel his anti-Santorum ads (at least there wasn’t any obvious political pressure for him to do so), but it was the right thing to do. The Romney campaign was set to bombard Rick Santorum with negative ads in Pennsylvania, a state Santorum will have even more trouble winning now that he’s canceled his campaign events for the next few days to stay by his young daughter Bella’s hospital bedside.

ABC News reports:

With Rick Santorum’s young daughter, Bella, in the hospital, Mitt Romney is yanking a negative television ad from the Pennsylvania airwaves “until further notice,” campaign officials said on Monday.

The ad, part of the Romney campaign’s plan to blanket Pennsylvania media markets ahead of the state’s April 24 primary, was originally meant to remind voters of Santorum’s landslide 2006 Senate re-election loss …

“We have done this out of deference to Sen. Santorum’s decision to suspend his campaign for personal family reasons,” Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for the former Massachusetts governor said in a statement. Saul said the campaign informed television stations to pull the ad Monday morning and that broadcasters would “comply with this request as soon as they are technically able.”

It’s a heartbreaking situation, and Romney really showed a lot of decency with this move. There is a lot at stake for Santorum in Pennsylvania, including pride, home-state redemption and the future of his presidential campaign. But that’s all static at the moment. Santorum is with his daughter, as he needs to be, and Romney is wisely holding his fire.

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Mitt-Bibi Controversy? Aren’t Allies Supposed to Be Friends?

For generations, historians have lauded the friendship that existed between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill as being a crucial element that made the wartime alliance between the United States and Great Britain a success. But apparently there are some people who aren’t as happy about the prospect of close relations between a would-be U.S. president and the head of the government of one of America’s closest allies. The New York Times devoted a portion of the cover of its Sunday edition and considerable space inside to a feature that detailed the ties between likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that go back to the 1970’s when both were young men working at the Boston Consulting Group. According to the Times, this has some people worried that too much “deference” on Romney’s part to Netanyahu would “influence decision making” and possibly “subcontract Middle East policy to Israel.”

This potential smear invokes two of the hoary canards of anti-Israel invective: the dual loyalty charge (usually lodged against American Jews) and the notion that a politician is pandering to the pro-Israel community for votes (in this case, evangelical Christians are the more likely candidates for influence than the more liberal Jews). But the idea that Romney is suspect because he has a longstanding friendship with the Israeli prime minister is absurd. Allies are supposed to be friends or at least ought to be able to understand each other and speak frankly about potential conflicts. Given that President Obama spent the first three years of his presidency picking fights with Netanyahu that did nothing to enhance America’s strategic position or the Middle East peace process, wouldn’t Romney’s ability to communicate without rancor with the Israeli be an advantage rather than a cause of suspicion?

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For generations, historians have lauded the friendship that existed between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill as being a crucial element that made the wartime alliance between the United States and Great Britain a success. But apparently there are some people who aren’t as happy about the prospect of close relations between a would-be U.S. president and the head of the government of one of America’s closest allies. The New York Times devoted a portion of the cover of its Sunday edition and considerable space inside to a feature that detailed the ties between likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that go back to the 1970’s when both were young men working at the Boston Consulting Group. According to the Times, this has some people worried that too much “deference” on Romney’s part to Netanyahu would “influence decision making” and possibly “subcontract Middle East policy to Israel.”

This potential smear invokes two of the hoary canards of anti-Israel invective: the dual loyalty charge (usually lodged against American Jews) and the notion that a politician is pandering to the pro-Israel community for votes (in this case, evangelical Christians are the more likely candidates for influence than the more liberal Jews). But the idea that Romney is suspect because he has a longstanding friendship with the Israeli prime minister is absurd. Allies are supposed to be friends or at least ought to be able to understand each other and speak frankly about potential conflicts. Given that President Obama spent the first three years of his presidency picking fights with Netanyahu that did nothing to enhance America’s strategic position or the Middle East peace process, wouldn’t Romney’s ability to communicate without rancor with the Israeli be an advantage rather than a cause of suspicion?

Close allies and friends can disagree and often do as did Roosevelt and Churchill. We imagine the same would apply to Romney and Netanyahu. The idea that a Romney administration would “subcontract Middle East policy to Israel” is nonsense. The U.S. is always going to view events through the prism of its own specific interests, as does Israel. But problems arise not so much because of the existence of these different frames of reference but from a failure of leaders to be able to communicate their positions and to understand those of their ally’s. In this case, the ability of Romney and Netanyahu to understand each other’s thinking will enhance not only the security of Israel but of the United States.

With Obama, whose lack of affinity for Israel is obvious and distaste for Netanyahu is a matter of public record, the prime minister has good reason to doubt the word of the president when he asks Israel to forbear from taking certain actions or to defer to America’s wishes. It is possible that Romney would have far more latitude to press the Israelis because, as was the case between George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon, there will be a strong sense of trust. Whether that would work out to Israel’s benefit is an open question, but at a time when both nations are facing a deadly nuclear threat from Iran, more trust and communication between Washington and Jerusalem is certainly to be welcomed.

It is true that some found Romney’s debate line in which disparaged Newt Gingrich’s quip about the Palestinians being an invented people disturbing. Romney said, “Before I made a statement of that nature, I’d get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say: ‘Would it help if I say this? What would you like me to do?’” But it makes perfect sense that any American president would wish to confer with the prime minister of Israel before launching any barb at the Palestinians, let alone a policy change. That is not the case with Obama, who has frequently sought to ambush the Israeli.

Lest anyone think Romney and Netanyahu are blood brothers, the Times feature ought to make it clear the two have not exactly been in constant contact since they first met in 1976. They knew and admired each other as successful young men working together but only renewed that friendship many years later after Romney was elected governor of Massachusetts. The fact that Romney worked for a time with Netanyahu’s second wife Fleur Cates, something that the Times throws in for ballast, is irrelevant to this discussion as he divorced her almost 30 years ago.

The only way a close knowledge and good relationship with Israel’s prime minister could be considered a drawback in an American president is if you thought there was something questionable about the alliance between the two countries in the first place. Those who promote the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel Lobby canard about U.S. supporters of Israel being disloyal to the United States will, no doubt, regard the Romney-Netanyahu friendship as a reason to vote against the Republican. They will, no doubt prefer a president like Obama who sees an Islamist such as Turkey’s Recey Tayyip Erdoğan as the sort of foreign leader he feels more comfortable with. But for the vast majority of Americans who think of Israel in much the same way as they once thought of Britain — as a wartime ally — it will be one more argument in Romney’s favor.

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Operation “Romney-is-Human” Begins

One of the biggest challenges for the Romney campaign will be humanizing him, and his down-to-earth wife is clearly the most powerful weapon it can deploy on this front. The campaign released a sentimental video today of Ann Romney discussing the ups and downs of raising their five sons together, as old home movie footage and pictures play in the background.

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One of the biggest challenges for the Romney campaign will be humanizing him, and his down-to-earth wife is clearly the most powerful weapon it can deploy on this front. The campaign released a sentimental video today of Ann Romney discussing the ups and downs of raising their five sons together, as old home movie footage and pictures play in the background.

The pictures and stories paint an image of a family that – even with its “practical jokes” and “mischievousness,” as Ann Romney puts it – seems too perfect for this world. And not because Ann Romney’s portrait of her family life is unrealistic or unusual. Just because that concept of a “normal” family is no longer an ideal we’re used to seeing on screen.

President Obama’s broken family, George W. Bush’s mid-life struggle with alcohol abuse, and Bill Clinton’s public and private infidelity all seem more fitting with modern society, not only because these lifestyles are more in-tune with the average family, but because we’ve become accustomed to the idea that dysfunction is normal.

Ann Romney’s video is a good start at softening her husband’s image and making him appear more like a person – a kind, considerate and caring person, judging from the video – and less of a two-dimensional cutout. If the campaign can keep this up, they will succeed at humanizing Romney. But helping him resonate with Americans whose visions of home life are currently being shaped by the Kardashians, the “Jersey Shore” and “Glee,” might prove more difficult.

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Barack Obama and Racial Double Standards

Late last week I heard from a theologian of liberal leanings, someone with whom I have been in (often friendly) correspondence for years. He wrote me to voice his objections to my recent “diatribes” against President Obama. That didn’t particularly surprise me. What did surprise me is how he framed his objections. He didn’t take issue with the facts I’ve presented or even my interpretation of the facts. Rather, his concerns were expressed this way:

When I read your constant barrages aimed at the first black president, I think to myself, “Doesn’t Pete, the devout Christian, understand what it took to get to this place? And where would Pete have been in the years of the freedom struggle that finally eventuated in some measure of equality for African-Americans and even a black president?” Isn’t there some way you can temper your attacks on Obama with this history in mind?

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Late last week I heard from a theologian of liberal leanings, someone with whom I have been in (often friendly) correspondence for years. He wrote me to voice his objections to my recent “diatribes” against President Obama. That didn’t particularly surprise me. What did surprise me is how he framed his objections. He didn’t take issue with the facts I’ve presented or even my interpretation of the facts. Rather, his concerns were expressed this way:

When I read your constant barrages aimed at the first black president, I think to myself, “Doesn’t Pete, the devout Christian, understand what it took to get to this place? And where would Pete have been in the years of the freedom struggle that finally eventuated in some measure of equality for African-Americans and even a black president?” Isn’t there some way you can temper your attacks on Obama with this history in mind?

In a follow-up note to me, he elaborated on this matter, saying, “The presidency of an African -American is a dramatic symbol of the advances in the struggle for human rights in this country so long denied to black citizens. Unless you have a record deep in the civil rights struggle, relentless attacks on this symbol will be seen as giving aid and comfort to, if not an expression of, the latent racism that is still much with us in this country. That is why criticisms of this president-as-symbol are not to be made in the same way as the conventional political fisticuffs.”

This was, I thought, an instructive, if discouraging, window into the modern liberal mind.

Set aside the fact that this country that is so filled with “latent racism” elected Obama by the largest margin of any Democratic since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and that he took office with extraordinary good will from the American people.

For the sake of the argument, let’s stipulate that my criticisms of the president are, in fact, entirely justified based on the facts and the record. It would still not matter to him. Why? Because this “president-as-symbol” means he should be held to a different standard than a non-African American. Normal standards of truth, evidence and argument no longer apply. Obama needs to be treated with kid gloves — even if he makes false and malicious charges against others and, in the process, does great damage to our civic and political culture.

To put it another way: the theologian I heard from is insisting that my criticisms of President Obama need to be muted because he is a black man — and unless I have a “record deep in the civil rights struggle” (I was barely out of diapers during the Selma-to-Montgomery marches) criticizing him in the ways I have will “be seen as giving aid and comfort to, if not an expression of, the latent racism that is still much with us in this country.” So there you have it: laying out my philosophical and political disagreements with Obama, in the manner I have, is stoking racist elements in American society — and if I don’t want to be complicit in the rise of racial hatred in America, I need to “temper” my “attacks” on the president.

I pointed out to my interlocutor that (a) being a Christian doesn’t mean one must accept bad arguments and (b) accepting his critique is condescending. He has convinced himself that he is standing up for blacks and civil rights even as he is saying that we cannot treat them as equals. The rules that apply to others don’t apply to America’s first African-American president. Those who are advancing such a view are doing blacks no favor — and I for one cannot believe that President Obama would want to be judged by the color of his skin (which is what this theologian is insisting on) rather than the content of his character and the quality of his record.

The proposition that because Obama is the first black president we should treat him differently than we would treat a non-black is one many of us simply reject. A color-blind standard is of course at the heart of the case laid out by Martin Luther King Jr.

Ten days after President Obama took office, I offered four predictions, the first of which was this one: “while Obama is riding high, race relations will be excellent. But once Obama goes down in the polls and he does things that elicit criticism, be prepared for the ‘race card’ to be played. If it is, then race relations could be set back, because the charges will be so transparently false. If race was used by Obamacons against Bill Clinton, it will certainly be used against Republicans.”

That prediction has played itself out innumerable times since the dawn of the Obama Era. And it’s only going to get worse, as my recent exchange shows.

 

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M.J. Rosenberg Out at Media Matters

Under pressure from the pro-Israel community, embattled former Media Matters for America fellow M.J. Rosenberg has finally parted ways with the left-wing media watchdog group. As Contentions has reported, Rosenberg was one of a handful of staffers at Democratic-affiliated Washington think tanks who used terms like “Israel-firster” and other dual-loyalty charges to attack Israel supporters and members of the Jewish community.

WFB’s Adam Kredo reports on Rosenberg’s resignation:

Months of public pressure and outrage from across the pro-Israel spectrum forced Media Matters for America staffer M.J. Rosenberg to tender his resignation Friday from the left-wing media watchdog group.

Rosenberg is the notorious proprietor of the term “Israel-firster,” a phrase with origins in the white supremacist movement that many consider anti-Semitic. During his tenure at MMFA, Rosenberg proudly used the term in his weekly columns and on his Twitter feed in an attempt to paint pro-Israel lawmakers and American Jews as being more loyal to the state of Israel than America.

In a final post titled, Last Media Matters Column, Rosenberg signed off by admitting that he had tarnished the liberal group’s image.

“The reason for this step is that it disturbed me greatly to see an organization to which I am devoted facing possible harm because of my critical writings about Israel,” he wrote. “I have no doubt that the crowd that opposes any and all criticism of Israeli government policies will continue to turn its guns on Media Matters if I am associated with it.”

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Under pressure from the pro-Israel community, embattled former Media Matters for America fellow M.J. Rosenberg has finally parted ways with the left-wing media watchdog group. As Contentions has reported, Rosenberg was one of a handful of staffers at Democratic-affiliated Washington think tanks who used terms like “Israel-firster” and other dual-loyalty charges to attack Israel supporters and members of the Jewish community.

WFB’s Adam Kredo reports on Rosenberg’s resignation:

Months of public pressure and outrage from across the pro-Israel spectrum forced Media Matters for America staffer M.J. Rosenberg to tender his resignation Friday from the left-wing media watchdog group.

Rosenberg is the notorious proprietor of the term “Israel-firster,” a phrase with origins in the white supremacist movement that many consider anti-Semitic. During his tenure at MMFA, Rosenberg proudly used the term in his weekly columns and on his Twitter feed in an attempt to paint pro-Israel lawmakers and American Jews as being more loyal to the state of Israel than America.

In a final post titled, Last Media Matters Column, Rosenberg signed off by admitting that he had tarnished the liberal group’s image.

“The reason for this step is that it disturbed me greatly to see an organization to which I am devoted facing possible harm because of my critical writings about Israel,” he wrote. “I have no doubt that the crowd that opposes any and all criticism of Israeli government policies will continue to turn its guns on Media Matters if I am associated with it.”

Rosenberg maintains he wasn’t forced out, and says he chose to leave because he felt his position opened the organization up to attacks. Either way, the implication is that Rosenberg’s continued affiliation with MMFA was damaging its image. His decision is best for both sides. Rosenberg saves face by saying he left on his own accord, and MMFA gets rid of one of its biggest headaches.

A little credit for MMFA. Breaking with Rosenberg is an acknowledgement that the organization may want to move closer to the center on Israel issues. But that credit only goes so far – after all, MMFA still defended Rosenberg for months after Ben Smith first drew attention to his anti-Semitic, dual-loyalty slurs in a Politico article. There have been no public apologies from the organization, and there were no apparent attempts to rein in Rosenberg’s continued attacks on Israel supporters during the past several months. Instead, the two cut ties on the afternoon of the first night of Passover, which is kind of like making a public announcement at 5 p.m. on New Years Eve.

Well, good for Rosenberg, who will undoubtedly find fringier outlets to promote his anti-Semitic “Israel lobby” conspiracies. And better for Israel policy writers, who no longer have any obligation to write about or pay attention to him. But maybe it wouldn’t have had to end this way if Rosenberg and MMFA hadn’t taken the cowardly way out – if admissions of wrongdoing, or apologies were made. Instead, they cut ties as quietly and unrepentantly as possible. And by doing so, the organization will continue to carry a small mark of shame.

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John Derbyshire and National Review: Why It Had to Happen

Over the weekend, my friend Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, was forced into a parting of the ways with his magazine’s and website’s long-time contributor, John Derbyshire. The dismissal was due to an article Derbyshire wrote for a site called Taki Magazine, taking off from the killing of Trayvon Martin.

I’m not going to rehash here the offense committed by the Derbyshire piece. Suffice it to say that this article, like much of what appears on that website and others like it, purports to take a “scientific” view of race relations according to which, inevitably, black people are helpless against DNA that supposedly causes them at once to be dumber and more violent than white people. These sorts of arguments are usually offered in a specious more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone or with an excruciatingly knowing world-weariness that serves as a secret club handshake with all those who know and are willing to accept the uncomfortable truths revealed by “science.”

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Over the weekend, my friend Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, was forced into a parting of the ways with his magazine’s and website’s long-time contributor, John Derbyshire. The dismissal was due to an article Derbyshire wrote for a site called Taki Magazine, taking off from the killing of Trayvon Martin.

I’m not going to rehash here the offense committed by the Derbyshire piece. Suffice it to say that this article, like much of what appears on that website and others like it, purports to take a “scientific” view of race relations according to which, inevitably, black people are helpless against DNA that supposedly causes them at once to be dumber and more violent than white people. These sorts of arguments are usually offered in a specious more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone or with an excruciatingly knowing world-weariness that serves as a secret club handshake with all those who know and are willing to accept the uncomfortable truths revealed by “science.”

What I think is worth discussing is the issue of what will be inevitably be raised in the days and weeks ahead by people discomfited by National Review‘s decision. First, they will say NR is violating Derbyshire’s freedom of speech. That is simply incorrect; freedom of speech in the United States is freedom from government coercion. It does not guarantee anyone access to a private organization’s ink and paper and server space, especially not when that private organization pays him. As Rich said in the post in which he announced the severing of NR‘s relationship with Derbyshire: “It’s a free country, and Derb can write whatever he wants, wherever he wants. Just not in the pages of NR or NRO, or as someone associated with NR any longer.”

Nonetheless, there will still be those who believe an injustice is being done to a writer who simply was telling the truth as he sees it. But websites and magazines do not exist solely to give writers a vehicle to speak to readers (though this is one of their primary intellectual, cultural, and aesthetic purposes). If they are not run to make money, but are mission-driven instead—as NR is and as COMMENTARY is as well—they exist to give shape and form and heft to a view of the world its writers and editors share. That view may be broad enough to contain contradictory opinions on various matters, but overall it is supposed to encompass a coherent vision of what the world is and what it should be. That is what we provide to our readers, and what our readers expect of us.

When a writer expresses an opinion about things that is not only different from, but in radical contradiction with the mission-driven institution’s view, that writer may be doing what he feels is necessary. But it is equally necessary for the institution to make clear whether that view can still be considered part of its overall vision or it is a pathogen that, left undisturbed, will destroy the institution’s own health.

Finally, they will say NR acted in a cowardly fashion and fell sway to political correctness; that Derbyshire was only exploring questions that discomfit the Establishment. This game of saying “I am only raising questions” has become the three-card monte of the intellectual world in recent years—a way of bringing up things in a glancing and suggestive way without taking responsibility for it. It has been deployed most egregiously by a blogger who has generated millions upon millions of page views “raising questions” for rage-fueled readers about whether Sarah Palin was in fact the mother of her own child.

Everybody makes mistakes. Writers make mistakes. Lord knows I’ve made plenty, and I am mindful of the notion that “there but for the grace of God go you.” What Derbyshire did was not a mistake. It was a coming-out. The noxious seeds that finally blossomed into full poisonous flower with his latest piece had been scattered throughout his writing for years. Recognizing his raw talent and interesting perspective on a variety of issues, Rich Lowry and National Review gave him the benefit of the doubt until there was no longer any doubt.

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Why Santorum Won’t Drop Out Now

Rick Santorum celebrated Easter and spent time with his family this weekend. He’ll spend Monday with his hospitalized 3-year-old daughter Bella whose fight for life has been an inspiring and sympathetic parallel journey to his campaign since its inception. All of this, along with the fact that there has been no major ad buys in the upcoming primary state of Pennsylvania, is fueling speculation that Santorum is considering pulling out. Given that he has virtually no chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination and stands to suffer a terrible humiliation if, as is entirely possible, he loses his home state primary later this month, there are good reasons why Santorum should do just that. But the betting here right now is that he won’t.

Though a veteran and in many ways a highly practical politician, Santorum has a vision of his career and his party that has never exactly conformed to what other people thought he should do. While this might be the right moment to cash in his chips after a remarkable primary run that brought him more success than anyone outside his inner circle thought possible, the thinking here is that he has gone too far to pull out now when he still thinks he could win at home and then do some more damage in the May primaries. Even more to the point, he may have come to the conclusion that being a “team player” and standing aside for frontrunner Mitt Romney will not materially aid the party or his long-range plans.

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Rick Santorum celebrated Easter and spent time with his family this weekend. He’ll spend Monday with his hospitalized 3-year-old daughter Bella whose fight for life has been an inspiring and sympathetic parallel journey to his campaign since its inception. All of this, along with the fact that there has been no major ad buys in the upcoming primary state of Pennsylvania, is fueling speculation that Santorum is considering pulling out. Given that he has virtually no chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination and stands to suffer a terrible humiliation if, as is entirely possible, he loses his home state primary later this month, there are good reasons why Santorum should do just that. But the betting here right now is that he won’t.

Though a veteran and in many ways a highly practical politician, Santorum has a vision of his career and his party that has never exactly conformed to what other people thought he should do. While this might be the right moment to cash in his chips after a remarkable primary run that brought him more success than anyone outside his inner circle thought possible, the thinking here is that he has gone too far to pull out now when he still thinks he could win at home and then do some more damage in the May primaries. Even more to the point, he may have come to the conclusion that being a “team player” and standing aside for frontrunner Mitt Romney will not materially aid the party or his long-range plans.

As Santorum made clear in his speech last week after losing the Wisconsin, Maryland and District of Columbia primaries, he views himself in the role that Ronald Reagan played in 1976 when the future president carried his challenge to incumbent president Gerald Ford all the way to the Republican convention that year. Unlike Reagan, who was locked in a virtual dead heat with Ford, Santorum is far behind in the delegate count. But he has been speaking as if he saw Romney as a certain loser in November, which would give him the same opportunity to pick up the pieces of a defeated party and lead it to victory the next time around as Reagan did in 1980. In that scenario, which envisions his name as being at the top of the list of 2016 contenders next January, there is no advantage to dropping out and acknowledging Romney as the nominee now.

There are those who consider this plan delusional. As some of the pundits said on yesterday’s Fox News Sunday panel, in the event Romney loses this year, Santorum would face some formidable competition in 2016 from the young GOP stars such as Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal, all of whom didn’t run this year. Most of the pundits think he won’t have a chance then, but Santorum has never been one to take their advice. Santorum’s 11 primary and caucus wins may have been a fluke created by some unique circumstances such as the failure of any conservative challenger to emerge, but social conservatives and others on the right are not any more likely to listen to the party’s so-called establishment in 2016 than they were this year. If another moderate Republican nominee goes down to Obama, conservatives are going to spend the next four years vowing not to let it happen again, and Santorum will have a leg up with them even if it is hard to imagine him ever winning the nomination if a genuine and viable conservative alternative steps forward.

Of course, this scenario will take a major hit if he loses Pennsylvania on April 24, because it will invoke the memory of his 2006 landslide defeat for re-election to the Senate, an event that many thought ended Santorum’s career and presidential hopes. Romney will invest the time and resources there and much of the state party apparatus will be backing him against Santorum. But dropping out now with just two weeks to go before the opportunity to win his home state will be just as humiliating as actually getting beaten at the polls. If he wants to run again, and I believe he does, there is no alternative but to stay in until he is mathematically eliminated.

Doing so is not so much a matter of strategic calculation as it is a reflection of the man’s character. If he were the sort of person who made political decisions based on a careful evaluation of the odds, he wouldn’t have tilted so far to the right during his second term in the Senate. Nor would he have run for re-election in 2006 or bothered to try for the presidency this year. He ran because he believed in himself and his message even if few others shared his view. He still does, perhaps more than ever after the last few months of unexpected triumphs.

The gap between Santorum’s vision of what his party should be doing and the reality of Romney being the inevitable nominee is considerable, but I don’t believe it will persuade him to drop out before facing the verdict of Pennsylvania Republicans. He may go down in flames again, but he is a true believer who won’t give up until he is forced to do so.

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