Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 12, 2012

We’re Taking a Break

Here at COMMENTARY/CONTENTIONS, we’re taking a three-day breather. Barring major news events requiring our attention, we’ll see you on Monday.

Here at COMMENTARY/CONTENTIONS, we’re taking a three-day breather. Barring major news events requiring our attention, we’ll see you on Monday.

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Dems Retrench in the “War on Women”?

From the staggering statistic released by the Republican National Committee that found women have lost 92.3 percent of all jobs lost since Obama took office, to yesterday’s scathing story on the gender pay gap in the Obama White House by the Washington Free Beacon, the GOP has started throwing the “war on women” rhetoric back into the faces of the Democrats who coined it.

And that was before the Hilary Rosen controversy erupted last night. Rosen has since apologized, and her statement appears to be more of a plea for a truce than a mea culpa:

“Let’s put the faux ‘war against stay at home moms’ to rest once and for all. As a mom I know that raising children is the hardest job there is. As a pundit, I know my words on CNN last night were poorly chosen. In response to Mitt Romney on the campaign trail referring to his wife as a better person to answer questions about women than he is, I was discussing his poor record on the plight of women’s financial struggles. Here is my more fulsome view of the issues. As a partner in a firm full of women who work outside of the home as well as stay at home mothers, all with plenty of children, gender equality is not a talking point for me. It is an issue I live every day. I apologize to Ann Romney and anyone else who was offended. Let’s declare peace in this phony war and go back to focus on the substance.”

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From the staggering statistic released by the Republican National Committee that found women have lost 92.3 percent of all jobs lost since Obama took office, to yesterday’s scathing story on the gender pay gap in the Obama White House by the Washington Free Beacon, the GOP has started throwing the “war on women” rhetoric back into the faces of the Democrats who coined it.

And that was before the Hilary Rosen controversy erupted last night. Rosen has since apologized, and her statement appears to be more of a plea for a truce than a mea culpa:

“Let’s put the faux ‘war against stay at home moms’ to rest once and for all. As a mom I know that raising children is the hardest job there is. As a pundit, I know my words on CNN last night were poorly chosen. In response to Mitt Romney on the campaign trail referring to his wife as a better person to answer questions about women than he is, I was discussing his poor record on the plight of women’s financial struggles. Here is my more fulsome view of the issues. As a partner in a firm full of women who work outside of the home as well as stay at home mothers, all with plenty of children, gender equality is not a talking point for me. It is an issue I live every day. I apologize to Ann Romney and anyone else who was offended. Let’s declare peace in this phony war and go back to focus on the substance.”

Many have noticed that Rosen is apologizing to anyone she offended as opposed to apologizing for the substance of her comments. They’re right about that, although I’m willing to give Rosen the benefit of the doubt. But Rosen’s choice of words at the end is interesting – she calls the controversy a “phony war,” which is basically what Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus was attacked for saying about the “war on women” last week. Any of the high-profile Democrats who have expressed outrage at Rosen’s initial comments – Debbie Wasserman Schultz and First Lady Michelle Obama to name just two – want to come out and take another swing at her for “belittling” legitimate concerns of stay-at-home moms?

This won’t be the last we’ll hear about the “war on women,” but it sounds like Democrats are at least ready to retrench for awhile after a rough week. As Priebus has indicated, the GOP also seems ready to put this narrative to rest.

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Explaining the Everlasting Palestinian “No”

It is an axiom of conventional wisdom about the Middle East that the government of Israel is a hard-line opponent of peace that must be pressured and cajoled to deal with the Palestinians for the sake of the survival of its people. This chestnut is an evergreen of foreign policy discussion used against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s predecessors that has always been false. But the persistence of this canard in the face of contrary evidence is testimony to the strength of anti-Israel prejudices among the chattering classes.

If this notion could survive the Palestinian leadership’s decision to turn down offers from Israel in 2000, 2001 and 2008 that would have given them a state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem, then it will certainly outlast today’s refusal of the Palestinian Authority of Netanyahu’s offer of peace talks without preconditions. Nevertheless, those wondering why such an ardent supporter of the Palestinians like President Obama has abandoned them in the last year can’t blame it all on election year politics. Having staked out positions and picked fights with the Israelis to tilt the diplomatic playing field to the Palestinians directly, even he understands there’s no point getting into arguments for the sake of a group that simply won’t talk, let alone make peace, under any conditions.

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It is an axiom of conventional wisdom about the Middle East that the government of Israel is a hard-line opponent of peace that must be pressured and cajoled to deal with the Palestinians for the sake of the survival of its people. This chestnut is an evergreen of foreign policy discussion used against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s predecessors that has always been false. But the persistence of this canard in the face of contrary evidence is testimony to the strength of anti-Israel prejudices among the chattering classes.

If this notion could survive the Palestinian leadership’s decision to turn down offers from Israel in 2000, 2001 and 2008 that would have given them a state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem, then it will certainly outlast today’s refusal of the Palestinian Authority of Netanyahu’s offer of peace talks without preconditions. Nevertheless, those wondering why such an ardent supporter of the Palestinians like President Obama has abandoned them in the last year can’t blame it all on election year politics. Having staked out positions and picked fights with the Israelis to tilt the diplomatic playing field to the Palestinians directly, even he understands there’s no point getting into arguments for the sake of a group that simply won’t talk, let alone make peace, under any conditions.

The Palestinians claim their refusal of negotiations is based on the idea that it is pointless to talk if Israel isn’t going to concede every point of contention such as borders and settlements in advance. Part of this is, however, Obama’s fault. Since he demanded three years ago that Israel freeze settlement building as a precondition to negotiations — something that not even the Palestinians had thought of prior to 2009 — it is difficult for PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to insist on anything less. But since Israel already froze building in the West Bank in 2010 and Abbas still wouldn’t talk, the point is moot.

The fact is, neither Abbas or his Hamas coalition partners have any intention of ever signing a piece of paper that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state and therefore end the conflict for all time. This is something that even Obama is beginning to understand, but it is one that many liberals and others who think the struggle over this tiny plot of land is about borders find inexplicable. Yet, it is actually quite easy to understand.

Palestinian nationalism flowered in the last century not as an attempt to recreate an ancient ethnic or national identity or to recover a dying language or culture, as was the case with nationalist revivals in places like Ireland, the Czech Republic or even the Jewish movement of Zionism. Rather, it was a reaction to the Jewish return to the land. Though apologists for the Palestinians contend that it was not a purely negative movement, it is impossible to understand Palestinian nationalism as anything but an effort to prevent Zionism from succeeding. Its essence is the illegitimacy of the Jewish state, and any effort to wean it from that belief constitutes a contradiction that the Palestinian grass roots and its vast refugee diaspora simply cannot accept.

It is this everlasting Palestinian “no” that is the basic fact of the Middle East conflict that cannot be talked out of existence. Nor can it be charmed away by Israeli concessions that stop short of the destruction of the Jewish state.

Anyone who doesn’t comprehend this will never be able to explain this latest Palestinian refusal to talk, those that came before it, and the inevitable “no’s” that will follow.

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The President’s Intellectual Exhaustion

Everyone from President Obama to Jason Furman, the principal deputy director of the White House National Economic Council, to the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank to Politico’s Jim VandeHei, agree that the so-called Buffett Rule is a gimmick that has almost no bearing on the budget deficit. And for good reason. The Treasury Department confirms that the tax would raise at most $5 billion a year—or less than 0.5 percent of the $1.2 trillion fiscal 2012 budget deficit and, over the next decade, 0.1 percent of the $45.43 trillion the federal government will spend (for more, see here). By one estimate, the “Buffett Rule” would cover 17 days of the president’s next decade of deficits. So it’s not, in any sense, a serious or meaningful proposal. And yet it has, as the New York Times reports, become a “centerpiece” of the Obama re-election campaign.

So there you have it. The Obama presidency has reached the point where a policy that virtually everyone (including the president) concedes is a gimmick is now a centerpiece of Obama’s campaign.

There are many ways to measure the intellectual exhaustion of the Obama presidency. This isn’t a bad place to start.

Everyone from President Obama to Jason Furman, the principal deputy director of the White House National Economic Council, to the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank to Politico’s Jim VandeHei, agree that the so-called Buffett Rule is a gimmick that has almost no bearing on the budget deficit. And for good reason. The Treasury Department confirms that the tax would raise at most $5 billion a year—or less than 0.5 percent of the $1.2 trillion fiscal 2012 budget deficit and, over the next decade, 0.1 percent of the $45.43 trillion the federal government will spend (for more, see here). By one estimate, the “Buffett Rule” would cover 17 days of the president’s next decade of deficits. So it’s not, in any sense, a serious or meaningful proposal. And yet it has, as the New York Times reports, become a “centerpiece” of the Obama re-election campaign.

So there you have it. The Obama presidency has reached the point where a policy that virtually everyone (including the president) concedes is a gimmick is now a centerpiece of Obama’s campaign.

There are many ways to measure the intellectual exhaustion of the Obama presidency. This isn’t a bad place to start.

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Obama, Friend of the Gays Only at Fundraisers?

Last year, at a fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign (a lobbying organization for LGBT Americans) President Obama said: 

“We don’t believe in a small America. We don’t believe in the kind of smallness that says it’s okay for a stage full of political leaders — one of whom could end up being the president of the United States — being silent when an American soldier is booed. We don’t believe in that. We don’t believe in standing silent when that happens. We don’t believe in them being silent since. You want to be commander-in-chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it’s not politically convenient.”

Despite these remarks, Obama has remained silent on his position on gay marriage, claiming that it is still “evolving.”
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Last year, at a fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign (a lobbying organization for LGBT Americans) President Obama said: 

“We don’t believe in a small America. We don’t believe in the kind of smallness that says it’s okay for a stage full of political leaders — one of whom could end up being the president of the United States — being silent when an American soldier is booed. We don’t believe in that. We don’t believe in standing silent when that happens. We don’t believe in them being silent since. You want to be commander-in-chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it’s not politically convenient.”

Despite these remarks, Obama has remained silent on his position on gay marriage, claiming that it is still “evolving.”

Two months ago, Obama cashed in on good will in the gay community, making more than $1.4 million at a fundraiser held at the home of two D.C.-area lesbians. At the fundraiser, he reportedly “promised to ‘keep on pushing’ for equal rights but did not discuss gay marriage.” U.S. News reported that the president remarked, 

“The work that we’ve done with the LGBT community, I think, is just profoundly American,” Obama said. “You should be judged on the merits. That’s at the heart of the American dream. That’s how you should be judged, not by what you look like, not by how you worship, not by where you come from, not by who you love.”

Eight weeks later, it seems the president doesn’t really care about gay Americans being judged on their merits as employees of the federal government. As Alana discussed earlier, the New York Times reports that the president has refused to sign a new executive order banning discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender people working for or seeking employment from federal contractors. Statements from the Human Rights Campaign and the Center for American Progress made clear that the gay community’s disappointment is palpable enough to be aired publicly.

While Obama has touted his repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” it appears that he is only willing to fight for the right of LGBT Americans to fight and die for their country, not work for it. The president’s refusal to support same-sex marriage has plagued his relationship with the far Left, which apparently held the hope that Obama wasn’t the politician he has shown himself to be. Inexplicably, his silence on human rights abuses against gays worldwide hasn’t been a source of trouble for an Obama campaign relying heavily on gay donor support. This latest refusal to take a stand for “gay rights” outside of fundraisers could (and should) seriously impact the president’s appeal to a far Left base that campaigned and fundraised heavily for him during the 2008 cycle.

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Was Rosen Speaking for Obama Campaign?

The firestorm over Hilary Rosen’s Ann Romney comments spilled over into a conference call with Republican congresswomen this morning, as they shot back at the Democratic strategist and claimed the Obama campaign bears some responsibility for her remarks.

The Wall Street Journal reported in February Rosen was brought on as a consultant for Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. According to Romney-backer Rep. Cynthia Lummis, Rosen gave no indication that she was “freelancing” when she attacked Ann Romney’s work record on “Anderson Cooper 360″ last night.

“Clearly [the Obama campaign is] using surrogate women, including Hilary Rosen who is a paid spokesperson, to deliver messages about Republicans that the president does not want to deliver himself for fear of the backlash,” she said.

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The firestorm over Hilary Rosen’s Ann Romney comments spilled over into a conference call with Republican congresswomen this morning, as they shot back at the Democratic strategist and claimed the Obama campaign bears some responsibility for her remarks.

The Wall Street Journal reported in February Rosen was brought on as a consultant for Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. According to Romney-backer Rep. Cynthia Lummis, Rosen gave no indication that she was “freelancing” when she attacked Ann Romney’s work record on “Anderson Cooper 360″ last night.

“Clearly [the Obama campaign is] using surrogate women, including Hilary Rosen who is a paid spokesperson, to deliver messages about Republicans that the president does not want to deliver himself for fear of the backlash,” she said.

The DNC denied the two-month-old Wall Street Journal report today, saying it had no relationship with Rosen. Spokesperson Bob Woodhouse told the Miami Herald that the DNC’s contract “is exclusively with Anita Dunn.” Rosen works at Dunn’s firm, SKDKnickerbocker, so that elucidation doesn’t really mean much (fun fact: SKDKnickerbocker is also the firm that represents Sandra Fluke).

This is a critical moment for the Obama campaign as it attempts to publicly define Mitt Romney as uncaring, out-of-touch, weird, awkward, and far right-wing. Ann Romney helps counter all of that. She’s widely liked, charming, and down-to-earth, and she’s been playing a major role in softening her husband’s image and reaching out to women voters. In other words, she’s a threat to Obama’s reelection chances. While the Obama campaign can’t chip away at her image directly, it can have ostensible outsiders do it for them. Whether that’s what happened in this case is yet to be determined, but judging from DWS’s apologetic tweet today, the DNC is trying to untangle itself from this damaging controversy as quickly as possible.

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Catholics Shouldn’t Stand Alone in Religious Freedom Fight

All it took was an ill-advised quip from Rush Limbaugh to turn the national debate about ObamaCare from concerns about religious freedom to one about an imaginary Republican war on women. But the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops are trying to refocus Americans on the threats to their religious liberty with a “Fortnight for Freedom” program planned for July in which they hope to get people discussing the ways in which the government is seeking to infringe on their rights to worship. Though predictably liberals are branding this as an effort to help Republicans, this is exactly the sort of project in which all faiths ought to participate.

The manifesto issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is an important document that is neither partisan nor an attempt to inflame sentiments on divisive issues. Rather, it is a sensible alarm issued to arouse Catholics to the insidious manner various government orders and legislation has sought to abridge religious rights. Examples include draconian immigration laws that conservatives have promulgated in Alabama. But is inevitable that the lion’s share of attention will be given to their citation of the way President Obama’s signature health care bill will force Catholic institutions to pay for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs as well as the way various municipalities have driven Catholic agencies out of adoption and foster care services because of its stand on same-sex couples. Though non-Catholics, as well as many Catholics, may not agree with the church’s beliefs, it is vital they stand in solidarity with its call for freedom.

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All it took was an ill-advised quip from Rush Limbaugh to turn the national debate about ObamaCare from concerns about religious freedom to one about an imaginary Republican war on women. But the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops are trying to refocus Americans on the threats to their religious liberty with a “Fortnight for Freedom” program planned for July in which they hope to get people discussing the ways in which the government is seeking to infringe on their rights to worship. Though predictably liberals are branding this as an effort to help Republicans, this is exactly the sort of project in which all faiths ought to participate.

The manifesto issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is an important document that is neither partisan nor an attempt to inflame sentiments on divisive issues. Rather, it is a sensible alarm issued to arouse Catholics to the insidious manner various government orders and legislation has sought to abridge religious rights. Examples include draconian immigration laws that conservatives have promulgated in Alabama. But is inevitable that the lion’s share of attention will be given to their citation of the way President Obama’s signature health care bill will force Catholic institutions to pay for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs as well as the way various municipalities have driven Catholic agencies out of adoption and foster care services because of its stand on same-sex couples. Though non-Catholics, as well as many Catholics, may not agree with the church’s beliefs, it is vital they stand in solidarity with its call for freedom.

The blather about a fictional war on women has distracted the nation from the fact that while no one is actually preventing anyone from obtaining birth control, having an abortion or infringing on the rights of gays these days, the rights of Catholics not to support activities that contradict their faith is under siege. The issue, as the bishops rightly put it, is not so much whether Catholics are allowed to gather in their churches or pray as they like at home but whether they and their institutions are to go on being permitted to participate in our national life.

The principle at stake here is one in which it is clear that if the government gives itself the right to impose practices that contradict religious principles in this manner, it will fundamentally alter what the bishops rightly call our “first, most precious liberty” of freedom of religion.

As unfortunate as this movement to infringe upon religious liberty is, what is most distressing is the way the church has been largely allowed to face these attacks on its own. It is no small irony that many Jews who are zealous in their reaction to anything that might be construed as a violation of the separation of church and state or to impose majority beliefs on adherents of minority faiths or no faith at all are standing aside in this fight or opposing the church.

Laws that seek to force Catholics to subsidize actions that contradict their beliefs are, as the manifesto says, “unjust” and ought to be opposed by all people of good faith. In this context, the greatest tragedy would be if the church were left isolated in this battle because Democrats and liberals fear that advocacy on this issue undermines President Obama’s re-election. Far from the church playing the partisan here, it is those on the other side of this debate who are defending the indefensible simply because not to do so involves the defeat of ObamaCare.

The bishops write, “To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other.” The same sentence applies to Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Mormons and any other group including atheists who should be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Catholics in defense of religious freedom.

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Income Inequality and the Buffett Rule

In his post this morning on Liberals, Conservatives, and Tax Fairness, Peter Wehner writes,

Liberals are correct about this: income inequality has increased over recent decades. The task of conservatives is to give a full and fair picture of income gaps in America, to explain what is behind it, and to point out the injustice of the left’s remedies and the degree to which their proposals represent a radical departure from America’s ideals.

I could hardly agree more, and agree that his excellent article in National Affairs, “How to Think About Inequality,” is a great place to start.

I would add one more reason why income inequality has grown in recent decades, and it’s not a small one: technology. Whenever a major new technology develops, it causes a marked and sudden inflorescence of new fortunes that greatly exceed the old fortunes. This happened with railroads (Vanderbilt, Gould, Harriman, Hill, etc.), steel (Carnegie, Phipps, Frick, Schwab, etc.), automobiles (Ford, Dodge, Sloan, Kettering, Mott, etc.), petroleum (Rockefeller, Flagler, Archbold, etc.) For each of those megafortunes, there were hundreds of others whose possessors were merely very rich, not Forbes-400 rich.

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In his post this morning on Liberals, Conservatives, and Tax Fairness, Peter Wehner writes,

Liberals are correct about this: income inequality has increased over recent decades. The task of conservatives is to give a full and fair picture of income gaps in America, to explain what is behind it, and to point out the injustice of the left’s remedies and the degree to which their proposals represent a radical departure from America’s ideals.

I could hardly agree more, and agree that his excellent article in National Affairs, “How to Think About Inequality,” is a great place to start.

I would add one more reason why income inequality has grown in recent decades, and it’s not a small one: technology. Whenever a major new technology develops, it causes a marked and sudden inflorescence of new fortunes that greatly exceed the old fortunes. This happened with railroads (Vanderbilt, Gould, Harriman, Hill, etc.), steel (Carnegie, Phipps, Frick, Schwab, etc.), automobiles (Ford, Dodge, Sloan, Kettering, Mott, etc.), petroleum (Rockefeller, Flagler, Archbold, etc.) For each of those megafortunes, there were hundreds of others whose possessors were merely very rich, not Forbes-400 rich.

The microprocessor is the most profound technology since the steam engine and has, therefore, created an inflorescence of fortunes such as has never been seen before. Of the 400 people on the Forbes List for 2011, no fewer than 48 of them are categorized as having fortunes based on “technology.” Many other fortunes on the list, such as those of the Walton family, which founded Walmart, would not have been possible without the microprocessor. And again, for every one of these billion dollar new fortunes, there are dozens of multi-million dollar ones and million dollar ones. The wealth creation caused by the microprocessor is astonishing.

And these new fortunes can arise with amazing speed. Instagram, which developed a photo-sharing technology, was founded in October 2010, and was bought this month for $1 billion. The buyer was Facebook, which was founded in 2004. Facebook’s principal stockholder, Mark Zuckerberg, who is all of 27 years old, is worth $17.5 billion, according to Forbes. He will be a lot richer still when Facebook’s IPO launches soon.

This process, inevitably, causes income inequality to widen. To suppress the process, i.e., to prevent the creation of these great new fortunes, would be to suppress wealth creation itself, economic idiocy of the highest order. No one is one dime the poorer because the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Michael Dell have become multi-billionaires in the last few years. We are all richer thanks to them. (That includes me, who is writing this on a brand new Dell computer that works great. Thanks, Mike!)

And while we should certainly take the issue of income equality seriously, I’m not at all sure we should take President Obama’s remedy du jour—the Buffett Rule—seriously at all. It’s nothing but an attempt to double the tax on capital gains in the name of “fairness,” the most subjective term in the American political vocabulary. I like John Hinderaker’s suggestion on Powerline:

So how about if the GOP responds to any legislation incorporating the Buffett Rule by seeing the Democrats their demagoguery and raising them with a couple of demagogic proposals of their own, in the form of proposed amendments? The Republicans could say, sure, we’ll go along with the Buffett Rule if you Democrats will agree to the Reynolds Tax, a 50 percent surtax on the increased incomes of former government officials when they move into the private sector, working for the same companies they once regulated. Or Republicans could offer an amendment incorporating the Clooney Rule, based on the fact that actors and actresses are such advocates of higher taxes: a new, 80 percent tax rate on all income in excess of $1 million earned by acting in any film or theatrical production. Or they could counter with the K Street Rule, an 80 percent tax on all income in excess of $1 million earned by lobbying. Or the Ambulance Chaser Tax, an 80 percent levy on all lawyer contingent fee income in excess of 10 percent of a recovery. (That one would provoke howling from coast to coast, from one of the Democrats’ prime constituencies.)

Conservatives should treat the Buffett Rule with the contempt it deserves.

 

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Obama Punts on Gay Rights Order

President Obama, who recently vowed to bypass the Washington gridlock by churning out executive orders, has suddenly decided he can wait for Congress to do its job, at least when it comes to controversial laws that he’d prefer not to make unilateral decisions on. The New York Times reports:

President Obama disappointed and vexed gay supporters on Wednesday with his decision, conveyed to activists by a senior adviser, not to sign an executive order banning discrimination by employers with federal contracts.

The executive order, which activists said had support from the Labor and Justice Departments, would have applied to gay, bisexual and transgender people working for or seeking employment from federal contractors. Current law does not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and legislation to do so, which Mr. Obama endorses, lacks sufficient votes in Congress.

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President Obama, who recently vowed to bypass the Washington gridlock by churning out executive orders, has suddenly decided he can wait for Congress to do its job, at least when it comes to controversial laws that he’d prefer not to make unilateral decisions on. The New York Times reports:

President Obama disappointed and vexed gay supporters on Wednesday with his decision, conveyed to activists by a senior adviser, not to sign an executive order banning discrimination by employers with federal contracts.

The executive order, which activists said had support from the Labor and Justice Departments, would have applied to gay, bisexual and transgender people working for or seeking employment from federal contractors. Current law does not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and legislation to do so, which Mr. Obama endorses, lacks sufficient votes in Congress.

According to Think Progress, which reportedly had a representative at the meeting, the administration “will instead study whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees require employment protections.” Fair enough, although you would think Obama would have already considered that before promising gay activists he would institute an anti-discrimination policy for federal contractors during his 2008 campaign. Or maybe he could have ordered such a study at any point during the last three years of his presidency.

Politico’s Byron Tau reports on the White House’s next plan of action:

The White House now says they will try to work on congressional legislation instead. Such legislation is not likely a top priority in a GOP controlled House.

So the White House wants to punt this off to Congress, where the Employment Non-Discrimination Act will either a.) continue to sit idle until after the November election, or b.) be used as political fodder for some partisan throw down over gay rights, and then go back to sitting idle until after the November election.

Just last month, Obama gave this statement to the Advocate: “I also support an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. But a lot of work remains, and we cannot wait for Congress to act.”

How can he reconcile that with his latest decision to wait for Congress to act? He can’t. But then, he doesn’t have to. Apparently, his campaign isn’t particularly concerned with losing the gay rights activist vote to Mitt Romney.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Road to China’s Rise to Global Power….

A funny thing happened recently on the road to China’s supposedly inexorable rise to global power. Actually, a couple of funny things.

First and most prominent has been the scandal swirling around Bo Xilai, onetime Politburo member and party boss in Chonqqing, who has now been removed from power–and from sight–because of a variety of corruption and abuse-of-power allegations. The latest twist is the news that his wife, Gu Kailai, is a suspect in  the murder of the mysterious upper-class British expatriate and fixer Neil Heywood, a character who seems to have wandered straight out of a Graham Greene novel. The whole affair is causing major embarrassment to the ruling class in China for the way it brings into the open the shady machinations and rich deals that are a regular part of life for Communist mandarins. While Bo Xilai’s fall is being used to spread the message that no one is above the law, in fact no one knows exactly what led to his downfall; there is widespread suspicion it was not the result of his crimes per se, whatever they may have been, but rather of a murky behind-the-scenes power struggle whose features can be glimpsed only dimly by outsiders.

The second news item of note is this standoff in disputed waters of the South China Sea between a Philippine Navy gunboat and two Chinese “surveillance” ships. It seems that the Philippine warship had arrived to discover Chinese fishing vessels operating in waters claimed by Manila. Filipino sailors found plenty of illegally harvested clams, corals and other sea treasures aboard the ships before being blocked from further access by the arrival of  two Chinese “surveillance” ships–presumably unmarked vessels belonging to the People’s Liberation Army Navy.

Why are these two news items so important? Because both cast doubts about whether China’s rise is as inevitable as the pundits have it.

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A funny thing happened recently on the road to China’s supposedly inexorable rise to global power. Actually, a couple of funny things.

First and most prominent has been the scandal swirling around Bo Xilai, onetime Politburo member and party boss in Chonqqing, who has now been removed from power–and from sight–because of a variety of corruption and abuse-of-power allegations. The latest twist is the news that his wife, Gu Kailai, is a suspect in  the murder of the mysterious upper-class British expatriate and fixer Neil Heywood, a character who seems to have wandered straight out of a Graham Greene novel. The whole affair is causing major embarrassment to the ruling class in China for the way it brings into the open the shady machinations and rich deals that are a regular part of life for Communist mandarins. While Bo Xilai’s fall is being used to spread the message that no one is above the law, in fact no one knows exactly what led to his downfall; there is widespread suspicion it was not the result of his crimes per se, whatever they may have been, but rather of a murky behind-the-scenes power struggle whose features can be glimpsed only dimly by outsiders.

The second news item of note is this standoff in disputed waters of the South China Sea between a Philippine Navy gunboat and two Chinese “surveillance” ships. It seems that the Philippine warship had arrived to discover Chinese fishing vessels operating in waters claimed by Manila. Filipino sailors found plenty of illegally harvested clams, corals and other sea treasures aboard the ships before being blocked from further access by the arrival of  two Chinese “surveillance” ships–presumably unmarked vessels belonging to the People’s Liberation Army Navy.

Why are these two news items so important? Because both cast doubts about whether China’s rise is as inevitable as the pundits have it.

The Bo Xilai affair exposes the fragility of a regime that does not rest on the consent of the governed. The exposure of corrupt politicians is always traumatic even in a democratic system such as ours; they are far more serious in a one-party dictatorship such as China where civil unrest is never too far beneath the surface. The Communist Party justifies its monopoly on power by claiming that democracy is far too messy for a giant developing country like China and that wise, if unelected, mandarins can deliver economic growth and good government better than politicians beholden to grubby political parties. But scandals like the one swirling around Bo Xilai cast serious doubt on that propaganda line and in fact undermine the very legitimacy of the entire government–something that could not be said of even the most serious scandals (e.g., Watergate) in the United States.

Meanwhile, the South China Sea standoff is yet another indication of how China’s increasing assertiveness is alarming its neighbors and drawing them closer into an alliance with the United States. U.S.-Filipino relations are closer than they have been since the closing of the U.S. military bases in that country in the early 1990s–and we have China to thank for that. The same is true of U.S. relations with Singapore, Australia, India, and other neighbors of China–including even Vietnam and Burma. Thus China, like other dictatorial powers that aspired to great power (e.g., Wilhelmine Germany or Imperial Japan), seems to be creating with its own actions a coalition to keep it in check–even as its ruling infrastructure is showing fresh signs of fragility.

Does this really look like a country that is about to overtake the U.S. for global dominance? If it does,we will have only ourselves to blame, because, given China’s inherent weaknesses, our fall can only be the result of our own errors, such as failing to gain control of runaway entitlement spending or letting our best-in-the-world military atrophy due to excessive budget cuts.

 

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Putting the NRA on Trial With Zimmerman

Yesterday’s decision by Florida prosecutors to put George Zimmerman on trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin may serve to calm some of the racially charged anger about the incident in which an unarmed African-American youth was killed. Though some are already claiming the Zimmerman case will resemble the O.J. Simpson murder trial in the way it divides the public, it’s clear most Americans are content to let the justice system sift through the evidence and hope that justice will be done. Outside of the usual suspects seeking to inflame racial tensions (i.e., Al Sharpton, a veteran huckster whose efforts along these lines received the bizarre praise of Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday), there is another political agenda that is being pushed forward by the Martin killing: derailing efforts of the National Rifle Association and other conservative groups to enhance the right of self-defense via “Stand Your Ground” statutes or the “Castle Doctrine.”

Though we have yet to learn the full account of what happened between Zimmerman and Martin on the night of the latter’s death, it’s fairly clear that neither of those legal principles had much to do with the neighborhood watch volunteer’s shooting of the young man in the hoodie except in the most general sense, as the shooter asserted he was attacked first. But the effort to associate laws that back up citizens’ rights to defend themselves on their own property with Martin’s killing is becoming a touchstone of liberal rhetoric and reportage, as today’s New York Times feature on the subject illustrates. The conceit of the piece is to pin the nationwide drive to enact such legislation on the NRA and along with it the responsibility for any innocent blood shed because of these measures. Yet, what the Times and liberal critics of the laws fail to understand is that the popularity of such laws has to do with what most Americans believe is the defense of their liberty and safety and not race.

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Yesterday’s decision by Florida prosecutors to put George Zimmerman on trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin may serve to calm some of the racially charged anger about the incident in which an unarmed African-American youth was killed. Though some are already claiming the Zimmerman case will resemble the O.J. Simpson murder trial in the way it divides the public, it’s clear most Americans are content to let the justice system sift through the evidence and hope that justice will be done. Outside of the usual suspects seeking to inflame racial tensions (i.e., Al Sharpton, a veteran huckster whose efforts along these lines received the bizarre praise of Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday), there is another political agenda that is being pushed forward by the Martin killing: derailing efforts of the National Rifle Association and other conservative groups to enhance the right of self-defense via “Stand Your Ground” statutes or the “Castle Doctrine.”

Though we have yet to learn the full account of what happened between Zimmerman and Martin on the night of the latter’s death, it’s fairly clear that neither of those legal principles had much to do with the neighborhood watch volunteer’s shooting of the young man in the hoodie except in the most general sense, as the shooter asserted he was attacked first. But the effort to associate laws that back up citizens’ rights to defend themselves on their own property with Martin’s killing is becoming a touchstone of liberal rhetoric and reportage, as today’s New York Times feature on the subject illustrates. The conceit of the piece is to pin the nationwide drive to enact such legislation on the NRA and along with it the responsibility for any innocent blood shed because of these measures. Yet, what the Times and liberal critics of the laws fail to understand is that the popularity of such laws has to do with what most Americans believe is the defense of their liberty and safety and not race.

It needs to be understood that nothing in the “Castle Doctrine” or the “Stand Your Ground” statutes that have been passed in Florida and many other states would make it permissible for a person to seek out a suspected intruder and shoot him as it is alleged is the case with Zimmerman. But though liberals look askance at the laws, the reason why they have been passed with such ease has more to do with the fact that a majority thinks it is reasonable that citizens have the right to use force to defend themselves in their homes, backyards or even inside their cars.

The left-right ideological divide over gun rights in this country is fairly clear. Conservatives feel Americans have a constitutional right to bear arms and to use them in self-defense. By contrast, most liberals disagree with the Supreme Court about the meaning of the Second Amendment and would like to see gun rights severely restricted if not functionally eliminated, as is the case with some cities where regulations make it difficult if not impossible for most citizens to legally own a weapon. This is an ongoing debate in which both sides often talk past each other and feed into each other’s worst fears. Indeed, some of the NRA’s efforts to derail even the most sensible efforts at controlling the use of guns that are not necessary for either sport or self-defense — such as assault weapons — stems from a not entirely unfounded belief that the ultimate goal of any such measure is the banning of all guns.

This is, at best, a divisive debate, but it needn’t be exacerbated by the injection of race into the discussion. The attempt to brand self-defense laws or gun rights as a function of racism does nothing to advance racial harmony or a sensible resolution of issues arising from the use of weapons. Most Americans are satisfied with letting the courts deal with George Zimmerman. Liberal ideologues would be well advised to let the case resolve itself without attempting to turn it into a referendum on gun control or seeking to demonize the NRA.

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The Role of Rhetoric in Christie’s Rise

The latest Quinnipiac poll showing Chris Christie’s approval rating at 59 percent in New Jersey has been raising eyebrows. As Aaron Blake writes at the Washington Post, “New Jersey is notoriously tough on its politicians – it’s rare that anybody cracks even 50 percent approval – and the state’s Democratic lean makes Christie’s success all the more notable. Despite his tough rhetoric, 54 percent say he’s a leader, while 39 percent (read: Democrats) say he’s a bully.”

Blake gets one thing backwards, though. New Jersey residents see Christie as a leader not “despite” his tough rhetoric, but in large part because of it–and because it’s backed up by action. Christie is popular because in a state known for crooked politicians he has earned such a reputation for honesty that he has begun to lift the heavy fog of cynicism that has been hanging for a decade or more over the state’s residents. As a Fairleigh Dickinson poll found last month, for the first time in ten years a majority of New Jerseyans say their state is moving in the right direction. And that leads to one other essential element of Christie’s popularity: the contrast with President Obama.

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The latest Quinnipiac poll showing Chris Christie’s approval rating at 59 percent in New Jersey has been raising eyebrows. As Aaron Blake writes at the Washington Post, “New Jersey is notoriously tough on its politicians – it’s rare that anybody cracks even 50 percent approval – and the state’s Democratic lean makes Christie’s success all the more notable. Despite his tough rhetoric, 54 percent say he’s a leader, while 39 percent (read: Democrats) say he’s a bully.”

Blake gets one thing backwards, though. New Jersey residents see Christie as a leader not “despite” his tough rhetoric, but in large part because of it–and because it’s backed up by action. Christie is popular because in a state known for crooked politicians he has earned such a reputation for honesty that he has begun to lift the heavy fog of cynicism that has been hanging for a decade or more over the state’s residents. As a Fairleigh Dickinson poll found last month, for the first time in ten years a majority of New Jerseyans say their state is moving in the right direction. And that leads to one other essential element of Christie’s popularity: the contrast with President Obama.

One of the reasons there was such a popular demand for Christie to run for president this year was that contrast. Christie was elected in 2009 with a mandate to steer the state away from the financial cliff it was heading toward, rein in government overspending and waste, clean up the cronyism so endemic in the state’s politics, ease the burden on taxpayers, and do all this while addressing the perilous state of public education.

And that’s what he did. What’s more, Christie accomplished this while rallying the state’s sense of civic responsibility. His budget, he said, recognized that “every New Jerseyan has shared in the sacrifice that was necessary to begin the New Jersey Comeback and that every New Jerseyan should share in the benefit we’re beginning to feel.”

Obama was swept into office with a similar mandate, but instead of focusing on creating jobs, he used his political capital to force through Congress an overwhelmingly unpopular health care reform bill over the loud protest of the voters. Instead of ending cronyism, the revolving door of lobbyists and beneficiaries remained perfectly in place; the essential votes for Obamacare came thanks to the “Cornhusker kickback” and the “Louisiana purchase”; and the Solyndra debacle combined political favoritism with dreadful policy ideas. He contributed to the erosion of American education by seeking to end the D.C. scholarship program. And rather than rein in spending, the president has set the country on an unsustainable path of debt and entitlements.

And he did this, moreover, while seeking to set Americans against one another, dividing the country, shifting blame, and energizing his party’s base by finding scapegoats on the other side of the aisle.

Christie’s straight talk isn’t a gimmick. He tells voters he’s going to do something, and then does it, and his unyielding demeanor is not to bully his opponents, but rather to fend off the powerful interest groups that work overtime to derail reform and enrich themselves at the expense of the state’s bruised and beleaguered taxpayers. That his honesty is being rewarded at the polls is no surprise.

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Liberals, Conservatives and Tax Fairness

In defending President Obama’s effort to make as the centerpiece of his campaign the so-called Buffett Rule — which would require anyone earning at least $1 million a year to pay at least 30 percent of his income in taxes — Jason Furman, deputy director of Obama’s National Economic Council, said, “Our goal is to have a progressive tax system.”

Furman added that the tax was never intended “to bring the deficit down and the debt under control” (contradicting a past claim made by the president). The goal, according to Furman, is to establish “a basic issue of tax fairness.”

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In defending President Obama’s effort to make as the centerpiece of his campaign the so-called Buffett Rule — which would require anyone earning at least $1 million a year to pay at least 30 percent of his income in taxes — Jason Furman, deputy director of Obama’s National Economic Council, said, “Our goal is to have a progressive tax system.”

Furman added that the tax was never intended “to bring the deficit down and the debt under control” (contradicting a past claim made by the president). The goal, according to Furman, is to establish “a basic issue of tax fairness.”

Let’s take Furman’s claims in order, starting with the goal of a progressive tax system.  According to the CBO, the top 1 percent of earners pay 40 percent of all federal taxes, compared to less than 20 percent in the 1970s. And today, according to research by the OECD, income taxes in America are the most progressive among the rich nations of the world. As Stephen Moore has observed, the “richest 10 percent of Americans shoulder a higher share of their country’s income-tax burden than do the richest 10 percent in every other industrialized nation, including socialist Sweden.”

Second, the United States now has the top corporate tax rate in the world, having recently passed Japan (and once again placing America ahead of socialist Sweden).

Third, middle-class workers on average pay just under 15 percent of their income in federal taxes while the richest 0.1 percent pay almost twice that rate (26 percent). The Buffett Rule applies to the exceedingly small number of individuals who make most of their money from capital gains, which are taxed at a lower rate than ordinary income in order to encourage savings and investment and because that income has already been taxed as corporate income. It’s reasonable to assume that The Buffett Rule is, in the words of the Wall Street Journal, “really nothing more than a … way for Mr. Obama to justify doubling the capital gains and dividend tax rate to 30 percent from 15 percent today.”

As for the “basic issue of tax fairness:” This is a recurrent theme for Obama. In a 2008 debate between Obama and Hillary Clinton, ABC’s Charles Gibson asked Obama why he would support raising capital-gains taxes given the historical record of government’s losing net revenue as a result. “Well, Charlie, what I’ve said is that I would look at raising the capital-gains tax for purposes of fairness,” Obama replied. This moment revealed that Obama isn’t simply or even primarily interested in raising taxes for economic reasons (e.g., raising revenues or spurring growth). He sees taxes through a moral prism, as an instrument to advance “fairness,” which he takes to mean leveling higher taxes on wealthy Americans in order to decrease income inequality. The president really does favor, in his words, “spreading the wealth around.”

This debate goes to the core of what separates progressives and conservatives. The former are drawn to the concept of equality of results while the latter are far more committed to equality of opportunity. And for liberals, the problem of income inequality has to do with the rich whereas for conservatives, the problem is not wealth but persistent poverty. As Robert Beschel and I argue in this National Affairs essay, “the right way to deal with income inequality is not by punishing the rich, but by doing more to help the poor become richer, chiefly by increasing their social capital. This means not simply strengthening the bonds of trust and mutual respect among citizens, but also equipping Americans — especially the poor — with the skills, values, and habits that will allow them to succeed in a modern, free society.”

Liberals are correct about this: income inequality has increased over recent decades. The task of conservatives is to give a full and fair picture of income gaps in America, to explain what is behind it, and to point out the injustice of the left’s remedies and the degree to which their proposals represent a radical departure from America’s ideals.

But more is required than simply that. Social mobility, which is the central moral promise of American economic life, has been the traditional alternative to economic egalitarianism. But the truth is that whether one judges by intragenerational mobility (meaning movement within or between income brackets and social classes within an individual’s lifetime) or intergenerational mobility (movement within or between income brackets and social classes occurring from one generation to the next), the United States is less mobile than it should be. Many European countries, for example, now have as much social mobility as, and more opportunity than, the United States. Today, a child’s future depends more on parental income in America than it does in Canada and Europe.

It would therefore be a mistake for conservatives to ignore the issues of social mobility and income inequality. They couldn’t even if they wanted to. The divide between rich and poor in America will be a focal point of this election. This is an instance, then, when the left is forcing the conservative movement to grapple with an issue it might otherwise ignore. (When things are working right, liberalism and conservatism focus attention and spur creative thinking on topics each movement is largely indifferent to.) The challenge for conservatives is to offer up a comprehensive social agenda in the face of America’s deep cultural and structural problems. Assembling such a platform is a hugely complicated task. But doing so, and translating good ideas into policy, would make America a more just, decent, and less divided society.

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DNC Adviser Blasts Ann Romney

On “Anderson Cooper 360″ last night, Hilary Rosen slammed Ann Romney for “never actually work[ing] a day in her life.” Within two hours, both David Axelrod and Obama campaign manager Jim Messina were scrambling to distance themselves from Rosen’s comments on Twitter.

Why is the Obama campaign so concerned? Apparently Rosen was enlisted in February to advise Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz on public relations (h/t Jim Geraghty’s invaluable Morning Jolt). The Wall Street Journal reported on Feb. 16 that Rosen was brought on to “tone down” DWS’s image:

Obama advisers have occasionally told [Wasserman Schultz] to “tone it down” and “back off a smidgen,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz says. She agreed with them to enlist two seasoned Democratic female pros, Anita Dunn and Hilary Rosen, to begin giving her occasional political advice and media training, advisers say. “I’m glad to get constructive criticism,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz says.

The media pros prepped her for an important Jan. 13 appearance on the “Bill Maher Show”—from her tone to her clothes (they know better than to suggest she blow out her curly hair, advisers say). Ms. Wasserman Schultz had lots of “don’t” instructions: Don’t make news, don’t try to be funny, don’t laugh at the comedian’s jokes, don’t use your hands (although she balled her fists at one point and did “karate chops” when making her points). Her biggest “do:” Attack Mitt Romney, which she managed to do despite the topic of discussion: Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters.

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On “Anderson Cooper 360″ last night, Hilary Rosen slammed Ann Romney for “never actually work[ing] a day in her life.” Within two hours, both David Axelrod and Obama campaign manager Jim Messina were scrambling to distance themselves from Rosen’s comments on Twitter.

Why is the Obama campaign so concerned? Apparently Rosen was enlisted in February to advise Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz on public relations (h/t Jim Geraghty’s invaluable Morning Jolt). The Wall Street Journal reported on Feb. 16 that Rosen was brought on to “tone down” DWS’s image:

Obama advisers have occasionally told [Wasserman Schultz] to “tone it down” and “back off a smidgen,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz says. She agreed with them to enlist two seasoned Democratic female pros, Anita Dunn and Hilary Rosen, to begin giving her occasional political advice and media training, advisers say. “I’m glad to get constructive criticism,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz says.

The media pros prepped her for an important Jan. 13 appearance on the “Bill Maher Show”—from her tone to her clothes (they know better than to suggest she blow out her curly hair, advisers say). Ms. Wasserman Schultz had lots of “don’t” instructions: Don’t make news, don’t try to be funny, don’t laugh at the comedian’s jokes, don’t use your hands (although she balled her fists at one point and did “karate chops” when making her points). Her biggest “do:” Attack Mitt Romney, which she managed to do despite the topic of discussion: Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters.

Despite the backlash from conservatives and the repudiation from the Obama campaign, Rosen stood behind her comments in a lengthy post on Anderson Cooper’s blog:

“My wife has the occasion, as you know, to campaign on her own and also with me,” Romney told newspaper editors, “and she reports to me regularly that the issue women care about most is the economy.”

So it begs the question, is Ann Romney Mitt’s touchstone for women who are struggling economically or not? Nothing in Ann Romney’s history as we have heard it — hardworking mom she may have been — leads me to believe that Mitt has chosen the right expert to get feedback on this problem he professes to be so concerned about.

I have nothing against Ann Romney. She seems like a nice lady who has raised nice boys, struggled with illness and handles its long-term effects with grace and dignity. I admire her grit in talking about her illness publicly.

What is more important to me and 57 percent of current women voters is her husband saying he supports women’s economic issues because they are the only issues that matter to us and then he fails on even those.

Rosen certainly helped “tone down” and “soften” Wasserman Schultz’s image last night, if only because she was the one making the inflammatory charges, not DWS. The question now is whether Messina and Axelrod will stand behind their own criticism of Rosen — that her comments were “offensive” and “inappropriate” and merit an apology. Will Wasserman Schultz and the DNC cut off Rosen’s advisory role? Or is the Obama campaign content to use Rosen as an attack dog and private consultant, while outwardly shunning her attacks on their opponent’s wife?

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Justice Requires Acquittal of a Corrupt Politician

Jury selection starts today in the trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards on six felony charges of federal campaign finance law violations involving an alleged conspiracy and the making of false statements. Despite the mountain of evidence that they claim backs up these allegations, the prosecutors’ main weapon in the trial will be the fact that Edwards is generally held to be among the most repulsive politicians to stride across our national stage in a generation. He is a vain, puffed up politician who was always something of a fraud even in his heyday. He is also a liar who cheated on his terminally ill wife and did everything possible to deceive the public about his affair and the child he fathered with his mistress. But that’s also the problem with this case. Absent Edward’s reputation as bottom-feeder, there is no way that any prosecutor would seek to bring anyone else to court on such flimsy charges.

The irony here is that although John Edwards is the quintessential sleazy politician who has earned the public’s scorn, his trial will actually be a crucial test of a key principle: Whether the Justice Department can interpret the byzantine and vague campaign finance laws so as to treat virtually anything a candidate gets as an official contribution that can be regulated. The case illustrates a fundamental principle of the legal system that demands that even the most loathsome of citizens deserves the same protections and rights as the most righteous. Though Americans may well think Edwards deserves a possible sentence of up to 30 years and $1.5 million in fines for his reprehensible conduct toward his late wife, he must be acquitted if we are to prevent the government from assuming more power that it could use against worthier citizens.

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Jury selection starts today in the trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards on six felony charges of federal campaign finance law violations involving an alleged conspiracy and the making of false statements. Despite the mountain of evidence that they claim backs up these allegations, the prosecutors’ main weapon in the trial will be the fact that Edwards is generally held to be among the most repulsive politicians to stride across our national stage in a generation. He is a vain, puffed up politician who was always something of a fraud even in his heyday. He is also a liar who cheated on his terminally ill wife and did everything possible to deceive the public about his affair and the child he fathered with his mistress. But that’s also the problem with this case. Absent Edward’s reputation as bottom-feeder, there is no way that any prosecutor would seek to bring anyone else to court on such flimsy charges.

The irony here is that although John Edwards is the quintessential sleazy politician who has earned the public’s scorn, his trial will actually be a crucial test of a key principle: Whether the Justice Department can interpret the byzantine and vague campaign finance laws so as to treat virtually anything a candidate gets as an official contribution that can be regulated. The case illustrates a fundamental principle of the legal system that demands that even the most loathsome of citizens deserves the same protections and rights as the most righteous. Though Americans may well think Edwards deserves a possible sentence of up to 30 years and $1.5 million in fines for his reprehensible conduct toward his late wife, he must be acquitted if we are to prevent the government from assuming more power that it could use against worthier citizens.

John Edwards is an easy man to despise. His treatment of his wife and family and friends was awful. But these are private failings. The willingness of the press to avoid coverage of his personal conduct while he was a viable contender for his party’s presidential nomination was the real public scandal here.

There’s no question that Edwards behaved immorally by arranging for two wealthy friends and supporters to provide money for his mistress so his wife wouldn’t discover his affair. But the money given to Rielle Hunter, the equally sleazy campaign videographer who gave birth to Edwards’ child, was not a crime in the sense of the word that we normally use when discussing the court system. Gift taxes were paid on the money that was not funneled through Edwards’ presidential campaign accounts. The government’s attempt to treat this arrangement as an illegal campaign contribution for which he can be sent to jail for decades is an unprecedented attempt to expand the scope of laws that already require candidates to hire lawyers just to understand.

While the Justice Department will attempt to treat this case as the unraveling of a criminal conspiracy, what they are really doing is capitalizing on a tabloid scandal. The only reason Edwards is on trial is because he is a rich, famous and extremely unpopular person. Ambitious prosecutors believe they can convince a jury that is likely to view Edwards with as much disdain as the rest of the country that because his behavior was wrong and money was involved, that it was somehow a criminal affair.

What they are doing here is a classic case of prosecutorial overreach in which the government attempts to criminalize conduct that is worthy of censure but doesn’t actually constitute a violation of the law. Even worse, by expanding the reach of campaign finance laws, a guilty verdict against Edwards would strengthen the ability of the government to criminalize virtually any aspect of a candidate’s life. In the hands of unscrupulous officials, these laws could become a weapon to use against political enemies in a manner that could place even the most ethical politicians in the dock. Rather than give the government more power over this sphere, we need to pare back the byzantine maze of regulations.

John Edwards may well be the epitome of all that is wrong with American politics. But his prosecution symbolizes everything that is corrupt about the justice system.

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