Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 30, 2012

Maybe Running on Bin Laden Won’t Work

To listen to some Democrats lately, President Obama’s re-election is in the bag. Most are convinced that Mitt Romney has too many problems connecting with ordinary Americans to be considered a serious threat to the president. Their confidence in their “cool kid” candidate and contempt for their opponents is such that many refuse to accept the possibility that the president is in for the fight of his life in an electoral environment that is radically different from the situation in the fall of 2008. And yet the evidence that the race is a virtual dead heat continues to be right there under their noses. The release today of tracking polls from the two leading firms confirms that the Democrats need to sober up about the competitive race that is about to unfold.

Gallup, whose results tend to skew slightly toward the Democrats, reports that Romney has a 47-46 edge for the period of April 24-29. Rasmussen, which tends to tilt slightly toward the Republicans, also shows Romney ahead for their last reporting period of April 27-29 by a similarly slim 47-45 margin. Both polls illustrate that the presumption that Romney has no chance is simply a Democratic fantasy that fails to take into account the general dissatisfaction with a failing economy.  It also may show that the administration’s decision to spend the last week trying to politicize the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy Seals might have been a bad mistake.

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To listen to some Democrats lately, President Obama’s re-election is in the bag. Most are convinced that Mitt Romney has too many problems connecting with ordinary Americans to be considered a serious threat to the president. Their confidence in their “cool kid” candidate and contempt for their opponents is such that many refuse to accept the possibility that the president is in for the fight of his life in an electoral environment that is radically different from the situation in the fall of 2008. And yet the evidence that the race is a virtual dead heat continues to be right there under their noses. The release today of tracking polls from the two leading firms confirms that the Democrats need to sober up about the competitive race that is about to unfold.

Gallup, whose results tend to skew slightly toward the Democrats, reports that Romney has a 47-46 edge for the period of April 24-29. Rasmussen, which tends to tilt slightly toward the Republicans, also shows Romney ahead for their last reporting period of April 27-29 by a similarly slim 47-45 margin. Both polls illustrate that the presumption that Romney has no chance is simply a Democratic fantasy that fails to take into account the general dissatisfaction with a failing economy.  It also may show that the administration’s decision to spend the last week trying to politicize the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy Seals might have been a bad mistake.

As Alana noted earlier, the fact that some influential liberal pundits are backing away from the Obama campaign’s claim that a President Romney would have let bin Laden live, illustrates the contempt that this shameless slur has generated. If Arianna Huffington thinks it’s a bad idea, imagine how the rest of the country thinks?

But, of course, perhaps the negative results in the tracking polls for Obama in the last several days, which contrast with the slight edge he held a week earlier might confirm that tactic has backfired.

The lead in the tracking polls has changed hands several times in the last few weeks, and we can expect it will continue to fluctuate in the coming months. As Gallup confirms, the matchup in the swing states that will decide the contest are as close as can be. If the Democrats think all Obama has to do is call the Republicans names and play the “cool kid” on late night television, they may be in for the shock of their lives when they discover that the competition for posts in his second administration is a waste of time.

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Dan Rather and His Great White Whale

Dan Rather was once at the top of the journalistic universe, having replaced Walter Cronkite as the anchor of the “CBS Evening News” (when network news broadcasts still meant something). But then came a story meant to smear President George W. Bush, based on forged documents that were almost immediately revealed as such. Then (as this Daily Beast story recounts) came the Rather apology; the revelation that CBS News could no longer vouch for their credibility; the CBS-commissioned investigation faulting Rather and his top producer, Mary Mapes; and finally, the end of Rather’s career at CBS.

Now nearly 80 years old and hawking a new book, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, Rather insists the forged documents are accurate. “I believe them to be genuine. I did at the time, I did in the immediate aftermath of it, and yes, I do now.”

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Dan Rather was once at the top of the journalistic universe, having replaced Walter Cronkite as the anchor of the “CBS Evening News” (when network news broadcasts still meant something). But then came a story meant to smear President George W. Bush, based on forged documents that were almost immediately revealed as such. Then (as this Daily Beast story recounts) came the Rather apology; the revelation that CBS News could no longer vouch for their credibility; the CBS-commissioned investigation faulting Rather and his top producer, Mary Mapes; and finally, the end of Rather’s career at CBS.

Now nearly 80 years old and hawking a new book, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, Rather insists the forged documents are accurate. “I believe them to be genuine. I did at the time, I did in the immediate aftermath of it, and yes, I do now.”

This claim is silly, as this 224-page Report of the Independent Review Panel makes clear. (While CBS’s independent panel report didn’t specifically take up the question of whether the documents were forgeries, it retained a document expert, Peter Tytell, who concluded that the documents in question were “not produced on a typewriter in the early 1970s and therefore were not authentic.”) Three years after the story, Rather filed a $70 million lawsuit against CBS and its parent company, Viacom, claiming he had been made a “scapegoat.” In 2009, a New York State Appeals Court said Rather’s $70 million complaint should be dismissed in its entirety, and that a lower court erred in denying CBS’s motion to throw out the lawsuit.

What appears to have happened is that Rather cannot emotionally or psychologically accept that the Bush National Guard story was built on lies, which ended up destroying his career. And so he has become a desperate, embittered man, frantically trying to vindicate his name, unable to see that his efforts merely remind us what a pitiable figure he has become.

“To the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”  These are the words of Captain Ahab as he tosses his harpoon toward the great white whale.

Dan Rather may want to reacquaint himself with Moby Dick. Things didn’t end well for the obsessive and revenge-seeking Captain Ahab. And they’re not ending well for Rather, either.

 

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Obama Mocks Boehner at Union Event

Last week, President Obama was focused on the student loan extension bill as he pursued the youth vote, and this week he’s back to talking about the transportation bill at a union event. It may be hard to keep up with the president’s ever-changing priorities, which shift depending on which demographic he needs to court at the moment, but one thing remains the same. Obama is still railing against the “Do Nothing Congress”:

Obama’s latest attack on [House Speaker John] Boehner is over construction projects, which the president says have been blocked by Republicans who have refused to take up a long-term highway bill approved in a bipartisan vote by the Senate.

The president said the stalled legislation is keeping millions of workers jobless, and is preventing necessary projects forward across the country, including in Boehner’s own district. …

On Monday, he also sought to portray Boehner as out of touch with the needs of his own district.

“I went to the Speaker’s hometown, stood under a bridge that was crumbling, everybody acknowledges it needs to be rebuilt,” Obama said. “Maybe he doesn’t drive anymore. Maybe he doesn’t notice how messed up it was … they still said no.”

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Last week, President Obama was focused on the student loan extension bill as he pursued the youth vote, and this week he’s back to talking about the transportation bill at a union event. It may be hard to keep up with the president’s ever-changing priorities, which shift depending on which demographic he needs to court at the moment, but one thing remains the same. Obama is still railing against the “Do Nothing Congress”:

Obama’s latest attack on [House Speaker John] Boehner is over construction projects, which the president says have been blocked by Republicans who have refused to take up a long-term highway bill approved in a bipartisan vote by the Senate.

The president said the stalled legislation is keeping millions of workers jobless, and is preventing necessary projects forward across the country, including in Boehner’s own district. …

On Monday, he also sought to portray Boehner as out of touch with the needs of his own district.

“I went to the Speaker’s hometown, stood under a bridge that was crumbling, everybody acknowledges it needs to be rebuilt,” Obama said. “Maybe he doesn’t drive anymore. Maybe he doesn’t notice how messed up it was … they still said no.”

If you really want to get technical about who is blocking what, the House actually has passed a highway bill with bipartisan support, the same one that Obama threatened to veto because it includes a provision that would force him to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The bill is short-term compared to the one passed by the Senate, but both chambers are set to deliberate a compromise. Notice that Obama conveniently ignores these relevant facts.

And speaking of Do Nothing Congress, yesterday marked the three-year anniversary of the last time the Senate Democrats passed a budget. For whatever reason, our obstruction-decrying president didn’t feel the need to mention that holdup.

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The Principles of Benzion Netanyahu

The death of the father of Israel’s prime minister will likely set off a wave of comment focusing on the influence that Benzion Netanyahu  had on his son Benjamin and whether his passing will make the prime minister more amenable to pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians. But this popular interpretation of the relationship between the two men, which the prime minister rightly dismissed as “psychobabble,” misses the point both about the Netanyahus and the principles they embraced.

Benzion Netanyahu, who died in Israel today at the age of 102, was an important figure in Zionist activism and Jewish history in his own right. Benzion was a follower of Zeev Jabotinsky, one of the great figures in the history of Zionism whose Revisionist movement is the ancestor of the modern Likud. Many contemporary pundits saw him as a representative of a bygone era whose belief in the rigid ideology of that movement served as a human obstacle to peace, because they claimed his son would never embrace a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict as long as the father lived. This was false. Netanyahu signed peace agreements with Yasir Arafat during his first term in office in the 1990s and embraced the concept of a Palestinian state during his second. But the values and lessons his father did teach him will stay with the prime minister. The shame is that more Jews don’t understand them.

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The death of the father of Israel’s prime minister will likely set off a wave of comment focusing on the influence that Benzion Netanyahu  had on his son Benjamin and whether his passing will make the prime minister more amenable to pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians. But this popular interpretation of the relationship between the two men, which the prime minister rightly dismissed as “psychobabble,” misses the point both about the Netanyahus and the principles they embraced.

Benzion Netanyahu, who died in Israel today at the age of 102, was an important figure in Zionist activism and Jewish history in his own right. Benzion was a follower of Zeev Jabotinsky, one of the great figures in the history of Zionism whose Revisionist movement is the ancestor of the modern Likud. Many contemporary pundits saw him as a representative of a bygone era whose belief in the rigid ideology of that movement served as a human obstacle to peace, because they claimed his son would never embrace a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict as long as the father lived. This was false. Netanyahu signed peace agreements with Yasir Arafat during his first term in office in the 1990s and embraced the concept of a Palestinian state during his second. But the values and lessons his father did teach him will stay with the prime minister. The shame is that more Jews don’t understand them.

As with other veterans of the pre-state Zionist movement, Benzion Netanyahu deserves the gratitude of the Jewish people for his labors. As the representative of Jabotinsky’s movement in the United States during World War Two, the Polish native who had moved to Palestine during his youth is credited with helping to persuade the Republican Party to adopt in 1944 an unprecedented pro-Zionist platform plank that caused the Democrats to follow suit. But he deserves just as much, if not more credit for his work as a scholar of Jewish history. And it is here, as much as in his embrace of Jabotinsky’s vision of a secure, liberal and democratic Jewish state in all of historic Palestine that his influence is felt.

In his seminal work, The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain, Benzion Netanyahu exploded myths about the persecution of Jews in Spain that saw most of those who converted to Christianity as a result of persecution as secretly practicing their old faith. Contrary to the long-held belief that the victims of the Inquisition were secret Jews or Marranos, Netanyahu proved that most were not. They were attacked by the Christian establishment not because of their religion but because Jews were seen as inherently evil. As with the Nazis who followed centuries later, the attack on the former Jews was the result of racism, not religious extremism.

While many Jews persist in believing that anti-Semitism as well as ant-Zionism is all a terrible misunderstanding, Benzion Netanyahu understood that hatred and intolerance lay at the roots of the difficulties of the Jews then as now. As his son noted at his funeral today , the challenge is to “face reality head on” and “draw the necessary conclusions.”

Doing so does not make one insensitive to the need for peace or to the legitimate desire of other peoples to live in peace. But it does force one to strip away illusions about the world and force us to come to grips with the modern versions of the ancient hatred that consumed the Jews of past eras. Peace with Palestinians who have not yet abandoned a belief that the Jews have no right to be in the country cannot be bought with good intentions. Until the day comes when the Palestinians are willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, the people of Israel must shield themselves behind the “iron wall” that Jabotinsky envisioned and leaders like David Ben-Gurion built and now Benjamin Netanyahu must preserve.

The principles of a belief in the right of the Jews to their homeland and the need to defend them against the unreasoning hatred of their enemies will not die with Benzion Netanyahu. Nor should his son or any person of good will forget them.

May his memory be for a blessing.

 

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Huffington Slams Obama’s Osama Ad

Via Beltway Confidential: When even Ariana Huffington isn’t buying the premise of Obama’s campaign ad suggesting that Mitt Romney wouldn’t have ordered the Osama bin Laden raid, it’s probably time to re-evaluate that message:

“I agree with the Romney campaign, that using the Osama bin Laden assassination killing the great news that we had a year ago, in order to say basically that Obama did it and Romney may not have done it,” said Huffington. “It is one thing to celebrate the fact that they did such a great job…but to turn it into a campaign ad is one of the most despicable things you can do.”

If the message is so tasteless that it’s even offending Obama’s strident defenders, why did the campaign go ahead with it in the first place? Remember, this wasn’t just one commercial. Vice President Biden also brought up something similar in his foreign policy speech last week when he declared that “bin Laden is dead and GE is alive…If Romney was president, could we have used that same slogan in reverse?”

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Via Beltway Confidential: When even Ariana Huffington isn’t buying the premise of Obama’s campaign ad suggesting that Mitt Romney wouldn’t have ordered the Osama bin Laden raid, it’s probably time to re-evaluate that message:

“I agree with the Romney campaign, that using the Osama bin Laden assassination killing the great news that we had a year ago, in order to say basically that Obama did it and Romney may not have done it,” said Huffington. “It is one thing to celebrate the fact that they did such a great job…but to turn it into a campaign ad is one of the most despicable things you can do.”

If the message is so tasteless that it’s even offending Obama’s strident defenders, why did the campaign go ahead with it in the first place? Remember, this wasn’t just one commercial. Vice President Biden also brought up something similar in his foreign policy speech last week when he declared that “bin Laden is dead and GE is alive…If Romney was president, could we have used that same slogan in reverse?”

The way the Obama campaign has handled the bin Laden killing has been odd since the beginning. Sure, there were a few conservative detractors who tried to downplay Obama’s role, but for the most part the president was praised across the political spectrum for green-lighting the raid. He’s certainly received his fair share of credit.

But for some reason, the Obama campaign has needlessly tried to puff up the already-impressive mission, calling it the most “audacious plan” in “500 years” and overselling the risks of the president’s decision. Now they’re claiming that Romney wouldn’t have made the same call had he been president.

Why? Is Obama concerned that the raid itself isn’t extraordinary enough on its own? If that’s the case, ads like this certainly won’t help. Beyond the conceit contained in the anti-Romney message, the campaign calculation couldn’t be more transparent. The Obama campaign could have released an ad highlighting why the bin Laden raid was so momentous and what it meant for Americans in general and particularly 9/11 family members. Instead, it decided to go for a cheap and unsubstantiated attack on Romney. Huffington is right to call that despicable.

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Obama’s Goal is to Avoid Conflict With Iran

In the latest in a series of New York Times front-page features on U.S. policy toward Iran based on anonymous sources within the administration, the newspaper proclaimed today the chances of armed conflict with the Islamist state had markedly declined. The unnamed American officials did no more than state the obvious when they noted that the current diplomatic process initiated this month in Istanbul which will recommence in Baghdad after a long break in late May has made it less likely that anyone would attack Iran anytime soon. However, presenting this conclusion as an objective analysis begs the point. The reason why “the temperature has cooled,” as one anonymous Obama administration put it, is not because the West is any closer to actually persuading the Iranians to desist from their nuclear ambitions. Rather, it is the result of policies that have no larger goal than to ensure that there will be no confrontation over the nuclear issue during the president’s campaign.

None of the factors the administration officials put forward as evidence of a cooling of tensions give much hope of securing a non-nuclear Iran. The sanctions, diplomacy and the encouragement of dissent within Israel against the Netanyahu government aren’t likely to convince the Iranians they have no choice but to give up. Though the sanctions are taking their toll on the Iranian economy, that hasn’t stopped Iran’s nuclear program, and its Islamist leadership have every confidence they can outfox Obama and his partners in the P5+1 talks as they have in the past without giving up anything valuable. These factors all have a more immediate goal: rendering any attack on Iran out of the question, and thus enabling the president to face the voters without either a huge spike in oil prices or another Middle East conflict.

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In the latest in a series of New York Times front-page features on U.S. policy toward Iran based on anonymous sources within the administration, the newspaper proclaimed today the chances of armed conflict with the Islamist state had markedly declined. The unnamed American officials did no more than state the obvious when they noted that the current diplomatic process initiated this month in Istanbul which will recommence in Baghdad after a long break in late May has made it less likely that anyone would attack Iran anytime soon. However, presenting this conclusion as an objective analysis begs the point. The reason why “the temperature has cooled,” as one anonymous Obama administration put it, is not because the West is any closer to actually persuading the Iranians to desist from their nuclear ambitions. Rather, it is the result of policies that have no larger goal than to ensure that there will be no confrontation over the nuclear issue during the president’s campaign.

None of the factors the administration officials put forward as evidence of a cooling of tensions give much hope of securing a non-nuclear Iran. The sanctions, diplomacy and the encouragement of dissent within Israel against the Netanyahu government aren’t likely to convince the Iranians they have no choice but to give up. Though the sanctions are taking their toll on the Iranian economy, that hasn’t stopped Iran’s nuclear program, and its Islamist leadership have every confidence they can outfox Obama and his partners in the P5+1 talks as they have in the past without giving up anything valuable. These factors all have a more immediate goal: rendering any attack on Iran out of the question, and thus enabling the president to face the voters without either a huge spike in oil prices or another Middle East conflict.

As the Times points out, a couple of months ago when the president said he did not consider containment of a nuclear Iran a viable policy, speculation about the use of force against Iran skyrocketed. But by holding out hope for a “window of diplomacy,” Obama has given himself a convenient escape hatch from his ringing rhetoric on the topic. The negotiations merely provide Iran more time to continue refining uranium with impunity so long as the talks continue. The reports emanating from Tehran about the ayatollahs being willing to compromise is exactly what the person who is running the talks — E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton — wants to hear. All the positive atmospherics may make it possible to drag out the process all through the spring and summer if not the fall.

The Europeans are desperate for any sign of give on the Iranians’ part that will provide them with the excuse to back off their threat of an embargo of Iranian oil. And both the administration and the Iranians have the shared goal of keeping the talking going until after the November election when the president might have the “flexibility” to reconsider his promises.

As for the criticism against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu from within his country’s security establishment, that is not something that is likely to affect his decision making process for a couple of reasons.

First, though Netanyahu’s concerns about the futility of the P5+1 talks are justified, there is very little chance that he would order a strike on Iran while they continue. An Israeli attack on Iran, assuming one ever happens, will only be possible during a period when there is no ongoing diplomatic process. Second, even if he were free to act now, it isn’t likely that the carping of a few disgruntled former officials would stop him. While the Israeli public would prefer an international coalition to take on Iran rather than to do it alone, Netanyahu knows he has public support for a proactive policy so long as he can show there is no alternative.

In this context, it is important to note that Netanyahu may choose to move up Israel elections to the fall from next year. With another mandate from the people (and polls show him to be an overwhelming favorite to lead the next government), he will have even more freedom to do as he thinks best.

But as even the Times noted this morning, Obama has potentially laid a trap for himself by embracing the P5+1 talks. Though it is possible the Iranians will be clever enough to string the West along for many months, they have also shown they are just as fond of embarrassing their diplomatic partners by reneging on their commitments or by simply refusing to go on negotiating. Though a break in diplomacy is seemingly not in their interests, it wouldn’t be unusual for them to seek to confuse or flummox the West by cutting the process off at some point. If they do, then Obama will be faced with the choice of reneging on his promises to stop Iran or to act. If that moment comes before November, it will be a very difficult choice indeed.

 

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All the Journalists’ Men

There are two revelations in Jeff Himmelman’s attention-getting piece in New York magazine, published last night online, about longtime Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee’s personal files and interviews on the Watergate scandal. It has been fascinating to watch the reaction to these new pieces of information–namely, which of the two stirred the hornet’s nest.

The first is that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s source known as “Z” was actually a member of the case’s grand jury. The duo have always denied this, but when presented recently with the evidence, they confirmed it. The second is that Bradlee had shared the Doubt That Dare Not Speak Its Name: that Woodward and Bernstein had taken the soft clay of truth they had uncovered and molded it into a more visually appealing finished product. It was only common sense to harbor such doubts, given the claims being made, and certainly even more rational for the editor of the newspaper running these stories. But Woodward’s reaction has been a revelation of its own.

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There are two revelations in Jeff Himmelman’s attention-getting piece in New York magazine, published last night online, about longtime Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee’s personal files and interviews on the Watergate scandal. It has been fascinating to watch the reaction to these new pieces of information–namely, which of the two stirred the hornet’s nest.

The first is that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s source known as “Z” was actually a member of the case’s grand jury. The duo have always denied this, but when presented recently with the evidence, they confirmed it. The second is that Bradlee had shared the Doubt That Dare Not Speak Its Name: that Woodward and Bernstein had taken the soft clay of truth they had uncovered and molded it into a more visually appealing finished product. It was only common sense to harbor such doubts, given the claims being made, and certainly even more rational for the editor of the newspaper running these stories. But Woodward’s reaction has been a revelation of its own.

On its face, the more damaging disclosure would seem to be that Z was a member of the grand jury. A case built on witnesses is only as strong as the credibility of those witnesses, and this story has two prominent sources: Z and “Deep Throat,” the FBI’s Mark Felt. Yet this year we have seen the credibility of both witnesses suffer greatly. Felt’s suffered from the publication of Max Holland’s Leak. Holland confirms that, in the reporting of the Watergate affair, unrelated details were forced into arranged marriages to tidy up the storyline, and that Felt was actually a disgruntled employee attempting to tarnish the reputations of those above him so he could replace them at the top of the heap. His selected leaking was designed to impugn the reputation of acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray. And there was more, as Andrew Ferguson writes in COMMENTARY:

The notes Woodward took at this meeting with Felt, now in a university archive, differ markedly from the account that Woodward gives in All the President’s Men. “Many sentences [in the book] are moved around and the progression of Felt’s remarks rearranged,” Holland writes. “Occasionally the meaning of what [Felt] said is substantially changed….The account in the book contains words, phrases, and sometimes whole sentences that are not present in the type-written notes at all.” Here, then, is what we’ve been dealing with all these years: an inaccurate account explaining an erroneous newspaper article containing facts supplied by a double-dealing source who knew them to be untrue. A messy business, journalism.

But even with Felt’s integrity reeling, our heroic journalists still had the other source: Z. Woodward and Bernstein had always assured the public that Z was not a grand juror–that would have landed everyone involved in serious legal trouble. Just as significantly, in 1973 Woodward, in Himmelman’s description, “put Z’s information on the same level as Deep Throat’s. That’s a pretty high level.”

But now it seems Z’s cooperation on the story was unlawful, and that Woodward and Bernstein had been misleading the public about her true identity. That would call her credibility into serious question. In response, Woodward changed his tune. “This is a footnote to a footnote,” he said, dismissing her importance. (Politico quotes Woodward and Bernstein now saying Z was of “little consequence.”)

The controversy around Z, in the wake of Himmelman’s story, is being treated as a footnote itself, however. Logic would dictate that this piece of information is the true blockbuster. Instead, however, everyone involved is consumed by the human drama of Bradlee’s doubts. Bradlee is a mentor and something of a father figure to Woodward; Woodward was a mentor to Himmelman. And now there is a triangle of mistrust. Privately, to Himmelman and Bradlee, Woodward reacted as though there is now a knife in his back. Publicly, he has blamed Himmelman, because that is the easy thing to do. He lashed out at Himmelman after imploring him not to publish the fact that Bradlee once had doubts about Woodward’s story. But the knife is Bradlee’s–if there is a knife at all.

It turns out Woodward’s credibility isn’t faring much better than that of his sources. He says Bradlee’s doubts were fleeting, or never really there. He told Politico that there’s another interview in which Bradlee says he doesn’t doubt the veracity of the story. But he’s grasping at straws–Bradlee confirmed his doubts again more recently, in the runup to this story and in discussions about whether those doubts should be mentioned at all.

But then he drops the hammer: “It’s almost like the way Nixon’s tapings did him in, [Himmelman’s] own interview with Bradlee does him in.” Woodward, in his panicked paranoia, reaches for his vanquished enemy, because that victory is what still defines him. Later, he adds: “He can write what he wants, but his own transcript undercuts his premise. It’s one of those Perry Mason moments.”

Woodward, searching for comparisons, conjures a fictionalized television hero, who pieces together the evidence that the show’s Hollywood scriptwriters make sure fit neatly into place just as the viewers at home brace for the episode’s denouement.

Woodward is more right than he knows. This whole story is a lot like that–and Bradlee knew it.

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Obama Plays Up “Achievements” in New Ad

Obama’s critics have said that he can’t run a campaign based on his achievements, and he proved them right today with a new video ad. Entitled “Forward” – which is also the latest in a string of Obama campaign slogans – the ad’s basic message is “things aren’t great, but they could be worse, so let’s stop focusing on the past.” At the end, there’s an unimpressive scrolling list of Obama’s supposed presidential accomplishments:

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Obama’s critics have said that he can’t run a campaign based on his achievements, and he proved them right today with a new video ad. Entitled “Forward” – which is also the latest in a string of Obama campaign slogans – the ad’s basic message is “things aren’t great, but they could be worse, so let’s stop focusing on the past.” At the end, there’s an unimpressive scrolling list of Obama’s supposed presidential accomplishments:

Don’t get me wrong, the video is well done, and will probably be convincing to certain people who badly want to believe their 2008 vote didn’t go to waste. But the list of achievements is comically weak, mixing a sparse number of actual accomplishments (killing Osama bin Laden, ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) with vague or insignificant ones (“protected reproductive rights,” “fuel efficiency standards doubling” by 2025).

In the ad, Obama boasts that 4.2 million jobs have been saved, despite the 4.4 million jobs lost under President Bush. But he fails to mention that 4.3 million jobs were also lost during his first 13 months in office, and the unemployment rate is higher now than it was when he was inaugurated. Even the tax cuts for 160 million Americans that he mentions in the ad are really short-term payroll tax cut extensions that evade necessary long-term tax reform. And the U.S. oil production that’s at an “8-year high” is due in no part to Obama’s policies, which have been to impede domestic oil production whenever possible.

Some of his supposed accomplishments include a hodgepodge of random, low-impact measures he frantically instituted during the last six months or so (i.e., “incentives to hire unemployed veterans” and “guaranteed coverage for contraception”). The list reads as if the campaign was scraping bottom to dig up anything they could tout as a success. Those who want to believe Obama has had a triumphant first term probably will do so. But others aren’t likely to walk away convinced.

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Netanyahu Isn’t Worried About Olmert

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke in New York yesterday at a conference organized by the Jerusalem Post. In his speech, Olmert attacked the policies of his successor Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, defended President Obama against criticism and also called for dividing Jerusalem, which he once served as mayor. According to the New York Times, this is yet another blow to Netanyahu, coming as it did after similar statements from disgruntled former security officials who also trashed Israel’s current government. The Times devoted a fair amount of space to the story this morning and even speculated that Olmert’s remarks “reflected domestic political calculations of his own.”

But the idea that Olmert’s criticism means much in Israel is farcical. As the Times noted in a sentence tucked away in the middle of the story, Olmert is under indictment for corruption charges and faces prison if convicted. What they left out is that he left office in 2009 without even attempting to run for re-election not just because of his legal problems but because he was widely perceived as perhaps the most incompetent and unpopular prime minister in the country’s history. At a time when Netanyahu is riding high in the polls at home and considering moving up elections to strengthen his already tight grip on power for another four years, Olmert is a political pariah with no influence, no following and no future in public life. The only place he can get a hearing these days is in the United States where left-wing audiences enjoy his carping about those who do enjoy the confidence of the Israeli public who rejected him. The general lack of interest in this story on the part of the Israeli press confirms this.

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke in New York yesterday at a conference organized by the Jerusalem Post. In his speech, Olmert attacked the policies of his successor Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, defended President Obama against criticism and also called for dividing Jerusalem, which he once served as mayor. According to the New York Times, this is yet another blow to Netanyahu, coming as it did after similar statements from disgruntled former security officials who also trashed Israel’s current government. The Times devoted a fair amount of space to the story this morning and even speculated that Olmert’s remarks “reflected domestic political calculations of his own.”

But the idea that Olmert’s criticism means much in Israel is farcical. As the Times noted in a sentence tucked away in the middle of the story, Olmert is under indictment for corruption charges and faces prison if convicted. What they left out is that he left office in 2009 without even attempting to run for re-election not just because of his legal problems but because he was widely perceived as perhaps the most incompetent and unpopular prime minister in the country’s history. At a time when Netanyahu is riding high in the polls at home and considering moving up elections to strengthen his already tight grip on power for another four years, Olmert is a political pariah with no influence, no following and no future in public life. The only place he can get a hearing these days is in the United States where left-wing audiences enjoy his carping about those who do enjoy the confidence of the Israeli public who rejected him. The general lack of interest in this story on the part of the Israeli press confirms this.

As it happens, Olmert was heckled and booed yesterday by some in his audience. Uncivil behavior like that is unfortunate, and Olmert was right to chide those Americans who did so for trying to be more Israeli than the Israelis. But it should also be pointed out that Olmert, a former member of the Likud, spent decades making a good living (if the corruption charges against him are proven to be true) pandering to such audiences of American Jews and encouraging them to be as fervent as possible in their backing for Likud’s stands on settlements, a united Jerusalem and peace negotiations, so it’s more than a bit hypocritical for him to now tell them to shut up.

As for the some of the substance of his remarks, Olmert contradicted himself about the peace plan he offered to the Palestinians in 2008. He claimed Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas did not say “no” to the plan, saying that others in his government told him not to accept. But then he went on to say that the “Palestinians are guilty.” He went on to explain that, “They should have answered my plan, and they should have answered Barak’s plan” referring to the similarly generous peace offers made in 2000 and 2001 that would have given the Palestinians an independent state in Gaza, almost all of the West Bank and a share in Jerusalem. But because there is no difference between a “no” and simply walking away from the negotiations without an answer, this is a distinction without a difference.

Later in an interview with the Times, he also made the following astonishing statement in connection with Israel’s efforts to bring attention to the nuclear threat from Iran:

“America is not a client state of Israel — maybe the opposite is true,” he said. “Why should we want America to be put in a situation where whatever they do will be interpreted as if they obeyed orders from Jerusalem?”

Now when a former prime minister of Israel suggests his country is a “client state” of the United States and seeks to undermine the efforts of those who have pushed for a tougher stance on Iran, that is curious. Conspiracy theorists and anti-Semites are likely to validate Olmert’s concerns, but since when does an Israeli leader seek to make policy based on such considerations? But then perhaps that’s the point. Olmert isn’t an Israeli leader in any real sense anymore, and it’s ridiculous for the Times or anyone else to treat him as if he were.

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Romney Weighs in on Chinese Dissident

Mitt Romney spoke out yesterday about the case of Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese dissident who escaped house arrest and is reportedly seeking asylum at the U.S. embassy in Beijing:

“My concern at this moment is for the safety of Chen Guangcheng and his family,” Romney said in a statement released by his campaign on Sunday. “My hope is that U.S. officials will take every measure to ensure that Chen and his family members are protected from further persecution.” …

Weighing in on Sunday, Romney said Chen’s escape “points to the broader issue of human rights in China.”

“Our country must play a strong role in urging reform in China and supporting those fighting for the freedoms we enjoy,” Romney said.

Neither the White House nor President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign has officially weighed in on the issue.

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Mitt Romney spoke out yesterday about the case of Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese dissident who escaped house arrest and is reportedly seeking asylum at the U.S. embassy in Beijing:

“My concern at this moment is for the safety of Chen Guangcheng and his family,” Romney said in a statement released by his campaign on Sunday. “My hope is that U.S. officials will take every measure to ensure that Chen and his family members are protected from further persecution.” …

Weighing in on Sunday, Romney said Chen’s escape “points to the broader issue of human rights in China.”

“Our country must play a strong role in urging reform in China and supporting those fighting for the freedoms we enjoy,” Romney said.

Neither the White House nor President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign has officially weighed in on the issue.

Romney is right to say that the U.S. needs to do more to pressure China on democratic reforms, but it’s probably best for the White House and Obama campaign to say as little as possible about this issue, at least until after Secretary Clinton’s meetings in Beijing this week. As Max wrote yesterday, there is no question as to what the administration should do in this case. For the sake of our principles and national interests, the U.S. has to provide shelter to Chen.

Coming on the heels of the Bo Xilai scandal, Chen’s escape is yet another massive public embarrassment that seems to reveal serious cracks in the Chinese government. Is it really possible that a blind dissident was able to not only escape house arrest, but also travel 500 miles to the U.S. embassy – days before a prescheduled meeting with top U.S. administration officials – without inside help? It certainly doesn’t seem likely. And that will no doubt make for some dicey meetings between U.S. and Chinese officials this week.

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