Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 9, 2012

Obama’s Evolution on Same-Sex Marriage

The evolution, it appears, is now complete. Barack Obama – who once supported same-sex marriages (when he ran for state senator in Illinois in 1996), then opposed them (when he ran for Senate in 2004 against Alan Keyes), and then was unsure what he thought (as president) – told ABC’s Robin Roberts, “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” The president added that this is a personal position and he still supports the concept of states deciding the issue on their own.

I have several thoughts on this development, beginning with the wisdom of the timing. The president announced his position one day after voters in North Carolina voted to support adding an amendment on marriage to its constitution, banning same-sex marriage. As a friend pointed out to me, the president was shrewd to wait until after yesterday’s vote, which allows him to look like he is willing to buck public opinion rather than looking like his endorsement carried no weight in the vote.

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The evolution, it appears, is now complete. Barack Obama – who once supported same-sex marriages (when he ran for state senator in Illinois in 1996), then opposed them (when he ran for Senate in 2004 against Alan Keyes), and then was unsure what he thought (as president) – told ABC’s Robin Roberts, “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” The president added that this is a personal position and he still supports the concept of states deciding the issue on their own.

I have several thoughts on this development, beginning with the wisdom of the timing. The president announced his position one day after voters in North Carolina voted to support adding an amendment on marriage to its constitution, banning same-sex marriage. As a friend pointed out to me, the president was shrewd to wait until after yesterday’s vote, which allows him to look like he is willing to buck public opinion rather than looking like his endorsement carried no weight in the vote.

Then there is Obama’s explanation for his decision, which was both intelligent and familiar to those who have followed this debate. But there was also, as there almost always is with Obama, an element of moral preening.

“This is something that, you know, we have talked about over the years and [Michelle], you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do,” Obama said.

And that is that, in the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, you know, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president.

Set aside for the moment the theological dimensions of this issue, which are far more complicated than Obama portrays. What the president has done is not simply shift his position; it’s that he justifies his shift as something Jesus would support. The argument being deployed goes something like this: Michelle and I are practicing Christians. What we care most deeply about is how we treat other people. We believe in the Golden Rule. And if you do, you’ll support same-sex marriage. If you don’t, you’ll oppose it.

Is it uncouth to point out that in 2004, when it was politically convenient for him, Obama argued that his religious faith dictated that marriage should be between a man and a woman? Now his faith dictates the opposite. What has changed during the last eight years isn’t the Golden Rule or the words and teachings of Jesus, the New Testament, or the Hebrew Bible; it is what is most politically expedient for a certain politician from Chicago.

Barack Obama wouldn’t be the first politician to shape his views based on the prevailing political winds and the needs of the moment. There are certainly serious arguments to be made on behalf of same-sex marriage, just as there are serious arguments to be made against it. But what I hope we’ll be spared from is Obama, having gone back and forth and back again on gay marriage, lecturing us about how his latest stance is the only principled and morally justifiable one.

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The Politics of Marriage in the Obama Era

Proponents of gay marriage will celebrate today’s statement by President Obama in which he put himself on the side of changing the traditional definition of marriage as a courageous stand that marks a turning point in the nation’s attitudes on the issue. But as with the case of his positions on human rights crises in Libya and Syria, the president was “leading from behind” as he is just the latest major figure in his party to jump on the gay marriage bandwagon. There is no question that support for greater acceptance of gays and even a willingness to contemplate some form of civil unions or gay marriage is widespread and not limited to the political left. Changing attitudes on the part of large sectors of the public who have more of a libertarian than a traditional approach have rendered Obama’s position more a function of the center than the margins.

The decision also reflects a belief among Democratic strategists that even the most divisive social issues work in their favor, because any debate on abortion, contraception or gay rights allows them to paint the entire GOP as intolerant. Just as they were able to turn a discussion about the way ObamaCare attacked the religious freedom of the Catholic Church into one about a bogus war on women, they may now think a gay marriage initiative will work the same way in convincing the people who voted for Obama in 2008 they must turn out to fend off the GOP this year. In making this statement in the middle of his re-election bid after years of dithering on the issue, the president is sending a signal he believes this is the sort of thing he needs to do to fire up his otherwise unenthusiastic base. Rather than a “profile in courage” moment, Obama’s gay marriage stand seems more like an attempt to rekindle the flagging passion of the “hope” and “change” fan base.

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Proponents of gay marriage will celebrate today’s statement by President Obama in which he put himself on the side of changing the traditional definition of marriage as a courageous stand that marks a turning point in the nation’s attitudes on the issue. But as with the case of his positions on human rights crises in Libya and Syria, the president was “leading from behind” as he is just the latest major figure in his party to jump on the gay marriage bandwagon. There is no question that support for greater acceptance of gays and even a willingness to contemplate some form of civil unions or gay marriage is widespread and not limited to the political left. Changing attitudes on the part of large sectors of the public who have more of a libertarian than a traditional approach have rendered Obama’s position more a function of the center than the margins.

The decision also reflects a belief among Democratic strategists that even the most divisive social issues work in their favor, because any debate on abortion, contraception or gay rights allows them to paint the entire GOP as intolerant. Just as they were able to turn a discussion about the way ObamaCare attacked the religious freedom of the Catholic Church into one about a bogus war on women, they may now think a gay marriage initiative will work the same way in convincing the people who voted for Obama in 2008 they must turn out to fend off the GOP this year. In making this statement in the middle of his re-election bid after years of dithering on the issue, the president is sending a signal he believes this is the sort of thing he needs to do to fire up his otherwise unenthusiastic base. Rather than a “profile in courage” moment, Obama’s gay marriage stand seems more like an attempt to rekindle the flagging passion of the “hope” and “change” fan base.

Acceptance of gays is now commonplace in much of American culture, especially in popular entertainment where the depiction of gay couples is not thoroughly uncontroversial. To the extent that this reflects the gradual dying out of prejudice against homosexuals, this is to be applauded. But the problem here is the consequent desire of some in government to impose their values on all Americans. Tolerance and acceptance of gays has often been translated into discrimination against religious institutions that differ on the legitimacy of same-sex marriage if not on the rights of gay individuals. That is why Catholic and some Orthodox Jewish agencies have been chased out of adoption services much to the detriment of children in need.

Once we strip away the political cynicism from the president’s statement what we find is an unbalanced approach that will, in the hands of all-powerful government agencies that Obama and the Democrats seek to make even more unaccountable, launch a new wave of discrimination against those who cannot for religious reasons accept gay marriage on these terms. It is on this point that many Americans who might otherwise be inclined to accept the president’s decision must demur.

As has been made apparent on many recent occasions when voters in states as diverse as North Carolina and California have been asked whether they wish to change the definition of marriage, the answer of the majority is no. Some may consider this a civil rights question in which the majority cannot be allowed to rule. But until this issue becomes one which cannot be employed to wage a kulturkampf against traditional religious believers, one suspects that many, if not most Americans will not be comfortable in throwing out existing laws. As Nate Silver notes in a blog post in the New York Times that supported Obama’s decision and considered it politically advantageous, though attitudes have shifted, as many Americans are strongly opposed to the measure as those who enthusiastically support it.

In this light, while it is possible the president’s statement will help with his base, a reasoned if low-key defense of traditional values will not hurt his opponent.

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Another Warren Bizarre Plot Twist

Just when you thought the Elizabeth Warren controversy couldn’t get any more disastrous, Breitbart’s Michael Patrick Leahy reports on yet another bizarre plot twist:

For over a quarter of a century, Elizabeth Warren has described herself as a Native American. When recently asked to provide evidence of her ancestry, she pointed to an unsubstantiated claim on an 1894 Oklahoma Territory marriage license application by her great-great grand uncle William J. Crawford that his mother, O.C. Sarah Smith Crawford, Ms. Warren’s great-great-great grandmother, was a Cherokee. …

But the most stunning discovery about the life of O.C. Sarah Smith Crawford is that her husband, Ms. Warren’s great-great-great grandfather, was apparently a member of the Tennessee Militia who rounded up Cherokees from their family homes in the Southeastern United States and herded them into government-built stockades in what was then called Ross’s Landing (now Chattanooga), Tennessee—the point of origin for the horrific Trail of Tears, which began in January 1837.

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Just when you thought the Elizabeth Warren controversy couldn’t get any more disastrous, Breitbart’s Michael Patrick Leahy reports on yet another bizarre plot twist:

For over a quarter of a century, Elizabeth Warren has described herself as a Native American. When recently asked to provide evidence of her ancestry, she pointed to an unsubstantiated claim on an 1894 Oklahoma Territory marriage license application by her great-great grand uncle William J. Crawford that his mother, O.C. Sarah Smith Crawford, Ms. Warren’s great-great-great grandmother, was a Cherokee. …

But the most stunning discovery about the life of O.C. Sarah Smith Crawford is that her husband, Ms. Warren’s great-great-great grandfather, was apparently a member of the Tennessee Militia who rounded up Cherokees from their family homes in the Southeastern United States and herded them into government-built stockades in what was then called Ross’s Landing (now Chattanooga), Tennessee—the point of origin for the horrific Trail of Tears, which began in January 1837.

Notably, Warren hasn’t denied the story, instead dismissing it as a distraction and “politics as usual.” If she was actually aware of this ancestry beforehand, it might explain her frenzied, stumbling response to the controversy from the beginning. With a bombshell like that dangling over her head, it’s no wonder she was evasive about her history.

At the very least, the development will help keep the controversy alive, and increase pressure on Warren to release more information about her minority status claims. Sen. Scott Brown is now calling on Warren to release her law school applications:

“Serious questions have been raised about the legitimacy of Elizabeth Warren’s claims to Native American ancestry and whether it was appropriate for her to assume minority status as a college professor,” the statement said.

“The best way to satisfy these questions is for Elizabeth Warren to authorize the release of her law school applications and all personnel files from the various universities where she has taught.”

The death-by-a-thousand-cuts scandal harkens back to Attorney General Martha Coakley’s downfall when she ran against Brown for Senate in 2010. In many senses, Warren is a stronger candidate than Coakley was. She’s been able to build more of a national profile and is considered a rising progressive star, whereas Coakley was never really able to energize the liberal base. But Coakley’s demise also wasn’t due to any overwhelming flaws as much as it was due to a number of small-scale mishaps that played into the sense she was an out-of-touch elitist who didn’t want to smudge her manicured shaking hands outside Fenway Park.

The growing narrative about Warren, on the other hand, is that she’s an ivory tower liberal with some shady character flaws. This latest Trail of Tears development also makes her something of a punchline, similar to how Coakley became a running joke after she cluelessly claimed former Red Sox pitcher and Brown supporter Curt Schilling was a Yankee fan. While the Coakley’s meltdown happened shortly before Election Day, Warren still has time to repair her image. But her window of opportunity is quickly closing, and the drip-drip of details like this will make it difficult for her to turn things around.

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No Iran Dissension Within Israeli Coalition

With the dust settling from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s brilliant political maneuver in which he vastly expanded his coalition and his power, the question remains what will he do with it in the next year? While Israelis seem more interested in domestic political implications of the move, not surprisingly, most foreign observers are focused on the impact of the new coalition on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat. Some of Netanyahu’s frustrated critics are holding on to the hope that somehow the addition of Kadima head Shaul Mofaz will moderate the prime minister’s stand on the issue. But this is not only a misreading of Mofaz but of Netanyahu’s position.

As the prime minister demonstrated today in his meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, far from Mofaz’s entry into the Cabinet acting as a restraint on him, the creation of a government that can count on nearly 80 percent of the Knesset means that when Netanyahu speaks now there can be no doubt that he represents a strong consensus within his country on the issue. By bringing Mofaz as well as Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to speak to Ashton, Netanyahu demonstrated that there is across-the-board support for his demands that Iran’s nuclear program be stopped dead in its tracks.

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With the dust settling from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s brilliant political maneuver in which he vastly expanded his coalition and his power, the question remains what will he do with it in the next year? While Israelis seem more interested in domestic political implications of the move, not surprisingly, most foreign observers are focused on the impact of the new coalition on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat. Some of Netanyahu’s frustrated critics are holding on to the hope that somehow the addition of Kadima head Shaul Mofaz will moderate the prime minister’s stand on the issue. But this is not only a misreading of Mofaz but of Netanyahu’s position.

As the prime minister demonstrated today in his meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, far from Mofaz’s entry into the Cabinet acting as a restraint on him, the creation of a government that can count on nearly 80 percent of the Knesset means that when Netanyahu speaks now there can be no doubt that he represents a strong consensus within his country on the issue. By bringing Mofaz as well as Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to speak to Ashton, Netanyahu demonstrated that there is across-the-board support for his demands that Iran’s nuclear program be stopped dead in its tracks.

Ashton, a virulent critic of Israel who has been ceded control of the P5+1 talks with Iran by President Obama, may have intended her visit to Israel as an opportunity to mend fences so as to allow her to continue the diplomatic minuet she is dancing with the Islamist regime to continue unimpeded by Israeli actions. But Netanyahu used the meeting to lay down the guidelines for the upcoming negotiations in Baghdad. As Haaretz reported today:

During the meeting, the Israelis presented a rigid set of demands for the Iranians, a senior Israeli official said. Netanyahu and the three ministers told Ashton that Israel’s position leading up to the Baghdad talks is that the talks will be considered as progress only if they would yield an Iranian guarantee – with a clear timetable – to halt uranium enrichment, to remove all enriched uranium out of Iranian soil, and to dismantle the underground enrichment facility in Fordo, which is near Qom.

In doing so, Netanyahu is attempting to box in the Western negotiators who have given every indication that they will be happy to allow the Iranians to drag out the talks and would be satisfied with a deal that would leave their nuclear program intact. These terms were delivered to Ashton, but the real audience for Israel’s position is in Washington.

Three years ago, President Obama may have entertained hopes about toppling Netanyahu, but now he is faced with the fact that the Israeli is stronger than ever. Though fears about a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran are probably exaggerated — Netanyahu would almost certainly not contemplate such an option while Western talks with Iran are ongoing — the new coalition will force the administration to stop listening to dissident Israeli voices carping at Netanyahu for his tough stance on Iran. As Haaretz also notes, the idea that Mofaz disagrees with the prime minister on Iran is a misperception fueled by Israeli political maneuvering:

According to a report published by Israeli newspaper Maariv on Wednesday, several officials who took part in the coalitional negotiations between Mofaz and Netanyahu said the two are “coordinated” over the issue of Iran and are “of one mind” when it comes to stopping Iran’s nuclear program.

Netanyahu knows Iran has no intention of giving up its nuclear chips in the current talks. He now has a broad government that will back him on any decision to take action. That places more pressure than ever on Obama not to allow the U.S. to be dragged into an unsatisfactory deal by Ashton that will have negative political repercussions at home and might force Israel to act on its own. Though the president may hope to kick the Iranian can down the road until after the fall U.S. elections, Netanyahu’s coup may have made it more difficult for the president to do so.

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Will Obama Announce Marriage “Evolution” at Award Ceremony?

The Obama campaign finally weighed in on the gay marriage debate this week, criticizing a North Carolina referendum banning gay marriage and civil unions that passed overwhelmingly yesterday:

“The president has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples,” Obama North Carolina campaign spokesman Cameron French said, in a Tuesday statement on the vote over Amendment 1.

“He believes the North Carolina measure singles out and discriminates against committed gay and lesbian couples, which is why he did not support it,” said French. “President Obama has long believed that gay and lesbian couples deserve the same rights and legal protections as straight couples and is disappointed in the passage of this amendment. On a federal level, he has ended the legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act and extended key benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.”

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The Obama campaign finally weighed in on the gay marriage debate this week, criticizing a North Carolina referendum banning gay marriage and civil unions that passed overwhelmingly yesterday:

“The president has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples,” Obama North Carolina campaign spokesman Cameron French said, in a Tuesday statement on the vote over Amendment 1.

“He believes the North Carolina measure singles out and discriminates against committed gay and lesbian couples, which is why he did not support it,” said French. “President Obama has long believed that gay and lesbian couples deserve the same rights and legal protections as straight couples and is disappointed in the passage of this amendment. On a federal level, he has ended the legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act and extended key benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.”

This doesn’t indicate a shift in position for Obama, who supports civil unions but has supposedly been in a vague state of evolution on gay marriage for the past year and a half. But the lack of specifics in his statement – notice he doesn’t make a distinction between gay marriage and civil unions – shows how much effort he’s making to remain ambiguous on the issue, at least for now.

According to ABC News, Obama’s cabinet members have suddenly gone silent on the subject on gay marriage. But the issue is unlikely to go away, thanks to some awkward campaign scheduling next Monday. Obama is slated to attend an award ceremony with a prominent gay marriage advocate, and then make an appearance at a fundraiser with Ricky Martin. Seriously:

There’s a chance that the radio silence might be broken at any public events cabinet secretaries have in the near future, when a reporter could sneak in a question about gay marriage. And the topic is likely to resurface on Monday, if not frequently before then, when Obama accepts a “medal of distinction” from Barnard College, which also is giving the award to Evan Wolfson, the founder of the pro-gay group Freedom to Marry.

That same day, Obama is scheduled to collect checks from donors in New York City at a fundraiser with Ricky Martin aimed at the gay community.

Also, note this. The gay marriage advocate has already promised to raise the issue with the president at the Barnard College event, reports ABC News:

Wolfson said that when he meets Obama at Barnard, “I will encourage him to do what Vice President Biden has done to complete his journey in support of the freedom to marry and join the majority for marriage.”

Obama can’t possibly be crazy enough to meet up with gay marriage activists in a public setting at a time like this, can he? Maybe Ed Morrissey is right, and there are too many coincidences here. Any chance that Obama announces the completion of his gay marriage evolution at this Barnard College award ceremony, and then swoops into the gay community fundraiser with Ricky Martin, effectively solving his campaign’s troubles with Hollywood and gay donors all in a single day? That would certainly be the perfect time and place to do it, and it would leave Mitt Romney trapped in Obama’s self-created news cycle once again.

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Don’t Confuse Power Consolidation with Dictatorship in Iraq

Since the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been steadily consolidating power. Political opponents cry foul, and raise the specter of dictatorship. Iraq may have tons of problems but, for the time being, dictatorship is not among them. True, Maliki is consolidating power, but any competent leader in Iraq would. Creating a functional, accountable government requires it.

The Iraqi constitution was an achievement, but it set Iraq down the path to paralyzed, dysfunctional government. Here’s how it works: The Iraqi people elect a parliament, the parliament chooses a president, the president chooses the prime minister, the prime minister appoints his cabinet, and then the Iraqi parliament ratifies the whole package. In practice, this sounds like checks-and-balances. In reality, the parliamentary blocs refuse to ratify the government unless they each get an allotment of ministries. Pundits used to complain that nothing could be worse than Israel’s system of cobbling together governments, but the situation in Iraq is worse. Compounding the problem is that many of the party slates are fractious. Party leaders cannot strike deals without risking fracturing their slate; politicians can flee their party after the election causing party numbers always to be in flux. It’s in vogue to describe Ayad Allawi, for example, as a secularist, but he populates his list with an untenable mix of unrepentant Sunni Islamists who would be equally at home in al-Qaeda as they are in Allawi’s Iraqiya Party, and “ex” Baathists who would be equally at home in Saddam’s palace as they would be in Allawi’s Jordanian villa or British state house.

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Since the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been steadily consolidating power. Political opponents cry foul, and raise the specter of dictatorship. Iraq may have tons of problems but, for the time being, dictatorship is not among them. True, Maliki is consolidating power, but any competent leader in Iraq would. Creating a functional, accountable government requires it.

The Iraqi constitution was an achievement, but it set Iraq down the path to paralyzed, dysfunctional government. Here’s how it works: The Iraqi people elect a parliament, the parliament chooses a president, the president chooses the prime minister, the prime minister appoints his cabinet, and then the Iraqi parliament ratifies the whole package. In practice, this sounds like checks-and-balances. In reality, the parliamentary blocs refuse to ratify the government unless they each get an allotment of ministries. Pundits used to complain that nothing could be worse than Israel’s system of cobbling together governments, but the situation in Iraq is worse. Compounding the problem is that many of the party slates are fractious. Party leaders cannot strike deals without risking fracturing their slate; politicians can flee their party after the election causing party numbers always to be in flux. It’s in vogue to describe Ayad Allawi, for example, as a secularist, but he populates his list with an untenable mix of unrepentant Sunni Islamists who would be equally at home in al-Qaeda as they are in Allawi’s Iraqiya Party, and “ex” Baathists who would be equally at home in Saddam’s palace as they would be in Allawi’s Jordanian villa or British state house.

Maliki is between a rock and a hard place. The constitutional system the Americans helped craft has given him a cabinet akin to an American one in which Karl Rove would work aside Al Sharpton, and Doug Feith and Samantha Power share a cubicle. To accuse Maliki of being a dictator for consolidating power and trying to implement an agenda is like accusing Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, or Barack Obama of doing the same.

So what has Maliki done? Maliki, like Allawi and As-Sadr, created a shadow circle of advisers to whom he turns to craft policy; the ministers generally just collect their pensions. True, he has moved to arrest other Iraqi politicians like Tareq al-Hashemi. But, just because Maliki targeted Hashemi doesn’t mean that Hashemi wasn’t guilty. INTERPOL certainly believed the evidence against Hashemi as, frankly, do even many of Hashemi’s supporters.

Maliki successfully did what Allawi was unable to: form a government. Maliki is far from perfect and, like many other Iraqi candidates, has a serious corruption problem within his government. Allawi is the sour grapes candidate, however, and spreads money—mysteriously donated to him by Jordanians, Saudis, and others outside Iraq— around Washington and Europe to sow uncertainty. That Masud Barzani calls Maliki a dictator is risible, as Barzani remains the most autocratic figure in Iraq, basically Saddam without the mustache. That’s another story, however.

Now it’s time for Maliki to sink or swim. He should have his chance to succeed, and then he should be held accountable to the voters. The proper position of the United States would be to ensure the sanctity of the elections, the timing of which should be set in stone.

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Sen. Kirk’s First Message After Stroke

In his first public message since his stroke, Sen. Mark Kirk discusses his rehabilitation process and how he’s anxious “to get back to work to vote to spend less, borrow less and tax less to fix our economy.”

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In his first public message since his stroke, Sen. Mark Kirk discusses his rehabilitation process and how he’s anxious “to get back to work to vote to spend less, borrow less and tax less to fix our economy.”

Just 15 weeks after the stroke, Kirk’s recovery seems to be progressing well. The video shows him walking with help from a three-footed cane and rehabilitation aide, but with some apparent paralysis on the left side of his face and his arm. Anyone who has a family member or friend who has suffered a stroke knows that recovery is a long and challenging process. But Kirk has the advantage of being fairly young and in otherwise good health, and he reportedly hopes to return to work after the August recess.

And the sooner he returns, the better for conservatives. While many of the rising conservative leaders in Congress are very strong on economic issues, Kirk has also been a critical voice on foreign policy and an unwavering defender of Israel. So much so that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the senator’s work at the beginning of his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee earlier this year.

Best wishes for a speedy recovery to Kirk, and let’s hope it’s not long before he’s able to climb those 45 steps from the parking lot to the Senate front door.

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Fayyad Acknowledges Palestinians Are “Losing the Argument”

While it’s true the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, their “friends” don’t do them any favors either. From the conspiracy theorists ranting about the “Israel Lobby” to “peace studies” intellectuals who inevitably turn out to be vicious anti-Semites to the proudly ignorant activists who debase the Civil Rights movement and the struggle against South African apartheid by using those terms in vain, pro-Palestinian advocates have been manifestly unable to mount a serious intellectual argument for their cause. And failed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad seems to know it.

Reuters interviewed the hapless technocrat, and he couched his failure in terms more sensible than his allies ever offer:

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said on Tuesday the Palestinians may have “lost the argument” on the international stage for an independent state but cautioned that continued Israeli occupation was unsustainable….

He also warned his administration’s future was clouded by severe financial strains and said the Palestinians had failed to galvanize a distracted world behind their cause.

“I think we are losing the argument, if we have not already lost the argument. But that doesn’t make our position wrong,” said the former World Bank economist, a political independent who has had strong support amongst Western powers.

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While it’s true the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, their “friends” don’t do them any favors either. From the conspiracy theorists ranting about the “Israel Lobby” to “peace studies” intellectuals who inevitably turn out to be vicious anti-Semites to the proudly ignorant activists who debase the Civil Rights movement and the struggle against South African apartheid by using those terms in vain, pro-Palestinian advocates have been manifestly unable to mount a serious intellectual argument for their cause. And failed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad seems to know it.

Reuters interviewed the hapless technocrat, and he couched his failure in terms more sensible than his allies ever offer:

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said on Tuesday the Palestinians may have “lost the argument” on the international stage for an independent state but cautioned that continued Israeli occupation was unsustainable….

He also warned his administration’s future was clouded by severe financial strains and said the Palestinians had failed to galvanize a distracted world behind their cause.

“I think we are losing the argument, if we have not already lost the argument. But that doesn’t make our position wrong,” said the former World Bank economist, a political independent who has had strong support amongst Western powers.

Yes, they are losing the argument, and have been for quite some time. Statehood in the real world is not something you’re granted for pitching a fit and kicking dirt at the United Nations. The toxic mix of cowards and criminals who make up the “flotilla” movement won’t convince anyone you’re ready to be treated like a responsible actor on the world stage. And brainwashing young minds to hate your “peace partners” isn’t the strongest case for independence.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which exists to keep poor Palestinians penned up in refugee camps to radicalize instead of educate them, has contributed its own acid to the steady corrosion of the prospects for a peaceful settlement. And never permitting, let alone encouraging, a sense of moral responsibility on the part of the Palestinians is the opposite of being pro-Palestinian–it shows, as Bret Stephens pointed out in his review of Peter Beinart’s new book, “an unwitting, but profound, contempt” for the Palestinians by assigning them “no moral agency.”

Fayyad seems to understand that a myopic focus on Israel keeps people talking about Israel. But it would behoove the Palestinians and their defenders to talk a bit about the Palestinians and their cause. Is there a case for Palestinian statehood? I’m sure there is, but Fayyad may now understand that the global left cannot be relied upon to make it.

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The Muslim Brotherhood Sheds its Mask

While I am not sad to see Hosni Mubarak gone nor do I believe that the status quo ante was tenable, the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood has transformed itself into some sort of benevolent force is the type of nonsense that only Middle Eastern Studies academics can peddle. Academics and journalists who sat down with Muslim Brotherhood interlocutors and believed what the Brethren’s self-described moderates and technocrats told them were not path breaking; rather, they were useful idiots.

From a mass rally for the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Muhammad Mursi aired on Egyptian television on May 1, and transcribed by MEMRI:

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While I am not sad to see Hosni Mubarak gone nor do I believe that the status quo ante was tenable, the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood has transformed itself into some sort of benevolent force is the type of nonsense that only Middle Eastern Studies academics can peddle. Academics and journalists who sat down with Muslim Brotherhood interlocutors and believed what the Brethren’s self-described moderates and technocrats told them were not path breaking; rather, they were useful idiots.

From a mass rally for the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Muhammad Mursi aired on Egyptian television on May 1, and transcribed by MEMRI:

Safwat Higazi : We can see how the dream of the Islamic Caliphate is being realized, Allah willing, by Dr. Muhammad Mursi and his brothers, his supporters, and his political party. We can see how the great dream, shared by us all – that of the United States of the Arabs… The United States of the Arabs will be restored, Allah willing. The United States of the Arabs will be restored by this man and his supporters.

The capital of the Caliphate – the capital of the United States of the Arabs – will be Jerusalem, Allah willing…

Ceremony leader : Mursi will liberate Gaza tomorrow.

Crowds : Mursi will liberate Gaza tomorrow.

Ceremony leader : I am an Egyptian and proud of it.

Crowds : I am an Egyptian and proud of it.

Ceremony leader : Mursi will liberate Gaza tomorrow.

Crowds : Mursi will liberate Gaza tomorrow.

Ceremony leader : Mursi will liberate Gaza tomorrow.

Crowds : Mursi will liberate Gaza tomorrow.

Ceremony leader : Say: “Allah Akbar.”

Crowds : Allah Akbar.

Ceremony leader : Say: “Allah Akbar.”

Crowds : Allah Akbar.

Ceremony leader : Say: “Allah Akbar.”

Allah Akbar.

Safwat Higazi : Our capital shall not be Cairo, Mecca, or Medina. It shall be Jerusalem, Allah willing. Our cry shall be: “Millions of martyrs march toward Jerusalem.” Millions of martyrs march toward Jerusalem.

Crowds : Millions of martyrs march toward Jerusalem.

Crowds : Millions of martyrs march toward Jerusalem.

Safwat Higazi : Millions of martyrs march toward Jerusalem.

Crowds : Millions of martyrs march toward Jerusalem.

Ceremony leader : Banish the sleep from the eyes of all Jews.

Come on, you lovers of martyrdom, you are all Hamas.

From the eyes of all Jews…

Come on, you lovers of martyrdom, you are all Hamas.

Banish the sleep from the eyes of all Jews.

Come on, you lovers of martyrdom, you are all Hamas.

Forget about the whole world, forget about all the conferences.

Brandish your weapons… Say your prayers…

In awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman, Thorbjoern Jagland, head of the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee, said they chose Karman, not simply because of her work, but because Karman belongs to a Muslim movement with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, “which in the West is perceived as a threat to democracy.” Jagland added, “I don’t believe that. There are many signals that, that kind of movement can be an important part of the solution.”

Alas, in Egypt at least, the only solution to which the Muslim Brotherhood’s populist rhetoric appears to aspire is a Final Solution.

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Soros Won’t Play Ball with Democrats

In yet another sign the bloom is off the Democratic rose this year, the New York Times reports a split between party officials and leading donors may cause liberals to squander their opportunity to answer pro-Republican advertising campaigns this year. This may mean that while supporters of the GOP will pour their money into super PACs that will buy ads aimed at supporting their candidates and opposing President Obama and other Democrats, their counterparts on the left, including billionaire financier George Soros, will instead spend their money on voter turnout efforts that would duplicate those being undertaken by the party.

This decision stems in no small part from liberal objections to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that protected the right of groups as well as individuals to express their views on the issues and elections via campaign spending. Because liberals like Soros think freedom of speech when it comes to campaign expenditures should be limited, they prefer not to compete in the marketplace of ideas with conservative funders and instead concentrate their efforts on other aspects of the campaign. This is a critical mistake on their part and reflects a curious though perhaps prescient pessimism.

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In yet another sign the bloom is off the Democratic rose this year, the New York Times reports a split between party officials and leading donors may cause liberals to squander their opportunity to answer pro-Republican advertising campaigns this year. This may mean that while supporters of the GOP will pour their money into super PACs that will buy ads aimed at supporting their candidates and opposing President Obama and other Democrats, their counterparts on the left, including billionaire financier George Soros, will instead spend their money on voter turnout efforts that would duplicate those being undertaken by the party.

This decision stems in no small part from liberal objections to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that protected the right of groups as well as individuals to express their views on the issues and elections via campaign spending. Because liberals like Soros think freedom of speech when it comes to campaign expenditures should be limited, they prefer not to compete in the marketplace of ideas with conservative funders and instead concentrate their efforts on other aspects of the campaign. This is a critical mistake on their part and reflects a curious though perhaps prescient pessimism.

The Times quotes Soros as believing he and others on the left can’t compete with conservatives when it comes to campaign ads so they’d rather not try. While this is good news for Republicans, it also makes absolutely no sense. Despite liberal myths about corporations lining up for the GOP, the experience of the last two decades shows us there is no shortage of liberal wealth to be spent on political causes. Soros and his friends have the ability to match conservatives dollar for dollar if they want to. But whether it is out of a misguided belief in an indefensible principle or just plain stubbornness, they won’t do it. The result is that for all of the talk of President Obama’s enormous fundraising advantage this year, the refusal of liberals like Soros to step up in a constructive manner may severely handicap the Democrats this fall.

As the Times explained a day earlier in a separate story, Soros and his cohorts are ideologically predisposed to fund what they call “infrastructure” groups that are more concerned with turnout than influencing public opinion. They think it is cheaper and more effective to work on mobilizing minority or youth voters rather than fighting for independents. As Karl Rove proved in 2004 when he helped turnout evangelicals and other conservatives for George W. Bush, ensuring that your base votes is critical to victory. But if the Democratic Party is already spending heavily on this sector, having their big givers create redundant organizations won’t help Obama. Nor can it manufacture the same kind of surge on the part of those demographic sectors that took place in 2008. The push to re-elect a president who has not fulfilled their hopes and for whom the historic imperative to put an African American in the White House no longer exists means they cannot duplicate the enthusiasm of four years ago.

Democratic Party leaders are right to be dismayed at this lack of teamwork on the part of their leftist financial partners. But they shouldn’t be surprised. People like Soros have always been more interested in ideology than electoral politics. They want to build a powerful left, not fight for the center of the American public square. They may be driven in part by hatred of conservatives, but expecting them to play ball in order to re-elect the president may be asking too much of them.

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Wisconsin Surprise

The primary elections in the Wisconsin recall vote were held yesterday, and there was no surprise on the Democratic side. Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, won as expected against Kathleen Falk, the preferred candidate of the labor unions. Barrett got 57.5 percent of the votes; Falk a pretty dismal 34.7 percent, with the rest scattered among three other minor candidates. Barrett is the more moderate of the two main candidates but still advocates returning to the status quo ante including restoring collective bargaining rights to the public service unions.

But there was a surprise on the Republican side, a big one. Scott Walker faced only a fringe candidate in the Republican primary, one who posed no threat to him. Indeed, Walker won with 97 percent of the vote.

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The primary elections in the Wisconsin recall vote were held yesterday, and there was no surprise on the Democratic side. Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, won as expected against Kathleen Falk, the preferred candidate of the labor unions. Barrett got 57.5 percent of the votes; Falk a pretty dismal 34.7 percent, with the rest scattered among three other minor candidates. Barrett is the more moderate of the two main candidates but still advocates returning to the status quo ante including restoring collective bargaining rights to the public service unions.

But there was a surprise on the Republican side, a big one. Scott Walker faced only a fringe candidate in the Republican primary, one who posed no threat to him. Indeed, Walker won with 97 percent of the vote.

But Walker’s vote total (with 94 percent of the vote counted) was 584,929. The entire Democratic field, in a hard-fought contest, garnered only 596,089 votes. In other words, an awful lot of people turned out to support the governor and his reforms in an election he was sure to win anyway.

That’s impressive and bodes well for his chances on June 5.

 

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What Will America’s Oil Boom Bring?

Every now and then, the Iranian regime threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz or some al-Qaeda activist comes close to bombing a major oil facility, and pundits spring up and point out the cost of American reliance on foreign oil, only to be forgotten when the news cycle moves on. The fact that American politicians focus so little on energy security is nothing short of policy malpractice. The Chinese have made energy security their primary strategic ambition and have reaped the benefits. The issue for the United States is not simply jobs—although creating productive, private sector jobs should be the goal of any government—but rather national and economic security.

Enter “Securing America’s Future Energy” (SAFE). Co-chaired by General P.X. Kelley, the former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, and Frederick Smith, chairman, president, and CEO of FedEx, the organization has assembled a marquee list of top military brass and CEOs, who together make the case that energy security is not only an economic issue, but a national security matter as well. Together, the business and military experts discuss energy issues with greater fluency and depth than politicians of both parties. This is reflected in SAFE’s new report, “The New American Oil Boom,” released yesterday. Because of government regulation, the oil boom may not be as pronounced as it might be but, even so, the United States last year became a net exporter of refined petroleum products for the first time since 1949.

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Every now and then, the Iranian regime threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz or some al-Qaeda activist comes close to bombing a major oil facility, and pundits spring up and point out the cost of American reliance on foreign oil, only to be forgotten when the news cycle moves on. The fact that American politicians focus so little on energy security is nothing short of policy malpractice. The Chinese have made energy security their primary strategic ambition and have reaped the benefits. The issue for the United States is not simply jobs—although creating productive, private sector jobs should be the goal of any government—but rather national and economic security.

Enter “Securing America’s Future Energy” (SAFE). Co-chaired by General P.X. Kelley, the former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, and Frederick Smith, chairman, president, and CEO of FedEx, the organization has assembled a marquee list of top military brass and CEOs, who together make the case that energy security is not only an economic issue, but a national security matter as well. Together, the business and military experts discuss energy issues with greater fluency and depth than politicians of both parties. This is reflected in SAFE’s new report, “The New American Oil Boom,” released yesterday. Because of government regulation, the oil boom may not be as pronounced as it might be but, even so, the United States last year became a net exporter of refined petroleum products for the first time since 1949.

Petroleum fuels account for 37 percent of U.S. primary energy demand, and during the past five years, U.S. households and businesses have spent a total of $755 billion annually, a major drain on disposable income. Transportation is especially hostage to oil. Liquid fuels provide 97 percent of the energy needed to move cars, trucks, seaborne ships, and aircraft. When the White House pursues policies that limit domestic fuel production, they cripple the economy and empower foreign exporters. Ethanol is no solution. Not only does it drive up the cost of food, but because ethanol-based fuels are priced on the same scale as petroleum fuels, they do not lower the price.

The report, however, is clear-eyed about what the current American oil boom will mean and, as important, what it will not:

As U.S. levels of oil imports continue to fall, the trade deficit will improve, and the transfer of U.S. wealth abroad will decrease. This will help strengthen the dollar and increase investment in the domestic economy… But it is important to be clear-eyed about the effect the boom in oil production will have on American energy security. Rising domestic production will not shield consumers from oil price volatility, and it will not lower gasoline prices over the long term. It will also not allow the United States to abdicate its role in the Middle East.

SAFE is correct that “America’s dependence on oil represents one of the most dangerous and pressing national security threats facing the country today.” Their conclusion that “as long as the United States remains dependent on oil as the primary fuel in our transformation sector, the nation will remain vulnerable to the effects of oil price volatility and debilitating price shocks” will be more controversial. Any strategy, however, that strengthens the economy and marginalizes Saudi and Iranian influence is a noble one to pursue.

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Primaries Show Obama 2008 is Over

Some liberals are trying to interpret the crushing defeat of six-term Republican Richard Lugar in an Indiana Republican senatorial primary as the creation of an opportunity for the Democrats to steal a GOP seat this fall. But the narrative being promoted today about rabid Tea Party extremists sacrificing another noble Republican moderate shows just how out of touch liberal theorists are with the country. Lugar was the ultimate establishment insider and President Obama’s favorite Republican when he was in the Senate. While there is something to be said for experience, this inveterate compromiser and foreign policy “realist” was a holdover from a bygone era in which members of the senatorial club thought of themselves as operating above and beyond the constraints of normal political life. Which is to say Lugar had outlived his usefulness to the people of Indiana a long time ago.

Equally foolish is the idea that the man who beat him, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, is likely to face the fate of 2010 Republican outliers like Sharon Angle in Nevada or Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, whose extremism cost their parties easy general election victories. Mourdock is an experienced office-holder whose mainstream conservative views make him a perfect match for his state and likely to cruise to victory in the fall. The Mourdock triumph as well as the victory for supporters of traditional marriage in North Carolina is also a reminder that while this year will not be a repeat of the GOP’s midterm tsunami, it is also going to be nothing like 2008 when Obama won both states.

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Some liberals are trying to interpret the crushing defeat of six-term Republican Richard Lugar in an Indiana Republican senatorial primary as the creation of an opportunity for the Democrats to steal a GOP seat this fall. But the narrative being promoted today about rabid Tea Party extremists sacrificing another noble Republican moderate shows just how out of touch liberal theorists are with the country. Lugar was the ultimate establishment insider and President Obama’s favorite Republican when he was in the Senate. While there is something to be said for experience, this inveterate compromiser and foreign policy “realist” was a holdover from a bygone era in which members of the senatorial club thought of themselves as operating above and beyond the constraints of normal political life. Which is to say Lugar had outlived his usefulness to the people of Indiana a long time ago.

Equally foolish is the idea that the man who beat him, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, is likely to face the fate of 2010 Republican outliers like Sharon Angle in Nevada or Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, whose extremism cost their parties easy general election victories. Mourdock is an experienced office-holder whose mainstream conservative views make him a perfect match for his state and likely to cruise to victory in the fall. The Mourdock triumph as well as the victory for supporters of traditional marriage in North Carolina is also a reminder that while this year will not be a repeat of the GOP’s midterm tsunami, it is also going to be nothing like 2008 when Obama won both states.

Though one shouldn’t draw hard and fast conclusions from last night’s primaries, the results in Indiana and North Carolina and even West Virginia should not reassure Democrats. The marriage vote may have cut across party and demographic lines, and the Democratic presidential primary in West Virginia in which a felon currently serving time in federal prison won 40 percent of the vote against Obama in a two-person race tell us nothing about the way these states will vote in the fall. But even the jokey protest vote in West Virginia shows that those empty seats at the president’s campaign kickoffs last weekend are truly an indication of a decline in enthusiasm for his cause.

There’s little question that Obama has an Electoral College advantage over Republican Mitt Romney, as there are more votes to be had in solidly blue states than those that are deep red. But if Republicans are daunted by the prospect of Romney having to come close to running the table of tossup states, the results in Indiana and North Carolina reveal the GOP is well-positioned to take back both in 2012.

While Democrats were crowing about the low turnout in some Republican primaries earlier this year, the fact that more turned out to vote in a virtually uncontested GOP primary for Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin than in a competitive Democratic primary to choose his opponent in a recall election means the president ought not to make any assumptions about Wisconsin either.

As Mourdock’s Indiana victory showed, the Tea Party can’t be dismissed as a caricature of racism and extremism. It has gone mainstream because those who sympathize with it — such as the 60 percent of Republicans who turned out Lugar — are mainstream voters. While the president retains important advantages, the liberal surge fueled by an unpopular war and an economic collapse that sent him to the White House is over. Though 2012 won’t be a repeat of the GOP’s midterm massacre of Democrats, anyone who assumes that Obama can hold Indiana and North Carolina and some other traditionally Republican states he seized four years ago needs to pay better attention to last night’s returns.

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