Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 14, 2012

Did Ron Paul Change the Republican Party?

During the long winter nights when Ron Paul and his boisterous supporters were raising hell in caucus states, one of the regular themes sounded by many mainstream media political observers was the damage the libertarian outlier was doing to the Republican brand and ultimately the party’s chances of defeating Barack Obama. Paul’s cheering throngs were loud and clear at the GOP’s presidential debates, and his strong showing in Iowa seemed to presage a dangerous extremist tilt to the opposition party.

But today, as Paul announced that he would no longer be campaigning in the remaining primary and caucus states, those warnings ring hollow. Paul may have had his moments during a fractious race, and his supporters will continue to make nuisances of themselves at state conventions, but in the end, his remained a symbolic candidacy that had little appeal to most Republicans. His libertarians will probably be heard from again in four or eight years if his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, takes the torch from his father and tries his luck at the presidential game. And some will claim he influenced the race and made great strides during his previous presidential runs. But the fact remains that his efforts fell flat as soon as the real voting started. Ron Paul ends his presidential run pretty much the way he began it: as someone outside the broad consensus of the Republican Party.

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During the long winter nights when Ron Paul and his boisterous supporters were raising hell in caucus states, one of the regular themes sounded by many mainstream media political observers was the damage the libertarian outlier was doing to the Republican brand and ultimately the party’s chances of defeating Barack Obama. Paul’s cheering throngs were loud and clear at the GOP’s presidential debates, and his strong showing in Iowa seemed to presage a dangerous extremist tilt to the opposition party.

But today, as Paul announced that he would no longer be campaigning in the remaining primary and caucus states, those warnings ring hollow. Paul may have had his moments during a fractious race, and his supporters will continue to make nuisances of themselves at state conventions, but in the end, his remained a symbolic candidacy that had little appeal to most Republicans. His libertarians will probably be heard from again in four or eight years if his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, takes the torch from his father and tries his luck at the presidential game. And some will claim he influenced the race and made great strides during his previous presidential runs. But the fact remains that his efforts fell flat as soon as the real voting started. Ron Paul ends his presidential run pretty much the way he began it: as someone outside the broad consensus of the Republican Party.

It should be conceded that Paul’s campaign was well-organized and highly effective in any state where delegates were chosen in caucuses where low turnouts minimized his main deficiency: the lack of broad support from the voters. Any place where tiny groups of motivated activists could seize control of the situation was one where Paul could make a good showing. Under those circumstances, Paul’s appeal to young, disaffected Democrats and independents who loved his isolationist stance on foreign policy and libertarian approach to social issues could make up for the fact that the overwhelming majority of Republicans had little interest in his ideas.

Paul was able to briefly shine in Iowa and stole the show at times in debates with his bizarre attacks on the Federal Reserve or his defense of the Islamist tyrants of Iran. Some liked his unassuming style and were charmed by the fact that, unlike the others on stage at the debates, he had no real plans to be president and therefore made no effort to pander to the voters. But his sideshow carnival candidacy ran out of steam as primary voters began to choose between the first tier candidates and he began a streak of last place finishes that were a better indication of his importance than the Iowa results.

His exit from active campaigning will, no doubt, provoke some pundits to claim that in 2012, his libertarians stopped being a marginal factor in the GOP and entered the mainstream. But this is, at best, an exaggeration. There was some overlap between Paul’s strict libertarianism and Tea Party sentiment about the size of government, debt and taxes. But that common ground was dwarfed by the gap between Paul’s conspiratorial view of economics as well as his foreign policy views that had more in common with the knee-jerk anti-American doctrines of the far left than with that of most Republicans.

Though many on the left wrongly assume his extremist approach resonated with the party’s base, the truth was, he had little to offer average Republican voters. Nor can it be credibly asserted that he moved the conservative discussion in his direction on any issue where it had not already moved. Every time he opened his mouth, he demonstrated the strong distinction between his own extremist approach and that of even most Tea Party hardliners.

Despite all the noise he made and the delegates he won, on the day when his campaign ended with a whimper, the chasm that separates Paul’s followers from the rest of the Republican Party is no smaller than it was a year ago.

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Could Romney Reclaim Narrative With Israel Trip?

During the past few weeks, we’ve seen the advantages of running for president as an incumbent. President Obama has been able to redirect the news coverage away from economic issues for days at a time by holding an interview or taking a trip, while Mitt Romney is often in the position of reacting, playing defense, or trying to keep up.

But Romney isn’t completely without tools for reclaiming the narrative and putting Obama on defense. As several Republican members of Congress told the Hill, Romney could potentially set up a clear contrast between himself and Obama by taking a trip to Israel:

Mitt Romney should visit Israel soon, Republican lawmakers say, claiming that such a trip would highlight the fact that President Obama has not been there during his first term.

Congressional Republicans told the Hill that there would be many benefits for Romney should he go to Israel, explaining that it would both advance U.S.-Israeli relations and help him politically.

“It would be a good visit for him,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas).

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During the past few weeks, we’ve seen the advantages of running for president as an incumbent. President Obama has been able to redirect the news coverage away from economic issues for days at a time by holding an interview or taking a trip, while Mitt Romney is often in the position of reacting, playing defense, or trying to keep up.

But Romney isn’t completely without tools for reclaiming the narrative and putting Obama on defense. As several Republican members of Congress told the Hill, Romney could potentially set up a clear contrast between himself and Obama by taking a trip to Israel:

Mitt Romney should visit Israel soon, Republican lawmakers say, claiming that such a trip would highlight the fact that President Obama has not been there during his first term.

Congressional Republicans told the Hill that there would be many benefits for Romney should he go to Israel, explaining that it would both advance U.S.-Israeli relations and help him politically.

“It would be a good visit for him,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas).

Obama’s failure to visit Israel during the past three years, even as he’s made trips to Cairo and Saudi Arabia, is still taken as a slight by many Israel supporters. It’s always possible that he could visit before the election, but making the first trip this late in his first term could also smack of political opportunism and raise fresh questions about whether he’s losing support among Jewish voters. Plus, Israel is not a topic Obama wants to spend much time talking deeply about this election, as his unpopular positions and rocky relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu will invariably come up at some point.

Romney, in contrast, has reportedly had a warm friendship with Netanyahu for decades (though for Israeli political reasons, that might not be on prominent display during the trip). And support for Israel may currently be the most unifying foreign policy issue for conservatives right now, particularly as there has been disagreement about subjects like the Libya intervention and the Afghanistan withdrawal. A visit to Israel could give Romney a chance to hone in on a foreign policy issue that conservatives — and Americans in general — largely agree on, and give Obama something to react to for a change.

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Nietzsche vs. Intrinsic Human Worth

Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, whose book American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas was reviewed in COMMENTARY, published an essay in The Wilson Quarterly on how Friedrich Nietzsche was embraced by Americans eager to see in him a reflection of their own image. In summarizing the German philosopher’s views, Ratner-Rosenhagen writes:

Friedrich Nietzsche thought that if a culture was clutching calcified truths, one needed to sound them out relentlessly. And that’s exactly what he tried to do… this “philosopher with a hammer” (as he came to identify himself) spent his career tapping that hammer against Western ideals turned hollow idols. Central to his philosophical project was challenging the notion of eternal truth. Nietzsche sought to demonstrate that nothing is inherently good or evil, but rather that all values are culturally and historically contingent. Likewise, he argued that all claims to truth are nothing more than “human, all-too-human” desires for a particular version of the good life, not mirrors of a supra-historical reality.

While Nietzsche sought to dismantle the notion of universal morality, so too did he try to upend his readers’ faith in God. He shocked them with the declaration that “God is dead,” and disturbed them with his insistence that God had not created man in his image; it was man who had created an image of God in order to give his life meaning, purpose, and a moral center. According to Nietzsche, the entire basis of modern Western culture was a slippery slope of lies: transcendent truth, the Enlightenment faith in reason and scientific objectivity, absolute morality, a Supreme Maker. These were mere fictions, products of human imagination and the struggle for power.

From time to time, Nietzsche put down his hammer as he tried to imagine a world after moral absolutes. Even he wondered what would happen once every article of faith had been shed and every claim to universal truth exposed as a human construct.

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Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, whose book American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas was reviewed in COMMENTARY, published an essay in The Wilson Quarterly on how Friedrich Nietzsche was embraced by Americans eager to see in him a reflection of their own image. In summarizing the German philosopher’s views, Ratner-Rosenhagen writes:

Friedrich Nietzsche thought that if a culture was clutching calcified truths, one needed to sound them out relentlessly. And that’s exactly what he tried to do… this “philosopher with a hammer” (as he came to identify himself) spent his career tapping that hammer against Western ideals turned hollow idols. Central to his philosophical project was challenging the notion of eternal truth. Nietzsche sought to demonstrate that nothing is inherently good or evil, but rather that all values are culturally and historically contingent. Likewise, he argued that all claims to truth are nothing more than “human, all-too-human” desires for a particular version of the good life, not mirrors of a supra-historical reality.

While Nietzsche sought to dismantle the notion of universal morality, so too did he try to upend his readers’ faith in God. He shocked them with the declaration that “God is dead,” and disturbed them with his insistence that God had not created man in his image; it was man who had created an image of God in order to give his life meaning, purpose, and a moral center. According to Nietzsche, the entire basis of modern Western culture was a slippery slope of lies: transcendent truth, the Enlightenment faith in reason and scientific objectivity, absolute morality, a Supreme Maker. These were mere fictions, products of human imagination and the struggle for power.

From time to time, Nietzsche put down his hammer as he tried to imagine a world after moral absolutes. Even he wondered what would happen once every article of faith had been shed and every claim to universal truth exposed as a human construct.

Nietzsche was right to wonder, and Ranter-Rosenhagen’s work raises an old and enduring set of questions. Is there such a thing as a universal moral law, truths that are objective and permanent rather than subjective and contingent, ethical codes that are anchored in God rather than human choice, human desires, and human invention?

During the years, I’ve asked friends of mine, including several very intelligent and well-read atheists, the grounds on which a person who doesn’t believe in God makes the case for inherent human dignity. Absent a Creator, what is the argument against capriciousness, injustice, and tyranny? How does one create a system of justice and make the case against, say, slavery, if you begin with two propositions: one, the universe was created by chance; and two, it will end in nothing? How do you derive a belief in a moral law that is binding on you and others apart from theism? How do you get from the “is” to the “ought”?

To press the point a bit further, why would a materialist or a relativist have any confidence that their beliefs are (a) rooted in anything permanent and (b) applied to themselves and to others? It’s not obvious what the response is to a Nietzschean who says, “Your belief is fine for you, but it is simply non-binding on me. God is dead – and I choose to follow the Will to Power. You may not agree, but there is no philosophical or moral ground on which you can make your stand.”

Steve Hayner, president of Columbia Theological Seminary, once told me something that adds an important layer to this discussion. We believe we have worth because we are created in God’s image, he said. But even more basic is the declaration that we have value simply because God values us. Gold is valuable because someone values it, not because there is something about gold that is intrinsically of worth.

Sure, gold is aesthetically beautiful and has particular physical qualities which set it apart (it is highly conductive, non-corroding, et cetera). But gold would not be valuable if it were not thought to be so by someone. In this case, value is attributive. Similarly, human beings are of worth simply because we are valued by God. Indeed, God demonstrated the value of humanity by His continuing involvement with us.

It is the attributive quality of worth which underlies Christian and Jewish anthropology. Comparative worth opens the door to an economic or utilitarian assessment of the value of an individual. Intrinsic worth may also be open to some debate. But attributive worth, according to Hayner, is not derived from culture or circumstances. Here, worth comes from the understanding that all people are precious in God’s sight.

It’s still unclear to me, then, on what basis we can argue that people can have intrinsic or attributive worth if we deny God and transcendent truth. I’m not claiming it can’t be done; I’m simply asking what a non-theistic moral code would be grounded in. Those who embrace atheism/anti-theism and the philosophy of Nietzsche would do well to understand, as he did, just how ugly and terrifying a world after moral absolutes would be.

It turns out taking a hammer to God doesn’t damage Him; but it does damage us.

 

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Attacks Begin on Romney’s Bain Record

The Obama campaign is starting to roll out its attacks on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital, including the predictable emotional testimony from workers who were laid off by companies Bain was trying to save from collapse. The campaign’s newest ad is powerful, though it’s already old news if you followed Newt Gingrich’s nearly identical attacks on Romney during the primaries.

But while Romney seemed blindsided by Gingrich’s (unsuccessful) anti-Bain assault, he’s clearly ready for this attack line from Obama. There are already doubts being raised about the facts in the ad, which implies that Romney was at Bain when GST Steel went under. But as the Christian Science Monitor reports, he had already left the company:

Plus, the ad elides some facts: Romney left Bain shortly after it acquired GST Steel, though he continued to receive profits from Bain payouts. He wasn’t around when GST went under. Also, it was an era when cheap foreign imports were hitting U.S. steel firms hard, in general. It’s not clear whether GST would have survived in any case.

And some conservatives say the Obama team rolled out this line of attack too early. It gives the Romney camp plenty of time to respond prior to November.

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The Obama campaign is starting to roll out its attacks on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital, including the predictable emotional testimony from workers who were laid off by companies Bain was trying to save from collapse. The campaign’s newest ad is powerful, though it’s already old news if you followed Newt Gingrich’s nearly identical attacks on Romney during the primaries.

But while Romney seemed blindsided by Gingrich’s (unsuccessful) anti-Bain assault, he’s clearly ready for this attack line from Obama. There are already doubts being raised about the facts in the ad, which implies that Romney was at Bain when GST Steel went under. But as the Christian Science Monitor reports, he had already left the company:

Plus, the ad elides some facts: Romney left Bain shortly after it acquired GST Steel, though he continued to receive profits from Bain payouts. He wasn’t around when GST went under. Also, it was an era when cheap foreign imports were hitting U.S. steel firms hard, in general. It’s not clear whether GST would have survived in any case.

And some conservatives say the Obama team rolled out this line of attack too early. It gives the Romney camp plenty of time to respond prior to November.

The Romney campaign also has the advantage of a good counter-argument against Obama, who, as it so happens, also ordered GM and Chrysler to close thousands of dealerships during the auto bailout. Jim Geraghty writes that the Obama campaign may have a hard time pushing back on this:

I’m sure Obama fans will insist, “but the layoffs under our guy are completely different!” They’ll insist that in order to preserve the entire institution during a time when its continued operation was jeopardized, it was necessary to lay off certain branches and employees… which is, of course, precisely what Bain Capital was doing, or at least what the management of Bain Capital believed it was doing.

The line between heartless, cruel sacrifices of hardworking Americans to corporate greed and necessary sacrifices to ensure continued viability of a company in a competitive market is often in the eye of the beholder.

This could be why the Obama campaign is rolling out the Bain attack so early. They probably realize that Romney has a pretty strong counterattack, and know the anti-Bain argument will only get weaker as the election season progresses and Romney becomes more of a known entity. Right now, Obama hopes he can put that “Romney is a callous rich guy” image in the minds of voters before Romney is able to define himself to the public.

But this was also supposed to be one of Obama’s strongest lines of attack against Romney. The fact that Obama’s playing this card so early in the election, when many voters aren’t even paying attention yet, doesn’t seem to bode well for his campaign. He’s been able to successfully dominate the news cycle with one distraction issue after another, but how many more tricks does he have until that bag is empty?

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How Boring Must the GOP Veep Be?

It is a given that the Romney campaign knows it must not repeat the mistakes made by John McCain’s staff during his failed effort to head off a Barack Obama presidency. Of course, at the top of the list of McCain’s blunders was his choice of a largely unvetted vice presidential candidate who proved to be unready for the scrutiny of the liberal mainstream press. Thus, according to Politico, Romney advisers are determined that their man will choose someone who will be the polar opposite of Sarah Palin. But if, as Politico claims, they are really convinced the ideal Romney running mate will be “an incredibly boring white guy,” they will be doing him a disservice. Like generals obsessed with winning the last war rather than the one they are currently fighting, the GOP standard bearer’s staff may be learning the wrong lessons from 2008.

For those picking a vice president, a desire to “do no harm” is probably as apt a guiding principle for politics as it is for medicine. But the idea that the Republicans are best served by a vice presidential candidate who will neither provoke controversy nor give the Democrats anything to criticize is equally as wrongheaded as McCain’s desperate attempt to catch lightening in a bottle with Palin. It’s one thing to try and avoid a flashy clunker. To deliberately seek a dud who provides no excitement or buzz is to ask for a completely different kind of trouble. Even more to the point, the Politico story makes it appear as if some people in the Romney campaign are leaking this information in an attempt to head off the possibility that one of a few brilliant but possibly controversial veep candidates is squelched before the vetting process is even completed.

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It is a given that the Romney campaign knows it must not repeat the mistakes made by John McCain’s staff during his failed effort to head off a Barack Obama presidency. Of course, at the top of the list of McCain’s blunders was his choice of a largely unvetted vice presidential candidate who proved to be unready for the scrutiny of the liberal mainstream press. Thus, according to Politico, Romney advisers are determined that their man will choose someone who will be the polar opposite of Sarah Palin. But if, as Politico claims, they are really convinced the ideal Romney running mate will be “an incredibly boring white guy,” they will be doing him a disservice. Like generals obsessed with winning the last war rather than the one they are currently fighting, the GOP standard bearer’s staff may be learning the wrong lessons from 2008.

For those picking a vice president, a desire to “do no harm” is probably as apt a guiding principle for politics as it is for medicine. But the idea that the Republicans are best served by a vice presidential candidate who will neither provoke controversy nor give the Democrats anything to criticize is equally as wrongheaded as McCain’s desperate attempt to catch lightening in a bottle with Palin. It’s one thing to try and avoid a flashy clunker. To deliberately seek a dud who provides no excitement or buzz is to ask for a completely different kind of trouble. Even more to the point, the Politico story makes it appear as if some people in the Romney campaign are leaking this information in an attempt to head off the possibility that one of a few brilliant but possibly controversial veep candidates is squelched before the vetting process is even completed.

If Romney wants boring, then some on his putative short list are definitely out. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is a lot of things but boring isn’t one of them. He would attract a lot of attention and the press would dote on his every word during the campaign. Marco Rubio is also not boring. Having him on the ticket would also be interpreted as an appeal to the Hispanic vote much in the way Palin was seen as a token woman. Also not boring is Rep. Paul Ryan, the party’s ideas maven on entitlement reform. According to the logic of the Politico piece, he’s out because he would be a lightening rod for Democratic attacks.

That leaves Romney to choose between the likes of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, former Minnesota governor and erstwhile Romney rival turned campaign surrogate Tim Pawlenty, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Ohio Senator Rob Portman. All are sound individuals and none could be accused of generating much excitement. Indeed, Pawlenty, who flopped on the presidential campaign trail, and Daniels, who stayed out of the presidential race in order to avoid media attacks on his family, pretty much define the word boring.

But none, not even these men, are without drawbacks. In particular, Portman’s presence on the ticket will allow President Obama to continue running against George W. Bush because he worked in his administration. But if this story was leaked in order to boost his chances or that of any other boring contender, I doubt it will work.

Instead of worrying about avoiding another Palin, what Romney needs to do is to find someone whom he finds compatible and thinks is a plausible president who would help him govern. And if that person has some political or personal appeal that might excite the voters, that should not be considered a drawback.

The circumstances of 2008 are radically different from those of 2012. Romney is not running against a historic challenger who seeks to succeed a two-term Republican incumbent. In Palin’s defense, it should be noted that it isn’t likely any other running mate would have made any difference to McCain’s chances. Nor should her presence be considered purely negative. She did excite the GOP base, though the former Alaska governor probably chased as many independents away from the Republicans as the number of conservatives she attracted.

Romney is running even with Obama, not way behind and looking for a Hail Mary pass to even the score. That should inspire some caution on Romney’s part, but it shouldn’t mean he ought not to consider men like Christie and especially Ryan, with whom he is said to have some affinity. The plan ought to be to avoid a mistake-prone person who doesn’t have the background to be a potential president, not an exciting personality who might help Romney get elected.

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The War on Ann Romney

One would think the left would have learned from the Hillary Rosen debacle that attacks on Ann Romney are bound to backfire on the ranks of Obama cheerleaders. But yesterday on MSNBC, liberal columnist Michelle Goldberg appeared to escalate the attacks on the would-be first lady with a bizarre riff on an inoffensive Mother’s Day op-ed published in USA Today. Mrs. Romney’s memoir of her own mother as well as her experience raising her five boys and becoming a grandmother of 18 is about as controversial as apple pie, but her use of the term “crown of motherhood” — which she said is the “most glorious” of hats that women wear — set Goldberg’s teeth on edge.

As the Daily Caller notes, with “Vagina Monologues” playwright Eve Ensler sitting alongside and nodding at her every word, Goldberg claimed the phrase was redolent of the propaganda used by totalitarian regimes to put women in their place.

“I found that phrase ‘the crown of motherhood’ really kind of creepy, not just because of its, like, somewhat you know, I mean, it’s kind of usually really authoritarian societies that give out like ‘The Cross of Motherhood,’ that give awards for big families. You know, Stalin did it, Hitler did it.”

Later on Twitter, Goldberg denied that she had meant to compare Romney to those mass murderers; there’s little question she seemed to imply a commonality between Republican attitudes toward women and those of the Nazis and Communists. The point here isn’t that Goldberg was drawing a direct analogy. The context of her remarks show that what she was trying to say is to bolster the idea that Republicans are waging a “war on women.” And that means that everything, even the most anodyne comments by someone connected with the GOP, must be demonized, even when it is Ann Romney extolling motherhood.

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One would think the left would have learned from the Hillary Rosen debacle that attacks on Ann Romney are bound to backfire on the ranks of Obama cheerleaders. But yesterday on MSNBC, liberal columnist Michelle Goldberg appeared to escalate the attacks on the would-be first lady with a bizarre riff on an inoffensive Mother’s Day op-ed published in USA Today. Mrs. Romney’s memoir of her own mother as well as her experience raising her five boys and becoming a grandmother of 18 is about as controversial as apple pie, but her use of the term “crown of motherhood” — which she said is the “most glorious” of hats that women wear — set Goldberg’s teeth on edge.

As the Daily Caller notes, with “Vagina Monologues” playwright Eve Ensler sitting alongside and nodding at her every word, Goldberg claimed the phrase was redolent of the propaganda used by totalitarian regimes to put women in their place.

“I found that phrase ‘the crown of motherhood’ really kind of creepy, not just because of its, like, somewhat you know, I mean, it’s kind of usually really authoritarian societies that give out like ‘The Cross of Motherhood,’ that give awards for big families. You know, Stalin did it, Hitler did it.”

Later on Twitter, Goldberg denied that she had meant to compare Romney to those mass murderers; there’s little question she seemed to imply a commonality between Republican attitudes toward women and those of the Nazis and Communists. The point here isn’t that Goldberg was drawing a direct analogy. The context of her remarks show that what she was trying to say is to bolster the idea that Republicans are waging a “war on women.” And that means that everything, even the most anodyne comments by someone connected with the GOP, must be demonized, even when it is Ann Romney extolling motherhood.

Though Goldberg dismissed the criticisms of her foolish comments as a mere Twitter tempest in a teapot, it actually does tell us a lot about what liberals are thinking and why Ann Romney will be a key figure in the presidential campaign. Because Obama’s re-election hinges, at least in part, on demonizing Mitt Romney and the GOP as enemies of women, that has led some on the left to believe they are going to have to do something about his wife’s popularity.  The only problem is that Ann Romney is such an appealing figure that she is virtually bulletproof. Moreover, every attack on her is bound to backfire on Democrats.

After Rosen’s and Goldberg’s gaffes, Democrats would do well to simply ignore Ann Romney. Every time they mention her name, even to try and besmirch the Republicans, it’s a bonus for her husband’s presidential hopes.

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Evidence of Iran Nuclear Arms Test Device Raises Stakes in Talks

The initiation by the West of a new round of talks with Iran about its nuclear program has had the effect of depressing interest in revelations about how much progress the Islamist regime has made toward its goal of a weapon. In recent months, skepticism about the Iranians has reigned but, as Ha’aretz reports, the International Atomic Energy Agency appears to be in possession of evidence that the widespread belief that the ayatollahs haven’t yet made a decision to weaponize their nuclear research is unfounded. Information obtained by the nuclear watchdogs seems to prove Iran is already testing equipment that demonstrates it is working on a military application of nuclear power.

According to the AP:

A drawing based on information from inside an Iranian military site shows an explosives containment chamber of the type needed for nuclear arms-related tests that UN inspectors suspect Tehran has conducted there. Iran denies such testing and has neither confirmed nor denied the existence of such a chamber.

The computer-generated drawing was provided to The Associated Press by an official of a country tracking Iran’s nuclear program who said it proves the structure exists, despite Tehran’s refusal to acknowledge it.

That official said the image is based on information from a person who had seen the chamber at the Parchin military site, adding that going into detail would endanger the life of that informant.

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The initiation by the West of a new round of talks with Iran about its nuclear program has had the effect of depressing interest in revelations about how much progress the Islamist regime has made toward its goal of a weapon. In recent months, skepticism about the Iranians has reigned but, as Ha’aretz reports, the International Atomic Energy Agency appears to be in possession of evidence that the widespread belief that the ayatollahs haven’t yet made a decision to weaponize their nuclear research is unfounded. Information obtained by the nuclear watchdogs seems to prove Iran is already testing equipment that demonstrates it is working on a military application of nuclear power.

According to the AP:

A drawing based on information from inside an Iranian military site shows an explosives containment chamber of the type needed for nuclear arms-related tests that UN inspectors suspect Tehran has conducted there. Iran denies such testing and has neither confirmed nor denied the existence of such a chamber.

The computer-generated drawing was provided to The Associated Press by an official of a country tracking Iran’s nuclear program who said it proves the structure exists, despite Tehran’s refusal to acknowledge it.

That official said the image is based on information from a person who had seen the chamber at the Parchin military site, adding that going into detail would endanger the life of that informant.

This latest piece of the Iranian nuclear puzzle to be revealed ought to put more pressure on the countries invested in the P5+1 talks not to allow Tehran to spend the next few months stalling as the centrifuges continue to spin. With the next round of talks set for later this month in Baghdad, the image of the testing device ought to serve as a reminder to President Obama and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton that there will be a terrible price to be paid for allowing diplomacy to serve as a convenient method for the ayatollahs to run out the clock on efforts to prevent an Iranian nuke.

Though we can we expect that those who have rationalized every Iranian attempt to obfuscate the issue will dismiss this latest revelation, the evidence ought to be enough to scare those who have been throwing cold water on the immediacy of the Iranian threat. The existence of the testing chamber is consistent with previous information released by the IAEA:

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in March that his agency has “credible information that indicates that Iran engaged in activities relevant to the development of nuclear explosive devices” at the site. Diplomats subsequently told the AP that the experiments also appear to have involved a small prototype neutron device used to spark a nuclear explosion – equipment that would be tested only if a country was trying to develop atomic weapons.

The report goes on to state that it appears the chamber may have been built with Russian assistance. Iran’s apologists and critics of Israeli efforts to raise the alarm could argue that just because the Iranians have the device, it doesn’t mean they’ve used it. But it appears that’s not likely either:

The IAEA has voiced alarm at unexplained “activity” at the site — a term diplomats familiar with the agency’s concerns say stands for attempts to clean up any evidence of the kinds of experiments the agency suspects were carried out.

A second senior diplomat familiar with the investigation recently told the AP that spy satellite images shared with the agency show what seems to be water streaming from the building housing the chamber. He said it also depicts workers removing bags of material from that building and put on vehicles outside.

This information should raise the stakes for the West at the Baghdad talks. Though there are increasing reports that Ashton and the EU would happily settle for a compromise with Iran that would leave their program in place, the existence of a military testing device ought to mean the West’s goal must be the dismantling of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure, not just the removal of what the Iranians say is their supply of refined uranium. Because there is now even more credible evidence of weapons research, President Obama is obligated not to let Ashton allow the talks to drift for months while testing continues in Iran.

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Franklin Graham’s Selective Outrage

In response to President Obama’s embrace of same-sex marriage, the Reverend Franklin Graham put out a statement that said this:

On Tuesday, my state of North Carolina became the 31st state to approve a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. While the move to pass amendments defining marriage is relatively new, the definition of marriage is 8,000 years old and was defined not by man, but by God Himself. In changing his position from that of senator/candidate Obama, President Obama has, in my view, shaken his fist at the same God who created and defined marriage. It grieves me that our president would now affirm same-sex marriage, though I believe it grieves God even more. The institution of marriage should not be defined by presidents or polls, governors or the media. The definition was set long ago and changing legislation or policy will never change God’s definition. This is a sad day for America. May God help us.

About this statement, I have several thoughts, the first of which is that the definition of marriage has changed even within the Bible during those 8,000 years. For example, among the wealthy in ancient Israel, polygamy was a commonly accepted practice. Sarah gave her handmaiden Hagar to Abraham. Jacob married two sisters (Rachel and Leah). Esau had three wives. And marriages were often arranged. So even the Bible’s definition of marriage hasn’t been quite as static as Graham insists.

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In response to President Obama’s embrace of same-sex marriage, the Reverend Franklin Graham put out a statement that said this:

On Tuesday, my state of North Carolina became the 31st state to approve a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. While the move to pass amendments defining marriage is relatively new, the definition of marriage is 8,000 years old and was defined not by man, but by God Himself. In changing his position from that of senator/candidate Obama, President Obama has, in my view, shaken his fist at the same God who created and defined marriage. It grieves me that our president would now affirm same-sex marriage, though I believe it grieves God even more. The institution of marriage should not be defined by presidents or polls, governors or the media. The definition was set long ago and changing legislation or policy will never change God’s definition. This is a sad day for America. May God help us.

About this statement, I have several thoughts, the first of which is that the definition of marriage has changed even within the Bible during those 8,000 years. For example, among the wealthy in ancient Israel, polygamy was a commonly accepted practice. Sarah gave her handmaiden Hagar to Abraham. Jacob married two sisters (Rachel and Leah). Esau had three wives. And marriages were often arranged. So even the Bible’s definition of marriage hasn’t been quite as static as Graham insists.

Second, does Graham believe that then-Governor Ronald Reagan “shook his fist at the same God who created and defined marriage” when Reagan embraced the first no-fault divorce law in the nation? (Reagan also signed legislation liberalizing abortion laws when he was governor of California.) Nothing has done more to damage the institution of marriage than the “divorce revolution” that began in the late 1960s. In addition, and of particular relevance to Graham, Jesus was far more critical of divorce than he was of homosexuality (of which Jesus said nothing).

My point isn’t that there’s no Scriptural guidance on matters of sexual relations. Instead, it’s the selective nature of the outrage. If one were to list the catalogue of things that grieve the God of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, it would be long – and near the top of the list would be indifference to the poor, pride, self-righteousness, anger, gossip, and hypocrisy. I image the people drafting press releases at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association will be kept quite busy speaking out against these things.

I wonder if Franklin Graham realizes (as his father eventually did) that his forays into politics are beginning to undermine his ministry (this is a subject I’ve written about before. It appears that Graham is a fiercely conservative person whose politics is to some degree sculpturing his religious/political priorities. And Graham’s words and statements, at least in the political arena, are often censorious and lack a spirit of grace and reconciliation. It is one thing to state, in an intelligent and measured way, one’s objection to same-sex marriage. It is quite another for the president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to say the president, in expressing his personal support for same-sex marriage, is “shaking his fist at God.” I say that as someone who shares Graham’s religious faith and probably agrees with him on most political issues. Yet his public pronouncements are at times cringe-inducing, his explanations shallow, his tone belligerent.

There is such a thing as being a winsome and effective witness to one’s faith. C.S. Lewis possessed those qualities. I wish Franklin Graham did.

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Saudi Confederation Plans a Bad Idea

Every few years, the Saudi government proposes to remake the Gulf Cooperation Council by replacing it with a federation; in a way, a United States of Arabia. The proposals have never gone anywhere. Saudi Arabia is the big kid on the block and the neighborhood bully: No one wants to be second fiddle to the Saudis, nor do citizens of the Persian Gulf emirates want to sacrifice their freedoms to conform to the Saudi way of life.

That’s all changing now, as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia move forward with economic and social union. The reason is largely sectarian: The Shi’ites are the majority in Bahrain, and protests have evolved to the point where the Sunni-led royal family is no longer able to make the reforms Shi’ite political leaders demand. By joining a confederation, the Bahraini royal family can purchase further Saudi largesse and involve Saudi forces even more directly in quashing unrest.

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Every few years, the Saudi government proposes to remake the Gulf Cooperation Council by replacing it with a federation; in a way, a United States of Arabia. The proposals have never gone anywhere. Saudi Arabia is the big kid on the block and the neighborhood bully: No one wants to be second fiddle to the Saudis, nor do citizens of the Persian Gulf emirates want to sacrifice their freedoms to conform to the Saudi way of life.

That’s all changing now, as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia move forward with economic and social union. The reason is largely sectarian: The Shi’ites are the majority in Bahrain, and protests have evolved to the point where the Sunni-led royal family is no longer able to make the reforms Shi’ite political leaders demand. By joining a confederation, the Bahraini royal family can purchase further Saudi largesse and involve Saudi forces even more directly in quashing unrest.

The move is short-sighted, however. Not only may it change the comparatively liberal character for which Bahrain is known, at least relative to the other Persian Gulf states, but it will also hasten the spread of sectarian unrest into Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is, after all, an artificial country. (Like “Petoria” in the television show “Family Guy,” any country is artificial when it’s named after a person). The Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia is overwhelmingly Shi’ite, and quite resentful of Wahhabi rule.

Western journalists and human rights activists condemn the Bahraini government repeatedly for its crackdown because, despite Bahraini efforts to restrict access, Bahrain is a far freer society than Saudi Arabia, and so observers can witness the clashes between the government and opposition (as I did in February). Also, major organizations like Human Rights Watch may be loathe to condemn Saudi authorities, because they solicit money from the Saudis and so may compromise their integrity to pay their bills. While Bahraini security forces are relatively restrained – using mostly rubber bullets and tear gas – in the absence of international presence and attention Saudi forces have no such self-restraint, and favor live ammunition. After confederation, however, Bahraini Shi’ites will not waste a day before beginning to export their “best practices” to their Saudi Shi’ite brethren.

Other American allies in the region will also begin to feel pressure to choose sides. During a  recent trip to Kuwait, Kuwaitis explained it to me like this: Traditionally, countries like Kuwait and Qatar have survived by playing the two regional giants—Saudi Arabia and Iran—off each other. By forming a federation with Saudi Arabia, the emirates and kingdoms transform themselves into the designated space for proxy war. After all, if Bahrain becomes in effect Saudi, then the easiest place to target the Saudis is in Bahrain.

And while many elite foreign policy and military officials cultivate close relations with the Saudis, the Kingdom is far from a good ally. That Saudis formed the bulk of the 9/11 plot was not an accident; it was a direct result of the Saudi education system. And, when the going got tough, the Saudis kicked most American forces out of the country—something they might get tempted to do if they were to absorb Bahrain or Kuwait.

The best way forward for Bahrain is not confederation with Saudi Arabia, nor is it arms packages for anything else than defending the tiny island Kingdom from the Iranian threat. Rather, the course for U.S. policy would be to encourage quick and meaningful reform, and uncompromised Bahraini independence.

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Newsweek’s “First Gay President” Cover

You thought Tina Brown was really going to bring the insanity to this week’s Newsweek cover, especially after she was one-upped by Time’s mind-scarring “Are you Mom Enough?” photo. But actually, the cover is relatively tame. The over-the-top Obama worship at these weeklies has lost its shock value, and the “First Gay President” line was a pundit trope as soon as Obama wrapped up his ABC interview last week. Politico’s Dylan Byers has the summary of Andrew Sullivan’s cover story:

It’s easy to write off President Obama’s announcement of his support for gay marriage as a political ploy during an election year. But don’t believe the cynics. Andrew Sullivan argues that this announcement has been in the making for years. “When you step back a little and assess the record of Obama on gay rights, you see, in fact, that this was not an aberration. It was an inevitable culmination of three years of work.” And President Obama has much in common with the gay community. “He had to discover his black identity and then reconcile it with his white family, just as gays discover their homosexual identity and then have to reconcile it with their heterosexual family,” Sullivan writes.

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You thought Tina Brown was really going to bring the insanity to this week’s Newsweek cover, especially after she was one-upped by Time’s mind-scarring “Are you Mom Enough?” photo. But actually, the cover is relatively tame. The over-the-top Obama worship at these weeklies has lost its shock value, and the “First Gay President” line was a pundit trope as soon as Obama wrapped up his ABC interview last week. Politico’s Dylan Byers has the summary of Andrew Sullivan’s cover story:

It’s easy to write off President Obama’s announcement of his support for gay marriage as a political ploy during an election year. But don’t believe the cynics. Andrew Sullivan argues that this announcement has been in the making for years. “When you step back a little and assess the record of Obama on gay rights, you see, in fact, that this was not an aberration. It was an inevitable culmination of three years of work.” And President Obama has much in common with the gay community. “He had to discover his black identity and then reconcile it with his white family, just as gays discover their homosexual identity and then have to reconcile it with their heterosexual family,” Sullivan writes.

Obviously, this story was supposed to be a boost for Obama, but conservatives are already pointing out that the cover is a gift for Mitt Romney. Yes, the regular readership of Newsweek (and Andrew Sullivan) loves this sort of  Obama fawning. But they’re not the only people who are going to see this, and they’re already voting for him anyway. This cover is going to be on newsstands. It’s going to be in the checkout line at the grocery store. It’s going to be on the news rack at highway gas stations across the Midwest and the south. And it’s going to be viewed very differently in those areas of the country than it will be in the Northeast and West Coast.

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Killing is Grim Reminder of Stymied Progress in Talks with Taliban

So another member of the Afghan High Peace Council, charged with striking a deal with the Taliban, has been assassinated. Mullah Arsala Rahmani’s demise, at the hands of an unknown gunman, comes less than a year after the assassination, by a suicide bomber, of the head of the peace council, former president Burhanuddin Rabbani.

You would think this would signal, as clearly as anything could, the contempt in which the Taliban hold peace talks. Yet, rest assured, this will not deter policymakers in Washington from making peace talks a central pillar of their Afghanistan policy. This relentless commitment to something so impractical is only the latest manifestation of that all too common Washington phenomenon: making policy based on hope, not reality, and substituting wishful thinking for actual evidence.

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So another member of the Afghan High Peace Council, charged with striking a deal with the Taliban, has been assassinated. Mullah Arsala Rahmani’s demise, at the hands of an unknown gunman, comes less than a year after the assassination, by a suicide bomber, of the head of the peace council, former president Burhanuddin Rabbani.

You would think this would signal, as clearly as anything could, the contempt in which the Taliban hold peace talks. Yet, rest assured, this will not deter policymakers in Washington from making peace talks a central pillar of their Afghanistan policy. This relentless commitment to something so impractical is only the latest manifestation of that all too common Washington phenomenon: making policy based on hope, not reality, and substituting wishful thinking for actual evidence.

Perhaps, before we pour any more energy into the “peace talks” boondoggle, someone could actually point to some concrete evidence that the Taliban leaders are actually interested in laying down their arms? Or is that too much to ask for?

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Is There a Difference Between “Moderate” and “Radical” Islamism?

Labels are always dangerous things. In the context of the U.S. policy debate, pundits attach labels to opponents in order to avoid debating issues or in order to construct straw man arguments. Seldom do people use labels with the precision they deserve. This is certainly the case when it comes to religion.

I use the term Islamism to depict the use of Islam as a political ideology and studiously avoid the term “Islamo-Fascism,” which is not accurate except, in very limited cases, to Hezbollah. (Several years ago, Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol falsely accused me of using the term; when I later saw him in Prague, he acknowledged his error, but neither he nor David Judson, his editor at the Turkish [now Hürriyet] Daily News, saw fit to correct their fabrication. To use labels precisely, it would be fair to call Akyol sloppy and, for failing to correct his error, lacking integrity).

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Labels are always dangerous things. In the context of the U.S. policy debate, pundits attach labels to opponents in order to avoid debating issues or in order to construct straw man arguments. Seldom do people use labels with the precision they deserve. This is certainly the case when it comes to religion.

I use the term Islamism to depict the use of Islam as a political ideology and studiously avoid the term “Islamo-Fascism,” which is not accurate except, in very limited cases, to Hezbollah. (Several years ago, Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol falsely accused me of using the term; when I later saw him in Prague, he acknowledged his error, but neither he nor David Judson, his editor at the Turkish [now Hürriyet] Daily News, saw fit to correct their fabrication. To use labels precisely, it would be fair to call Akyol sloppy and, for failing to correct his error, lacking integrity).

The debate about Islamism (or Islamic fundamentalism, or jihadism) and labels is complex, and few people who engage in it choose their words with care. Martin Kramer did an admirable job explaining the evolution of terms, here, and others have since followed suit.

If newspapers and wire services are going to discuss Islamism and then modify it with terms such as “moderate” and “radical,” it would behoove them to define in advance what is “moderate” and what is not. Take this story, regarding Egyptian presidential hopeful Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, which described Abul Fotouh as follows:

A moderate Islamist with support from both hardline fundamentalists and liberals, Abul Fotouh refused to describe bin Laden as a terrorist, saying the term was used by the United States to “hit Muslim interests.”

I know many moderate Muslims – who put their lives on the line every day to preserve liberty and freedom of religious interpretation—and I am also friends with many moderate Islamists. I know not a single moderate, however, who defends bin Laden. Does Agence France Presse (and Yahoo) really believe moderates embrace bin Laden’s legacy? Wouldn’t it be more likely that a man who praises and defends bin Laden is actually somewhat radical? Other outlets which define Abul Fotouh as “moderate” include the BBC, Tablet Magazine, Christian Science Monitor, and the Financial Times, among others. These outlets would do themselves and their readers a service if they would be so kind as to articulate the difference between “moderate” and “radical” Islamism. For that matter, it is never too early for the White House and the State Department to do likewise.

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An Unsettling Power Vacuum in Iraq

No one should be surprised to read that the State Department’s ambitious program to train Iraqi police is being dramatically slashed and could be ended before long. The Iraqis turn out not to want the “training” that the State Department is offering. And why should they, given that the State program consists of paying moonlighting cops from the U.S. to give PowerPoint presentations on American facilities in Iraq?

Effective advising requires advisers who have some area expertise and are willing to go off base to work closely with the units they are mentoring in the field. But this, of course, is not allowed under the State Department’s notoriously restrictive security rules. The ability of American officials to move around Iraq at all has been drastically curtailed since the departure of U.S. troops at the end of last year. The State Department claimed they could fill the gap left by the men and women in uniform by hiring a small army of 16,000 contractors. But now it seems that State can’t even keep its embassy supplied with food. The entire U.S. presence is being slashed dramatically, and the police training program–which was supposed to be the centerpiece of a continuing commitment to Iraq–is one of many casualties of the handover to civilian authority.

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No one should be surprised to read that the State Department’s ambitious program to train Iraqi police is being dramatically slashed and could be ended before long. The Iraqis turn out not to want the “training” that the State Department is offering. And why should they, given that the State program consists of paying moonlighting cops from the U.S. to give PowerPoint presentations on American facilities in Iraq?

Effective advising requires advisers who have some area expertise and are willing to go off base to work closely with the units they are mentoring in the field. But this, of course, is not allowed under the State Department’s notoriously restrictive security rules. The ability of American officials to move around Iraq at all has been drastically curtailed since the departure of U.S. troops at the end of last year. The State Department claimed they could fill the gap left by the men and women in uniform by hiring a small army of 16,000 contractors. But now it seems that State can’t even keep its embassy supplied with food. The entire U.S. presence is being slashed dramatically, and the police training program–which was supposed to be the centerpiece of a continuing commitment to Iraq–is one of many casualties of the handover to civilian authority.

All of this was utterly predictable–and in fact was predicted by numerous commentators, including yours truly, who had no faith in State’s ability to run such an ambitious undertaking in a country that remains so dangerous. It is doubtful that even State officials believed the moonshine they were peddling. More likely this was simply a convenient cover to do what President Obama wanted, which was to leave at the earliest opportunity. So now that our military force has left, our influence has dramatically declined, and we are hard-pressed to push back against Prime Minister Maliki’s dangerous, dictatorial tendencies, to limit Iranian influence, or to keep the peace between Arabs and Kurds. We have left an unsettling power vacuum in Iraq. We should not be surprised it is being filled by our foes.

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Obama Solidifies the GOP Base for Romney

The rationale behind President Obama’s decision to flip-flop on gay marriage and come out in favor of the idea isn’t any mystery. Democratic strategists rightly believe that any issue – no matter how divisive — that diverts attention from a failing economy is good for the president’s re-election campaign. That is why most Republicans have reacted to the matter with an impatient desire to get people talking about discouraging employment and growth figures. But that doesn’t mean the GOP didn’t reap an important dividend from last week’s big story.

The mainstream media has lionized the president for his stand, and most Americans may be either pleased or at least unopposed to gay marriage. But by choosing to embark on this initiative, President Obama has done his opponent in the November election a big favor. One of Mitt Romney’s biggest problems was the clear lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy on the part of his party’s base. But the endorsement of gay marriage is exactly what the Republican standard bearer needed to mobilize an army of evangelicals who were looking for a reason to get excited about an election in which they weren’t very happy about their choices. As the warm reception that Romney got at Liberty University this past weekend shows, he needn’t worry about his centrist image depressing the turnout figures among this key sector of Republican voters.

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The rationale behind President Obama’s decision to flip-flop on gay marriage and come out in favor of the idea isn’t any mystery. Democratic strategists rightly believe that any issue – no matter how divisive — that diverts attention from a failing economy is good for the president’s re-election campaign. That is why most Republicans have reacted to the matter with an impatient desire to get people talking about discouraging employment and growth figures. But that doesn’t mean the GOP didn’t reap an important dividend from last week’s big story.

The mainstream media has lionized the president for his stand, and most Americans may be either pleased or at least unopposed to gay marriage. But by choosing to embark on this initiative, President Obama has done his opponent in the November election a big favor. One of Mitt Romney’s biggest problems was the clear lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy on the part of his party’s base. But the endorsement of gay marriage is exactly what the Republican standard bearer needed to mobilize an army of evangelicals who were looking for a reason to get excited about an election in which they weren’t very happy about their choices. As the warm reception that Romney got at Liberty University this past weekend shows, he needn’t worry about his centrist image depressing the turnout figures among this key sector of Republican voters.

Throughout the campaign, the conventional wisdom has been that like 2008 GOP nominee John McCain, Romney would have trouble getting conservatives to care enough about his candidacy to work hard for his election. Moreover, even after he wrapped up the nomination, the fear has been that he would be caught between the twin perils of having to either continue to pander to evangelicals in the general election or losing them by shifting back to the center for the general election.

But Obama solved that problem for Romney with a single stroke that reminded Christian conservatives why they have no alternative but to turn out in November. When weighed against this blow to their values, factors such as Romney’s history of changed positions on abortion, his lack of fluency with the idiom of social conservative rhetoric and the unfortunate hesitancy on the part of some evangelicals to back a Mormon count for nothing.

After the administration’s assault on the Catholic Church in which the president’s signature health care program was used to force it to pay for practices it preaches against, there is a heightened awareness that religious freedom is going to be an issue in the election. And though, as the New York Times reports, the president has sought in the days after his decision to allay the fears of many pastors that his gay marriage stand will lead to government punishment of those faiths that don’t go along with his view, there is little doubt this is an unstated threat that scares many religious Americans. The example of Catholic and Orthodox Jewish institutions being run out of the adoption field in some states because of their views on gays is instructive.

President Obama needn’t fear African-American disaffection because of this issue even though many share the social conservative views of their white evangelical counterparts. In spite of their differences with this president on this point, black churches will continue to be rallying points for the president’s re-election.

But by pinning hopes on a belief that pushing liberal stands on social issues is the key to re-election, Obama has relieved Romney of the burden of having to spend any of the next six months worrying about whether evangelicals will turn out for him.

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One in Five Turkish Generals Now in Prison

The Turkish press is reporting that, with the latest round of arrests of former military officers for allegedly forcing the resignation of Necmettin Erbakan’s Islamist government in 1997, one-in-five Turkish generals is now in prison.

Even those who see the end of military influence in Turkey as the litmus test for democracy should worry. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan now targets political opponents, real or imagined, without restraint. Under the Turkish system, an accusation is enough to jail an opponent, sometimes for years without trial. There is no mechanism for bail. On its surface, the targeting of the generals is ridiculous: The Turkish Supreme Court affirmed the illegality of the Erbakan and disbanded his party for violating Turkey’s constitution. The European Court of Human Rights upheld the Turkish court’s actions. Turkish generals might have pursued unsavory actions—especially toward Turkey’s Kurdish minority—but the sheer number of those now in prison suggests a separate motivation.

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The Turkish press is reporting that, with the latest round of arrests of former military officers for allegedly forcing the resignation of Necmettin Erbakan’s Islamist government in 1997, one-in-five Turkish generals is now in prison.

Even those who see the end of military influence in Turkey as the litmus test for democracy should worry. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan now targets political opponents, real or imagined, without restraint. Under the Turkish system, an accusation is enough to jail an opponent, sometimes for years without trial. There is no mechanism for bail. On its surface, the targeting of the generals is ridiculous: The Turkish Supreme Court affirmed the illegality of the Erbakan and disbanded his party for violating Turkey’s constitution. The European Court of Human Rights upheld the Turkish court’s actions. Turkish generals might have pursued unsavory actions—especially toward Turkey’s Kurdish minority—but the sheer number of those now in prison suggests a separate motivation.

By turning a blind eye or even cheerleading Erdoğan’s repression, self-described human rights activists and diplomats enable him to target broader arrays of Turks. After all, while the arrests of Turkish generals make headlines, Erdoğan’s forces also target journalists, academics, politicians, and civil society activists.

Inconsistency also highlights the political agenda behind the arrests. In July 1993, a mob of Sunni Islamists—an important Erdoğan constituency—burned down a hotel in which Turkish Alevi intellectuals were holding a conference (Alevis are a Shi’ite offshoot). The arson killed 37 people. As Erdoğan changed the law to prosecute those he accused of oppressing Sunni Islamists, he chose not to pursue justice against those alleged to have murdered Alevis who, for sectarian reasons, he holds in contempt.

Turkey does not belong in Europe. Increasingly, Erdoğan shows that when it comes to issues relating to democracy, justice, and abuse-of-power, Turkey is more akin to Russia, Venezuela, and Pakistan.

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