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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.