Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 15, 2012

Edwards Show Trial Perverts Justice

As I wrote before the federal trial of John Edwards on campaign finance violation charges began, the former Democratic senator, vice presidential and presidential candidate is an easy person to dislike. No doubt many, if not most Americans, think a federal prison camp is too easy a punishment for a pompous, vain gasbag who publicly cheated on a much-admired wife while she was dying of cancer. But being a loathsome scoundrel is not a federal offense. Then again neither are the deeds for which federal prosecutors seek to have him jailed.

This truth was brought home today in court when the judge ruled the defense couldn’t present as a witness a former head of the Federal Elections Commission who was prepared to testify that Edwards’s actions that are alleged by the government to be crimes, were, in fact, not violations of the law. In spite of the inexplicable decision to exclude that rather pertinent piece of evidence, the defense was able to present the testimony of the chief financial officer of his campaign, who pointed out that the FEC actually approved the records submitted by his 2008 presidential effort. That renders the prosecutors’ attempt to claim the failure to report the money a prominent supporter donated to help cover up his affair was a crime a legal absurdity. The day’s events make it more clear than ever what is going on in this case is not just a typical example of prosecutorial overreach in which the government seeks to make an example of an unpopular rich person. Rather, it is an unprincipled and dangerous attempt to extend the reach of an already ambiguous set of laws in order to criminalize campaign donations.

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As I wrote before the federal trial of John Edwards on campaign finance violation charges began, the former Democratic senator, vice presidential and presidential candidate is an easy person to dislike. No doubt many, if not most Americans, think a federal prison camp is too easy a punishment for a pompous, vain gasbag who publicly cheated on a much-admired wife while she was dying of cancer. But being a loathsome scoundrel is not a federal offense. Then again neither are the deeds for which federal prosecutors seek to have him jailed.

This truth was brought home today in court when the judge ruled the defense couldn’t present as a witness a former head of the Federal Elections Commission who was prepared to testify that Edwards’s actions that are alleged by the government to be crimes, were, in fact, not violations of the law. In spite of the inexplicable decision to exclude that rather pertinent piece of evidence, the defense was able to present the testimony of the chief financial officer of his campaign, who pointed out that the FEC actually approved the records submitted by his 2008 presidential effort. That renders the prosecutors’ attempt to claim the failure to report the money a prominent supporter donated to help cover up his affair was a crime a legal absurdity. The day’s events make it more clear than ever what is going on in this case is not just a typical example of prosecutorial overreach in which the government seeks to make an example of an unpopular rich person. Rather, it is an unprincipled and dangerous attempt to extend the reach of an already ambiguous set of laws in order to criminalize campaign donations.

The government seems to think that by treating any money spent on behalf of a presidential candidate as a reportable donation it can establish a broad legal precedent. Though few would weep if Edwards were jailed because of the money spent to hush up his tawdry personal scandals, if this is a crime, then virtually anything done with or on behalf of a candidate even if it is not spent on campaign expenses can be treated as a donation and therefore be regulated. Were the courts to let them get away with this sleight of hand legal maneuver, it would be a huge power grab on the part of the federal government. It would give U.S. attorneys and their masters at the Justice Department the ability to trump up prosecutions against any politician they didn’t like, including those who are not quite as hard to like as John Edwards.

This cannot be allowed to happen. What is going on in that courtroom is nothing less than a show trial with potentially dangerous consequences for not only politicians but also the free speech rights of Americans to express political opinions that are financed by contributions. We already knew the movement to enact increasingly onerous and confusing campaign finance laws was a blight on our democracy. But the effort to criminalize John Edwards’s peccadilloes is particularly perilous for the future of fair elections.

Unfortunately, the trial judge in this case may have bought into the elastic logic that is the foundation of the government’s case. We can only hope that even if the jury in this case is blind to the prosecution’s misconduct here that an appeals court will eventually point out that what is going on in North Carolina is a travesty of justice.

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Mitt Romney Is Sitting Pretty

In his column today, David Brooks asks why President Obama is doing so well in the polls when the fundamentals in the country are so bad. “The key,” according to Brooks, “is his post-boomer leadership style.”

Brooks adds that “the secret to his popularity through hard times is that he is not melodramatic, sensitive, vulnerable and changeable. Instead, he is self-disciplined, traditional and a bit formal.” While declaring that “Obama is a slight underdog this year: the scuffling economy will grind away at voters,” David concludes that Obama’s leadership style “is keeping him afloat. He has defined a version of manliness that is postboomer in policy but preboomer in manners and reticence.”

There’s something to Brooks’s argument. The president, after all, is higher in the approval ratings than objective circumstances would warrant.

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In his column today, David Brooks asks why President Obama is doing so well in the polls when the fundamentals in the country are so bad. “The key,” according to Brooks, “is his post-boomer leadership style.”

Brooks adds that “the secret to his popularity through hard times is that he is not melodramatic, sensitive, vulnerable and changeable. Instead, he is self-disciplined, traditional and a bit formal.” While declaring that “Obama is a slight underdog this year: the scuffling economy will grind away at voters,” David concludes that Obama’s leadership style “is keeping him afloat. He has defined a version of manliness that is postboomer in policy but preboomer in manners and reticence.”

There’s something to Brooks’s argument. The president, after all, is higher in the approval ratings than objective circumstances would warrant.

On the other hand, the fact the Mitt Romney is ahead of Obama in several polls, even after a bruising primary battle, and that Obama is only drawing 43 percent support against Romney in the most recent CBS News/New York Times poll has to be a source of concern for the president. Many people forget that Jimmy Carter was ahead of Ronald Reagan in the Gallup Poll just a week before the 1980 election–but independents and undecided voters broke in massive numbers toward Reagan in the end. It’s usually the case that a challenger wins most of the late-deciding voters (especially in an economy this weak), and in all likelihood that will be the case in 2012. The polls will be relatively close for the next several months, with some fluctuations, but if Romney heads into the last week of the campaign tied or with a slight lead, he’ll win by a comfortable margin.

This election, like most elections, will be decided on substance, not style; on objective circumstances, not ginned-up attacks. Which is why Mitt Romney is extremely well-positioned to become the next president of the United States.

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Doubling Down on the War on Ann Romney

Michelle Goldberg just doesn’t know how to quit when she’s behind. The Daily Beast pundit dug herself a deep hole on MSNBC on Sunday when she made an astonishing comparison between an innocuous Ann Romney op-ed about Mother’s Day and the policies of Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Predictably, that whopper drew attention to her bad judgment as well as a desire on the left to smear the Romneys. But rather than merely admit that her analogy was inappropriate and move on, Goldberg is guilty of the same fault that she accuses the candidate’s wife of committing: trying to make herself a victim.

In her column about the incident, Goldberg refuses to apologize and puts the controversy down as just another Twitter-era fake controversy that Romney is exploiting. But before we buy into that attempt to weasel out of this, it might be apt to ponder exactly what Goldberg and the entire mainstream media would be saying if a conservative talking head on one of the cable TV networks compared Michelle Obama to Hitler and Stalin for praising motherhood of all things. However, Goldberg’s decision to air her animus for Mrs. Romney again shows that her problem goes deeper than forgetting the person who first mentions Hitler and Stalin in a debate almost always is the loser.

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Michelle Goldberg just doesn’t know how to quit when she’s behind. The Daily Beast pundit dug herself a deep hole on MSNBC on Sunday when she made an astonishing comparison between an innocuous Ann Romney op-ed about Mother’s Day and the policies of Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Predictably, that whopper drew attention to her bad judgment as well as a desire on the left to smear the Romneys. But rather than merely admit that her analogy was inappropriate and move on, Goldberg is guilty of the same fault that she accuses the candidate’s wife of committing: trying to make herself a victim.

In her column about the incident, Goldberg refuses to apologize and puts the controversy down as just another Twitter-era fake controversy that Romney is exploiting. But before we buy into that attempt to weasel out of this, it might be apt to ponder exactly what Goldberg and the entire mainstream media would be saying if a conservative talking head on one of the cable TV networks compared Michelle Obama to Hitler and Stalin for praising motherhood of all things. However, Goldberg’s decision to air her animus for Mrs. Romney again shows that her problem goes deeper than forgetting the person who first mentions Hitler and Stalin in a debate almost always is the loser.

Goldberg complains that the outrage about the incident was feigned. But that is no truer than the Democrats’ crocodile tears for Seamus the dog’s rooftop ride to Canada or the boy Mitt Romney may have hazed in high school 47 years ago. She also complains that many of the comments made about her gaffe on Twitter and e-mail are rude. No doubt they are, but for someone who writes on the Internet to complain about that sort of thing is pretty weak. As anyone who does this for a living knows, anything one writes, no matter how bland the topic, may provoke nasty comments.

But Goldberg’s not apologizing for a reason. What she resents about Ann Romney is her ability to undermine the Democratic theme of a fake Republican war on women. It that quality that is frustrating the left:

For the record, I don’t believe that Ann Romney is either Hitleresque or Stalinesque. Rather, I think she is a calculating political wife who once struck me as fairly likeable, but who is now determined to play up the idea that’s she’s being victimized for being a stay-at-home mom. Her op-ed was part of that effort. Unfortunately, if the messages I received on Monday are any indication, it’s an effort I might have assisted.

While I don’t think anyone ever accused Goldberg of being a brilliant political observer, trying to gin up an effort to portray a woman as generally admired as Ann Romney as a political villain is about as dumb an idea as has come down the pike in a long time.

As I wrote earlier today, polls seem to indicate that the voters aren’t buying the war on women as a substitute for a defense of President Obama’s failed economic policies. Neither is the war on Ann Romney.

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Obama’s Mask Continues to Slip

I wanted to add a few thoughts to Jonathan’s post, with which I entirely concur.

The CBS News/New York Times poll, if only because of the source, must be creating panic at Obama re-election headquarters. So afraid of the results are Team Obama that campaign officials are actually attacking the poll — whose sample of registered voters is weighted in favor of Democrats (36 percent Democrats, 30 percent Republicans, and 34 percent independents) – as “significantly biased” in favor of Republicans. Of course it is. And Republicans are the ones who are supposed to be members of a “faith-based community” instead of the “reality-based” one.

As bad as the results are — showing support for Romney among women to be higher than support for Obama among women — my hunch is that what’s really driving the president crazy is that 67 percent of Americans think Obama’s stand on same-sex marriage was done mostly for political reasons rather than principled ones.

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I wanted to add a few thoughts to Jonathan’s post, with which I entirely concur.

The CBS News/New York Times poll, if only because of the source, must be creating panic at Obama re-election headquarters. So afraid of the results are Team Obama that campaign officials are actually attacking the poll — whose sample of registered voters is weighted in favor of Democrats (36 percent Democrats, 30 percent Republicans, and 34 percent independents) – as “significantly biased” in favor of Republicans. Of course it is. And Republicans are the ones who are supposed to be members of a “faith-based community” instead of the “reality-based” one.

As bad as the results are — showing support for Romney among women to be higher than support for Obama among women — my hunch is that what’s really driving the president crazy is that 67 percent of Americans think Obama’s stand on same-sex marriage was done mostly for political reasons rather than principled ones.

President Obama, after all, has presented himself to us – and seems to fancy himself to be – a man of rare political integrity and courage. The narrative they would have us believe is that Obama is an individual driven by the highest and purist motivations. He doesn’t simply want our support; he wants our reverence, our respect, and our awe. It helps explain the cult-like nature of the 2008 campaign.

So for Obama to be seen as just another scheming politician must really grate at him.

The truth, of course, is Obama is just that. Even for a politician, his stands on same-sex marriage – he was for it, then against it, then neutral on it, before he once again came out in favor of it – have been transparently cynical. And for Vice President Biden of all people to receive credit for forcing Obama to embrace same-sex marriage has, as we know, enraged Obama’s top aides.

Obama’s mask continues to slip. He is nothing like the image he created (post-ideological, non-partisan, high-minded, inspirational, unifying). He is, it turns out, a very liberal, rather ruthless, and deeply cynical politician. The fact that he is these things doesn’t bother him in the least. But the fact that more and more Americans are aware he’s these things bothers him quite a lot.

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Iran Declares Victory in Nuclear Talks

Since the beginning of the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran, foreign policy establishment figures have been bubbling with optimism about the negotiations leading to a deal that will settle the crisis. The inauguration of the talks is considered a master stroke that will head off the possibility of a Western or Israeli attack on Iran and allow the European Union to back off its pledge to implement an oil embargo on the Islamist regime. All that will be needed, we are told, is a little patience, and then EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will broker an agreement that will involve the removal of refined uranium from Iran but allow Iran to continue its “peaceful” nuclear research.

But if President Obama thinks the negotiations are the perfect way to kick the nuclear can down the road while he is running for re-election, the Iranians think the talks are a triumph for their nuclear ambitions. As Hamidreza Taraghi, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stated in a startlingly frank interview with the New York Times, the regime’s stalling tactics have been an unmitigated success, allowing them to transgress every red line set by the West and forcing them to accept Iran’s terms. As the Times notes:

In continually pushing forward the nuclear activities — increasing enrichment and building a bunker mountain enrichment facility — Iran has in effect forced the West to accept a program it insists is for peaceful purposes. Iranians say their carefully crafted policy has helped move the goal posts in their favor by making enrichment a reality that the West has been unable to stop — and may now be willing, however grudgingly, to accept.

Taraghi is, of course, absolutely right. The opening of the talks in Istanbul gave the Iranians reason to believe the international community was prepared to accept their nuclear enrichment program as well as buying the fiction that Iran’s Supreme Leader had issued a fatwa against a nuclear weapon. The question these conclusions pose for President Obama is whether he is really prepared to allow Ashton and the Europeans to broker a deal while he is running for re-election that will, in effect, give the international seal of approval to an Iranian nuclear program that is likely, deal or no deal, to lead to a nuclear weapon?

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Since the beginning of the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran, foreign policy establishment figures have been bubbling with optimism about the negotiations leading to a deal that will settle the crisis. The inauguration of the talks is considered a master stroke that will head off the possibility of a Western or Israeli attack on Iran and allow the European Union to back off its pledge to implement an oil embargo on the Islamist regime. All that will be needed, we are told, is a little patience, and then EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will broker an agreement that will involve the removal of refined uranium from Iran but allow Iran to continue its “peaceful” nuclear research.

But if President Obama thinks the negotiations are the perfect way to kick the nuclear can down the road while he is running for re-election, the Iranians think the talks are a triumph for their nuclear ambitions. As Hamidreza Taraghi, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stated in a startlingly frank interview with the New York Times, the regime’s stalling tactics have been an unmitigated success, allowing them to transgress every red line set by the West and forcing them to accept Iran’s terms. As the Times notes:

In continually pushing forward the nuclear activities — increasing enrichment and building a bunker mountain enrichment facility — Iran has in effect forced the West to accept a program it insists is for peaceful purposes. Iranians say their carefully crafted policy has helped move the goal posts in their favor by making enrichment a reality that the West has been unable to stop — and may now be willing, however grudgingly, to accept.

Taraghi is, of course, absolutely right. The opening of the talks in Istanbul gave the Iranians reason to believe the international community was prepared to accept their nuclear enrichment program as well as buying the fiction that Iran’s Supreme Leader had issued a fatwa against a nuclear weapon. The question these conclusions pose for President Obama is whether he is really prepared to allow Ashton and the Europeans to broker a deal while he is running for re-election that will, in effect, give the international seal of approval to an Iranian nuclear program that is likely, deal or no deal, to lead to a nuclear weapon?

That the Iranians have played the West for fools for a decade is no secret. For this, President Bush bears as much responsibility as President Obama or the Europeans. By allowing the Iranians to stall diplomatic efforts for years and for refusing until the last few months to set in place meaningful economic sanctions, the Western powers have encouraged the Iranians to think they can get away with doing what they like, safe in the knowledge there will be no serious repercussions.

Every red line has been transgressed. The West had opposed the opening of a nuclear plant, the construction of heavy water facilities as well as uranium enrichment. But Iran has them all now and has good reason to think a deal will not force them to surrender any of it.

Mr. Taraghi and other officials say their policy has forced the United States to accept enrichment, though five resolutions by the United Nations Security Council have called for it to suspend it. Obama administration officials dispute that view.

But some Iranian and Western officials have hinted that the White House may now be willing to accept some level of enrichment activity …

Iran’s negotiators left the Istanbul meeting believing they had scored a major victory. “We have managed to get our rights,” said Mr. Taraghi in his office in downtown Tehran. “All that remains is a debate over the percentage of enrichment.”

President Obama has talked very tough about stopping Iran and even convinced some otherwise savvy observers (like Jeffrey Goldberg) that he means it. But the Iranians clearly believe Obama is a paper tiger who has no stomach for a conflict with them. They think he will be talked into going along with the Europeans and letting the Iranians keep their nuclear program while abandoning the crippling sanctions that the president never showed much appetite for enforcing.

The proposed deal will also give them relative impunity against a pre-emptive attack by Israel to forestall the creation of an Iranian bomb. Despite the fact that the West is already in possession of evidence of a weapons program, once it is put in place and the sanctions are lifted, the deal will allow Iran to quickly pivot to the construction of a bomb whenever they like.

That the Iranians believe they have defeated Obama on this issue is now no secret. The only question is whether the president and his credulous Jewish supporters will let this taunt go unanswered as the P5+1 talks head inevitably toward an agreement that will give international sanction to Iran’s nuclear goal.

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Does Iran Outplay America in Soft Power?

Diplomats and development workers love to talk about soft power, but often misunderstand two important characteristics about it. First, when Harvard Professor Joseph Nye coined the term, he did not mean for soft power to be exclusive of hard power, but rather to be executed in conjunction with hard power. Second, while American policymakers discuss our own plans for aid and development, seldom do we acknowledge how our adversaries also make use of soft power.

Case in point: While the Americans assist Afghans in agriculture (although we have recently stood down and cancelled the missions for our Agricultural Development Teams) and education, there are certain projects popular with Afghans which neither the American government nor U.S.-based NGOs conduct. An Iranian website, for example, just released a photo essay of a recent mass wedding Iran’s Imam Khomeini Relief Committee sponsored in the Western Afghan city of Herat. The Committee—whose assets are controlled by the Supreme Leader—is active not only in Afghanistan, but also in Tajikistan, Lebanon, the Comoros Islands, and Bosnia. A year ago, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the Committee’s branches in Lebanon for their relationship to Hezbollah. When I lived in Tajikistan, the local branch of the Committee was conducting surveillance on the U.S. embassy, and contributed directly to the evacuation of all non-essential personnel.

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Diplomats and development workers love to talk about soft power, but often misunderstand two important characteristics about it. First, when Harvard Professor Joseph Nye coined the term, he did not mean for soft power to be exclusive of hard power, but rather to be executed in conjunction with hard power. Second, while American policymakers discuss our own plans for aid and development, seldom do we acknowledge how our adversaries also make use of soft power.

Case in point: While the Americans assist Afghans in agriculture (although we have recently stood down and cancelled the missions for our Agricultural Development Teams) and education, there are certain projects popular with Afghans which neither the American government nor U.S.-based NGOs conduct. An Iranian website, for example, just released a photo essay of a recent mass wedding Iran’s Imam Khomeini Relief Committee sponsored in the Western Afghan city of Herat. The Committee—whose assets are controlled by the Supreme Leader—is active not only in Afghanistan, but also in Tajikistan, Lebanon, the Comoros Islands, and Bosnia. A year ago, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the Committee’s branches in Lebanon for their relationship to Hezbollah. When I lived in Tajikistan, the local branch of the Committee was conducting surveillance on the U.S. embassy, and contributed directly to the evacuation of all non-essential personnel.

When I got married a few years back, my wife and I had a very small wedding so as not to break the bank, but when an Afghan gets married, he cannot get away with inviting less than 1,000 of his closest friends, family members, and neighbors. Most impoverished Afghans delay marriages for years because they cannot afford the price tag. The Iranians, however, know that by subsidizing such marriages, they can win hearts and minds for a generation.

What to do? I don’t know. The United States should not be in the business of subsidizing marriages. We do, however, need to recognize that others are. Soft power should not simply be throwing money at random development projects, but should be carefully crafted to gain the most long-term benefits for the buck. Most of our aid and assistance in Iraq and Afghanistan has been wasted and will derive the United States no long term benefits. The Islamic Republic may start with less, but they are careful to ensure what they do spend will pay dividends for years. We can’t work in weddings, but perhaps we can do more with higher education (the Iranian-backed Khatam Al-Anbia University in Kabul, according to one Afghan professor, has an annual budget which exceeds the entire higher education budget of Afghanistan) and scholarships for study abroad. One thing is certain: What the Iranians now do works, while what the American aid community invests in largely does not.

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The Meaning of Nakba Day

Palestinians and their supporters will demonstrate in the territories, on Israel’s borders and around the world today to mark the anniversary of the Nakba. Nakba is an Arabic word which means disaster, and that is what those who participate in today’s protests consider the founding of the State of Israel on May 15, 1948. But the focus on 1948 is significant.

For those who claim the Middle East conflict is about borders or Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the prominence given Nakba commemorations ought to be an embarrassment as it highlights something Israel’s critics are often at pains to obfuscate. The goal of the Palestinians isn’t an independent state alongside Israel. Their goal is to eradicate Israel and replace it with yet another Arab majority country.

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Palestinians and their supporters will demonstrate in the territories, on Israel’s borders and around the world today to mark the anniversary of the Nakba. Nakba is an Arabic word which means disaster, and that is what those who participate in today’s protests consider the founding of the State of Israel on May 15, 1948. But the focus on 1948 is significant.

For those who claim the Middle East conflict is about borders or Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the prominence given Nakba commemorations ought to be an embarrassment as it highlights something Israel’s critics are often at pains to obfuscate. The goal of the Palestinians isn’t an independent state alongside Israel. Their goal is to eradicate Israel and replace it with yet another Arab majority country.

As Palestine Media Watch notes in their survey of official Palestinian Authority programs, the point about the Nakba narrative is that it draws no distinction between the pre- and post-1967 borders. That means the Jewish presence within the internationally recognized borders of the State of Israel is treated as just as illegitimate as that of the settlers in the territories who we are constantly told are the main obstacle to peace. This is not a minor point, because for the Palestinians, the desire for the descendants of the 1948 refugees to “return” to Israel is tantamount to demanding the dismantling of the Jewish state.

The Jewish left has become increasingly sympathetic to Nakba Day demonstrations. They feel it is only right that the victors show compassion to the losers in Israel’s War of Independence. But compassion for those who suffer — and the Palestinian Arabs have suffered since 1948 — is one thing. Indulging the political fantasies of those who wish to reverse the verdict of that war is something else.

As much as the world seems to have tired of hearing about the history of the events of that year, it is vital we point out that the war that created the refugees was one started by Arabs whose goal was not to share the land but to prevent Jewish sovereignty on any part of it. The vast majority of Palestinians who fled did so because they feared the consequences of this war. Most thought they would return to reap the spoils of the expected destruction of the besieged Jewish community. That they and their descendants still regret this reversal of fortune may be understandable, but it is not a point on which they have any right to demand the world’s sympathy.

Nakba Day is also a reminder that the focus on refugees also ought to discredit Israel’s critics and others who have kept the Palestinians stateless and homeless during the last 64 years. Unlike every other refugee population during this period, the Palestinians have been deliberately not resettled or allowed to assimilate into the Arab populations of the surrounding nations. Instead, they have been kept in poverty by a United Nations agency (UNRWA) supposedly dedicated to their welfare but which is, in fact, merely interested in perpetuating their status as refugees so they can remain props in the Arab war on Israel.

On this day, the unhappy fate of the Palestinian refugees will be endlessly rehearsed. But no mention will be made of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled or were expelled from Arab countries in the wake of the events of 1948. Unlike the Palestinians, these people were given homes and new lives in Israel and the West. If Arabs are entitled to compensation for what they lost when they fled the newborn State of Israel, the Jews of the Arab and Muslim world deserve to be paid for what was stolen from them.

Nakba Day takes us back to the unfortunate fact that the Arabs have always treated the struggle between these two peoples as a zero sum game. In 1948, the Jews were willing to share the country, but the Arabs would hear of no solution other than the destruction of any Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn. Those who wonder why the Palestinians continue to refuse to negotiate with Israel and have rejected offers of statehood repeatedly during the past two decades need only go back to 1948 to discover the roots of this madness.

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Obama Portrays Romney as Extreme Right

At a New York fundraiser last night, President Obama contrasted his 2008 opponent with his 2012 one, BuzzFeed reports:

President Barack Obama told an audience in New York tonight that Mitt Romney is worse than his 2008 opponent Sen. John McCain.

“We have a very clear contrast this time. John McCain believed in climate change and believed in immigration reform,” Obama told an audience of about 200 donors who paid at least $5000 for a ticket to the event. “What we have this time out is a candidate who said he would rubber stamp a Republican Congress that wants us to go backward, not forward.”

This is how Obama’s going to rein in his base. The gay marriage endorsement will help increase enthusiasm significantly. But to get his base out at the polls, Obama also needs to give them a big reason to vote for him – avoiding four years of a right-wing, Tea Party-controlled government, or whatever, is a pretty good reason, in their minds.

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At a New York fundraiser last night, President Obama contrasted his 2008 opponent with his 2012 one, BuzzFeed reports:

President Barack Obama told an audience in New York tonight that Mitt Romney is worse than his 2008 opponent Sen. John McCain.

“We have a very clear contrast this time. John McCain believed in climate change and believed in immigration reform,” Obama told an audience of about 200 donors who paid at least $5000 for a ticket to the event. “What we have this time out is a candidate who said he would rubber stamp a Republican Congress that wants us to go backward, not forward.”

This is how Obama’s going to rein in his base. The gay marriage endorsement will help increase enthusiasm significantly. But to get his base out at the polls, Obama also needs to give them a big reason to vote for him – avoiding four years of a right-wing, Tea Party-controlled government, or whatever, is a pretty good reason, in their minds.

It’s always amusing when Obama talks about how moderate and reasonable Sen. McCain is; nothing at all like these scary, new, extreme conservatives today. It’s a play off of that old “the-only-good-conservative-is-a-dead-conservative” trope. McCain’s far from dead, but now that he’s no longer a political threat, Obama can speak honestly about McCain’s history as a moderate and an aisle-crosser.

Back in 2008, of course, McCain was blasted by Democratic groups for the same things Romney is being attacked for now – being an extreme right-winger. From a Democratic National Committee press release in Feb. 2008:

Throughout this campaign season, McCain has been working overtime trying to remake himself into a candidate the right wing of the Republican Party can accept in 2008. Along the way, he has cast aside his principles by flip-flopping on signature issues like campaign finance and immigration reform, and embracing the very same “agents of intolerance” and shady campaign tactics he once denounced.

Campaign McCain’s “extreme makeover” may help him pander to the right wing, but the rest of America has figured out that a vote for John McCain is a vote for a third Bush term. Whether he is pining for a 100-year war in Iraq, calling for Roe v. Wade to be overturned, supporting efforts to make the same Bush tax cuts he once opposed permanent, supporting President Bush’s veto of health care for 10 million children, or applauding the president’s decision to commute Scooter Libby’s sentence, John McCain has promised four more years of the same failed Bush policies that have undermined our economy and made America less secure.

Characterizing Romney as an extreme conservative is almost as ridiculous as calling McCain one. And it’s another example of why, at least from a campaign perspective, it doesn’t matter how moderate the Republican candidate is. He will always be portrayed as a radical, out-of-mainstream figure.

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Will Scandals Destabilize Kurdistan?

Kurdistan may be the “other Iraq” but, when it comes to corruption, it is in a league all its own. After a disappointing trip to Washington capped off when TSA agents subjected his entourage to searches, Kurdish President Masud Barzani has now, according to a report in the Kurdistan Tribune, cut short a trip to the United Arab Emirates after his son Mansour Barzani lost $3.2 million in a local casino. Where his son got $3.2 million, whether it came from government coffers and, if so, why Barzani was traveling with so much cash is unanswered. Mansour has always been tempestuous; in his youth, a dispute about a woman led to a botched suicide attempt. Elder son Masrour Barzani, whom Kurdish dissidents accuse of running death squads, has, according to multiple sources in the American Kurdish community, set up a corporation to acquire a $10+ million villa in northern Virginia. Youngest son Mullah Mustafa publicly consorts with figures during his Washington trips which make even Secret Service agents blush. Masud Barzani’s nephew expropriated $600 million from the public coffer to fund his bid for the Korek company. The multibillion dollar return flowed not into the public coffers, but into Barzani private coffers.

The question regarding Barzani’s family holdings will come to a head next year as the Kurdish presidency again comes up for election and could undermine the stability and security about which the family brags and foreign investors depend. Masud Barzani, first elected in 2005 and then re-elected four years later in elections marred by widespread fraud, should, by law, not run for a third term. If he does seek to become president for life, the disgruntled youth may again take to the streets, and all pretense of Kurdistan being anything but a Mafioso state will disappear. Few expect Barzani to follow the lead of the opposition Kurdistan Islamic Union party leader who resigned his post to allow a true successor to emerge.

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Kurdistan may be the “other Iraq” but, when it comes to corruption, it is in a league all its own. After a disappointing trip to Washington capped off when TSA agents subjected his entourage to searches, Kurdish President Masud Barzani has now, according to a report in the Kurdistan Tribune, cut short a trip to the United Arab Emirates after his son Mansour Barzani lost $3.2 million in a local casino. Where his son got $3.2 million, whether it came from government coffers and, if so, why Barzani was traveling with so much cash is unanswered. Mansour has always been tempestuous; in his youth, a dispute about a woman led to a botched suicide attempt. Elder son Masrour Barzani, whom Kurdish dissidents accuse of running death squads, has, according to multiple sources in the American Kurdish community, set up a corporation to acquire a $10+ million villa in northern Virginia. Youngest son Mullah Mustafa publicly consorts with figures during his Washington trips which make even Secret Service agents blush. Masud Barzani’s nephew expropriated $600 million from the public coffer to fund his bid for the Korek company. The multibillion dollar return flowed not into the public coffers, but into Barzani private coffers.

The question regarding Barzani’s family holdings will come to a head next year as the Kurdish presidency again comes up for election and could undermine the stability and security about which the family brags and foreign investors depend. Masud Barzani, first elected in 2005 and then re-elected four years later in elections marred by widespread fraud, should, by law, not run for a third term. If he does seek to become president for life, the disgruntled youth may again take to the streets, and all pretense of Kurdistan being anything but a Mafioso state will disappear. Few expect Barzani to follow the lead of the opposition Kurdistan Islamic Union party leader who resigned his post to allow a true successor to emerge.

Masud has, since his return from exile, lived in a mountaintop resort expropriated first by Saddam Hussein and then, in the wake of the 1991 uprising, by Masud himself. The questions Kurds will face—and which may also presage violence in the region—is what happens to the substantial properties which Masud Barzani has acquired. Barzani is used to luxuries—sources in the high-end retail industry reported that his agent once dropped $50,000 in a Bulgari store without blinking.  The question which Kurds have never addressed is whether such property belongs to the presidency, his political party, or Barzani himself. If Barzani claims the property for himself, then it raises questions about how he acquired multibillion dollar holdings on a politician’s salary. In the unlikely event Barzani releases the property to his Kurdistan Democratic Party, it could exacerbate squabbling within the party between his eldest son and nephew and myriad other family factions.

In the face of Iraqi central government opposition, Exxon is trying to extricate itself from Kurdistan. During Barzani’s meeting at the White House, both President Obama and Vice President Biden underscored that, in the dispute between Kurdistan and Baghdad, the United States stood with Baghdad. Unrest in Kurdistan may spook further oil investment. Questions about Barzani’s power and the legality of his holdings—especially should a new Kurdish government seek to reclaim property the Barzanis hold—may cause them to question their shadow partnerships with Barzani proxies. The opposition, which says it stands against corruption, has not gone beyond the rhetoric of change, however, and so may seek its own shadow partnerships. This in turn could further spook investors and send them fleeing, just as Western oil firms cut their losses and fled Russia and Turkmenistan when local corruption became insurmountable.

Good governance and transparency matter. Iraq is one of the most corrupt states on Earth, and Kurdistan is perhaps the most corrupt part of Iraq. Whenever corruption thrives, stability becomes increasingly an illusion.

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Obama Auto Czar Defends Romney

The Obama campaign has a new 2-minute ad out, set to air in five battleground states, that accuses Mitt Romney of closing down a steel company and throwing people out of their jobs in order to make a buck for Bain Capital. It shows images of displaced workers, many of them at the end of their working careers, who are, not surprisingly, unhappy with what happened. It’s tough to lose a job, especially one you’ve held for a long time.

The ad is, of course, unadulterated demagogy. Never mind that the closing took place in 2001, two years after Romney left Bain Capital. Never mind that 2001 was a terrible year for the American steel industry. Never mind that ten percent of the jobs in America disappear every year as the economy endlessly remakes itself through the process of creative destruction that makes capitalism work.

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The Obama campaign has a new 2-minute ad out, set to air in five battleground states, that accuses Mitt Romney of closing down a steel company and throwing people out of their jobs in order to make a buck for Bain Capital. It shows images of displaced workers, many of them at the end of their working careers, who are, not surprisingly, unhappy with what happened. It’s tough to lose a job, especially one you’ve held for a long time.

The ad is, of course, unadulterated demagogy. Never mind that the closing took place in 2001, two years after Romney left Bain Capital. Never mind that 2001 was a terrible year for the American steel industry. Never mind that ten percent of the jobs in America disappear every year as the economy endlessly remakes itself through the process of creative destruction that makes capitalism work.

Indeed, the ad is so shamelessly dishonest that it has produced a surprising critic, Steve Rattner. He is Obama’s former “auto czar,” who presided over the administration’s remaking of General Motors and Chrysler, a process that cost tens of thousands of jobs, as dealerships across the country were closed down by order of the Obama administration.

“I think the ad is unfair. Mitt Romney made a mistake ever talking about the fact that he created 100,000 jobs. Bain Capital’s responsibility was not to create 100,000 jobs or some other number. It was to create profits for his investors, most of whom were pension funds, endowments and foundations. It did it superbly, acting within the rules and acting very responsibly and was a leading firm,” Ratner said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday.

“So I do think to pick out an example of somebody who lost their job unfortunately, this is part of capitalism, this is part of life. And I don’t think there’s anything Bain Capital did that they need to be embarrassed about,” he said.

Rattner, to be sure, made his considerable fortune in a private equity firm not dissimilar to Bain Capital, called Quadrangle Group, and so might be inclined to see things from Romney’s point of view. But this is exactly right. Corporations are not WPA projects; they don’t exist to provide jobs but to maximize profits. Indeed, management has a fiduciary obligation to the stockholders to do exactly that. The theory of businesses as job providers was tried, in effect, in the Soviet Union, which always had a zero unemployment rate. Except for the highly privileged elite at the top, it produced nothing but poverty and a stunning lack of technological innovation.

Romney in particular and Republicans in general need to stop apologizing for advocating capitalism. It is what has made this country so extraordinarily rich, both for the Steve Rattners and Mitt Romneys and for the average American family as well, which lives at a level of affluence undreamed of even two generations ago.

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The Real Threat to the Two-State Solution

The EU accused Israel yesterday of endangering the two-state solution, inter alia via such crimes as failing to allow more Palestinian construction in parts of the West Bank under full Israeli control. How this threatens a two-state solution is never explained, for the simple reason that it obviously doesn’t: Israel’s refusal to authorize certain Palestinian construction now in no way prevents a Palestinian government from authorizing it later if that land becomes Palestinian under a peace deal.

But focusing on such non-problems allows the EU to ignore the real threat to the two-state solution: the ongoing Palestinian refusal to talk to Israel – not only among the official leadership, but among civil society as well.

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The EU accused Israel yesterday of endangering the two-state solution, inter alia via such crimes as failing to allow more Palestinian construction in parts of the West Bank under full Israeli control. How this threatens a two-state solution is never explained, for the simple reason that it obviously doesn’t: Israel’s refusal to authorize certain Palestinian construction now in no way prevents a Palestinian government from authorizing it later if that land becomes Palestinian under a peace deal.

But focusing on such non-problems allows the EU to ignore the real threat to the two-state solution: the ongoing Palestinian refusal to talk to Israel – not only among the official leadership, but among civil society as well.

Last week, for instance, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate in the West Bank announced that any journalist who dared meet with an Israeli colleague would be expelled from the union, and perhaps even from his job, for the crime of “normalization” with Israel. Because many Israeli journalists (unlike the Israeli mainstream) vocally support the Palestinian Authority’s stated preconditions for resuming negotiations – a complete settlement freeze and an upfront Israeli agreement to a final border based on the 1967 lines – one would think Palestinians would want to encourage them. Instead, the journalists’ union has just declared that even Israelis who fully support Palestinian demands will be treated as bitter enemies. And then the “international community” wonders why mainstream Israelis fear that ceding the West Bank would result in yet another enemy state rather than a friendly, peaceful neighbor.

Nor is the union’s decision an aberration: Such boycotts are official PA policy, and are consistently aimed precisely at the most pro-Palestinian Israelis, such as authors and peace activists. In short, from the Palestinian perspective, there’s no such thing as a good Israeli; all Israelis are enemies.

Given this, is it really surprising that two-thirds of Jewish Israelis believe most Palestinians “have not accepted Israel’s existence and would destroy it if they could,” and are thus reluctant to make territorial concessions that could enable them to do so?

In the EU’s fantasy land, all the Palestinians want is a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital. But as Cameron Brown of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies noted last week, three simple statements by Palestinian leaders would suffice to persuade an overwhelming majority of Israelis to agree to this: that the Palestinians renounce all claim to pre-1967 Israel, that they are willing to share custody of Jerusalem’s holy sites, and that refugees will be resettled in the Palestinian state rather than Israel. That would tell Israelis that the Palestinians’ goal really is a state alongside Israel rather than Israel’s destruction.

But Palestinian leaders have never said this, and they never will. Because the unpleasant truth, as polls consistently show, is that most Palestinians still do seek Israel’s destruction.

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War on Women Backfiring on Obama

The New York Times believes the most interesting data coming out of the latest CBS News/New York Times poll is that the vast majority of Americans think President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage last week was a cynical ploy to gain a political advantage. That’s the lede in their story about the poll. Considering that the mainstream media — including the Times — gave the statement laudatory coverage, it is surprising to learn that 67 percent of Americans think he did it “mostly for political reasons” rather than believing his story about him evolving and doing what was right. But there’s far worse news for the president in this survey than just the fact that after a few years in office two thirds of the electorate see through him like a sheet glass window. The really bad news is that his core election strategy of seeking to portray the Republicans and Mitt Romney as the enemies of women is not only failing to give him an advantage; it’s backfiring.

The poll shows Romney winning a head-to-head match up with the president by a margin of 46-43 percent. That is interesting, as it’s the first time since early January that Romney is beating Obama in this poll. But of even greater significance is that Romney leads the president among women by 46-44 percent. Only a month ago, Obama had a 49-43 percent edge among women. That this result would come after a month in which the Democrats have pounded Romney and the GOP and sought to portray them as waging a Republican war on women is astonishing. The war theme is apparently not convincing wavering females that a President Romney would harm them. Indeed, it may be having the opposite effect as — just as is the case with the gay marriage issue — many women seem to understand that the war tactic is a dishonest attempt to divert their attention from the more pressing issues relating to the economy.

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The New York Times believes the most interesting data coming out of the latest CBS News/New York Times poll is that the vast majority of Americans think President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage last week was a cynical ploy to gain a political advantage. That’s the lede in their story about the poll. Considering that the mainstream media — including the Times — gave the statement laudatory coverage, it is surprising to learn that 67 percent of Americans think he did it “mostly for political reasons” rather than believing his story about him evolving and doing what was right. But there’s far worse news for the president in this survey than just the fact that after a few years in office two thirds of the electorate see through him like a sheet glass window. The really bad news is that his core election strategy of seeking to portray the Republicans and Mitt Romney as the enemies of women is not only failing to give him an advantage; it’s backfiring.

The poll shows Romney winning a head-to-head match up with the president by a margin of 46-43 percent. That is interesting, as it’s the first time since early January that Romney is beating Obama in this poll. But of even greater significance is that Romney leads the president among women by 46-44 percent. Only a month ago, Obama had a 49-43 percent edge among women. That this result would come after a month in which the Democrats have pounded Romney and the GOP and sought to portray them as waging a Republican war on women is astonishing. The war theme is apparently not convincing wavering females that a President Romney would harm them. Indeed, it may be having the opposite effect as — just as is the case with the gay marriage issue — many women seem to understand that the war tactic is a dishonest attempt to divert their attention from the more pressing issues relating to the economy.

Like last week’s Gallup poll, the CBS/Times survey also shows that the gay marriage decision is likely to cost the president some support. More voters say they are less likely to vote for the president as a result of his statement than those who say they are more likely to back him by a 22 to 14 percent margin.

Not all the results in the CBS/Times poll were unfavorable to the president. His job approval figure of 50 percent was the highest in two years other than the month Osama bin Laden was killed. And there is more optimism about the economy, with 36 percent saying they think it is getting better, a number that is also the highest in two years.

And yet despite the sense that the economy is not as bad as it has been, Obama is still losing to Romney and even losing among women, a group that has skewed heavily to the Democrats in the past two decades. What can account for this declining gender gap after a period when the president and his campaign have sought to emphasize the difference between the two parties on what they think are women’s issues?

The answer isn’t all that complicated. Though some liberals may be convinced there is a GOP war on women, most aren’t buying it any more than they believe the president’s flip-flop on gays was a principled stand. Whatever their positions on social issues, most women seem to believe that the economy and the well-being of their families is their primary concern and on that score, Obama has lost their confidence. And it’s not clear that it can be won back by ginning up fake controversies that are transparent attempts to demonize Obama’s opponents.

Even more to the point, after three and a half years in office, President Obama may have just worn out his welcome with many voters. Having made it to the White House as part of symbolic election in which all Americans could take pride in righting some great historic wrongs, there is no such rationale for his re-election. Tactics that seem to be merely a way to trick the voters into thinking ill of the GOP are falling flat. The poll may be a wake up call to the Democrats to drop their phony war on women and start concentrating on the bread and butter issue of the economy, which 62 percent of those surveyed say is the most important in the election (the second most is the federal deficit at only 11 percent) where Romney seems to have a strong advantage.

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Obama Drops His Name Into the Other Presidential Biographies

Many of President Obama’s fervent devotees are young enough not to have much memory of the political world before the arrival of The One. Coincidentally, Obama himself feels the same way—and the White House’s official website reflects that.

The Heritage Foundation’s Rory Cooper tweeted that Obama had casually dropped his own name into Ronald Reagan’s official biography on www.whitehouse.gov, claiming credit for taking up the mantle of Reagan’s tax reform advocacy with his “Buffett Rule” gimmick. My first thought was, he must be joking. But he wasn’t—it turns out Obama has added bullet points bragging about his own accomplishments to the biographical sketches of every single U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge (except, for some reason, Gerald Ford). Here are a few examples:

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Many of President Obama’s fervent devotees are young enough not to have much memory of the political world before the arrival of The One. Coincidentally, Obama himself feels the same way—and the White House’s official website reflects that.

The Heritage Foundation’s Rory Cooper tweeted that Obama had casually dropped his own name into Ronald Reagan’s official biography on www.whitehouse.gov, claiming credit for taking up the mantle of Reagan’s tax reform advocacy with his “Buffett Rule” gimmick. My first thought was, he must be joking. But he wasn’t—it turns out Obama has added bullet points bragging about his own accomplishments to the biographical sketches of every single U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge (except, for some reason, Gerald Ford). Here are a few examples:

  • On Feb. 22, 1924 Calvin Coolidge became the first president to make a public radio address to the American people. President Coolidge later helped create the Federal Radio Commission, which has now evolved to become the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). President Obama became the first president to hold virtual gatherings and town halls using Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, etc.
  • In a 1946 letter to the National Urban League, President Truman wrote that the government has “an obligation to see that the civil rights of every citizen are fully and equally protected.” He ended racial segregation in civil service and the armed forces in 1948. Today the Obama administration continues to strive toward upholding the civil rights of its citizens, repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, allowing people of all sexual orientations to serve openly in our armed forces.
  • President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare signed (sic) into law in 1965—providing millions of elderly healthcare stability. President Obama’s historic health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, strengthens Medicare, offers eligible seniors a range of preventive services with no cost-sharing, and provides discounts on drugs when in the coverage gap known as the “donut hole.”
  • In a June 28, 1985 speech Reagan called for a fairer tax code, one where a multi-millionaire did not have a lower tax rate than his secretary. Today, President Obama is calling for the same with the Buffett Rule.

I imagine Bill Clinton will be especially receptive to Obama’s habit of shoehorning himself into the limelight previously occupied by others. As you can see, the bullet points make clear that while each president has done something historic or notable, Obama is carrying forward every one of those accomplishments since Coolidge. No wonder he always seems so proud of himself.

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Romney’s Strategy: Embrace Bain

Robert Costa reports more details on Mitt Romney’s plan to counter attacks on his Bain Capital record:

On an afternoon conference call, Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser, echoed that message. “We’ll make sure the facts get out there,” he said, including the fact that when GST Steel declared bankruptcy in 2001, Romney was two years removed from Bain Capital and running the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

“There were successes and there were failures; that’s the nature of the private marketplace,” Gillespie said, reflecting on Romney’s role. He acknowledged that some employees may have lost their jobs due to Bain’s management, but only because the firm wanted to grow and sustain the business — not because it wanted to fire workers.

“This White House and president don’t really understand the nature of the private sector,” Gillespie said. Instead of backing away from Romney’s time at Bain, he continued, the campaign will highlight Romney’s successes in the coming weeks, from his leadership at Staples and the Sports Authority to his involvement with Steel Dynamics, a company that, Patrick Brennan reports, grew under Bain Capital’s supervision, building new plants in the late 1990s.

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Robert Costa reports more details on Mitt Romney’s plan to counter attacks on his Bain Capital record:

On an afternoon conference call, Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser, echoed that message. “We’ll make sure the facts get out there,” he said, including the fact that when GST Steel declared bankruptcy in 2001, Romney was two years removed from Bain Capital and running the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

“There were successes and there were failures; that’s the nature of the private marketplace,” Gillespie said, reflecting on Romney’s role. He acknowledged that some employees may have lost their jobs due to Bain’s management, but only because the firm wanted to grow and sustain the business — not because it wanted to fire workers.

“This White House and president don’t really understand the nature of the private sector,” Gillespie said. Instead of backing away from Romney’s time at Bain, he continued, the campaign will highlight Romney’s successes in the coming weeks, from his leadership at Staples and the Sports Authority to his involvement with Steel Dynamics, a company that, Patrick Brennan reports, grew under Bain Capital’s supervision, building new plants in the late 1990s.

So Romney isn’t ceding the Bain Capital messaging war to Obama, but he doesn’t seem to be taking an aggressively defensive stance against the attack ads, either. Instead, he’s taking the measured and careful approach: embracing the positives of his record at Bain, acknowledging the unavoidable negatives that come with the business, immediately and forcefully pushing back against any inaccuracies in the attack, and highlighting the hypocrisy of the attack based on Obama’s own record.

Clearly the Romney campaign was well prepared for this fight, and even had a web ad ready to go as soon as Obama’s came out. The ad itself, “American Dream,” is  nothing special, and positive ads like these tend to be less effective and less powerful than negative ones. But getting that video out online quickly was crucial. The factual counterbalance is important for the campaign, and so is creating that subtle contrast between the Obama campaign’s negative strategy (a shift from his uplifting ’08 persona) and Romney’s presently positive one.

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Labor Headed for Wisconsin Catastrophe

The labor movement and its left-wing allies in the Democratic Party thought they were doing something extremely clever when they reacted to their defeats at the hands of Scott Walker in the Wisconsin legislature by starting a recall campaign. The recall enabled the losers of the 2010 election where Walker and the GOP swept to power in the state to, in effect, get a do-over in which they could act as if the previous result didn’t really count. But as the latest polls from Wisconsin show, they are on the eve of a catastrophic loss that will not only leave Walker in power and stronger than ever but also deal the Democrats a crucial loss that may be a harbinger of more setbacks in the fall.

The latest We Ask America poll in Wisconsin shows Walker expanding his lead over the Democratic alternative, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker, who was shown in previous polls to have a smaller advantage, now is ahead by a decisive 52-43 margin. With Walker going over the 50 percent mark for the first time in this race, this is a devastating result as it was assumed that once the Democrats picked their candidate the race would get closer. Instead, Barrett’s victory in the Democratic primary over a candidate preferred by the unions seems to have reminded Wisconsin voters that they already had a choice between Walker and Barrett in 2010 and picked the former.

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The labor movement and its left-wing allies in the Democratic Party thought they were doing something extremely clever when they reacted to their defeats at the hands of Scott Walker in the Wisconsin legislature by starting a recall campaign. The recall enabled the losers of the 2010 election where Walker and the GOP swept to power in the state to, in effect, get a do-over in which they could act as if the previous result didn’t really count. But as the latest polls from Wisconsin show, they are on the eve of a catastrophic loss that will not only leave Walker in power and stronger than ever but also deal the Democrats a crucial loss that may be a harbinger of more setbacks in the fall.

The latest We Ask America poll in Wisconsin shows Walker expanding his lead over the Democratic alternative, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker, who was shown in previous polls to have a smaller advantage, now is ahead by a decisive 52-43 margin. With Walker going over the 50 percent mark for the first time in this race, this is a devastating result as it was assumed that once the Democrats picked their candidate the race would get closer. Instead, Barrett’s victory in the Democratic primary over a candidate preferred by the unions seems to have reminded Wisconsin voters that they already had a choice between Walker and Barrett in 2010 and picked the former.

A victory in a recall would not only humiliate Walker and discourage conservatives around the country in advance of the presidential election. It would also legitimize the unions’ thuggish obstructionism in 2011. The unions sought by means of intimidation and extra-legal efforts to stop the legislature from voting to prevent Walker from fulfilling his campaign promises about enacting a fundamental reform of the budget process.

Walker stood his ground last year and passed measures that will prevent municipal and state worker unions from holding the state hostage and bringing it to the edge of bankruptcy. His effort to remove some — though not all — of their collective bargaining rights led to his demonization in the press and a vicious campaign aimed at making it impossible for Walker to govern.

But rather than making an example out of him and showing that any challenge to union domination of state government will be punished, the recall may turn out to have the opposite effect. It may not only elevate Walker to a figure of national stature. It could effectively demonstrate that the power of the union movement is finished.

With three weeks to go before the June 5 recall, the Democrats and unions will pull out all the stops in their quest to defeat Walker. But with the GOP governor already holding a large lead, President Obama — to whom the unions once looked for help in this struggle — would be well advised to stay out of Wisconsin until after the vote. He doesn’t want any of the taint of what may well be a catastrophe for the left to be attached to his re-election campaign.

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