Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 2012

Obama’s Jewish Friends in Chicago

John has already responded to President Obama’s absurd claim about being a Judaism genius. But that may not even be the most offensive argument Obama made at yesterday’s meeting with Conservative Jewish rabbis, according to the Haaretz report. When asked about his personal views on Israel — the kishkes question again — Obama reportedly went for the some-of-my-best-friends-are-Jews defense:

There were some questions directed at the president concerning his thoughts on the role of religious leaders in a more civil political dialogue, which then lead to the inevitable question – how does he feel about Israel? Obama joked that [Chief of Staff Jack] Lew always warns him it will get to “the kishkes question.”

“Rather than describe how deeply I care about Israel, I want to be blunt about how we got here,” Obama said, reminding his guests that he had so many Jewish friends in Chicago at the beginning of his political career that he was accused of  being a puppet of the Israel lobby.

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John has already responded to President Obama’s absurd claim about being a Judaism genius. But that may not even be the most offensive argument Obama made at yesterday’s meeting with Conservative Jewish rabbis, according to the Haaretz report. When asked about his personal views on Israel — the kishkes question again — Obama reportedly went for the some-of-my-best-friends-are-Jews defense:

There were some questions directed at the president concerning his thoughts on the role of religious leaders in a more civil political dialogue, which then lead to the inevitable question – how does he feel about Israel? Obama joked that [Chief of Staff Jack] Lew always warns him it will get to “the kishkes question.”

“Rather than describe how deeply I care about Israel, I want to be blunt about how we got here,” Obama said, reminding his guests that he had so many Jewish friends in Chicago at the beginning of his political career that he was accused of  being a puppet of the Israel lobby.

Ignore the overwhelming ignorance and offensiveness of that argument for a second. The one person I can recall who has actually accused Obama of being an AIPAC puppet is Rev. Wright — though his theory was that Obama didn’t turn into a lapdog for the Jews until he started running for president. I don’t doubt the president hung out with plenty of Jews in Chicago, but considering that some of the most vile Israel bashers out there are Jewish, that says absolutely nothing about his own views on Israel. Plus, if we’re now supposed to judge Obama’s support for Israel based on his Chicago friendships, that’s not exactly comforting. Two of his close friends in the city were an anti-Semitic pastor and a famed anti-Israel academic — oh, and there was also his domestic terrorist buddy who participates in anti-Israel activism on the side. What are we supposed to glean from that?

These friendships were one of the reasons why the pro-Israel community was initially unsure about Obama’s true personal feelings on Israel during his 2008 campaign. Since then, those early concerns have been substantiated again and again by Obama’s own public actions and statements on Israel. The American public still supports the Jewish state, which means Obama grudgingly supports it when necessary, but it’s clear his heart isn’t there. His lame response when questioned on his true feelings — citing knowledge of Judaism and friendship with Jews — is just the latest example of that disconnect.

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Political Victory Out of Battlefield Defeats

The United Nations has hardly been a cheerleader for the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan. In fact, UN representatives have often been skeptical of the methods and tactics employed by American troops. So it is particularly noteworthy that even the UN is recording a big drop—21 percent–in civilian deaths in the first four months of 2012 compared with the same period a year ago. This tallies with NATO figures showing a drop in insurgent attacks—evidence that the post-2009 surge is working.

Unfortunately, just as American troops and their allies are making demonstrable progress, their political masters are preparing to pull them out. French troops are due to leave this year and more than 20,000 American troops are due to leave in September with more, perhaps, to follow before long. Western politicians would be foolish, now that the coalition actually has the initiative and the Taliban are on their heels, to let up on the pressure. But that is precisely what may happen, allowing the Taliban, Haqqanis, et al., to pull a political victory out of their battlefield defeats.

The United Nations has hardly been a cheerleader for the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan. In fact, UN representatives have often been skeptical of the methods and tactics employed by American troops. So it is particularly noteworthy that even the UN is recording a big drop—21 percent–in civilian deaths in the first four months of 2012 compared with the same period a year ago. This tallies with NATO figures showing a drop in insurgent attacks—evidence that the post-2009 surge is working.

Unfortunately, just as American troops and their allies are making demonstrable progress, their political masters are preparing to pull them out. French troops are due to leave this year and more than 20,000 American troops are due to leave in September with more, perhaps, to follow before long. Western politicians would be foolish, now that the coalition actually has the initiative and the Taliban are on their heels, to let up on the pressure. But that is precisely what may happen, allowing the Taliban, Haqqanis, et al., to pull a political victory out of their battlefield defeats.

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Assad Won’t Be Toppled by Words

In the last year, President Obama loudly denounced Syria dictator Bashar al-Assad for human rights abuses and confidently predicted the regime’s fall. But as in virtually every other difficult foreign policy question, the president has preferred to “lead from behind,” which in this case means doing absolutely nothing while Assad slaughters thousands. The most recent Syrian atrocity has brought this shameful inaction back into the spotlight, but as Mitt Romney’s justified criticism of Obama on the issue yesterday makes clear, both the president and his challenger need to come up with more coherent positions.

The administration has tried to have it both ways on Syria ever since the protests there began more than a year ago. On the one hand, Obama wants to pose as the scourge of tyrants and a supporter of human rights, so he has claimed it was only a matter of time before Assad was driven out. But he has done nothing to match those words, and the result is that the atrocities continue with no end in sight. Romney rightly criticized this inaction yesterday as an example of the president’s feckless and cowardly foreign policy. But though this critique is warranted, Romney’s own prescription for U.S. action on Syria isn’t a heckuva lot better. As the New York Times reports:

He called for the United States to “work with partners to organize and arm Syrian opposition groups so they can defend themselves” — a policy that goes somewhat further than Mr. Obama’s but falls short of the airstrikes advocated by Republicans like Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The problem here is that despite the blithe assumptions commonly heard in the West about Assad’s inevitable doom, there is no reason to believe that he cannot sustain himself in power so long as the security services remain loyal to him.

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In the last year, President Obama loudly denounced Syria dictator Bashar al-Assad for human rights abuses and confidently predicted the regime’s fall. But as in virtually every other difficult foreign policy question, the president has preferred to “lead from behind,” which in this case means doing absolutely nothing while Assad slaughters thousands. The most recent Syrian atrocity has brought this shameful inaction back into the spotlight, but as Mitt Romney’s justified criticism of Obama on the issue yesterday makes clear, both the president and his challenger need to come up with more coherent positions.

The administration has tried to have it both ways on Syria ever since the protests there began more than a year ago. On the one hand, Obama wants to pose as the scourge of tyrants and a supporter of human rights, so he has claimed it was only a matter of time before Assad was driven out. But he has done nothing to match those words, and the result is that the atrocities continue with no end in sight. Romney rightly criticized this inaction yesterday as an example of the president’s feckless and cowardly foreign policy. But though this critique is warranted, Romney’s own prescription for U.S. action on Syria isn’t a heckuva lot better. As the New York Times reports:

He called for the United States to “work with partners to organize and arm Syrian opposition groups so they can defend themselves” — a policy that goes somewhat further than Mr. Obama’s but falls short of the airstrikes advocated by Republicans like Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The problem here is that despite the blithe assumptions commonly heard in the West about Assad’s inevitable doom, there is no reason to believe that he cannot sustain himself in power so long as the security services remain loyal to him.

Having already killed so many of his countrymen, why would having a few hundred more corpses do him in when he hasn’t been toppled despite the thousands already slain? The iron law of history teaches us that tyrannies fall when they weaken or lose their willingness to shed blood and not before. The material support Assad is getting from his ally Iran and their Hezbollah auxiliaries have helped offset any harm incurred by Western sanctions, which are largely meaningless because of the limited scope of trade with Syria.

The only thing that will put an end to Assad’s reign of terror is Western military intervention or direct aid to the Syrian rebels. There are, as the White House has pointed out, good reasons to worry about arming the Syrian opposition. As a top-ranking Israeli military official pointed out today, should Assad fall, elements of al-Qaeda that may be sympathetic to the opposition in Syria could be empowered or at least be given free reign to conduct terror operations against Israel or the West.

The Times is right to point out that few in this country on either side of the political aisle are eager for another foreign adventure, even one that really would be a matter of saving thousands of lives. There is also good reason to believe that intervention in Syria would not be as easy as last year’s European-led effort to oust Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. But that is no excuse for standing by while hundreds, if not thousands are slaughtered in Syria by Assad, while Western leaders like Obama preen ineffectually about their support for human rights.

The analogy to Libya also breaks down because the stakes in Syria are far higher. The atrocities in Syria dwarf those in Libya. It should also be pointed out that toppling the Assad regime would be a telling blow to Iran and its terrorist allies. Though we don’t know what a post-Assad Syria would look like, in the long run, regime change there would be good for the region as well as the Syrian people.

Absent a commitment to take action, nothing Obama or Romney says about Syria has much credibility. It may be too much to expect either man to embrace the possibility of armed conflict in Syria, but anything less will not solve the crisis.

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The Damaging Effects of Obamanomics

According to a recent Washington Post story,

The proportion of Americans in their prime working years who have jobs is smaller than it has been at any time in the 23 years before the recession, according to federal statistics, reflecting the profound and lasting effects that the downturn has had on the nation’s economic prospects.

By this measure, the jobs situation has improved little in recent years. The percentage of workers between the ages of 25 and 54 who have jobs now stands at 75.7 percent, just a percentage point over what it was at the downturn’s worst, according to federal statistics.

Before the recession the proportion hovered at 80 percent.

While the unemployment rate may be the most closely watched gauge of the economy in the presidential campaign, this measure of prime-age workers captures more of the ongoing turbulence in the job market. It reflects “missing workers” who have stopped looking for work and aren’t included in the unemployment rate.

During their prime years, Americans are supposed to be building careers and wealth to prepare for their retirement. Instead, as the indicator reveals, huge numbers are on the sidelines.

“What it shows is that we are still near the bottom of a very big hole that opened in the recession,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank.

The Post story goes on to point out that the percentage of prime-age men who are working is smaller now than it has been in any time before the recession, going all the way back to 1948, while the proportion of prime-age women is at a low not seen since 1988. A 50-year-old heating and AC technician from Alexandria, Virginia, was out of work in 2009 but found a job right away. He was laid off again about six months ago and, standing outside the Alexandria unemployment office, said it seems harder this time around.

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According to a recent Washington Post story,

The proportion of Americans in their prime working years who have jobs is smaller than it has been at any time in the 23 years before the recession, according to federal statistics, reflecting the profound and lasting effects that the downturn has had on the nation’s economic prospects.

By this measure, the jobs situation has improved little in recent years. The percentage of workers between the ages of 25 and 54 who have jobs now stands at 75.7 percent, just a percentage point over what it was at the downturn’s worst, according to federal statistics.

Before the recession the proportion hovered at 80 percent.

While the unemployment rate may be the most closely watched gauge of the economy in the presidential campaign, this measure of prime-age workers captures more of the ongoing turbulence in the job market. It reflects “missing workers” who have stopped looking for work and aren’t included in the unemployment rate.

During their prime years, Americans are supposed to be building careers and wealth to prepare for their retirement. Instead, as the indicator reveals, huge numbers are on the sidelines.

“What it shows is that we are still near the bottom of a very big hole that opened in the recession,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank.

The Post story goes on to point out that the percentage of prime-age men who are working is smaller now than it has been in any time before the recession, going all the way back to 1948, while the proportion of prime-age women is at a low not seen since 1988. A 50-year-old heating and AC technician from Alexandria, Virginia, was out of work in 2009 but found a job right away. He was laid off again about six months ago and, standing outside the Alexandria unemployment office, said it seems harder this time around.

“The economy is just really messed up right now,” he said.

Indeed it is.

Yesterday, we also learned that Americans’ confidence in the economy suffered the biggest drop in eight months. The Conference Board said that its Consumer Confidence Index now stands at 64.9, down from 68.7 in April. “Consumers were less positive about current business and labor market conditions, and they were more pessimistic about the short-term outlook,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board.

These are more signs (as if we needed them) that the economic recovery under Obama is historically weak. With a little more than five months left in the election, there’s nothing the president seems able to do about it. And the human suffering caused by his misguided policies continues to mount.

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Obama’s Absurd Claim About Judaism

Apparently, Barack Obama told a visiting contingent of Conservative Jewish rabbis that he probably knows more about Judaism than any other president—on the same day that he referred to “Polish death camps.” For that last remark he apologized, but the one about Judaism is far more telling. In the first place, the claim is transparently absurd. We can quickly pass over the fact that John Adams and James Madison, among the most educated men in the world at the time, knew Hebrew as well as Latin and Greek and just say that the president is, to put it mildly, punching above his weight here. So let’s move on to the fact that every president until the modern era knew more about Judaism than Barack Obama because the Bible was the one book every literate person knew, and the Bible includes the books Christians call the “Old Testament,” and a working knowledge of the Old Testament certainly is the best introduction to “Judaism” there is.

Earlier presidents did not learn the Talmud, of course, but if Barack Obama ever has, that would come as news to me. There is no indication from Obama’s own writing that he is especially Bible-literate, and we can presume that his notorious pastor of 20 years used the Bible primarily as flavoring for his political duck soup. I have no doubt that, among presidents closer to our time, Jimmy Carter was far more conversant in the lore of Biblical Judaism, for all the good it did his corrupted soul when it comes to the Jewish state.

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Apparently, Barack Obama told a visiting contingent of Conservative Jewish rabbis that he probably knows more about Judaism than any other president—on the same day that he referred to “Polish death camps.” For that last remark he apologized, but the one about Judaism is far more telling. In the first place, the claim is transparently absurd. We can quickly pass over the fact that John Adams and James Madison, among the most educated men in the world at the time, knew Hebrew as well as Latin and Greek and just say that the president is, to put it mildly, punching above his weight here. So let’s move on to the fact that every president until the modern era knew more about Judaism than Barack Obama because the Bible was the one book every literate person knew, and the Bible includes the books Christians call the “Old Testament,” and a working knowledge of the Old Testament certainly is the best introduction to “Judaism” there is.

Earlier presidents did not learn the Talmud, of course, but if Barack Obama ever has, that would come as news to me. There is no indication from Obama’s own writing that he is especially Bible-literate, and we can presume that his notorious pastor of 20 years used the Bible primarily as flavoring for his political duck soup. I have no doubt that, among presidents closer to our time, Jimmy Carter was far more conversant in the lore of Biblical Judaism, for all the good it did his corrupted soul when it comes to the Jewish state.

Perhaps what the president meant is that he’s known more Jews than other presidents. This too is an absurdity, as Ronald Reagan spent 30 years in Hollywood and had Jews coming out his ears. In fact, chances are Barack Obama knows less about Judaism than most presidents, except that he knows a lot of liberal Jews.

What the president does, without question, know a great deal about is the act of preening.

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Romney’s Favorability Climbs with Women

Mitt Romney’s favorability rating is at its highest point in the race, due almost completely to a surge of popularity among women, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll:

One group where Romney has picked up considerable steam since mid-April is among GOP women, 80 percent of whom now have favorable views of the former Massachusetts governor. That’s up from 59 percent last month.

The shift among GOP women has also driven Romney to a fresh high among Republicans more broadly; as a group, 78 percent now hold favorable views of their party’s 2012 standard bearer. Some 84 percent of Democrats have positive views about Obama.

Because the shift is among Republican women, the typical post-primary readjustment could definitely be a factor. But also note that the same trend didn’t take place with men in general (in fact, Romney actually lost a bit of ground with men since last month).

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Mitt Romney’s favorability rating is at its highest point in the race, due almost completely to a surge of popularity among women, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll:

One group where Romney has picked up considerable steam since mid-April is among GOP women, 80 percent of whom now have favorable views of the former Massachusetts governor. That’s up from 59 percent last month.

The shift among GOP women has also driven Romney to a fresh high among Republicans more broadly; as a group, 78 percent now hold favorable views of their party’s 2012 standard bearer. Some 84 percent of Democrats have positive views about Obama.

Because the shift is among Republican women, the typical post-primary readjustment could definitely be a factor. But also note that the same trend didn’t take place with men in general (in fact, Romney actually lost a bit of ground with men since last month).

And while Romney made inroads with women, Obama’s popularity dropped. Last month, 58 percent of women had a positive view of Obama and 36 percent had a negative view. In the latest poll, 51 percent had a positive view and 44 had a negative one. It’s not a massive shift, but it’s well beyond the 3.5 percent margin of error.

The survey also found that Romney’s gains were mainly among unmarried women, which he had very high unfavorables with earlier this spring. It’s another indication that if the “war on women” claims had any benefit for the Democrats, the boost was short-lived, as Romney’s favorability rating has improved dramatically with unmarried women since the narrative died down. While it may have had a temporary impact, the “war on women” just doesn’t seem to be effective as a long-term attack.

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Warren’s Pattern of Dubious Claims

In addition to her unsubstantiated distinction as Harvard’s first woman of color, it turns out that Elizabeth Warren may have also participated in a landmark event for women’s liberation. I’m of course referring to her status as the first nursing mother to take the New Jersey bar exam.

Unfortunately, Warren’s place in history as a feminist icon is in limbo because, once again, her claims can’t be substantiated. The Boston Herald reports:

“I was the first nursing mother to take a bar exam in the state of New Jersey,” Warren told an audience at the Chicago Humanities Festival in 2011, in a video posted on the CHF website. When asked how Warren knows that, her campaign said: “Elizabeth was making a point about the very serious challenges she faced as a working mom — from taking an all-day bar exam when she was still breast-feeding, to finding work as a lawyer that would accommodate a mom with two small children.”

Winnie Comfort of the New Jersey Judiciary, which administers that state’s bar exam, said there’s no way to verify Warren’s claim. Comfort said women have been taking the New Jersey bar exam since 1895, but she’s not aware their nursing habits were ever tracked.

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In addition to her unsubstantiated distinction as Harvard’s first woman of color, it turns out that Elizabeth Warren may have also participated in a landmark event for women’s liberation. I’m of course referring to her status as the first nursing mother to take the New Jersey bar exam.

Unfortunately, Warren’s place in history as a feminist icon is in limbo because, once again, her claims can’t be substantiated. The Boston Herald reports:

“I was the first nursing mother to take a bar exam in the state of New Jersey,” Warren told an audience at the Chicago Humanities Festival in 2011, in a video posted on the CHF website. When asked how Warren knows that, her campaign said: “Elizabeth was making a point about the very serious challenges she faced as a working mom — from taking an all-day bar exam when she was still breast-feeding, to finding work as a lawyer that would accommodate a mom with two small children.”

Winnie Comfort of the New Jersey Judiciary, which administers that state’s bar exam, said there’s no way to verify Warren’s claim. Comfort said women have been taking the New Jersey bar exam since 1895, but she’s not aware their nursing habits were ever tracked.

Politicians are politicians because they self-promote and puff up their accomplishments shamelessly. Al Gore’s infamous claim that he created the Internet is one extreme example, and the same goes for most of the assertions that come out of Joe Biden’s mouth. The problem is when they cross the line into downright lies, like Richard Blumenthal’s false claim that he served in Vietnam. Was Warren’s assertion a lie, an exaggeration, or was she simply mistaken? We don’t know, and the issue is so minor and obscure that it’s probably not even worth investigating.

If the Cherokee controversy didn’t hurt Warren in the polls, it’s possible the nursing mother story won’t have an impact either. In fact, the nursing mother story probably wouldn’t even be an issue if not for the ancestry claims. On its face, Warren’s comments seem to be silly but harmless self-congratulation, and that’s how a lot of voters will probably see it. But it does speak to a pattern of exaggerating and stretching biographical details. It’s not just the substance of Warren’s claims that’s troubling, but the habit.

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The Media’s Complicity in the Birther Issue

Former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu does a fine job schooling CNN’s Soledad O’Brien over Donald Trump and the so-called birther issue. In saying this, I should point out that I would go further than the Romney campaign in repudiating Trump, who is a noxious figure in American politics. What Trump is doing in calling into question Obama’s citizenship is attempting to delegitimize the president, to argue that his presidency is unconstitutional and that he is alien. Crossing that line damages our political discourse and American politics more broadly.

There’s of course no rulebook one can consult when it comes to the matter of repudiating supporters. It’s a judgment call that has to be done on a case-by-case basis. In the case of Trump, who is a prominent Romney supporter, his attraction to conspiracy theories deserves a strong rebuke. When a political party gives a home to those who peddle in paranoia – a home to self-promotional cranks — it leads to an erosion of credibility.  Romney ought to say so.

With that said, CNN is complicit in this political circus as well. My point isn’t that the issue shouldn’t be covered at all; it is that, as Governor Sununu points out, the network is fixated on Trump and the birther issue. It’s drawn to it like a moth to a flame in a pitch-dark night. Here’s the problem. Bill Maher donated a million dollars to a super PAC supporting President Obama, and to my knowledge Obama hasn’t distanced himself from Maher’s crude attacks on women. Yet CNN seems remarkably indifferent to this story. I wonder why.

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Former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu does a fine job schooling CNN’s Soledad O’Brien over Donald Trump and the so-called birther issue. In saying this, I should point out that I would go further than the Romney campaign in repudiating Trump, who is a noxious figure in American politics. What Trump is doing in calling into question Obama’s citizenship is attempting to delegitimize the president, to argue that his presidency is unconstitutional and that he is alien. Crossing that line damages our political discourse and American politics more broadly.

There’s of course no rulebook one can consult when it comes to the matter of repudiating supporters. It’s a judgment call that has to be done on a case-by-case basis. In the case of Trump, who is a prominent Romney supporter, his attraction to conspiracy theories deserves a strong rebuke. When a political party gives a home to those who peddle in paranoia – a home to self-promotional cranks — it leads to an erosion of credibility.  Romney ought to say so.

With that said, CNN is complicit in this political circus as well. My point isn’t that the issue shouldn’t be covered at all; it is that, as Governor Sununu points out, the network is fixated on Trump and the birther issue. It’s drawn to it like a moth to a flame in a pitch-dark night. Here’s the problem. Bill Maher donated a million dollars to a super PAC supporting President Obama, and to my knowledge Obama hasn’t distanced himself from Maher’s crude attacks on women. Yet CNN seems remarkably indifferent to this story. I wonder why.

Beyond that, it’s worth pointing out the media’s tendency to bemoan what it promotes. There are dozens of significant and complicated topics that CNN could explore with care. But it has decided to hyper-focus on Donald Trump and the birther issue. That’s bad enough. But what makes it worse is when some in the media then saddle up on their high horses and lament that lack of seriousness in American politics. They pretend what they most want is a sophisticated and elevated conversation about the weightiest issues facing our nation and the world. They deride politicians for focusing on trivialities, even as they are the ones putting the spotlight on the trivialities and demanding politicians address them.

“We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise,” C.S. Lewis wrote. “We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” In our time, Professor Lewis could have added that the press gives a platform to stupid distractions championed by buffoonish figures — and then complains about the low state and childish nature of American politics.

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Why Davis Is Leaving the Democrats

Yesterday, Alana noted the latest fallout from Cory Booker’s critique of the Obama administration on “Meet the Press” and the subsequent, utterly ridiculous “hostage” video he recorded after the Obama campaign reminded him that independent thinking is strongly discouraged in the Democratic Party. Booker’s communications director, Anne Torres, resigned, citing “different views on how communications should be run.”

It wasn’t clear whether Torres objected more to Booker’s defense of capitalism or the cringeworthy apology video–which would have been embarrassing for any communications shop to have on its record–or whether this was merely the last straw in a simmering dispute (possibly about the mayor’s famous obsession with Twitter). But considering that Obama’s Bain attacks made several high-profile Democrats uncomfortable, the fact that Booker was the only one to consent to a walkback video seemed to indicate that the campaign wanted no daylight between Obama and Booker on the issue, even if others strayed from the message. Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray took a look at how race may have affected the campaign’s damage control strategy:

As Senator Barack Obama rose toward power in 2007 and 2008, he was sometimes taken as the avatar of a new generation of African-American leaders.

They were, PBS’s Gwen Ifill wrote, a “Joshua Generation” led by figures from Alabama Rep. Artur Davis to Newark Mayor Cory Booker. They were, like Obama, born too late to participate in the Civil Rights movement, and late enough to benefit from it with blue chip educations and direct paths to power. They were free of the urban machines that had defined black politics in America, and ready for a different and more hopeful sort of politics of race.

But as President Barack Obama struggles to keep his party united around him, few figures have proven more troublesome than that cadre of black leaders, each of whom was seen at some point as a candidate for the post which only Obama will ever hold: First Black President.

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Yesterday, Alana noted the latest fallout from Cory Booker’s critique of the Obama administration on “Meet the Press” and the subsequent, utterly ridiculous “hostage” video he recorded after the Obama campaign reminded him that independent thinking is strongly discouraged in the Democratic Party. Booker’s communications director, Anne Torres, resigned, citing “different views on how communications should be run.”

It wasn’t clear whether Torres objected more to Booker’s defense of capitalism or the cringeworthy apology video–which would have been embarrassing for any communications shop to have on its record–or whether this was merely the last straw in a simmering dispute (possibly about the mayor’s famous obsession with Twitter). But considering that Obama’s Bain attacks made several high-profile Democrats uncomfortable, the fact that Booker was the only one to consent to a walkback video seemed to indicate that the campaign wanted no daylight between Obama and Booker on the issue, even if others strayed from the message. Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray took a look at how race may have affected the campaign’s damage control strategy:

As Senator Barack Obama rose toward power in 2007 and 2008, he was sometimes taken as the avatar of a new generation of African-American leaders.

They were, PBS’s Gwen Ifill wrote, a “Joshua Generation” led by figures from Alabama Rep. Artur Davis to Newark Mayor Cory Booker. They were, like Obama, born too late to participate in the Civil Rights movement, and late enough to benefit from it with blue chip educations and direct paths to power. They were free of the urban machines that had defined black politics in America, and ready for a different and more hopeful sort of politics of race.

But as President Barack Obama struggles to keep his party united around him, few figures have proven more troublesome than that cadre of black leaders, each of whom was seen at some point as a candidate for the post which only Obama will ever hold: First Black President.

But Davis was already uncomfortable with the leftward tilt of the Democratic Party, which had been driving out its moderates for years. After Davis left office, he began writing regularly for National Review, after being a go-to guy for leftish dissent for Politico’s “Arena.” Then rumors swirled that Davis was considering a party registration switch to possibly run for office as a Republican in Northern Virginia. Davis has now confirmed those rumors, and posted on his website a statement of explanation in which he airs his disagreement with the Obama administration (and mainstream Democratic Party) about taxes and healthcare policy as well as the “racial spoils system” the Democrats attempt to exploit each election cycle:

On the specifics, I have regularly criticized an agenda that would punish businesses and job creators with more taxes just as they are trying to thrive again. I have taken issue with an administration that has lapsed into a bloc by bloc appeal to group grievances when the country is already too fractured: frankly, the symbolism of Barack Obama winning has not given us the substance of a united country. You have also seen me write that faith institutions should not be compelled to violate their teachings because faith is a freedom, too. You’ve read that in my view, the law can’t continue to favor one race over another in offering hard-earned slots in colleges: America has changed, and we are now diverse enough that we don’t need to accommodate a racial spoils system. And you know from these pages that I still think the way we have gone about mending the flaws in our healthcare system is the wrong way—it goes further than we need and costs more than we can bear.

Davis isn’t a Tea Partier–and certainly neither is Booker. But they also have been uneasy about the extent to which the Democratic Party uses identity politics as an end in itself. Obviously, both were hoping Obama would change that. Booker has shown support for school choice and defended Bain because he, like Davis, wants inner-city youth to get a better shot at an education and to have job opportunities thereafter. Obama may not be in danger of losing black voters’ support in November, but the party he leads is going to have to grapple with a new generation of centrist black politicians who are clearly bothered by a status quo–and the Democratic Party’s strict adherence to it–that remains woefully inadequate to their constituents.

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“The Sword On Our Neck”

Remember when Meir Dagan, upon leaving office as head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, gave a briefing to the press, where he warned against hasty military decisions and said that “Israel should not hasten to attack Iran, doing so only when the sword is upon its neck”?

In a clear reference to Dagan’s words, Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, has just said, in a lecture delivered earlier today at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies that “the metaphorical sword is now on our neck.”

Israel is the only country in the world that launched, not once but twice, a preemptive strike on an adversary’s nuclear facilities. These words should not be taken lightly by Western policymakers intent on stretching the ongoing negotiating round with Iran at least until the November U.S. presidential elections.

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Remember when Meir Dagan, upon leaving office as head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, gave a briefing to the press, where he warned against hasty military decisions and said that “Israel should not hasten to attack Iran, doing so only when the sword is upon its neck”?

In a clear reference to Dagan’s words, Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, has just said, in a lecture delivered earlier today at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies that “the metaphorical sword is now on our neck.”

Israel is the only country in the world that launched, not once but twice, a preemptive strike on an adversary’s nuclear facilities. These words should not be taken lightly by Western policymakers intent on stretching the ongoing negotiating round with Iran at least until the November U.S. presidential elections.

Barak’s speech is a warning then – and one that diplomats reading progress into Iran’s foot dragging last week in Baghdad would be foolish to downplay.

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Romney’s Right Where He Needs to Be

A year ago, I could be counted among the vast majority of political observers who were prepared to tell you why Mitt Romney couldn’t win the Republican nomination. Today, in the aftermath of last night’s Texas Primary that allowed the former Massachusetts governor to gain a clear majority of delegates to the Republican convention, the nomination is securely and officially in his pocket. Why was I — along with a lot of other people — so wrong about Romney? There were many reasons, and more about that in a moment.

But the main point about the GOP nominee today is that after a difficult, long and bitter primary fight that was supposed to have left him weakened and with a well-funded incumbent president who is already launching brutal personal attacks on him with the eager assistance of most of the mainstream media, Romney is right where he needs to be. Though President Obama has some real advantages, the presidential race is a virtual dead heat. The economy, which is Romney’s strongest issue, is showing no signs of the sort of robust recovery that could guarantee the president’s re-election. The initial Democratic assaults on Romney’s business record (the Bain theme) and on the Republican Party in general (the faux “war on women”) have more or less flopped. A lot can happen in the next five months, but having weathered so many negative attacks from both sides of the political aisle in the last year, only the most starry-eyed Obama idolaters or the most hardened GOP pessimists could deny that Romney has, at worst, an even chance of being sworn in as the 45th president next January.

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A year ago, I could be counted among the vast majority of political observers who were prepared to tell you why Mitt Romney couldn’t win the Republican nomination. Today, in the aftermath of last night’s Texas Primary that allowed the former Massachusetts governor to gain a clear majority of delegates to the Republican convention, the nomination is securely and officially in his pocket. Why was I — along with a lot of other people — so wrong about Romney? There were many reasons, and more about that in a moment.

But the main point about the GOP nominee today is that after a difficult, long and bitter primary fight that was supposed to have left him weakened and with a well-funded incumbent president who is already launching brutal personal attacks on him with the eager assistance of most of the mainstream media, Romney is right where he needs to be. Though President Obama has some real advantages, the presidential race is a virtual dead heat. The economy, which is Romney’s strongest issue, is showing no signs of the sort of robust recovery that could guarantee the president’s re-election. The initial Democratic assaults on Romney’s business record (the Bain theme) and on the Republican Party in general (the faux “war on women”) have more or less flopped. A lot can happen in the next five months, but having weathered so many negative attacks from both sides of the political aisle in the last year, only the most starry-eyed Obama idolaters or the most hardened GOP pessimists could deny that Romney has, at worst, an even chance of being sworn in as the 45th president next January.

The main reason why Romney didn’t seem likely to be the GOP nominee in May of 2011 was RomneyCare. With the GOP grass roots up in arms largely because of ObamaCare, the burden of defending his Massachusetts health care bill struck me as too great a disadvantage. Romney’s record seemed to render him anathema to the Tea Party at a time when that movement seemed to exercise a veto over who would be nominated. Though health care remained a liability for him throughout the GOP race, the further decline of the economy last year as well as the shift in focus on the part of many activists to deficits, taxes and spending during the debt-ceiling crisis made it easier on Romney. Had a credible more conservative alternative to Romney arose that might not have mattered. But that person never materialized. Almost all of those who did run had their moment in the sun, but none of them gave the Republicans as good a shot at the White House as Romney, a point that was made over and over in exit polls that showed electability was the most important issue for GOP primary voters.

Though we are told the Democrats are still seeking to define Romney for the public, the truth is all of his shortcomings have already been brought out and endlessly rehearsed. We know that he has a record of flip-flopping on social issues; that he is too wealthy; that his business success was built on making tough decisions that sometimes involved pain for individuals working at failing companies; and that he is awkward in public, gaffe-prone and doesn’t connect well with individual voters. And, oh yes, 30 years ago, he took a vacation trip with his dog riding in a rooftop pet carrier, and he played a prank on another student in high school.

And yet despite all this he has won the GOP nomination, is in the process of raising more than enough money to offset what was supposed to be a huge Democratic advantage in fundraising and is on firm ground on the one issue that voters agree is the most important this year: the economy.

Romney will have to weather even more vicious attacks in the months to come and must learn to curb his propensity for foolish quips. He’ll have to choose an able vice presidential nominee who will demonstrate an ability to make good decisions and stand up to the president in the heat of the debates. But having already come so far and overcome so many clear disadvantages, it would be foolish for anyone to discount his chances of prevailing in November.

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Leading from Behind…Zimbabwe?

Against the backdrop of continued massacres in Syria, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has declared, “The Assad regime’s brutality against its own people must and will end,” although neither she nor the White House has outlined a strategy to meet that goal.

President Obama prefers to work through allies. He has sought to bring Russian strongman Vladimir Putin around. If Putin does not care about human rights in Russia, however, it is doubtful he cares too much about ordinary Syrians, especially if it means undermining the regime which hosts Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union. As in Libya, he also prefers to work from behind through other allies. How embarrassing it is for a superpower like the United States to take the backseat to the likes of Zimbabwe, which has announced it is training its troops in advance of a Syrian peacekeeping mission.

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Against the backdrop of continued massacres in Syria, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has declared, “The Assad regime’s brutality against its own people must and will end,” although neither she nor the White House has outlined a strategy to meet that goal.

President Obama prefers to work through allies. He has sought to bring Russian strongman Vladimir Putin around. If Putin does not care about human rights in Russia, however, it is doubtful he cares too much about ordinary Syrians, especially if it means undermining the regime which hosts Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union. As in Libya, he also prefers to work from behind through other allies. How embarrassing it is for a superpower like the United States to take the backseat to the likes of Zimbabwe, which has announced it is training its troops in advance of a Syrian peacekeeping mission.

I’m sure the Syrian people, in desperate need of protection from a regime gone wild whose forces rape and pillage, will be grateful the United Nations is sending a force best known for its rape and pillage.

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Computer Viruses Won’t Stop Iran

Iran’s confirmation that the computers of a number of their officials have been attacked by a new virus will give further ammunition to those who argue that the nuclear threat from the Islamist regime can be neutered by intelligence coups and technology. Like the Stuxnet virus which supposedly flummoxed Iran’s scientists last year, the new Flame worm may cause some havoc in Tehran and the nuclear facilities scattered around the country. And it will give Western and Israeli intelligence agencies and government officials a chance to crow about their capabilities, much as Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon did today.

But even if this is Israel’s handiwork and the damage it does is greater than then the mere temporary inconvenience wrought by Stuxnet, no one should be fooled into thinking a virus will ultimately stop Iran’s nuclear program if the regime is determined to persist in its goal. Any technological attack will spawn a defense and a counter-attack. Though Flame may give Israel and/or the West a temporary advantage in the cyber war being conducted with Iran, it cannot by itself or even in combination with other covert activities such as assassinations, solve the problem. That is only possible by diplomacy or force.

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Iran’s confirmation that the computers of a number of their officials have been attacked by a new virus will give further ammunition to those who argue that the nuclear threat from the Islamist regime can be neutered by intelligence coups and technology. Like the Stuxnet virus which supposedly flummoxed Iran’s scientists last year, the new Flame worm may cause some havoc in Tehran and the nuclear facilities scattered around the country. And it will give Western and Israeli intelligence agencies and government officials a chance to crow about their capabilities, much as Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon did today.

But even if this is Israel’s handiwork and the damage it does is greater than then the mere temporary inconvenience wrought by Stuxnet, no one should be fooled into thinking a virus will ultimately stop Iran’s nuclear program if the regime is determined to persist in its goal. Any technological attack will spawn a defense and a counter-attack. Though Flame may give Israel and/or the West a temporary advantage in the cyber war being conducted with Iran, it cannot by itself or even in combination with other covert activities such as assassinations, solve the problem. That is only possible by diplomacy or force.

Israel’s public skepticism about the P5+1 talks being conducted by the West with Iran about its nuclear ambitions is well-founded. Even though the United States and its European, Russian and Chinese allies deserve credit for not folding completely during the second round of talks last week in Baghdad, the Iranians continue to refine uranium and to get closer to a stockpile that could create a bomb. Iran has every expectation that if it hangs tough, either President Obama or the European Union will crack sometime this summer and abandon plans for an oil embargo in exchange for an inadequate deal that would preserve Tehran’s nuclear program.

Unlike the West’s faltering diplomacy, a course of action that accomplishes nothing except to prevent Israel from attacking Iran, it must be conceded that computer viruses at least have the virtue of slowing the regime’s nuclear progress, though how much, we don’t know. But we do know that for all of the hoopla about Stuxnet, such delays were temporary and strategically insignificant. We can hope for better from Flame, but the odds are it will be just a pinprick, not a decisive stroke. As much as such schemes allow us hope for a solution short of armed conflict, unless a miracle happens and diplomacy succeeds, sooner or later the West and Israel will be faced with a choice between force and living with a nuclear Iran. Like Stuxnet, Flame may put off that day, but it cannot prevent it from happening.

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Warren May Face Primary Challenge

Massachusetts Democratic Party leaders had hoped Elizabeth Warren could train her focus on Sen. Scott Brown after the state Democratic convention, but now it looks like anxious delegates may force Warren to face a primary challenger this summer:

But Warren’s advisers and some seasoned political hands say she will have a difficult time blocking Marisa DeFranco, a North Shore immigration lawyer, from getting the 15 percent of delegate votes she needs to qualify for the primary ballot. Since the 15-percent requirement was put in place in 1982, no leading Democratic candidate has eliminated an opponent by getting more than 85 percent of the delegate vote at a convention.

At the Boston Herald, Holly Robichaud wonders whether this is a case of rogue Democratic delegates going off the reservation, or if nervous party leaders are quietly plotting to keep DeFranco around as a Plan B:

By allowing DeFranco on the ballot, does that mean Democrats think that Lieawatha is a flawed candidate? Have Democratic leaders lost control of their party? Or is this their backup plan in case October’s hot Halloween costume is a Democratic Senate candidate, complete with Indian headdress?

Certainly, delegates defecting to DeFranco would be thumbing their collective noses at Democratic party leaders, who have been plotting for months to give Lizzy a direct shot at our hometown hero, Brown.

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Massachusetts Democratic Party leaders had hoped Elizabeth Warren could train her focus on Sen. Scott Brown after the state Democratic convention, but now it looks like anxious delegates may force Warren to face a primary challenger this summer:

But Warren’s advisers and some seasoned political hands say she will have a difficult time blocking Marisa DeFranco, a North Shore immigration lawyer, from getting the 15 percent of delegate votes she needs to qualify for the primary ballot. Since the 15-percent requirement was put in place in 1982, no leading Democratic candidate has eliminated an opponent by getting more than 85 percent of the delegate vote at a convention.

At the Boston Herald, Holly Robichaud wonders whether this is a case of rogue Democratic delegates going off the reservation, or if nervous party leaders are quietly plotting to keep DeFranco around as a Plan B:

By allowing DeFranco on the ballot, does that mean Democrats think that Lieawatha is a flawed candidate? Have Democratic leaders lost control of their party? Or is this their backup plan in case October’s hot Halloween costume is a Democratic Senate candidate, complete with Indian headdress?

Certainly, delegates defecting to DeFranco would be thumbing their collective noses at Democratic party leaders, who have been plotting for months to give Lizzy a direct shot at our hometown hero, Brown.

Some Massachusetts Democrats may want DeFranco available as a fallback, but they’re also opening the party up to risk if she gets on the ballot. Warren will have to fight attacks from both the right and left, and face criticism about her Native American ancestry claims from both sides. DeFranco isn’t anywhere near a serious threat at this point, as her fundraising, name-recognition, and organization are miniscule compared to Warren’s. And Democrats have no real reason to shift support from Warren’s campaign to DeFranco’s, as the ancestry controversy doesn’t seem to be hurting the presumed Democratic frontrunner in the polls yet. But DeFranco can still end up being a drain on Warren’s resources and a distraction.

Case in point: DeFranco has already challenged Warren to four debates during the summer, and it sounds like Warren is actually considering it:

Thomas Whalen, a political historian at Boston University, said of DeFranco’s debate demand, “It’s a Hail Mary pass, but I suppose if I were in her shoes, I would do the same. If you want a really strong showing in the primary, you need to have a serious debate to puncture holes in her arguments. If Elizabeth Warren turns down the debates, it looks bad, like she is shirking. … She’s caught in a tough situation. The state Democratic Party looks bad, like how can they allow this to happen?”

The Warren campaign has to avoid blatantly disrespecting DeFranco, because the Brown campaign – and the Massachusetts media – will likely be watching closely for any perceived arrogance on Warren’s part. It was that sort of self-entitled attitude that undermined Martha Coakley’s bid in 2010.

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From Hope and Change to Pipe Hitting

Last month, Noam Scheiber of The New Republic, in an article titled “From Hope to Hardball,” welcomed us to…

the Obama campaign, version 2.0. If, as Mario Cuomo once said, you campaign in poetry and govern in prose, then running for reelection may be something akin to grunting at regular intervals. In 2008, Obamaland prided itself on rejecting such brass-knuckle politicking, much of it perfected by Bill Clinton. “We don’t do war rooms,” was a Team Obama mantra, as one veteran of the campaign and the administration recalls. These days, by contrast, there are dozens of operatives raring to pounce on the slightest Republican misstep.

The outsized war-room capabilities are hardly the only Clintonite technique the Obama apparatus has adopted. President Obama has rewarded his mega-donors with frequent trips to the White House. And, just as Clinton did in 1995 and 1996, Team Obama has lashed a moderate GOP front-runner to right-wingers in Congress and portrayed him as a mortal threat to the welfare state.

Far from a badge of dishonor, though, the new ruthlessness is actually a sign of maturity.

Now (as Alana points out) comes New York’s John Heilemann, who informs us that Team Obama will “maul [Romney] for being a combination of Jerry Falwell, Joe Arpaio, and John Galt on a range of issues…”

“Thus, to a very real degree,” Heilemann reports , “2008’s candidate of hope stands poised to become 2012’s candidate of fear.” The months ahead, we’re told, “will provide a bracing revelation about what he truly is: not a savior, not a saint, not a man above the fray, but a brass-knuckled, pipe-hitting, red-in-tooth-and-claw brawler determined to do what is necessary to stay in power – in other words, a politician.”

Except that this isn’t what the politician in 2008 promised he would be like. Not by a country mile.

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Last month, Noam Scheiber of The New Republic, in an article titled “From Hope to Hardball,” welcomed us to…

the Obama campaign, version 2.0. If, as Mario Cuomo once said, you campaign in poetry and govern in prose, then running for reelection may be something akin to grunting at regular intervals. In 2008, Obamaland prided itself on rejecting such brass-knuckle politicking, much of it perfected by Bill Clinton. “We don’t do war rooms,” was a Team Obama mantra, as one veteran of the campaign and the administration recalls. These days, by contrast, there are dozens of operatives raring to pounce on the slightest Republican misstep.

The outsized war-room capabilities are hardly the only Clintonite technique the Obama apparatus has adopted. President Obama has rewarded his mega-donors with frequent trips to the White House. And, just as Clinton did in 1995 and 1996, Team Obama has lashed a moderate GOP front-runner to right-wingers in Congress and portrayed him as a mortal threat to the welfare state.

Far from a badge of dishonor, though, the new ruthlessness is actually a sign of maturity.

Now (as Alana points out) comes New York’s John Heilemann, who informs us that Team Obama will “maul [Romney] for being a combination of Jerry Falwell, Joe Arpaio, and John Galt on a range of issues…”

“Thus, to a very real degree,” Heilemann reports , “2008’s candidate of hope stands poised to become 2012’s candidate of fear.” The months ahead, we’re told, “will provide a bracing revelation about what he truly is: not a savior, not a saint, not a man above the fray, but a brass-knuckled, pipe-hitting, red-in-tooth-and-claw brawler determined to do what is necessary to stay in power – in other words, a politician.”

Except that this isn’t what the politician in 2008 promised he would be like. Not by a country mile.

Just for old time’s sake, let’s reacquaint ourselves with the man who once personified hope and change.

Obama would “turn the page” on the “old politics” of division and anger. He would end a politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism.” He would help us to “rediscover our bonds to each other and … get out of this constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.” And the man from Hyde Park would “cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past.”

“I believe the American people are tired of fear and tired of distractions and tired of diversions,” Obama told us at the Jefferson-Jackson speech in Des Moines, Iowa, on November 10, 2007. “We can make this election not about fear but about the future. And that won’t just be a Democratic victory; that will be an American victory.”

“If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from,” Obama said in accepting the nomination of the Democratic Party on August 28, 2008.

His election, he told Americans, was a sign we had “chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.” On the day of his inauguration he came to proclaim “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

“The time has come to set aside childish things,” he told us on the day he took the oath of office.

Now journalists sympathetic to Obama are telling us that “the new ruthlessness” is a sign of maturity. Fear is the emotion that needs to be tapped into. Reason and elevated discourse are out; pipe-hitting is in.

Some people might argue that Obama is simply being a politician, that we all knew his promises in 2008 were misleading, a mirage, a hoax. But more than a few people took Obama at his word. It was the major part of his appeal. And if they didn’t believe he would eliminate all the divisions in our society, they did believe the core of his campaign – which was that Obama would prove to be an unusually unifying, dignified, and irenic figure in American politics – should be taken seriously.

Now I guess we’re all in on the joke. We’ve learned that for Obama, hope and fear are interchangeable. Mauling and disfiguring an opponent is fine if it’s necessary. One election you appeal to the best instincts of Americans; the next election you use brass knuckles and pick axes. No matter. The guiding ethic for Obama & Company is “Just win, baby.”

I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that it won’t work out quite that easily or quite that way. That Obama, in so completely demolishing his image from four years ago, will do considerable damage to himself and his reputation. And that history and his fellow citizens will eventually judge him to be not simply a loser of an election, but as a cynical fraud.

It didn’t have to end this way. But I rather believe it will.

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Will the Court Follow the People?

Ever since the Supreme Court listened to oral arguments about the constitutionality of Obamacare, the administration and its supporters have been doing everything in their power to influence the justices to leave the president’s signature legislative achievement in place. In particular, Chief Justice Roberts and other conservatives have received not-so-subtle hints that their legacies will be judged by whether or not they allow the law to stand. I doubt that Roberts cares very much about the opinion of the president or the New York Times, but there is a school of thought that wonders about whether Justice Kennedy — the quintessential swing voter on the court — might be influenced in that fashion. However, there is the old axiom that the Supreme Court follows the election returns.

Historically, the court has, after its own fashion, validated that observation, often granting its judicial seal of approval to certain trends only after they have seen the advocates of constitutional positions triumph at the polls. The problem with this is the people can change their minds every two or four years, but once the court settles on an opinion it can be set in stone for a generation or more. Thus, it is with no small interest that we look at polls about the constitutionality of ObamaCare, a decision on which will be handed down within weeks. Rasmussen’s new poll shows that a solid 55-39 percent majority favors its repeal. Virtually every poll taken on the issue in the last two years has gotten more or less the same result. This means that if the court does strike the law down, it will not only be restoring a sense of limits to the power of the government to use the Commerce Clause to justify any conceivable expansion of federal power, it will also be following the will of the people.

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Ever since the Supreme Court listened to oral arguments about the constitutionality of Obamacare, the administration and its supporters have been doing everything in their power to influence the justices to leave the president’s signature legislative achievement in place. In particular, Chief Justice Roberts and other conservatives have received not-so-subtle hints that their legacies will be judged by whether or not they allow the law to stand. I doubt that Roberts cares very much about the opinion of the president or the New York Times, but there is a school of thought that wonders about whether Justice Kennedy — the quintessential swing voter on the court — might be influenced in that fashion. However, there is the old axiom that the Supreme Court follows the election returns.

Historically, the court has, after its own fashion, validated that observation, often granting its judicial seal of approval to certain trends only after they have seen the advocates of constitutional positions triumph at the polls. The problem with this is the people can change their minds every two or four years, but once the court settles on an opinion it can be set in stone for a generation or more. Thus, it is with no small interest that we look at polls about the constitutionality of ObamaCare, a decision on which will be handed down within weeks. Rasmussen’s new poll shows that a solid 55-39 percent majority favors its repeal. Virtually every poll taken on the issue in the last two years has gotten more or less the same result. This means that if the court does strike the law down, it will not only be restoring a sense of limits to the power of the government to use the Commerce Clause to justify any conceivable expansion of federal power, it will also be following the will of the people.

After the disastrous performance of the solicitor general in defense of the law during the three fateful days of arguments, there has been a concerted effort by the left to overcome the impression that the personal mandate is doomed by appeals to the court’s history. But while it might have been argued that a court ruling that overturned the legislature’s decision would have been an overreach, doing so after that legislation had been the key issue in a midterm massacre of those who voted for it is certainly less so. As this Rasmussen poll, and all the others that got the same results illustrates, should the court strike down ObamaCare, there will be no national backlash against Roberts and his colleagues except in the editorial columns of liberal newspapers.

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Planned Parenthood’s War on Girls

In a new James O’Keefe-style sting operation on Planned Parenthood, the pro-life organization Live Action set out to prove, and succeeded in doing so, that Planned Parenthood will help any woman abort their fetus for any reason, even the most reprehensible. In previous stings, Live Action caught Planned Parenthood employees accepting donations in order to reduce the number of African Americans born in the United States. This time around, they appear to show that not only will they help a woman abort at the last possible week in order to achieve the desired sex of the baby, but they’ll also give tips on how to manipulate Medicaid in order to do so.

Planned Parenthood, which counts on taxpayer dollars to fill one third of its operating budget, is no stranger to controversy about its questionable ethics and has again refused to apologize for them. The Huffington Post reports: 

This spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Federation of America also told The Huffington Post that the organization condemns seeking abortions on the basis of gender, but its policy is to provide “high quality, confidential, nonjudgmental care to all who come into” its health centers. That means that no Planned Parenthood clinic will deny a woman an abortion based on her reasons for wanting one, except in those states that explicitly prohibit sex-selective abortions (Arizona, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Illinois).
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In a new James O’Keefe-style sting operation on Planned Parenthood, the pro-life organization Live Action set out to prove, and succeeded in doing so, that Planned Parenthood will help any woman abort their fetus for any reason, even the most reprehensible. In previous stings, Live Action caught Planned Parenthood employees accepting donations in order to reduce the number of African Americans born in the United States. This time around, they appear to show that not only will they help a woman abort at the last possible week in order to achieve the desired sex of the baby, but they’ll also give tips on how to manipulate Medicaid in order to do so.

Planned Parenthood, which counts on taxpayer dollars to fill one third of its operating budget, is no stranger to controversy about its questionable ethics and has again refused to apologize for them. The Huffington Post reports: 

This spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Federation of America also told The Huffington Post that the organization condemns seeking abortions on the basis of gender, but its policy is to provide “high quality, confidential, nonjudgmental care to all who come into” its health centers. That means that no Planned Parenthood clinic will deny a woman an abortion based on her reasons for wanting one, except in those states that explicitly prohibit sex-selective abortions (Arizona, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Illinois).

In the same statement Planned Parenthood admits, “Within three days of this patient interaction, the staff member’s employment was ended and all staff members at this affiliate were immediately scheduled for retraining in managing unusual patient encounters.” They also claim that Live Action’s videos were edited and that a hoax was perpetrated on the Austin, Texas office. While the patient visit was indeed a “hoax” – the woman does not appear to be pregnant nor was she seeking a sex-selective abortion, Live Action has posted the entire transcript (albeit no full video) in an effort to quell claims the video was in any way altered. If the video was edited and the visit was a hoax as Planned Parenthood attests, why was the staff member immediately fired? While the organization’s supporters are trying to treat this incident as a provocation, the group still has a lot of explaining to do about its practices.

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The Consequences of Obama’s Conceit

Mark down the president’s Memorial Day speech as another solemn occasion this administration has gratingly managed to politicize. The blockquote is from an email the White House Updates account is sending around, suggesting Vietnam vets “never received the hero’s welcome they deserved” until “Obama told their story as it should have been told all along”:

In his speech at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., President Obama did more than just mark Memorial Day; he began the 50th commemoration of that conflict and those who served in one of America’s longest wars.

Fifty years ago, American forces stepped up operations in Vietnam. During the conflict, more than three million Americans served in the Vietnam war, and more than 58,000 American patriots gave their lives. And when U.S. forces returned home, too many never received the hero’s welcome they deserved.

Yesterday, President Obama told their story as it should have been told all along — a story of patriotism, honor, and courage. Here’s a short video to mark this important moment that you can share to help set the record straight and honor the service of Americans who fought in Vietnam.

That Vietnam Vets had to wait until this week for a president to properly honor them will be news to, among others, Ronald Reagan.

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Mark down the president’s Memorial Day speech as another solemn occasion this administration has gratingly managed to politicize. The blockquote is from an email the White House Updates account is sending around, suggesting Vietnam vets “never received the hero’s welcome they deserved” until “Obama told their story as it should have been told all along”:

In his speech at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., President Obama did more than just mark Memorial Day; he began the 50th commemoration of that conflict and those who served in one of America’s longest wars.

Fifty years ago, American forces stepped up operations in Vietnam. During the conflict, more than three million Americans served in the Vietnam war, and more than 58,000 American patriots gave their lives. And when U.S. forces returned home, too many never received the hero’s welcome they deserved.

Yesterday, President Obama told their story as it should have been told all along — a story of patriotism, honor, and courage. Here’s a short video to mark this important moment that you can share to help set the record straight and honor the service of Americans who fought in Vietnam.

That Vietnam Vets had to wait until this week for a president to properly honor them will be news to, among others, Ronald Reagan.

The White House’s pomposity is the flip side of Obama’s long-incubated self-pity, which holds that no president since the 1930ss has had things as rough as this one has. Not Truman ending World War II, not Eisenhower struggling with the Cold War’s first hot conflict, not JFK and LBJ navigating Vietnam, and so on.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss these Year 0 delusions with an eyeroll. They have policy implications. It was the core conceit that history began with this White House, after all, that had the president pursuing engagement with Syria’s Assad, Iran’s mullahs, and the Palestinian Authority’s kleptocrats. Outreach from multiple administrations had been consistently rebuffed. But this White House was going to inaugurate a historical break.

Three and a half years later, thousands of Syrian civilians have been murdered, the peace process has been suspended, and the Middle East has been brought to the brink of regional war on account of Iran’s ongoing nuclear program.

Individual psychology matters. Group worldviews matter. Whether policymakers take themselves to be modifying previous efforts or revolutionizing everything matters. If only there had been some way to know, during the election, that Obama would end up embracing tired old policies even as he made literally messianic promises.

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Obama’s Feeble Anti-Trump Ad

The Obama campaign wasted no time dropping a new ad that blasts Mitt Romney for attending a fundraiser with Donald Trump tonight. But if anything, the ad supports Jonathan’s earlier point. Teaming up with The Donald isn’t necessarily poisonous for Romney, and it doesn’t make for a very compelling political attack ad (via Mediaite):

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The Obama campaign wasted no time dropping a new ad that blasts Mitt Romney for attending a fundraiser with Donald Trump tonight. But if anything, the ad supports Jonathan’s earlier point. Teaming up with The Donald isn’t necessarily poisonous for Romney, and it doesn’t make for a very compelling political attack ad (via Mediaite):

Confused viewers may come away thinking they just watched a pro-McCain ad spliced with a reel of Trump’s most ridiculous fame-trolling moments. Whatever anti-Romney message there may be gets lost in the mix, so it’s understandable that the Romney campaign would think the $2 million from tonight’s fundraiser is more than worth this mild knuckle-rapping of a video.

The more unfortunate part is that Romney is lending credibility to Trump, and conservatives should be more alarmed about what that might mean for Trump’s political future than Romney’s. As Jonathan wrote earlier, independent voters likely see Trump as too ridiculous to be threatening, and his brand as an eccentric celebrity tycoon is so well-established that it probably blots out his occasional political babbling in most voters’ minds.

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Egypt Headed Off Islamist Cliff

The torching of the headquarters of Egyptian presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik yesterday should have been a reminder to those blithely assuming the Muslim Brotherhood might roll over and play dead (in the wake of the seeming rebuke the party received in last week’s presidential election) that they ought never to underestimate the Islamist group. It’s true that Islamist candidates got less than half of the votes cast in the first round of voting and the emergence of Shafik–a secular former military officer who was a surprise second place finisher just behind the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi–showed there was a significant constituency for an alternative to the party that received three quarters of the vote in the parliamentary elections last year. But as Eric Trager writes in the New Republic, reports of the Brotherhood’s demise were and are greatly exaggerated. With Morsi and Shafik set to face off later this month in a runoff, the Islamists are still in an excellent position to win the presidency and complete their stranglehold on power.

Trager points out that the Brotherhood has an overwhelming advantage in organization, as it is the country’s only true national party with grass-roots cadres who are deeply committed to its triumph. With many Egyptians disgusted with the runoff’s choice of an Islamist or a Mubarak retread, the odds are very much in favor of the Brotherhood’s otherwise uninspiring candidate coming out on top. Though the Obama administration and much of its cheering section in the press have tried in recent months to downplay the nature of the threat the Brotherhood poses to regional security and U.S. influence, the completion of the party’s conquest of Egypt will be a watershed in America’s Middle East policy.

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The torching of the headquarters of Egyptian presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik yesterday should have been a reminder to those blithely assuming the Muslim Brotherhood might roll over and play dead (in the wake of the seeming rebuke the party received in last week’s presidential election) that they ought never to underestimate the Islamist group. It’s true that Islamist candidates got less than half of the votes cast in the first round of voting and the emergence of Shafik–a secular former military officer who was a surprise second place finisher just behind the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi–showed there was a significant constituency for an alternative to the party that received three quarters of the vote in the parliamentary elections last year. But as Eric Trager writes in the New Republic, reports of the Brotherhood’s demise were and are greatly exaggerated. With Morsi and Shafik set to face off later this month in a runoff, the Islamists are still in an excellent position to win the presidency and complete their stranglehold on power.

Trager points out that the Brotherhood has an overwhelming advantage in organization, as it is the country’s only true national party with grass-roots cadres who are deeply committed to its triumph. With many Egyptians disgusted with the runoff’s choice of an Islamist or a Mubarak retread, the odds are very much in favor of the Brotherhood’s otherwise uninspiring candidate coming out on top. Though the Obama administration and much of its cheering section in the press have tried in recent months to downplay the nature of the threat the Brotherhood poses to regional security and U.S. influence, the completion of the party’s conquest of Egypt will be a watershed in America’s Middle East policy.

Unfortunately, it’s almost certainly too late for the United States to do anything to alter this outcome even if President Obama wanted to. Those who have criticized the administration for its abandonment of Mubarak during the initial Arab Spring protests may be hoping that Shafik will win and therefore stop the country’s drift toward extremist Islam. But outside of minority communities such as the Christian Copts who rightly fear for their fate under a government dominated by the Brotherhood, it’s not clear that most Egyptians would tolerate a retread from the old regime. In fact, Shafik may turn out to be the perfect foil for the Brotherhood, because he could move many secularists to support the Islamists rather than countenance a return to the Mubarak era.

That will mean an end to hopes for the emergence of a genuine democracy in Egypt, as it is unlikely a Brotherhood government will allow itself to ever be voted out. As Trager writes:

When only one group can organize effectively in a newly competitive political environment, single-party domination becomes practically inevitable—with potentially devastating consequences. After all, the dominant party can nominate just about anyone, and win. And if it uses its power to prevent potential competitors from emerging, it can also get away with just about anything.

The consequences for the peace treaty with Israel are obvious. President Obama may think he will have more “flexibility” to impose his ideas about Middle East peace in a second term. But unless something happens in the next three weeks to derail the Brotherhood, the basic strategic equation of the region will be altered in favor of the Islamists and their Hamas allies rendering any further talk about the peace process a fantasy.

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