Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 25, 2012

Campaign Raffles and Political Cynicism

At the New Republic, Walter Kirn pinpoints one big problem with the incessant Obama dinner sweepstakes fundraisers:

The problem with these small-stakes lotteries that are currently clogging up our inboxes isn’t that they cheapen politics (it is what it is, especially lately) but that they reveal, in a depressing way that makes the whole enterprise seem almost futile, just how insanely expensive it has become. They offer as prizes places at power’s table that simply aren’t available to anyone but the odds-beating elect. They ritualize a sense of mass despair at ever achieving influence in normal ways, from getting somewhat but not filthy rich (R) to getting organized (D). Whatever they generate by way of cash or names and addresses for campaign mailing lists is canceled out by the cynicism they spread (or partake of and embody).

The raffles get at the heart of the question of why we donate to political campaigns. Small-money donors, the ones who are supposedly the targets of the dinner sweepstakes, aren’t contributing because of a desire for political influence (not that winning a raffle prize dinner would help much in that regard). Most people — even large donors — give to candidates because they believe in the political cause. A 2004 study by George Washington University found that zero percent of small-money donors who gave to President Bush did so because the contribution was tied to an event they wanted to attend. Two-percent of small-money donors gave to Sen. John Kerry for this reason. And this wasn’t affected by the size of the contribution — only one percent of large-money donors from each campaign were motivated by an event they wanted to attend.

Read More

At the New Republic, Walter Kirn pinpoints one big problem with the incessant Obama dinner sweepstakes fundraisers:

The problem with these small-stakes lotteries that are currently clogging up our inboxes isn’t that they cheapen politics (it is what it is, especially lately) but that they reveal, in a depressing way that makes the whole enterprise seem almost futile, just how insanely expensive it has become. They offer as prizes places at power’s table that simply aren’t available to anyone but the odds-beating elect. They ritualize a sense of mass despair at ever achieving influence in normal ways, from getting somewhat but not filthy rich (R) to getting organized (D). Whatever they generate by way of cash or names and addresses for campaign mailing lists is canceled out by the cynicism they spread (or partake of and embody).

The raffles get at the heart of the question of why we donate to political campaigns. Small-money donors, the ones who are supposedly the targets of the dinner sweepstakes, aren’t contributing because of a desire for political influence (not that winning a raffle prize dinner would help much in that regard). Most people — even large donors — give to candidates because they believe in the political cause. A 2004 study by George Washington University found that zero percent of small-money donors who gave to President Bush did so because the contribution was tied to an event they wanted to attend. Two-percent of small-money donors gave to Sen. John Kerry for this reason. And this wasn’t affected by the size of the contribution — only one percent of large-money donors from each campaign were motivated by an event they wanted to attend.

In other words, someone who’s already an Obama supporter and email subscriber isn’t likely to be convinced to donate because of a long-shot raffle dinner. This person might enter the sweepstakes, but he probably would have contributed to the campaign anyway.

So who do these fundraisers target? The most likely answer is those people who are politically apathetic but have warm-ish feelings about President Obama and First Lady Michelle — that wide swath of the American public that contributes to his high likability ratings but isn’t really paying much attention to the election. Maybe these are the people who scour free sweepstakes websites, or read gossip blogs, or have very little interest in politics at all but think that a presidential raffle dinner they read about in the newspaper would be fun to enter.

So these people enter themselves into the drawing. And not only do they fill out the “new group” of grassroots contributors the Obama campaign is constantly touting, they also start to receive regular propaganda missives from his headquarters.

But could this backfire? Could the constant stream of annoying, too-cute raffle emails end up making some Obama supporters feel more cynical — and disillusioned — about this election? So far, the raffles haven’t seemed to be very effective as a fundraising tool, but it’s probably too early to tell. We won’t know for awhile whether they’ll eventually pay off by giving Obama a broader base, or hurt him by turning off supporters.

Read Less

CNN’s “Newsroom” Problem

The new Aaron Sorkin series “Newsroom” is getting a pasting from most critics and deservedly so, but it was a media column rather than a television review in today’s New York Times that went right to the heart of the problem about much of today’s media. David Carr’s piece in the paper’s business section today discussed how Sorkin’s “valentine” to the TV news business seems to be an appeal for the embattled real-life CNN to rise above the battle for ratings and stick to the exalted task of presenting real news rather than low-brow fare and amped-up partisan opinions. But the problem with that premise is much the same as the problem with Sorkin’s show.

As Carr points out, Sorkin cheats on his premise, because his idea of a righteous diet of straight news rather than the partisanship of right-wing Fox News or left-wing MSNBC is a catechism of left-wing advocacy. But CNN’s slide in the ratings that Carr aptly compares to a toboggan ride on a snowy hill is not due to the public’s lack of an appetite for quality news programming. It stems from the same hypocrisy that allows Sorkin and HBO to pretend their liberal show is an expression of centrism. Just as viewers will quickly realize the pretense that the desire of Sorkin’s fictional news anchor Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) to return network news to the halcyon days of Walter Cronkite is a crock, so too do most Americans understand that most of the hosts on CNN tilt to the left and are disgusted by their pretense of objectivity.

Read More

The new Aaron Sorkin series “Newsroom” is getting a pasting from most critics and deservedly so, but it was a media column rather than a television review in today’s New York Times that went right to the heart of the problem about much of today’s media. David Carr’s piece in the paper’s business section today discussed how Sorkin’s “valentine” to the TV news business seems to be an appeal for the embattled real-life CNN to rise above the battle for ratings and stick to the exalted task of presenting real news rather than low-brow fare and amped-up partisan opinions. But the problem with that premise is much the same as the problem with Sorkin’s show.

As Carr points out, Sorkin cheats on his premise, because his idea of a righteous diet of straight news rather than the partisanship of right-wing Fox News or left-wing MSNBC is a catechism of left-wing advocacy. But CNN’s slide in the ratings that Carr aptly compares to a toboggan ride on a snowy hill is not due to the public’s lack of an appetite for quality news programming. It stems from the same hypocrisy that allows Sorkin and HBO to pretend their liberal show is an expression of centrism. Just as viewers will quickly realize the pretense that the desire of Sorkin’s fictional news anchor Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) to return network news to the halcyon days of Walter Cronkite is a crock, so too do most Americans understand that most of the hosts on CNN tilt to the left and are disgusted by their pretense of objectivity.

Much of the mainstream media flatters itself that their shrinking audiences are due to the low-brow tastes and stupidity of the hoi polloi whose attention they must fight for. But the reason why audiences prefer Fox and MSNBC to CNN is that they have shed the false façade of objectivity that is at the core of liberal journalism. They are sick of liberal coverage being passed off as objective journalism and prefer the open bias they find elsewhere.

Nor is this faux objectivity of recent vintage. A recent biography exposed the lie at the heart of the myth of Walter Cronkite’s legend when it spoke of his partisanship, bias and even the dirty tricks he used against politicians he didn’t like. But don’t hold your breath waiting for liberals like Sorkin to fess up to the fact that what they really want is a return to the era when their side had a virtual media monopoly, with the three major networks and the top daily newspapers on their side.

Carr understands that Sorkin is fooling himself, but as a staffer for a liberal media giant like the Times that similarly masquerades as a source of purely objective news, he thinks CNN should stick to its quality reporting and not worry about losing its audience to its tawdry competitors. The reality of CNN and the Times is just as skewed as HBO’s fiction.

Read Less

A Muddle-Headed Immigration Decision

In its decision Arizona v. the United States, the Supreme Court today held that three provisions of an Arizona statute known as S. B. 1070, which was enacted in 2010 to address pressing issues related to the large number of unlawful aliens in the state, was preempted by federal law.

A fourth provision which requires officers conducting a stop, detention, or arrest to make efforts, in some circumstances, to verify a person’s immigration status with the federal government, was upheld—though the Justices said the provision could be subject to additional legal challenge. (“This opinion does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect,” Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.)

Overall the decision was a setback, then, though perhaps not as injurious as it could have been, since the fourth provision was upheld (albeit in a weak manner that seems to invite further challenges).

Read More

In its decision Arizona v. the United States, the Supreme Court today held that three provisions of an Arizona statute known as S. B. 1070, which was enacted in 2010 to address pressing issues related to the large number of unlawful aliens in the state, was preempted by federal law.

A fourth provision which requires officers conducting a stop, detention, or arrest to make efforts, in some circumstances, to verify a person’s immigration status with the federal government, was upheld—though the Justices said the provision could be subject to additional legal challenge. (“This opinion does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect,” Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.)

Overall the decision was a setback, then, though perhaps not as injurious as it could have been, since the fourth provision was upheld (albeit in a weak manner that seems to invite further challenges).

The core of the problem with the Court’s decision is that Arizona was entitled to pass the law that it did, assuming that its provisions were not at odds with federal law. Clearly they were not, which is why the decision is fundamentally flawed and poorly reasoned.

As Justice Scalia writes in his dissent, “The laws under challenge here do not extend or revise federal immigration restrictions, but merely enforce those restrictions more effectively. If securing its territory in this fashion is not within the power of Arizona, we should cease referring to it as a sovereign State.”

One cannot help but assume that for some on the left, that would be perfectly fine.

In any event, Justice Scalia went on to make this observation:

It has become clear that federal enforcement priorities—in the sense of priorities based on the need to allocate “scarce enforcement resources”—is not the problem here. After this case was argued and while it was under consideration, the Secretary of Homeland Security announced a program exempting from immigration enforcement some 1.4 million illegal immigrants under the age of 30. If an individual unlawfully present in the United States

“• came to the United States under the age of sixteen;

“• has continuously resided in the United States for at least five years . . . ,

“• is currently in school, has graduated from high school, has obtained a general education development certificate, or is an honorably discharged veteran . . . ,

“• has not been convicted of a [serious crime]; and

“• is not above the age of thirty,”

then U. S. immigration officials have been directed to “defe[r] action” against such individual “for a period of two years, subject to renewal.” The husbanding of scarce enforcement resources can hardly be the justification for this, since the considerable administrative cost of conducting as many as 1.4 million background checks, and ruling on the biennial requests for dispensation that the nonenforcement program envisions, will necessarily be deducted from immigration enforcement. The president said at a news conference that the new program is “the right thing to do” in light of Congress’s failure to pass the administration’s proposed revision of the Immigration Act. Perhaps it is, though Arizona may not think so. But to say, as the Court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of the Immigration Act that the president declines to enforce boggles the mind. [highlights in original]

Indeed it does. We can only hope the majority’s muddle-headed thinking—in which a state that enforces laws the president refuses to is deemed to be acting in a manner that is not only inappropriate but unconstitutional—was confined to this case and doesn’t extend to the Supreme Court’s ruling later this week on the Affordable Care Act.

Arizona v. the United States was a bad decision by the highest court in the land.

Read Less

Can Obama Resist the Morsi Temptation?

The victory of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi in the Egyptian presidential election has presented the United States with an interesting dilemma. After more than a year of vacillating between support for democratic change in the Arab world and a willingness to leave authoritarians in place, Morsi’s triumph represents what many in the Obama administration may think is a fresh opportunity to have an impact on the changing situation in the Middle East. They need to resist it.

As Jackson Diehl noted in today’s Washington Post, President Obama has much to answer for in the way his waffling between support for democracy and authoritarians contributed to the way the Arab Spring became a disaster for both the peoples of the Middle East and the United States: Though it is not likely that his enormous self-regard will allow him to accept that blame, there’s little doubt that the president wants very much to have an impact on events in Egypt and throughout the region even if he prefers to “lead from behind” in the tricky conflicts within each nation. It should be remembered that in May of 2011 he devoted most of a speech on the Middle East policy to his views on the Arab Spring, though it is best remembered for the closing section in which he ambushed Israel. The Arab world cared little for the president’s ineffectual and ultimately irrelevant views about their future, but what is most worrisome about the current situation is that the president may view Morsi’s election as a second chance to influence events in Egypt.

Read More

The victory of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi in the Egyptian presidential election has presented the United States with an interesting dilemma. After more than a year of vacillating between support for democratic change in the Arab world and a willingness to leave authoritarians in place, Morsi’s triumph represents what many in the Obama administration may think is a fresh opportunity to have an impact on the changing situation in the Middle East. They need to resist it.

As Jackson Diehl noted in today’s Washington Post, President Obama has much to answer for in the way his waffling between support for democracy and authoritarians contributed to the way the Arab Spring became a disaster for both the peoples of the Middle East and the United States: Though it is not likely that his enormous self-regard will allow him to accept that blame, there’s little doubt that the president wants very much to have an impact on events in Egypt and throughout the region even if he prefers to “lead from behind” in the tricky conflicts within each nation. It should be remembered that in May of 2011 he devoted most of a speech on the Middle East policy to his views on the Arab Spring, though it is best remembered for the closing section in which he ambushed Israel. The Arab world cared little for the president’s ineffectual and ultimately irrelevant views about their future, but what is most worrisome about the current situation is that the president may view Morsi’s election as a second chance to influence events in Egypt.

It was perhaps inevitable and perhaps even necessary for the United States to send its official congratulations to Morsi, but what follows now will be crucial to America’s chances of at least not worsening the situation in Egypt. But that is exactly what the president will do if he begins to act as if Morsi and the Brotherhood represent democratic legitimacy while the Egyptian army — their opponents in the struggle for power in Cairo — is a symbol of authoritarianism. Though the United States has good reason to think ill of the army’s strong-arm tactics and ought not to let itself be tainted by openly supporting these holdovers from the Mubarak era, it would be an even bigger mistake to act as if the Brotherhood is synonymous with democracy.

As the Bush administration learned when it attempted to foster Palestinian democracy, elections are meaningless if the only choices are corrupt authoritarians and Islamists. That is just as true today in Egypt when it comes to the military and the Muslim Brotherhood as it was for the Palestinians when their options were Fatah and Hamas. When those opposed to democracy win elections, the result is not democracy.

While the attempt to market the Brotherhood as moderates is meeting with some resistance in the West, it will be just as important for the administration not to get tricked into viewing Morsi as a free agent who can be peeled away from his party, as today’s New York Times dispatch from Cairo hinted. Morsi’s resignation from the group yesterday is meaningless. Any American wooing of this ideologue will only give his party undeserved credibility and make it even harder for either the military or the small groups of genuine Egyptian liberals to resist the Brotherhood’s first attempts to remake the nation in their own image.

The most dangerous aspect of this situation is the way a desire to entice Morsi to play ball with the West will appeal to President Obama’s ego. Obama has repeatedly shown he believes the power of his personality and the historic nature of his presidency can transcend all sorts of differences. That is why he finds Islamists like Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan so appealing. He flatters himself that their curious friendship rises above the differences between American democracy and Erdoğan’s ideology.

Obama may believe he can use the $1 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt to romance Morsi into transforming the Brotherhood into a peaceful democratic movement, but this is as much of a delusion as any notion of reforming the army. As badly as the administration has messed up in the Middle East, the Morsi temptation is an opportunity for the president to make things a lot worse. Let’s hope his re-election campaign will act as deterrent to any new overtures to the Brotherhood.

Read Less

Iran Kidnaps Pro-Israeli Kurd

There is some horrible news out of Kurdistan today.  Ekurd.net reports that Mawloud Afand, editor of an Israel-Kurdish magazine called Israel Kurd “disappeared ten days ago in [the] Kurdistan region of Iraq.” Israeli news sources say he was kidnapped by Iranian intelligence in the city of Sulaimaniyah. Ekurd.net claims that Iran had told the Kurdish government to shut Israel Kurd down and it refused.

The Kurds have long been accused of Zionist collaboration owing to their mostly cooperative relationship with Israelis. In fact, one popular argument against a safe and autonomous Kurdistan is that it would be a “second Israel” in the region. There are obvious commonalities between the Middle East’s Kurds and Jews. Both are overwhelmingly pro-American (the Kurds rightly credit the U.S. with saving them from Saddam), largely inclined toward democracy, and have histories as persecuted minorities.  Afand’s interest in an Israeli-Kurdish connection is representative of a not-so-quiet sense of Kurdish solidarity with Jews. He also, from what I can gather, has some Jewish family. There are Jewish Kurds, some of whom claim that Abraham of the Hebrew Bible was Kurdish.

Read More

There is some horrible news out of Kurdistan today.  Ekurd.net reports that Mawloud Afand, editor of an Israel-Kurdish magazine called Israel Kurd “disappeared ten days ago in [the] Kurdistan region of Iraq.” Israeli news sources say he was kidnapped by Iranian intelligence in the city of Sulaimaniyah. Ekurd.net claims that Iran had told the Kurdish government to shut Israel Kurd down and it refused.

The Kurds have long been accused of Zionist collaboration owing to their mostly cooperative relationship with Israelis. In fact, one popular argument against a safe and autonomous Kurdistan is that it would be a “second Israel” in the region. There are obvious commonalities between the Middle East’s Kurds and Jews. Both are overwhelmingly pro-American (the Kurds rightly credit the U.S. with saving them from Saddam), largely inclined toward democracy, and have histories as persecuted minorities.  Afand’s interest in an Israeli-Kurdish connection is representative of a not-so-quiet sense of Kurdish solidarity with Jews. He also, from what I can gather, has some Jewish family. There are Jewish Kurds, some of whom claim that Abraham of the Hebrew Bible was Kurdish.

The current Kurdish relationship with Iran is tricky. As the American presence in Iraq dwindled and then disappeared, Iran took the opportunity to increase its political influence both in Baghdad and with the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq. Among the Kurds, this manifests in day-to-day commercial ties and an increased oil trade with Iran.  While the Kurds would be far happier to deal with Americans on both a commercial and political level, their precarious status leaves them few options about whom to accept as business partners. Many political decisions for the Kurds are a matter of survival, not prosperity (something else they share with Israelis). Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is Kurdish and there are reports that Tehran is pressuring him to save the Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from a no-confidence vote. The idea that Iraq is now an Iranian satrapy is way over the top but there’s no question that Iran has a troubling amount of influence on Iraqi affairs.

If Afand was kidnapped by Iran it stands as yet another tragic consequence of the United States’ failure to maintain a presence in post-war Iraq and especially to build up our relationship with our most eager and appreciative Muslim allies.  It also highlights the singular bravery and decency of the Kurds that they make mortal enemies of the fanatical Iranian thugs to whose will they refuse fully to bend. Last, it’s another reminder of the Iranian regime’s implacable and ever more brazen savagery in a world abandoned by the leadership of the American superpower.

Read Less

The Failure of “Quiet Diplomacy” in China

When Chinese anti-forced-abortion activist and dissident Chen Guangcheng attempted to use Hillary Clinton’s visit to China earlier this year to get his family to safety abroad, his efforts and those of the State Department appeared to have failed just hours before a deal was struck to save Chen. The narrative of that story held that a Republican House committee chaired by Chris Smith–which called a hearing on the case as it was developing–and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney had behaved recklessly in drawing such public attention to the case and appearing to hand down judgment on the case before diplomacy had a chance to work.

Typical of this attitude was a comment from Chinese politics expert Steve Tsang to the U.K. Guardian, as the story unfolded: “Public diplomacy or grandstanding will limit the scope for quiet diplomacy.” We have plenty of counterexamples in recent history that challenge this theory, but it appears now we don’t need to employ them. The full picture of Chen’s case comes to us in Susan Glasser’s Foreign Policy magazine cover profile of Clinton, at the very beginning and very end of the piece (everything in between is gauzy admiration terminally wounded by the article’s repeated and gauche comparison of Clinton to Aung San Suu Kyi).

Read More

When Chinese anti-forced-abortion activist and dissident Chen Guangcheng attempted to use Hillary Clinton’s visit to China earlier this year to get his family to safety abroad, his efforts and those of the State Department appeared to have failed just hours before a deal was struck to save Chen. The narrative of that story held that a Republican House committee chaired by Chris Smith–which called a hearing on the case as it was developing–and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney had behaved recklessly in drawing such public attention to the case and appearing to hand down judgment on the case before diplomacy had a chance to work.

Typical of this attitude was a comment from Chinese politics expert Steve Tsang to the U.K. Guardian, as the story unfolded: “Public diplomacy or grandstanding will limit the scope for quiet diplomacy.” We have plenty of counterexamples in recent history that challenge this theory, but it appears now we don’t need to employ them. The full picture of Chen’s case comes to us in Susan Glasser’s Foreign Policy magazine cover profile of Clinton, at the very beginning and very end of the piece (everything in between is gauzy admiration terminally wounded by the article’s repeated and gauche comparison of Clinton to Aung San Suu Kyi).

Here is the key paragraph:

Still, the Chinese did not give in. At one point, an advisor who was present recalled, Clinton finally seemed to catch their attention by mentioning what a political circus the case had become — with Chen even dialing in to a U.S. congressional hearing that Thursday by cell phone from his hospital bed to say he feared for his safety if he remained in China. The Chinese team was visibly surprised. Eventually, Dai agreed at least to let the negotiations proceed. A few hours later, exhausted U.S. officials announced a deal.

Again, this is not terribly surprising, nor does it detract from the hard work of Clinton, who was there on the ground to carry out tough, and ultimately successful, negotiations. But it is always omitted from official accounts of the story, possibly because no one knew this before Glasser’s article. It turns out that Clinton got a nice boost from a game-changer: Republicans in Congress who made Chen’s plight as visible and public as possible, convincing the Chinese the game was out of the shadows and the world was watching.

Then, at the end of the article, we have one more piece of information. It is speculative, and Glasser acknowledges this, so we should take it with a grain of salt:

What would it take for her to run again for president in 2016? “Nothing,” she replied quickly. Then she laughed. Even the Chinese, she said, had asked her about it at Wednesday night’s dinner, suggesting she should run. They were “saying things like, ‘Well, you know, I mean 2016 is not so far away.… You may retire, but you’re very young,’” Clinton recalled.

Maybe, I ventured, that’s why they had in the end been willing to accommodate her on Chen; they were investing in a future with a possible President Clinton.

Clinton played coy and wouldn’t answer the question, but obviously there is something to it. In any case, it seems “quiet diplomacy” got nowhere until Chris Smith turned up the volume back home.

Read Less

Arizona’s Partial Victory is Trap for Obama

After the Arizona legislature passed a bill seeking to force the federal government to enforce immigration laws, the state was subjected to an avalanche of criticism lambasting it for legislation that was characterized as racist. But now that the Supreme Court has ruled that the key element of the law was constitutional, the state’s critics, including the president of the United States, have found themselves on the losing side of the argument. Though most of the law, which trespassed on an issue that is a federal responsibility was overturned, the High Court unanimously ruled that the most controversial part of the measure — the requirement that law enforcement officials check the immigration status of anyone they arrest or stop for questioning — was constitutional. Though that issue will be sent back to the appeals level to allow for further challenges, much-maligned Arizonans can view themselves as largely vindicated, at least for the moment.

But now that the Court has ruled, this decision, like the long-awaited ruling on ObamaCare which will be handed down on Thursday, may become fodder for Democratic strategists who hope to enhance the president’s chances of re-election by making the conservative majority on the Court a campaign issue. Because so much effort has already been expended by the liberal mainstream media in demonizing the Arizona law for what was widely characterized as a form of discrimination, this may well play into Democratic talking points aimed at Hispanic voters. But however much this may help the president with some Hispanics, any effort to make the plight of illegal immigrants a central part of the president’s election narrative runs the risk of alienating the majority of Americans who sympathized with the Arizona law.

Read More

After the Arizona legislature passed a bill seeking to force the federal government to enforce immigration laws, the state was subjected to an avalanche of criticism lambasting it for legislation that was characterized as racist. But now that the Supreme Court has ruled that the key element of the law was constitutional, the state’s critics, including the president of the United States, have found themselves on the losing side of the argument. Though most of the law, which trespassed on an issue that is a federal responsibility was overturned, the High Court unanimously ruled that the most controversial part of the measure — the requirement that law enforcement officials check the immigration status of anyone they arrest or stop for questioning — was constitutional. Though that issue will be sent back to the appeals level to allow for further challenges, much-maligned Arizonans can view themselves as largely vindicated, at least for the moment.

But now that the Court has ruled, this decision, like the long-awaited ruling on ObamaCare which will be handed down on Thursday, may become fodder for Democratic strategists who hope to enhance the president’s chances of re-election by making the conservative majority on the Court a campaign issue. Because so much effort has already been expended by the liberal mainstream media in demonizing the Arizona law for what was widely characterized as a form of discrimination, this may well play into Democratic talking points aimed at Hispanic voters. But however much this may help the president with some Hispanics, any effort to make the plight of illegal immigrants a central part of the president’s election narrative runs the risk of alienating the majority of Americans who sympathized with the Arizona law.

Some liberals are declaring the Court ruling a victory because much of it was tossed out. But for most of those who cared about this issue, the “check your papers” measure was the key to the controversy, and its survival must be considered a limited victory for Arizona. It is possible, as liberals are hoping, that even that point will be eventually ruled unconstitutional if it can be proved that it is enforced on a racial or ethnic basis. But it’s worth remembering that the Solicitor General who argued the administration’s case for throwing out the entire law flopped because even liberal justices agreed that his position was, as Chief Justice Roberts pointed out, “that the federal government just doesn’t want to know who is here illegally or not.”

As much as his tougher line on illegals is one that will cost Mitt Romney Hispanic votes in November, taking a position that the government should not enforce existing immigration laws and offering amnesty to large numbers of undocumented aliens will hurt the president with the rest of the country. As David Paul Kuhn pointed out in an insightful analysis on RealClearPolitics.com, the president’s growing problem with voters who are neither African-American nor Hispanic is a far greater obstacle to victory than Romney’s problems with Hispanics. Though non-whites are an increasingly larger percentage of the electorate, as Kuhn writes, Obama is currently getting a smaller share of the white vote than any Democrat since Walter Mondale and far less than the 43 percent he got in 2008.

The Court’s ruling may turn out to be a trap for the president if he continues to focus on the rights of illegals not to be asked about their status. The Democratic obsession with winning the Hispanic vote could come at a very high price. Though Obama’s position denouncing all of the Arizona law was applauded in the media, this is not a winner with those non-minorities Obama is losing to Romney.

Read Less

SCOTUS Hands Victory to Supporters of Citizens United

The biggest news out of the Supreme Court today is its decision on the Arizona immigration law, but it also handed a victory to supporters of Citizens United by knocking down a Montana law banning in-state corporate political spending. WSJ reports:

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a summary reversal of the Montana Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a state law that prohibited corporate spending in state elections. The U.S. Court said the question in this case was whether the Citizens United decision, which established that corporate spending in elections is permitted as a matter of free speech, applied to the Montana state law. “There can be no serious doubt that it does,” the Court wrote.

Read More

The biggest news out of the Supreme Court today is its decision on the Arizona immigration law, but it also handed a victory to supporters of Citizens United by knocking down a Montana law banning in-state corporate political spending. WSJ reports:

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a summary reversal of the Montana Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a state law that prohibited corporate spending in state elections. The U.S. Court said the question in this case was whether the Citizens United decision, which established that corporate spending in elections is permitted as a matter of free speech, applied to the Montana state law. “There can be no serious doubt that it does,” the Court wrote.

The 5-4 decision — which broke across the same lines as the Citizens United decision — was a reaffirmation that free speech rights of corporations extend to state and local elections. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a long-time champion of this issue, released a statement praising the verdict:

“In another important victory for freedom of speech, the Supreme Court has reversed the Montana Supreme Court, upholding First Amendment free speech rights that were set out in Citizens United. As I pointed out in an amicus brief that I filed in the Montana case, a review of Federal Election Commission records of independent spending supporting the eight Republican presidential candidates earlier this year showed only minimal corporate involvement in the 2012 election cycle. Not one Fortune 100 company contributed a cent to any of the eight Republican Super PACs, as of the end of March, according to FEC records. The records also showed that of the $96 million contributed to the eight Super PACs through March 31, an overwhelming 86.32 percent of that money came from individuals while only 13.68 percent came from corporations and 0.81 percent from public companies. Clearly, the much predicted corporate tsunami that critics of Citizens United warned about simply did not occur.”

The decision is likely to prompt more cries from the left that the Supreme Court is far-right and illegitimate. While it’s a setback for the anti-Citizens United crowd, the decision wasn’t unexpected, and it’s not going to stop the liberal clamor to repeal protections on corporate speech.

Read Less

Can GOP Make Gains With Hispanic Voters?

Note that this Gallup/USA Today poll showing President Obama leading Mitt Romney among Hispanics, 66 percent to 25 percent, was taken before Obama issued his new deportation policy. So it doesn’t include the bounce Obama probably received after his announcement, and it was taken during a time when Hispanic leaders were openly frustrated with Obama’s inaction on immigration issues. That’s a lousy sign for Republicans, particularly because Romney receives the lowest percentage of Hispanic support out of any GOP presidential candidate since 1996:

Whatever the long-term prospects for the GOP, in this election year Obama is solidifying the big gains he scored among Hispanics in 2008. Surveys of voters as they left polling places then found that 67 percent of Latinos voted for him, up by double digits from Democrat John Kerry’s share four years earlier and about the same level of support he has now.

That advantage is increasingly powerful. An analysis of U.S. Census data by Mark Lopez of the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center shows that the proportion of Latino eligible voters grew from 2008 to 2010 in seven of the 12 battleground states likely to determine November’s outcome — potentially a critical margin in a close election.

Meanwhile, the Republican share of the Latino vote continues to erode, from 44 percent for George W. Bush in 2004 to 31 percent for John McCain in 2008 to 25 percent in the survey for Romney. “We’ve seen a sharp drop-off … between 2004 and 2008,” acknowledges Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser and former Republican Party national chairman. “It was a factor, obviously, in the margin of President Obama’s win. We do need to do better with Hispanic voters, and I think we can.”

Read More

Note that this Gallup/USA Today poll showing President Obama leading Mitt Romney among Hispanics, 66 percent to 25 percent, was taken before Obama issued his new deportation policy. So it doesn’t include the bounce Obama probably received after his announcement, and it was taken during a time when Hispanic leaders were openly frustrated with Obama’s inaction on immigration issues. That’s a lousy sign for Republicans, particularly because Romney receives the lowest percentage of Hispanic support out of any GOP presidential candidate since 1996:

Whatever the long-term prospects for the GOP, in this election year Obama is solidifying the big gains he scored among Hispanics in 2008. Surveys of voters as they left polling places then found that 67 percent of Latinos voted for him, up by double digits from Democrat John Kerry’s share four years earlier and about the same level of support he has now.

That advantage is increasingly powerful. An analysis of U.S. Census data by Mark Lopez of the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center shows that the proportion of Latino eligible voters grew from 2008 to 2010 in seven of the 12 battleground states likely to determine November’s outcome — potentially a critical margin in a close election.

Meanwhile, the Republican share of the Latino vote continues to erode, from 44 percent for George W. Bush in 2004 to 31 percent for John McCain in 2008 to 25 percent in the survey for Romney. “We’ve seen a sharp drop-off … between 2004 and 2008,” acknowledges Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser and former Republican Party national chairman. “It was a factor, obviously, in the margin of President Obama’s win. We do need to do better with Hispanic voters, and I think we can.”

Is there room for Republican optimism? Maybe for future elections, but not a lot of it for this upcoming one. The poll reaffirmed previous studies that show registered Hispanic voters rate unemployment and the economy as higher voting priorities than immigration policies — a sign that Romney is right to focus on how Obama’s economic policies have hurt Hispanics. There also appears to be a generational shift that could give Republicans an opening to attract younger Hispanic voters in the future:

Still, Romney does twice as well among second-generation Latinos compared with immigrants. Among immigrant voters, just 18 percent support Romney. That number rises to 22 percent among the children of at least one immigrant parent and to 35 percent among Hispanics whose families have been in the U.S. for two generations or more.

Democratic pollster Margie Omero says she heard threads of “generational movement and shift” in a focus group of Hispanic women in Las Vegas this month that she helped run with Republican pollster Alex Bratty. The session was part of a series sponsored by Wal-Mart on middle-income women seen as swing voters and dubbed “Wal-Mart Moms.”

But Romney’s problem with Hispanic voters appears to be as much about the overall GOP brand as it is about him specifically. The Republican Party has very high unfavorables (58 percent with Hispanics born outside the U.S. and 61 percent with Hispanics born in the U.S.) and very low favorables (25 percent and 32 percent for the same categories). Of course it doesn’t help that he took a very strong stance against the DREAM Act during the primary. But the problem is about more than just Romney, and it’s not going to be solved in one election.

Read Less

The Fiction of the Fiction of Anti-Semitism: A Letter on The Prague Cemetery

David,

Given your basically correct view of fiction as the master key to ethical development — it hammers the self into the ground as a marker, against which the chasm of intersubjectivity will get measured and bridged — I’m a little confounded by your review of Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery in COMMENTARY (January 2012).

There you conclude that the novel, which is an exploration of how the psychoses of anti-Semitism get codified as works of language and transmitted as categories of thought, would have been “more successful” as a non-fiction “literary history of anti-Semitism.” For myself, I’m willing to have that textbook remain unwritten in exchange for The Prague Cemetery.

First the requisite throat-clearing. There’s no doubt that a literary history of anti-Semitism written by Umberto Eco would become canonical. One can imagine essays that would blend his scholarship on medieval history, semiotics, and aesthetically-mediated judgment. Some tropes have inertia and tenacity while others are much thinner, requiring careful preservation and insulation to survive. Accusations of Jewish dual loyalty, always intertwined with insinuations about Jewish wealth, are ubiquitous. They thrive even in societies where there are few or no Jews to accuse of disloyalty. But the link between Freemasonry, Darwin, and Jews — unpacked with clarity by Hamas Deputy Minister of Religious Endowment Saleh Riqab on Al-Aqsa TV a few years ago — remains to be dug up. Somebody had to put that insanity in a book.

But are we really that deprived of non-fiction on the Protocols? Google Scholar returns over 6,000 results on the topic. Restricting by “literary history” still gets over 150 hits. Sure Eco would have added something. But would it really have been that much?

Anyway, our more pointed difference isn’t so much about costs as benefits. You don’t seem to see much value in having The Prague Cemetery be fiction. Beyond the “literary history” opportunity cost, you just don’t think it’s a very good novel. I want to push on the reasons you give, because I think they’re question-begging in the most precise way. More on that at the very bottom.

The value of Eco’s fiction is that he gets to dazzle with form/content games that are beyond almost any other author. In Foucault’s Pendulum the characters develop a grand conspiracy, explaining to the reader what makes a grand conspiracy work, as a plot unfolds that may or may not be a real grand conspiracy but that tracks in its features the fake one (I can’t find the exact quote right now but the key is something like “it explains everything or it explains nothing,” a cheeky inverse of the si omnia, nulla maxim that ate up a decade of theorizing in my field of rhetoric). In The Prague Cemetery the reader gets a fictionalized account of . . . a fiction. Dark, fanciful, and deliberately surreal plot points are woven into the writing of a dark, fanciful, and surreal plot. The slightly unreal pathos of the novel tracks with the pathos of the Protocols.

Eco’s ability to play those games is just as singular as his ability to pen interesting literary histories, so the opportunity cost is analogous. The question is whether those aesthetic gymnastics have any value. A good semiotician, Eco knows that literary works can and should index all kinds of social conditions. There’s value in gesturing toward what might be called — forgive me — our vaguely reflexive postmodern condition. Explanations have lost their innocence. We are constantly bouncing back and forth, on the level of daily politics and certainly on the level of daily political journalism, between the substance of arguments and how they’re produced. Between journalism and journalist, biased reporting and bias, policy and politics, and so on.

One of my favorite examples on this point actually comes from an interview with Eco. He was asked about Dan Brown’s disgrace of a novel. The naïve answer is to say that The Da Vinci Code is the pop version of Foucault’s Pendulum, and that Dan Brown is a poor man’s Umberto Eco. It’s hardly original, but good enough for cocktail parties. But Eco’s response was on a different level. I can’t shake the feeling that his answer is quietly and very straightforwardly brilliant:

My answer is that Dan Brown is one of the characters in my novel, Foucault’s Pendulum, which is about people who start believing in occult stuff. . . . [I]n Foucault’s Pendulum I wrote the grotesque representation of these kind of people. So Dan Brown is one of my creatures.

All of which brings us back to why I think it’s question-begging (and symptomatic!) that you find the novel underwhelming. You take issue with how none of the characters “faces any decisions that could have gone the other way.” That’s the result of them writing themselves into a structure that exists in a different fiction. The Protocols exists “outside” the novel, and inasmuch as it has its own material history, theirs is of necessity predetermined.

More explicitly you insist the novel finally breaks apart when “the form of the novel uncomfortably begins to mirror the Protocols: a cycle of set speeches with noisy narrative machinery to get from one to another.” I would suggest that’s the point.

Sincerely,

Omri

David,

Given your basically correct view of fiction as the master key to ethical development — it hammers the self into the ground as a marker, against which the chasm of intersubjectivity will get measured and bridged — I’m a little confounded by your review of Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery in COMMENTARY (January 2012).

There you conclude that the novel, which is an exploration of how the psychoses of anti-Semitism get codified as works of language and transmitted as categories of thought, would have been “more successful” as a non-fiction “literary history of anti-Semitism.” For myself, I’m willing to have that textbook remain unwritten in exchange for The Prague Cemetery.

First the requisite throat-clearing. There’s no doubt that a literary history of anti-Semitism written by Umberto Eco would become canonical. One can imagine essays that would blend his scholarship on medieval history, semiotics, and aesthetically-mediated judgment. Some tropes have inertia and tenacity while others are much thinner, requiring careful preservation and insulation to survive. Accusations of Jewish dual loyalty, always intertwined with insinuations about Jewish wealth, are ubiquitous. They thrive even in societies where there are few or no Jews to accuse of disloyalty. But the link between Freemasonry, Darwin, and Jews — unpacked with clarity by Hamas Deputy Minister of Religious Endowment Saleh Riqab on Al-Aqsa TV a few years ago — remains to be dug up. Somebody had to put that insanity in a book.

But are we really that deprived of non-fiction on the Protocols? Google Scholar returns over 6,000 results on the topic. Restricting by “literary history” still gets over 150 hits. Sure Eco would have added something. But would it really have been that much?

Anyway, our more pointed difference isn’t so much about costs as benefits. You don’t seem to see much value in having The Prague Cemetery be fiction. Beyond the “literary history” opportunity cost, you just don’t think it’s a very good novel. I want to push on the reasons you give, because I think they’re question-begging in the most precise way. More on that at the very bottom.

The value of Eco’s fiction is that he gets to dazzle with form/content games that are beyond almost any other author. In Foucault’s Pendulum the characters develop a grand conspiracy, explaining to the reader what makes a grand conspiracy work, as a plot unfolds that may or may not be a real grand conspiracy but that tracks in its features the fake one (I can’t find the exact quote right now but the key is something like “it explains everything or it explains nothing,” a cheeky inverse of the si omnia, nulla maxim that ate up a decade of theorizing in my field of rhetoric). In The Prague Cemetery the reader gets a fictionalized account of . . . a fiction. Dark, fanciful, and deliberately surreal plot points are woven into the writing of a dark, fanciful, and surreal plot. The slightly unreal pathos of the novel tracks with the pathos of the Protocols.

Eco’s ability to play those games is just as singular as his ability to pen interesting literary histories, so the opportunity cost is analogous. The question is whether those aesthetic gymnastics have any value. A good semiotician, Eco knows that literary works can and should index all kinds of social conditions. There’s value in gesturing toward what might be called — forgive me — our vaguely reflexive postmodern condition. Explanations have lost their innocence. We are constantly bouncing back and forth, on the level of daily politics and certainly on the level of daily political journalism, between the substance of arguments and how they’re produced. Between journalism and journalist, biased reporting and bias, policy and politics, and so on.

One of my favorite examples on this point actually comes from an interview with Eco. He was asked about Dan Brown’s disgrace of a novel. The naïve answer is to say that The Da Vinci Code is the pop version of Foucault’s Pendulum, and that Dan Brown is a poor man’s Umberto Eco. It’s hardly original, but good enough for cocktail parties. But Eco’s response was on a different level. I can’t shake the feeling that his answer is quietly and very straightforwardly brilliant:

My answer is that Dan Brown is one of the characters in my novel, Foucault’s Pendulum, which is about people who start believing in occult stuff. . . . [I]n Foucault’s Pendulum I wrote the grotesque representation of these kind of people. So Dan Brown is one of my creatures.

All of which brings us back to why I think it’s question-begging (and symptomatic!) that you find the novel underwhelming. You take issue with how none of the characters “faces any decisions that could have gone the other way.” That’s the result of them writing themselves into a structure that exists in a different fiction. The Protocols exists “outside” the novel, and inasmuch as it has its own material history, theirs is of necessity predetermined.

More explicitly you insist the novel finally breaks apart when “the form of the novel uncomfortably begins to mirror the Protocols: a cycle of set speeches with noisy narrative machinery to get from one to another.” I would suggest that’s the point.

Sincerely,

Omri

Read Less

Congressional Black Caucus Sees “Good News” Even if Barron Wins

You would think the Congressional Black Caucus would at least have some minor quibbles with Charles Barron, the David Duke-endorsed congressional candidate who’s been denounced as “an anti-Israel, racist anti-Semite” by the National Jewish Democratic Council and criticized by legions of other Democrats. But while CBC is staying neutral on the race between Barron and Hakeem Jeffries, its chairman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver told Capital New York that he sees at least one bright side no matter which candidate wins:

“The good news is there is hardly any chance we won’t have a CBC member elected from that seat,” said Emmanuel Cleaver, a longtime congressman from Missouri who has chaired the caucus since 2010.

I asked him if he thought one of the candidates in the race might be better suited to be a new member of the CBC and serve in Congress. …

“We’re trying to stay out of it. None of us really know any of the candidates,” he said. “All we know is what we’ve been reading. Some of it is, you know, a little acidic. I was briefed yesterday, again, on this race, since I was coming up here. And we just made a decision that we were going to stay out of it.”

Read More

You would think the Congressional Black Caucus would at least have some minor quibbles with Charles Barron, the David Duke-endorsed congressional candidate who’s been denounced as “an anti-Israel, racist anti-Semite” by the National Jewish Democratic Council and criticized by legions of other Democrats. But while CBC is staying neutral on the race between Barron and Hakeem Jeffries, its chairman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver told Capital New York that he sees at least one bright side no matter which candidate wins:

“The good news is there is hardly any chance we won’t have a CBC member elected from that seat,” said Emmanuel Cleaver, a longtime congressman from Missouri who has chaired the caucus since 2010.

I asked him if he thought one of the candidates in the race might be better suited to be a new member of the CBC and serve in Congress. …

“We’re trying to stay out of it. None of us really know any of the candidates,” he said. “All we know is what we’ve been reading. Some of it is, you know, a little acidic. I was briefed yesterday, again, on this race, since I was coming up here. And we just made a decision that we were going to stay out of it.”

Cleaver says some of what he’s been reading about the race has been “a little acidic.” Is he referring to Barron’s comparison of Gaza to a “death camp” and his rants about the “Jewish lobby”? If so, it’s unfortunate that Cleaver, a former civil rights leader, wouldn’t specify Barron by name. The CBC’s neutrality in the race is notable among national Democrats, who have been coming out against Barron in droves during the last week or so:

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel; both of the state’s senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand; and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are just the latest Democratic heavyweights to throw their support behind Jeffries. It’s hard to tell if there’s a reason for them to be worried: There’s been no independent polling in the district, and Jeffries, a New York assemblyman, has raised $770,445 to Barron’s $113,640 — two-fifths of Barron’s total is from himself.

“It’s really become a race to watch, because it’s impossible to know what’s going to happen,” said Doug Muzzio, a political analyst and professor of public affairs at Baruch College, although he still thinks Jeffries will win. “Barron has been a prominent voice for the African-American community and has a lot of support, but the key question is do people think he’ll be effective in Washington?”

Tomorrow’s primary race will be watched closely around the country, and not just by Democratic politicians. The Emergency Committee for Israel has released a new ad educating voters about Barron’s history of hatemongering. There have been no independent polls showing Barron with a lead, and the Jeffries campaign maintains there’s no reason to believe Barron is surging. But Democrats have been growing exceedingly nervous the past week, which indicates that the race is very tight in internal polling.

Read Less

America’s Missed Chance for Afghan Deal

The Washington Post is publishing excerpts of Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan, by its staff writer, Rajiv Chandrasekaran. On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal ran a decidedly mixed review of the book that I wrote. I won’t repeat my major criticisms here. Rather, I’d like to focus on yesterday’s excerpt in the Post which contained the claim the U.S. missed a golden opportunity to strike a deal with the Taliban in 2010-2011 at the height of the U.S. surge in Afghanistan because of animus among White House staffers and other officials against special envoy Richard Holbrooke, who favored such a deal. Chandrasekaran writes:

Instead of capitalizing on Holbrooke’s experience and supporting his push for reconciliation with the Taliban, White House officials dwelled on his shortcomings — his disorganization, his manic intensity, his thirst for the spotlight, his dislike of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, his tendency to badger fellow senior officials. At every turn, they sought to marginalize him and diminish his influence.

The infighting exacted a staggering cost: The Obama White House failed to aggressively explore negotiations to end the war when it had the most boots on the battlefield.

That there was animus against Holbrooke, who had, as they say, an outsize personality, is undeniable. That this led the Obama administration to miss a chance to end the war is fanciful speculation unsupported by any evidence I am aware of.

Read More

The Washington Post is publishing excerpts of Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan, by its staff writer, Rajiv Chandrasekaran. On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal ran a decidedly mixed review of the book that I wrote. I won’t repeat my major criticisms here. Rather, I’d like to focus on yesterday’s excerpt in the Post which contained the claim the U.S. missed a golden opportunity to strike a deal with the Taliban in 2010-2011 at the height of the U.S. surge in Afghanistan because of animus among White House staffers and other officials against special envoy Richard Holbrooke, who favored such a deal. Chandrasekaran writes:

Instead of capitalizing on Holbrooke’s experience and supporting his push for reconciliation with the Taliban, White House officials dwelled on his shortcomings — his disorganization, his manic intensity, his thirst for the spotlight, his dislike of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, his tendency to badger fellow senior officials. At every turn, they sought to marginalize him and diminish his influence.

The infighting exacted a staggering cost: The Obama White House failed to aggressively explore negotiations to end the war when it had the most boots on the battlefield.

That there was animus against Holbrooke, who had, as they say, an outsize personality, is undeniable. That this led the Obama administration to miss a chance to end the war is fanciful speculation unsupported by any evidence I am aware of.

Can Chandrasekaran point to any actual signs the Taliban were ever likely to sign a peace deal? As he mentions in passing in his book, in 2010 Pakistan actually locked up the No. 2 Taliban official, Mullah Abdual Ghani Baradar, precisely because Islamabad feared he would be open to a negotiated settlement that could cause the Taliban to drift out of Pakistan’s control. More recently, the White House expressed willingness to release five senior Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay as a “confidence-building” measure for peace talks. Nothing came of that deal.

The calculation of military commanders in Afghanistan was that as they ramped up pressure on the Taliban, there would be more defections from their ranks, which has indeed occurred, but that there would be no chance of reaching a meaningful peace deal with the Taliban–one that did not grant them so many concessions that the old Northern Alliance would recreate itself and launch a new civil war–until the insurgents had suffered significant battlefield defeats.

The insurgency has indeed suffered real defeats in southern Afghanistan, as even Chandrasekaran concedes, but the potential for meaningful negotiations has been to a large extent lost because of President Obama’s ill-advised move to set deadlines on America’s military involvement–first for the removal of surge troops and now for the removal of the bulk of other troops. Those deadlines have undermined the ability of our troops to have strategic effects and have undoubtedly made the Taliban less likely to negotiate in seriousness because they figure they can simply wait us out. That, rather than any snubs Holbrooke may have suffered, helps to account for the failure of peace talks.

Read Less

Obama, Koch and the Brooklyn Bridge

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch likes nothing better than being the center of attention, and he certainly achieved that last year when his highly publicized role in a special congressional election led to a Republican victory in New York’s 9th congressional district. Koch endorsed Republican Bob Turner, helping him to win the seat that was vacated after Anthony Weiner was forced to resign from Congress in disgrace. The former mayor sought to turn the race into a referendum on the Obama administration’s attacks on Israel. This was a factor in Turner’s defeat of David Weprin, an Orthodox Jew who professed to be as unhappy about the president’s hostility to the Jewish state as the GOP. Though Weprin’s support for gay marriage may have hurt him as much as being associated with President Obama, there’s no denying Koch played a key role in deciding the outcome in what may have been the most heavily Jewish district in the country (gerrymandering has caused the 9th to be divided up this year).

But ever since that triumph, the administration has been paying court to Koch, and he has characteristically responded to their flattery by switching sides on the issue. Since September, he has been one of the loudest advocates of the president’s re-election and recently claimed that it was he, Ed Koch, who caused the administration to change its policies toward Israel. But Koch is giving himself a bit too much credit. The charm offensive aimed at convincing Jewish voters the president is Israel’s best friend to ever sit in the White House actually preceded the NY-9 special election. If it has intensified since last September, more credit must be given to the calendar than to Koch. But ego aside, if the former mayor really thinks the president has “changed” for good when it comes to picking fights for Israel, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn he might be interested in buying.

Read More

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch likes nothing better than being the center of attention, and he certainly achieved that last year when his highly publicized role in a special congressional election led to a Republican victory in New York’s 9th congressional district. Koch endorsed Republican Bob Turner, helping him to win the seat that was vacated after Anthony Weiner was forced to resign from Congress in disgrace. The former mayor sought to turn the race into a referendum on the Obama administration’s attacks on Israel. This was a factor in Turner’s defeat of David Weprin, an Orthodox Jew who professed to be as unhappy about the president’s hostility to the Jewish state as the GOP. Though Weprin’s support for gay marriage may have hurt him as much as being associated with President Obama, there’s no denying Koch played a key role in deciding the outcome in what may have been the most heavily Jewish district in the country (gerrymandering has caused the 9th to be divided up this year).

But ever since that triumph, the administration has been paying court to Koch, and he has characteristically responded to their flattery by switching sides on the issue. Since September, he has been one of the loudest advocates of the president’s re-election and recently claimed that it was he, Ed Koch, who caused the administration to change its policies toward Israel. But Koch is giving himself a bit too much credit. The charm offensive aimed at convincing Jewish voters the president is Israel’s best friend to ever sit in the White House actually preceded the NY-9 special election. If it has intensified since last September, more credit must be given to the calendar than to Koch. But ego aside, if the former mayor really thinks the president has “changed” for good when it comes to picking fights for Israel, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn he might be interested in buying.

The transparent nature of the president’s election year conversion on Israel is such that it hasn’t convinced many wavering voters. Polls show Obama losing nearly a quarter of the 78 percent of the Jewish vote he won in 2008. Though he retains the backing of a majority of Jews, it is because they are loyal Democrats who like his liberal policies and don’t prioritize Israel.

Though the administration is, no doubt, happy to get Koch’s applause, his claim that the president has altered his policies due to some degree to his advocacy actually contradicts the Democrats’ campaign appeal to pro-Israel Jews. The party line is to ignore the president’s stands on Jerusalem, the 1967 lines and settlements that tilted the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians and to act as if the administration created the U.S.-Israel strategic alliance rather than merely not destroying it. Though buying into that requires a voter to ignore much of what happened between Israel and the United States from January 2009 to the summer of 2011, it’s probably a more convincing appeal than Koch’s claims, as even the most hard-core partisans understand that election-year conversions are not to be trusted.

Koch is a sincere and stalwart friend of Israel who has stood up on the issue to powerful Democrats such as Jimmy Carter. But most voters understand that once re-elected the president will have the “flexibility” he needs to go back to a policy of pressure on Israel and may also back off on the tough talk about the Iranian nuclear threat. Though the U.S.-Israel alliance is strong enough to survive even four more years of a re-elected Barack Obama, anyone who thinks the administration’s policies in the next four years toward Israel will resemble the rhetoric the president and his surrogates have been using while he is in a desperate fight for his political life may also interested in buying that bridge.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.