Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 18, 2012

The Law as a Moral Teacher

Earlier this week, I spoke to a group of young professionals, most of whom are conservative. And one of the conversations I had was with a person who was asking me about the link between culture and politics, arguing—as others I know have—that culture is “upstream,” and therefore in many respects more important, than politics.

This question reminded me of a passage from the late Alexander Bickel’s book The Morality of Consent, which deals in part with the competing traditions of Locke-Rousseau and Edmund Burke in Western thought and in American constitutionalism and political process:

The unexamined life, said Socrates, is not worth living. Nor is it bearable. To acknowledge no values at all is to deny a difference between ourselves and other particles that tumble in space. The irreducible value, though not the exclusive one, is the idea of law. Law is more than just another opinion; not because it embodies all right values, or because the values it does embody tend from time to time to reflect those of a majority or plurality, but because it is the value of values. Law is the principal institution through which a society can assert its values.

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Earlier this week, I spoke to a group of young professionals, most of whom are conservative. And one of the conversations I had was with a person who was asking me about the link between culture and politics, arguing—as others I know have—that culture is “upstream,” and therefore in many respects more important, than politics.

This question reminded me of a passage from the late Alexander Bickel’s book The Morality of Consent, which deals in part with the competing traditions of Locke-Rousseau and Edmund Burke in Western thought and in American constitutionalism and political process:

The unexamined life, said Socrates, is not worth living. Nor is it bearable. To acknowledge no values at all is to deny a difference between ourselves and other particles that tumble in space. The irreducible value, though not the exclusive one, is the idea of law. Law is more than just another opinion; not because it embodies all right values, or because the values it does embody tend from time to time to reflect those of a majority or plurality, but because it is the value of values. Law is the principal institution through which a society can assert its values.

That statement seems to me to be quite right, and a nice rejoinder to those who say—with what must be barely a moment’s reflection—that we cannot “legislate morality.” In fact, we have legislated/legislate morality all the time—from slavery and segregation, to abortion and same-sex marriage, to welfare and environmental laws, to crime and drug use, to immigration policy and the global AIDS initiative, to much else. Jerry Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child abuse because we decided to legislate morality. It’s even said by some, mostly on the left, that the federal budget is a “moral document.” The law is, in fact, the most comprehensive embodiment of what a free society believes. It tells the world, and each other, who we are and what we believe.

This is not to downplay the significance of culture, which is enormously important to a society. But culture is, in some respects, subconscious and pre-social. The law, by contrast, is something that is actively thought out. That doesn’t mean it’s always well thought out, of course. But laws are a self-governing society’s conscious, willful expression of a set of beliefs and convictions. And among other reasons, that is why politics and government are, for all the complaints we (rightly) might have about them, terribly important and, at their best, something of a high calling. That’s worth bearing in mind even, and maybe especially, during a particularly ferocious presidential election.

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Romney Should Send Obama a Fruit Basket

The president’s “you didn’t build that” statement has not only framed the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney exactly as Romney  needed, it has transformed Romney’s campaign. He gave a very good speech last week at the NAACP convention, but even the strength of that performance was as nothing next to what he’s done over the past two days. I’ve now watched Romney’s speeches yesterday and today centering on the remark and its meaning, and what I’m seeing is a Mitt Romney come alive—or at least, a Romney new to me. He has always been articulate and with a command of facts and figures, but the distanced awkwardness that accompanied them has suddenly vanished. In their place is a loose, fluid, confident, and passionate spokesman defending the free enterprise system against Obama’s government-centered approach. Romney has done something you hear people talk about theoretically but which doesn’t often happen—he has found his voice as a presidential candidate. And it’s all due to Barack Obama. I hope a fruit basket is on the way to the White House. It would only be polite.

The president’s “you didn’t build that” statement has not only framed the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney exactly as Romney  needed, it has transformed Romney’s campaign. He gave a very good speech last week at the NAACP convention, but even the strength of that performance was as nothing next to what he’s done over the past two days. I’ve now watched Romney’s speeches yesterday and today centering on the remark and its meaning, and what I’m seeing is a Mitt Romney come alive—or at least, a Romney new to me. He has always been articulate and with a command of facts and figures, but the distanced awkwardness that accompanied them has suddenly vanished. In their place is a loose, fluid, confident, and passionate spokesman defending the free enterprise system against Obama’s government-centered approach. Romney has done something you hear people talk about theoretically but which doesn’t often happen—he has found his voice as a presidential candidate. And it’s all due to Barack Obama. I hope a fruit basket is on the way to the White House. It would only be polite.

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Voter Enthusiasm Among GOP Rises

Four years ago, could we have guessed that President Obama would soon be considered less exciting than candidate Mitt Romney? The enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown to more than 20 points since March, according to today’s CBS News/NYT poll (h/t HotAir):

Meantime, three and a half months before election day, Republican enthusiasm about voting this year has shot up since Mitt Romney clinched the nomination in April, from 36 percent of Republicans saying they were more enthusiastic in March to 49 percent now.

President Obama was helped to election in 2008 by a wave of voter enthusiasm among Democrats, however this year, Democratic enthusiasm is down a bit since March. Twenty-seven percent of Democrats said they were more enthusiastic about voting this year than they were in past elections, compared to 30 percent four months ago. And 48 percent of Democrats say their enthusiasm this year is the same as past elections, compared to 39 percent who answered the same question in March.

Independent voters’ enthusiasm is also up with 29 percent saying they’re more enthusiastic now from 22 percent four months ago.

Overall, voters aren’t as enthusiastic about this year’s election as they were in 2008. Just 33 percent of all registered voters said they were more enthusiastic this year than they were for past elections, compared to 41 percent in March 2008.

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Four years ago, could we have guessed that President Obama would soon be considered less exciting than candidate Mitt Romney? The enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown to more than 20 points since March, according to today’s CBS News/NYT poll (h/t HotAir):

Meantime, three and a half months before election day, Republican enthusiasm about voting this year has shot up since Mitt Romney clinched the nomination in April, from 36 percent of Republicans saying they were more enthusiastic in March to 49 percent now.

President Obama was helped to election in 2008 by a wave of voter enthusiasm among Democrats, however this year, Democratic enthusiasm is down a bit since March. Twenty-seven percent of Democrats said they were more enthusiastic about voting this year than they were in past elections, compared to 30 percent four months ago. And 48 percent of Democrats say their enthusiasm this year is the same as past elections, compared to 39 percent who answered the same question in March.

Independent voters’ enthusiasm is also up with 29 percent saying they’re more enthusiastic now from 22 percent four months ago.

Overall, voters aren’t as enthusiastic about this year’s election as they were in 2008. Just 33 percent of all registered voters said they were more enthusiastic this year than they were for past elections, compared to 41 percent in March 2008.

The GOP-Democratic gap is actually less troubling for Obama than the rising enthusiasm among independent voters. What’s causing the trend? The next line in the CBS story might give you an idea:

As for the direction of the country, voters are growing increasingly more pessimistic, however.

Sixty-four percent of those polled think the country is on the wrong track, up from 62 percent in May.

At HotAir, Ed Morrissey raises another good, related point:

The big takeaway, though, is that 49 percent of Republicans and 29 percent of independents express increased enthusiasm for this election, while only 27 percent of Democrats say the same thing. If Obama’s attacks are depressing enthusiasm, it’s pretty clear whose enthusiasm he’s depressing. That was always the risk for a candidate whose main qualification for office was hope and change, and whose signature outcome has been economic stagnation.

This is particularly problematic for Obama because his reelection relies on him either getting his base out to the polls in greater numbers than in 2008 or winning over new supporters to make up for the ones he’s lost. It doesn’t look like he’s made headway in either area, according to this poll. Not only does this point to a troubling trend down the road, it also requires Obama to refigure his current talking points. As Politico’s Donovan Slack reports, the Obama campaign has tended to play up positive enthusiasm numbers to argue it’s in good shape for November.

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A Few Fiscal Facts

James Glassman, the executive director of the George W. Bush Institute and a Forbes contributor, has written a piece on the facts about budget deficits and how various presidents truly rank.

The inspiration for Glassman’s piece was a comment by former Governor Howard Dean, who was asked what specific policies in the Bush administration he thinks are still being used to explain an unemployment rate of more than eight percent. To which Dean responded, “The biggest ones are the deficits that were run up…. The deficits were enormous.”

All of which caused Glassman to do something that Dean did not: consult the facts in various economic reports. Here is the key paragraph:

As for spending itself, during the George W. Bush years (2001-08), federal outlays averaged 19.6 percent of GDP, a little less than during the Clinton years (1993-2000), at 19.8 percent and far below Reagan, whose outlays never dropped below 21 percent of GDP in any year and averaged 22.4 percent. Even factoring in the TARP year (2009), Bush’s average outlays as a proportion of the economy was 20.3 percent – far below Reagan and only a half-point below Clinton. As for Obama, even excluding 2009, his spending has averaged 24.1 percent of GDP – the highest level for any three years since World War II.

I would only add that under Bush the deficit fell to 1 percent of GDP ($162 billion) by 2007, the penultimate year of the Bush presidency.

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James Glassman, the executive director of the George W. Bush Institute and a Forbes contributor, has written a piece on the facts about budget deficits and how various presidents truly rank.

The inspiration for Glassman’s piece was a comment by former Governor Howard Dean, who was asked what specific policies in the Bush administration he thinks are still being used to explain an unemployment rate of more than eight percent. To which Dean responded, “The biggest ones are the deficits that were run up…. The deficits were enormous.”

All of which caused Glassman to do something that Dean did not: consult the facts in various economic reports. Here is the key paragraph:

As for spending itself, during the George W. Bush years (2001-08), federal outlays averaged 19.6 percent of GDP, a little less than during the Clinton years (1993-2000), at 19.8 percent and far below Reagan, whose outlays never dropped below 21 percent of GDP in any year and averaged 22.4 percent. Even factoring in the TARP year (2009), Bush’s average outlays as a proportion of the economy was 20.3 percent – far below Reagan and only a half-point below Clinton. As for Obama, even excluding 2009, his spending has averaged 24.1 percent of GDP – the highest level for any three years since World War II.

I would only add that under Bush the deficit fell to 1 percent of GDP ($162 billion) by 2007, the penultimate year of the Bush presidency.

As for the financial crisis of 2008, which obviously had a significant effect on the budget deficit, Democrats bear the majority of the blame for blocking reforms that could have mitigated the effects of the housing crisis, which in turn led to the broader financial crisis.

As Stuart Taylor put it  in 2008:

The pretense of many Democrats that this crisis is altogether a Republican creation is simplistic and dangerous. It is simplistic because Democrats have been a big part of the problem, in part by supporting governmental distortions of the marketplace through mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whose reckless lending practices necessitated a $200 billion government rescue [in September 2008]. … Fannie and Freddie appear to have played a major role in causing the current crisis, in part because their quasi-governmental status violated basic principles of a healthy free enterprise system by allowing them to privatize profit while socializing risk.

The Bush administration warned as early as April 2001 that Fannie and Freddie were too large and overleveraged and that their failure “could cause strong repercussions in financial markets, affecting federally insured entities and economic activity” well beyond housing. Bush’s plan would have subjected Fannie and Freddie to the kinds of federal regulation that banks, credit unions, and savings and loans have to comply with. In addition, Republican Richard Shelby, then chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, pushed for comprehensive GSE (government-sponsored enterprises) reform in 2005. And who blocked these efforts at reforming Fannie and Freddie? Democrats such as Senator Christopher Dodd and Representative Barney Frank, along with the then-junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, who backed Dodd’s threat of a filibuster (Obama was the third-largest recipient of campaign gifts from Fannie and Freddie employees in 2004).

So the current president and his party bear a substantial (though not exclusive) responsibility in creating the economic crisis that Obama himself inherited.

In any event, Jim Glassman has performed a useful public service, if only in deploying (to paraphrase Thomas Huxley) a few fiscal facts to slay a beautiful, if false, deduction.

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Should Romney Attack Obama’s Biography?

At BuzzFeed, McKay Coppins reports that Mitt Romney is finally ready to drop the “nice guy” claimer about Obama, and punch back hard against recent attacks:

“[Romney] has said Obama’s a nice fellow, he’s just in over his head,” the adviser said. “But I think the governor himself believes this latest round of attacks that have impugned his integrity and accused him of being a felon go so far beyond that pale that he’s really disappointed. He believes it’s time to vet the president. He really hasn’t been vetted; McCain didn’t do it.”

Indeed, facing what the candidate and his aides believe to be a series of surprisingly ruthless, unfounded, and unfair attacks from the Obama campaign on Romney’s finances and business record, the Republican’s campaign is now prepared to go eye for an eye in an intense, no-holds-barred act of political reprisal, said two Romney advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity. In the next chapter of Boston’s pushback — which began last week when they began labeling Obama a “liar” — very little will be off-limits, from the president’s youthful drug habit, to his ties to disgraced Chicago politicians.

Conservatives are anxious to see more fight from Romney, but will digging up Obama’s past be effective after he’s already served almost a full term in office? At New York magazine, Jonathan Chait writes:

The apparent plan is to mutter darkly about Chicago and drug use and sundry other biographical details that conservatives believe they wrongly shied away from four years ago.

As Coppins notes, this would amount to a full reversal of the old Romney strategy. The old plan, you may recall, was premised on targeting the sliver of swing voters in the middle who like Obama, want him to succeed, but believe he has failed to turn the economy around. Thus Romney devised a message targeted right at the gap between Obama’s good favorable ratings and less impressive job approval ratings. It was a good plan.

Does it make sense to abandon that plan to circulate dark mutterings about Obama’s past?

No, it does not. The point of disparaging Obama’s character is to paint him as a cultural alien unfit for the presidency. More of this theme may or may not have helped in 2008. But you can’t do that effectively against somebody who is already president of the United States.

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At BuzzFeed, McKay Coppins reports that Mitt Romney is finally ready to drop the “nice guy” claimer about Obama, and punch back hard against recent attacks:

“[Romney] has said Obama’s a nice fellow, he’s just in over his head,” the adviser said. “But I think the governor himself believes this latest round of attacks that have impugned his integrity and accused him of being a felon go so far beyond that pale that he’s really disappointed. He believes it’s time to vet the president. He really hasn’t been vetted; McCain didn’t do it.”

Indeed, facing what the candidate and his aides believe to be a series of surprisingly ruthless, unfounded, and unfair attacks from the Obama campaign on Romney’s finances and business record, the Republican’s campaign is now prepared to go eye for an eye in an intense, no-holds-barred act of political reprisal, said two Romney advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity. In the next chapter of Boston’s pushback — which began last week when they began labeling Obama a “liar” — very little will be off-limits, from the president’s youthful drug habit, to his ties to disgraced Chicago politicians.

Conservatives are anxious to see more fight from Romney, but will digging up Obama’s past be effective after he’s already served almost a full term in office? At New York magazine, Jonathan Chait writes:

The apparent plan is to mutter darkly about Chicago and drug use and sundry other biographical details that conservatives believe they wrongly shied away from four years ago.

As Coppins notes, this would amount to a full reversal of the old Romney strategy. The old plan, you may recall, was premised on targeting the sliver of swing voters in the middle who like Obama, want him to succeed, but believe he has failed to turn the economy around. Thus Romney devised a message targeted right at the gap between Obama’s good favorable ratings and less impressive job approval ratings. It was a good plan.

Does it make sense to abandon that plan to circulate dark mutterings about Obama’s past?

No, it does not. The point of disparaging Obama’s character is to paint him as a cultural alien unfit for the presidency. More of this theme may or may not have helped in 2008. But you can’t do that effectively against somebody who is already president of the United States.

But the point here wouldn’t be to paint Obama as “alien,” unless political cronyism and college drug use are suddenly considered foreign to American culture. It sounds like Romney’s plan is to portray Obama as a typical unseemly politician, which the president has been pretty successful at doing on his own by running a cynical, ultra-negative campaign.

This doesn’t mean the Romney campaign should exclusively dig up old Obama stories. But what’s wrong with finding the best and most effective angles to exploit, even if they’re from before he entered the White House? As BuzzFeed notes, Romney is also planning to hit Obama on Fast and Furious and more recent controversies.

Obama’s biography may not be as effective as an attack strategy at this stage in the game, but it shouldn’t be off-limits simply because he’s served almost a full term. Of course, some angles are more viable than others. Mention “unrepentant domestic terrorist William Ayers” or “Saul Alinsky tactics” and independent voters’ eyes will glaze over. But the Blagojevich scandal and the college drug use have gotten far less wear-and-tear from the paranoid fringe, and are probably less likely to backfire on the Romney campaign, assuming they’re used sparingly.

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Coalition Shift Leaves Netanyahu on Top

The collapse of the short-lived supermajority who presided over Israel’s ruling coalition since May has given critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the best couple of days they’ve had in years. But anyone who expects this setback to change the political equation in which Netanyahu is not only an overwhelming favorite to win re-election but to stay in power for years to come doesn’t understand what has happened.

The end of the coalition is a disappointment for those friends of Israel who hoped the supermajority could help create some much-needed fundamental changes. But though the failure is not something that will burnish Netanyahu’s reputation, it will do far more damage to his junior partner Kadima and its leader Shaul Mofaz than it will to the prime minister or his Likud. At the end of the day, Netanyahu can be said to have his reputation dented a bit, but he remains on top of Israeli politics with no credible rival for the post of prime minister in sight.

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The collapse of the short-lived supermajority who presided over Israel’s ruling coalition since May has given critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the best couple of days they’ve had in years. But anyone who expects this setback to change the political equation in which Netanyahu is not only an overwhelming favorite to win re-election but to stay in power for years to come doesn’t understand what has happened.

The end of the coalition is a disappointment for those friends of Israel who hoped the supermajority could help create some much-needed fundamental changes. But though the failure is not something that will burnish Netanyahu’s reputation, it will do far more damage to his junior partner Kadima and its leader Shaul Mofaz than it will to the prime minister or his Likud. At the end of the day, Netanyahu can be said to have his reputation dented a bit, but he remains on top of Israeli politics with no credible rival for the post of prime minister in sight.

Netanyahu was hailed as the “king” of Israeli politics for the adroit maneuver by which he enticed the Kadima party into his tent and for giving very little in return for padding his majority to more than 90 members of the 120-seat Knesset. The coalition could have achieved great things, including a reform of Israel’s draft laws that could have required the ultra-Orthodox and even Arabs to do national service along with the rest of the country. Even more importantly, it could have worked on election reform proposals that might have ended the tyranny of small parties and taken the nation to a more rational and stable model. But perhaps it was too much to expect Israeli politicians, especially those in Kadima, a feckless assembly of the worst opportunists in Israel, to behave rationally, let alone courageously and the experiment has ended.

But it should be remembered that Netanyahu already had a stable and strong governing majority even before the Kadima deal. Some of his critics (a group that included President Obama) hoped that he would not last long in office after his February 2009 election victory. But in contrast to his first unsuccessful term as prime minister in the 1990s, Netanyahu would not make the same mistakes this time. He not only kept his coalition together but gained rather than lost popularity by standing up to U.S. pressure. The end of the peace process destroyed Israel’s left-wing parties and the Likud’s smart stewardship of Israel’s growing economy has also retained the confidence of the country despite the attention given to protesters.

Mofaz has criticized Netanyahu for proposing a gradual move towards drafting the ultra-Orthodox rather than a plan that would have done so more quickly. But, as Haaretz’s Yossi Verter reports, Mofaz’s decision to bolt the government probably had more to do with his worry that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (who was acquitted on corruption charges last week) was thinking about getting back into politics. Netanyahu is widely accused of making an astute political calculation that he was better off retaining an alliance with the ultra-Orthodox parties rather than Kadima. This may be true because, like everyone else in Israel, Netanyahu knows that after the dust has settled after the next election (which may take place early next year), Kadima will be history, but the Orthodox will still be standing.

But even those who sympathize and agree with the majority of Israelis who bitterly resent Haredi draft-dodging must concede this is not a problem that can be solved overnight. As soon became apparent once the possibility of draft reform came in sight this year, the Israel Defense Forces are unprepared for a huge influx of reluctant ultra-Orthodox recruits. It is far more important that the Haredim who are currently allowed to be unemployed and undrafted Torah scholars (or at least pretending to be scholars) are pressured or guided to enter Israel’s economy than its army. Netanyahu’s proposal that Mofaz has rejected might have fallen short of expectations but it was a reasonable start that the prime minister will have no trouble defending when he faces the voters.

The end of the coalition will likely hasten the exit of Kadima from the Knesset at the next election where it will be replaced by a revived though still weak Labor Party as the principal opposition to Netanyahu. Mofaz and Olmert will join Tzippi Livni, another former Kadima leader, may continue to try to maneuver, but they are destined to wind up on the dustheap of Israeli politics. Other, smaller parties will fill the place that Kadima thought to occupy in Israel’s center. But the one thing that will not change is Netanyahu’s ascendancy. For all of his problems and occasional missteps, his position on the peace process and security issues represents the consensus of the Israeli people. Though American liberals and the Obama administration may long for him to be replaced, Netanyahu is likely to remain prime minister throughout the term of the next American president.

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Obama Acknowledges Tax Cuts Create Jobs

On Monday, President Obama slammed Mitt Romney’s economic plan before an Ohio audience: “By eliminating taxes on corporations’ foreign income,” said Obama, “Governor Romney’s plan would actually encourage companies to shift more of their operations to foreign tax havens, creating 800,000 jobs in those other countries.”

Forget the campaign implications and forget the fact-check analysis. Simply take Obama’s accusation at face value. He is acknowledging—no, trumpeting—that cutting corporate taxes creates jobs. Eight hundred thousand of them.

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On Monday, President Obama slammed Mitt Romney’s economic plan before an Ohio audience: “By eliminating taxes on corporations’ foreign income,” said Obama, “Governor Romney’s plan would actually encourage companies to shift more of their operations to foreign tax havens, creating 800,000 jobs in those other countries.”

Forget the campaign implications and forget the fact-check analysis. Simply take Obama’s accusation at face value. He is acknowledging—no, trumpeting—that cutting corporate taxes creates jobs. Eight hundred thousand of them.

If his charge against Romney is legitimate, and Romney’s proposed tax cuts would create jobs in the wrong country, why doesn’t Obama switch the target of the cuts and create those jobs here? He has said job creation is his number-one priority, and given his admitted understanding of the relationship between tax cuts and job creation, what’s stopping him from going beyond the Bush tax cuts and slashing us back to a healthy America?

The answer: class warfare and its political utility. Sure, tax cuts would put America to work, but the Buffett Rule would create the impression of fairness. And fairness is what Obama’s reelection campaign is all about. So after accusing Romney of job creation through tax cuts, the president will seamlessly return to making sure that “the rich pay their fair share” and ensuring that the jobs numbers keep dropping. The only thing worse than Obama’s keeping Americans unemployed owing to ideological confusion is his doing so out of political cynicism.

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More Bad News for PA Dems

Barack Obama easily won Pennsylvania four years ago but, as polls have shown, though the president retains a clear lead, the Keystone State may be reverting to the pattern of 2000 and 2004 when Democrats won it but only by small margins. Whether or not the state’s 20 electoral votes are really in play is yet to be determined, but Republicans are talking as if they mean to fight hard for Pennsylvania this fall.

While much of the attention in the state has been devoted to the impact of the voter ID law that State House of Representative Majority Leader Mike Turzai claimed would allow Mitt Romney to win there, some changes in voter registration figures may also make Pennsylvania more competitive. As Charles Mahtesian points out at Politico, the Democrats’ overwhelming party registration advantage has declined in the past four years. Though there are still a million more registered Democrats than Republicans, their edge went down by 168,000 (4,143,939 Democrats to 3,075,935 Republicans). That’s not much, but in a close race and with the voter ID law acting as a deterrent against attempts by the Philadelphia Democratic machine to manufacture huge and somewhat questionable majorities, Romney can be said to have a fighting chance of taking a state  the president must have if he is to be re-elected.

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Barack Obama easily won Pennsylvania four years ago but, as polls have shown, though the president retains a clear lead, the Keystone State may be reverting to the pattern of 2000 and 2004 when Democrats won it but only by small margins. Whether or not the state’s 20 electoral votes are really in play is yet to be determined, but Republicans are talking as if they mean to fight hard for Pennsylvania this fall.

While much of the attention in the state has been devoted to the impact of the voter ID law that State House of Representative Majority Leader Mike Turzai claimed would allow Mitt Romney to win there, some changes in voter registration figures may also make Pennsylvania more competitive. As Charles Mahtesian points out at Politico, the Democrats’ overwhelming party registration advantage has declined in the past four years. Though there are still a million more registered Democrats than Republicans, their edge went down by 168,000 (4,143,939 Democrats to 3,075,935 Republicans). That’s not much, but in a close race and with the voter ID law acting as a deterrent against attempts by the Philadelphia Democratic machine to manufacture huge and somewhat questionable majorities, Romney can be said to have a fighting chance of taking a state  the president must have if he is to be re-elected.

The registration figures are interesting because they show the rapid and historic shift of the Philadelphia suburbs from the GOP to the Democrats may have slowed a bit. Montgomery County is seen as the ultimate swing vote that can determine the outcome of state elections. It was once a GOP stronghold and as late as 2004, Republicans still had a registration advantage there. But in November 2008, that had changed, with the Dems taking a 24,000 edge (a swing of 78,000 voters during just four years). That has grown in the last four years, as there are now 35,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the county. But the GOP can at least take some solace from the fact that the rate of increase has slowed. Obama must carry Montgomery County and probably will, but given the decline in Democratic registration elsewhere in the state he’s going to have to do so by an even larger majority than he did in 2008.

The same is true of Philadelphia County, but here the problem is not registration shifts (the GOP barely exists in large sections of the city), but  the ability of the Democrats to conjure up results in some precincts that show a turnout of more than 100 percent of registered voters may be inhibited by the voter ID law. While the law may not be vigorously enforced — and attempts to do so will, no doubt, be decried as “voter suppression” on the part of the Republicans — city Democrats may not feel as free to play games with the vote totals as they have in the past.

All of this does not necessarily point to a Romney win in Pennsylvania, as the president must still be considered to be a clear favorite in the state. But it does mean that unless the economy improves, the Democrats are going to have to work hard and spend heavily there to win.

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Buenos Aires Bombing Remembered

Today marks the 18th anniversary of the terrorist bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association in Buenos Aires, an attack that killed 85 and seriously injured hundreds. The attack was planned and executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Its mastermind, Ahmad Vahidi, is now Iran’s defense minister. Argentine authorities ultimately convicted several Iranians and Hezbollah activists in absentia for their roles; Interpol currently has a red notice out for Vahidi. Ahmad Rezai, the son of then-Islamic Revolution Guard Corps Chief Mohsen Rezai, later fingered his father’s role in the affair, and acknowledges that he was an eyewitness to the operation’s planning; Ahmad died under mysterious circumstances in Dubai late last year.

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Today marks the 18th anniversary of the terrorist bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association in Buenos Aires, an attack that killed 85 and seriously injured hundreds. The attack was planned and executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Its mastermind, Ahmad Vahidi, is now Iran’s defense minister. Argentine authorities ultimately convicted several Iranians and Hezbollah activists in absentia for their roles; Interpol currently has a red notice out for Vahidi. Ahmad Rezai, the son of then-Islamic Revolution Guard Corps Chief Mohsen Rezai, later fingered his father’s role in the affair, and acknowledges that he was an eyewitness to the operation’s planning; Ahmad died under mysterious circumstances in Dubai late last year.

Almost two decades on, it is important to remember three things:

  • While Iran’s apologists say that Tehran’s problem with Israel is political, and isn’t motivated by religious hatred, the bombing in Buenos Aires targeted not the Israel embassy (which Iran had bombed two years earlier) but rather the Jewish cultural center. The target was not political; it was religious.
  • No Iranian authority, be they hardliner or reformer, has ever apologized for Iran’s role in hostage-taking or terrorism. That Kofi Annan and Jimmy Carter embrace former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami as a genuine believer in Dialogue of Civilizations is shameful. Khatami is, to this day, an apologist for terrorism.
  • Iran remains a terror sponsor of global reach; no amount of dialogue during the past two decades has changed that. Perhaps the problem isn’t a regime grievance, but the regime itself.

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Adelson Threatens DCCC With Libel Suit

It looks like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is learning a lesson about when to choose battles. For example, when you’re going to lob potentially criminal allegations at the seventh richest person in the United States, make sure you have your facts straight first.

The DCCC recently put out a statement insinuating that billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson “personally approved” of prostitution at his Macau casino, and asked, “What will Speaker Boehner, Leader Cantor, and House Republicans do with their Chinese prostitution money?”

The statement made it seem like the allegations were confirmed by the Associated Press, when in fact the news organization was just reporting on a lawsuit filed by a fired Adelson employee. Adelson has disputed the charges, and now his attorneys are threatening the DCCC with a defamation suit, according to The Hill:

“We just received and are reviewing Mr. Adelson’s attorney’s letter,” DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson said in an email. Ferguson did not respond to a follow-up inquiry.

In late June, the DCCC sent out a release alleging that prostitution money tied to Adelson helped fund the campaigns of Reps. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), as well as other GOP incumbents. …

“Immediately retract and apologize for defamatory statements falsely accusing Mr. Adelson of encouraging and profiting from prostitution, maliciously branding Mr. Adelson as a pimp who has given ‘Chinese prostitution money’ to your political opponents,” the letter from Adelson’s attorney, first obtained by the Las Vegas Sun, reads in part. “These false allegations constitute libel per se entitling Mr. Adelson to compensatory and punitive damages.”

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It looks like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is learning a lesson about when to choose battles. For example, when you’re going to lob potentially criminal allegations at the seventh richest person in the United States, make sure you have your facts straight first.

The DCCC recently put out a statement insinuating that billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson “personally approved” of prostitution at his Macau casino, and asked, “What will Speaker Boehner, Leader Cantor, and House Republicans do with their Chinese prostitution money?”

The statement made it seem like the allegations were confirmed by the Associated Press, when in fact the news organization was just reporting on a lawsuit filed by a fired Adelson employee. Adelson has disputed the charges, and now his attorneys are threatening the DCCC with a defamation suit, according to The Hill:

“We just received and are reviewing Mr. Adelson’s attorney’s letter,” DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson said in an email. Ferguson did not respond to a follow-up inquiry.

In late June, the DCCC sent out a release alleging that prostitution money tied to Adelson helped fund the campaigns of Reps. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), as well as other GOP incumbents. …

“Immediately retract and apologize for defamatory statements falsely accusing Mr. Adelson of encouraging and profiting from prostitution, maliciously branding Mr. Adelson as a pimp who has given ‘Chinese prostitution money’ to your political opponents,” the letter from Adelson’s attorney, first obtained by the Las Vegas Sun, reads in part. “These false allegations constitute libel per se entitling Mr. Adelson to compensatory and punitive damages.”

I’m not usually a fan of libel suits, and there would be a high threshold to meet here as Adelson is a public figure. He might have a solid case for “actual malice” — that the statement was knowingly false and published with the intent to harm — particularly because the lightest bit of fact-checking by PolitiFact earned the DCCC a “pants on fire” label on a similar subsequent statement:

As our Ohio colleagues point out, the allegation that Adelson allowed prostitution at the Macau comes from a fired employee. The DCCC takes that claim and says money from prostitution was included in Adelson’s campaign contributions to GOP congressional incumbents — including Duffy.

There’s no evidence that Duffy received contributions from Adelson, and he has no control over contributions to groups that support him.

“The claim that Adelson’s donations to these other groups amount to ‘Chinese prostitution money’  is dubious enough that inserting the word ‘allegedly’ can’t save it,” PolitiFact Ohio wrote in its assessment.

That holds no matter what name is inserted into the cut-and-paste news release.

You can repeat a claim, but the smell of smoke remains the same. Pants on Fire.

At the very least, Adelson could cause some serious headaches for the DCCC. But would he really want to go through with the suit and open himself up to a discovery process by a group that has its claws out for him?

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Turks Attack Visiting American Sailors

According to the Turkish press, several Turks attacked American sailors shopping in the resort town of Antalya after the USS Abraham Lincoln, on its way back from the Persian Gulf, docked there on a port call:

The attackers, who were reportedly members of the Turkish Youth Association (TGB), at first verbally attacked the American soldiers, who had left an American aircraft carrier moored off of Antalya to shop. Police intervened in the incident and detained the seven men when they tried to put bags over the American soldiers’ heads. A group of TGB members gathered in front of the police station to protest the detention of their friends. The detained men were later released.

The Iranians are already gloating about the attack. Thanks to a decade of Islamist rule and a constant barrage of anti-American incitement from Turkey’s top leaders, Turkey is now among the most anti-American countries on earth.

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According to the Turkish press, several Turks attacked American sailors shopping in the resort town of Antalya after the USS Abraham Lincoln, on its way back from the Persian Gulf, docked there on a port call:

The attackers, who were reportedly members of the Turkish Youth Association (TGB), at first verbally attacked the American soldiers, who had left an American aircraft carrier moored off of Antalya to shop. Police intervened in the incident and detained the seven men when they tried to put bags over the American soldiers’ heads. A group of TGB members gathered in front of the police station to protest the detention of their friends. The detained men were later released.

The Iranians are already gloating about the attack. Thanks to a decade of Islamist rule and a constant barrage of anti-American incitement from Turkey’s top leaders, Turkey is now among the most anti-American countries on earth.

While Turkey has changed during the past decade, central neighborhoods of Istanbul and Mediterranean resorts have long remained safe; no longer. Americans are not safe in Turkey. The Pentagon should immediately suspend all port calls in Turkey, and should consider requiring non-essential personnel to leave the country. Greece and Croatia are also lovely places, and can accommodate both destroyers and aircraft carriers. More importantly, they would welcome American business and the tourism boon that a port call brings. Turkey is big on demanding apologies; perhaps it is time Prime Minister Erdoğan or Ambassador Namik Tan make one of their own.

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Will Turkey Expose NATO Secrets to China?

Turkey is currently considering bids to upgrade its air defense system. While a member of NATO since 1952, the Islamist leadership in Turkey has made clear it no longer sees itself bound by the responsibility to protect NATO secrets nor the Turkish leadership factor into its decisions NATO’s security requirements.

Should Turkey decide to go with the Russian S-300 or Chinese HQ-9 it will have two choices: either have its air defense system disconnected from systems involved in NATO, or perhaps betray NATO secrets. If Turkey will not commit to protect sensitive information impacting U.S. defense, it remains curious why the Obama administration seems intent to go ahead with a sale of the next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Turkey. Alas, as always, the Congressional Turkey Caucus remains silent.

Turkey is currently considering bids to upgrade its air defense system. While a member of NATO since 1952, the Islamist leadership in Turkey has made clear it no longer sees itself bound by the responsibility to protect NATO secrets nor the Turkish leadership factor into its decisions NATO’s security requirements.

Should Turkey decide to go with the Russian S-300 or Chinese HQ-9 it will have two choices: either have its air defense system disconnected from systems involved in NATO, or perhaps betray NATO secrets. If Turkey will not commit to protect sensitive information impacting U.S. defense, it remains curious why the Obama administration seems intent to go ahead with a sale of the next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Turkey. Alas, as always, the Congressional Turkey Caucus remains silent.

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Stop Syria’s Descent into Barbarism

For five grim years, from approximately 2003 to 2008, Iraq faced the greatest onslaught of terrorism in the history of any state. Many of the worst attacks were perpetrated by suicide bombers, often driving vehicles packed with explosives. By mid-2008, suicide bombers had killed at least 10,000 Iraqis. A disproportionate share of those suicide bombers were foreign Sunnis who arrived in Iraq via Syria. The U.S. government remonstrated with the Assad regime to stop the flow of the fanatics, but Bashar al-Assad consistently played dumb. If the U.S. could not control its border with Mexico, the Syrians disingenuously argued, how could they control their border with Iraq? This ignored the rather major difference that Syria is a police state. The networks that recruited, organized, and passed on the suicide bombers could not have operated without the knowledge of the regime’s all-pervasive secret police. Assad and his cronies were not jihadist fanatics, but they were willing to make use of jihadist fanatics to inflict harm on American interests in Iraq–even if the overwhelming majority of victims were Iraqis, not Americans.

Fast forward to today. Now comes news that Syrian Defense Minister Daoud Rajha and Deputy Military Chief of Staff Asef Shawkat (who is also the president’s brother-in-law) have been slain by a suicide bomber in the heart of Damascus. The interior minister–the man in charge of the notorious secret police–was also wounded but is said to be alive. Quite possibly the bomber, who was rumored to be a bodyguard, was connected to the very organization that Syria once did so much to help–al-Qaeda in Iraq. It is hard not to see some element of cosmic justice here: what goes around comes around, ye reap what ye sow, if you play with fire, and all that. It is certainly a sign the Assad regime is getting ever more embattled, and the civil war many had warned would come if the U.S. provided arms to the rebel fighters has arrived anyway.

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For five grim years, from approximately 2003 to 2008, Iraq faced the greatest onslaught of terrorism in the history of any state. Many of the worst attacks were perpetrated by suicide bombers, often driving vehicles packed with explosives. By mid-2008, suicide bombers had killed at least 10,000 Iraqis. A disproportionate share of those suicide bombers were foreign Sunnis who arrived in Iraq via Syria. The U.S. government remonstrated with the Assad regime to stop the flow of the fanatics, but Bashar al-Assad consistently played dumb. If the U.S. could not control its border with Mexico, the Syrians disingenuously argued, how could they control their border with Iraq? This ignored the rather major difference that Syria is a police state. The networks that recruited, organized, and passed on the suicide bombers could not have operated without the knowledge of the regime’s all-pervasive secret police. Assad and his cronies were not jihadist fanatics, but they were willing to make use of jihadist fanatics to inflict harm on American interests in Iraq–even if the overwhelming majority of victims were Iraqis, not Americans.

Fast forward to today. Now comes news that Syrian Defense Minister Daoud Rajha and Deputy Military Chief of Staff Asef Shawkat (who is also the president’s brother-in-law) have been slain by a suicide bomber in the heart of Damascus. The interior minister–the man in charge of the notorious secret police–was also wounded but is said to be alive. Quite possibly the bomber, who was rumored to be a bodyguard, was connected to the very organization that Syria once did so much to help–al-Qaeda in Iraq. It is hard not to see some element of cosmic justice here: what goes around comes around, ye reap what ye sow, if you play with fire, and all that. It is certainly a sign the Assad regime is getting ever more embattled, and the civil war many had warned would come if the U.S. provided arms to the rebel fighters has arrived anyway.

But while the victims–the men who directed the military forces that have killed upwards of 17,000 Syrians since the start of the fighting–undoubtedly deserved their fate, it is hard to take much satisfaction in the manner of their demise. For suicide bombing is never the weapon of the moderate. As a terrorist tactic it was occasionally utilized by the Socialist Revolutionary Combat Organization in early 20th-century Russia but really came into its own with Hezbollah in Lebanon in the 1980s, before being picked up by al-Qaeda and its offshoots. While the willingness of ordinary soldiers to sacrifice their lives to win a battle is universally respected (think of the Spartans at Thermopylae) that is a very different thing from deliberately setting out to kill one’s self and take as many of the enemy with you as possible. Americans were appalled at the kamikaze tactics employed by the Japanese at the end of Word War II and rightly so: fighting in this way bespeaks a fanaticism that does not bode well for the future unless it is rooted out.

So now in Syria there is a great danger that America’s hesitancy to get involved on the rebel side has ceded the momentum to jihadist suicide bombers. They by no means represent the mainstream of Syrian opposition. But they will increasingly gain the upper hand, quite possibly with Saudi and Qatari help, unless the U.S. does more to help the secularists and moderates. And that, in turn, means the Obama administration will have to stop waiting for the blessing of the UN and Moscow before getting more involved. Only greater American-led intervention can end the fighting and stop Syria’s descent into greater barbarism.

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More on the Biggest Mistake of Campaign 2012

The damage Barack Obama did to himself in Roanoke, Va. when he said “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that, somebody else made that happen” has become the occasion for his defenders and apologists to say he didn’t say it, or he didn’t really say it, or he’s being taken out of context, or he didn’t mean it, or something.

Fine. Here’s the whole thing:

Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

I would argue the context makes the quote worse, not better.

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The damage Barack Obama did to himself in Roanoke, Va. when he said “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that, somebody else made that happen” has become the occasion for his defenders and apologists to say he didn’t say it, or he didn’t really say it, or he’s being taken out of context, or he didn’t mean it, or something.

Fine. Here’s the whole thing:

Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

I would argue the context makes the quote worse, not better.

Obama’s utter contempt for the idea that people deserve to prosper due to the fruits of their own labors and their own skills is made even deeper and more apparent from the entire quote.

The president is saying that people who are successful in business do not deserve credit for being successful in business. He scorns those who say “it must be because I was so smart” by citing the fact that there are a lot of smart people out there. So what sets the smart people who do well apart from the smart people who don’t? Is it that they are hard-working? No, of course not, because “there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.” So if you do well, and it’s not because you’re smart or because you’re hardworking, what do you owe your success to?

Answer: “Somebody else.” As in “somebody else made that happen.” Somebody gave you some help. You had a great teacher. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. Not you.

Oh, yes, you. The whole idea of being a productive citizen who pays his taxes in a progressive system is that you are paying your own way—and even more than your own way to help others less fortunate. In other words, you are the one building the roads and bridges, or at least paying more than your share for your own use of them and their maintenance and their upkeep. The government gathers the money from every other user (and everyone else who pays for more than his use to help carry the burden of others who can’t) and pools it. That money is collected and pooled through the actions of a democratically elected legislature and signed into law by a democratically elected president, who are fulfilling the mandate assigned them by you.

Government doesn’t build it. Government doesn’t make it possible. You do.

For the president to say a taxpaying citizen didn’t build the infrastructure he uses is a fundamental denial of the entire concept of a self-governing citizenry.

So Obama defenders really ought to think long and hard about whether they want to continue advancing this meme. The longer it goes on, the worse he will look.

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