Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 23, 2012

W’s Self-Imposed GOP Exile

Friday’s announcement that former President George W. Bush would not attend the Republican National Convention came as no surprise to political observers. Less than four years after leaving the White House, the second President Bush remains unpopular and is widely considered a political liability to his party. But the decision is about more than the fact that his presence at the convention might have been considered an unneeded distraction by the Romney campaign even if they would never say so publicly. As much as moving on from Bush is thought to be necessary for a GOP victory this fall, it also reflects a certain distaste for contemporary politics on the part of the former president.

In an interview on National Review Online’s “Uncommon Knowledge” program, Bush said: “I crawled out of the swamp, and I’m not crawling back in.” While his decision to remain aloof from partisanship is praiseworthy in that it shows his respect for the office he held and a belief that interference from past presidents is usually unhelpful, I think Bush’s self-imposed exile isn’t healthy for American political culture.

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Friday’s announcement that former President George W. Bush would not attend the Republican National Convention came as no surprise to political observers. Less than four years after leaving the White House, the second President Bush remains unpopular and is widely considered a political liability to his party. But the decision is about more than the fact that his presence at the convention might have been considered an unneeded distraction by the Romney campaign even if they would never say so publicly. As much as moving on from Bush is thought to be necessary for a GOP victory this fall, it also reflects a certain distaste for contemporary politics on the part of the former president.

In an interview on National Review Online’s “Uncommon Knowledge” program, Bush said: “I crawled out of the swamp, and I’m not crawling back in.” While his decision to remain aloof from partisanship is praiseworthy in that it shows his respect for the office he held and a belief that interference from past presidents is usually unhelpful, I think Bush’s self-imposed exile isn’t healthy for American political culture.

It is true that the last thing Republicans need is to give their opponents a chance to tie Mitt Romney to George W. Bush. Four years after succeeding W, President Obama is still blaming the 43rd president for all of his and the country’s problems. Bush’s second term was a perfect storm of problems that ranged from Hurricane Katrina to the Iraq War and left him politically crippled. It should also be admitted that some of his policies on spending and the expansion of entitlements are deeply unpopular with most Republicans these days.

But the idea that the immediate past president cannot show up at his party’s convention — a distinction he will now share with modern Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon — is unfortunate for Bush, Republicans and the country.

For all of the mistakes made during his eight years in the White House, Bush remained to the end a moral voice who reflected the decency and faith of most Americans. It also bears pointing out that the man who entered the presidency vowing to differentiate himself in every conceivable manner from Bush wound up continuing the policies on fighting terrorism that he decried while campaigning in 2008. All this points to what will be Bush’s inevitable rehabilitation in another generation or two, once the hate-filled invective directed at him fades from memory and his achievements can be viewed through a prism that is not distorted by second-guessing about the invasion of Iraq.

Bush isn’t staying completely quiet. He has authored a serious book about policy and recently visited Africa to follow up on the AIDS initiatives and other efforts to help there that he began in the White House (and for which he has not received a fraction of the credit he deserves).

But he’s wrong if he thinks he has nothing to contribute to the political debates of the day. The idea that ex-presidents should, like the Roman hero Cincinnatus, simply go home and resume life as private citizens is noble, but only to a point. Just as no one believes there is anything wrong with Bill Clinton speaking up about issues, the American people would benefit from W’s perspective. He has good reason to think he is well out of the swamp, but like it or not, that is where the nation is governed and where political ideas must be debated.

It was inevitable that Bush would decline to attend the Tampa convention and will probably remain out of sight during the campaign. He’s right when he says Romney can win without him. But let’s hope this is the last presidential election during which W will think it is the better part of valor to go to ground. We would all be better off if his voice was heard more often in the future.

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Where in the World is Qasim Suleimani?

It is no secret, not even within the Iranian press, that Qasim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Qods Force, has been in Syria. Suleimani is a terror-master with the blood of hundreds of Americans on his hands; it was Suleimani who coordinated the infiltration of Special Groups into Iraq to target American forces. In 2007, the U.S. government designated the Qods Force a terrorist entity.

Rumors are now swirling that Suleimani was at the Syrian security compound in which a bomb killed the Syrian defense minister and other members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle. The Iranian and Iranian-backed press is denying the rumors:

According to the IRGC public relations office, Head of the IRGC Public Relations General Ramezan Sharif dismissed the report on Suleimani’s death as a mere “propaganda campaign.” “Due to the recent events in Syria and Iran’s support for resistance in Palestine, some Arab media in coordination with their western counterparts have waged immoral and hostile propaganda campaign against Iran,” Sharif said. “These media have published many rumors about Iran, among them the claim about General Suleimani’s presence in Syria and at the site of the recent explosion in Syria’s national security building,” he noted, adding that the propaganda campaign is aimed at diverting the public opinion and undermining the morale of resistance front against Israel.

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It is no secret, not even within the Iranian press, that Qasim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Qods Force, has been in Syria. Suleimani is a terror-master with the blood of hundreds of Americans on his hands; it was Suleimani who coordinated the infiltration of Special Groups into Iraq to target American forces. In 2007, the U.S. government designated the Qods Force a terrorist entity.

Rumors are now swirling that Suleimani was at the Syrian security compound in which a bomb killed the Syrian defense minister and other members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle. The Iranian and Iranian-backed press is denying the rumors:

According to the IRGC public relations office, Head of the IRGC Public Relations General Ramezan Sharif dismissed the report on Suleimani’s death as a mere “propaganda campaign.” “Due to the recent events in Syria and Iran’s support for resistance in Palestine, some Arab media in coordination with their western counterparts have waged immoral and hostile propaganda campaign against Iran,” Sharif said. “These media have published many rumors about Iran, among them the claim about General Suleimani’s presence in Syria and at the site of the recent explosion in Syria’s national security building,” he noted, adding that the propaganda campaign is aimed at diverting the public opinion and undermining the morale of resistance front against Israel.

Perhaps the IRGC doth protest too much. Suleimani, who during the past three years or so has built up quite a personality cult in the press despite being the head of a shadowy organization, has yet to be seen in public since the explosion, either in Syria or Iran. Should Suleimani, the mastermind of so many suicide bombs and terrorist attacks, perished in one himself, it is hard not to see an element of divine justice at play. And should he remain in Syria, the Obama administration can add to its impressive record targeting terror masters with either a drone strike or, better yet, a snatch-and-grab.

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Liberal Media Bias

I wanted to follow up on my previous post that alluded to the effort by ABC’s Brian Ross to slander the Tea Party movement in the aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado, massacre.

In all of this, I’m reminded of the effort by liberals to place the blame for President Kennedy’s assassination on the atmosphere of “right-wing hate” that supposedly characterized the city of Dallas. We later learned, of course, that Lee Harvey Oswald was sympathetic not to conservatism but to communism and Castro. That didn’t fit very well into the liberal template, but the left did what it could.

Beyond that historical parallel, the attempted smear by Ross underscores the extraordinary double standard between the media’s coverage of the Tea Party versus that of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The main residual effect of Tea Party rallies is that the grounds on which the rallies were held were usually cleaner after the Tea Party held their event than before they assembled.

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I wanted to follow up on my previous post that alluded to the effort by ABC’s Brian Ross to slander the Tea Party movement in the aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado, massacre.

In all of this, I’m reminded of the effort by liberals to place the blame for President Kennedy’s assassination on the atmosphere of “right-wing hate” that supposedly characterized the city of Dallas. We later learned, of course, that Lee Harvey Oswald was sympathetic not to conservatism but to communism and Castro. That didn’t fit very well into the liberal template, but the left did what it could.

Beyond that historical parallel, the attempted smear by Ross underscores the extraordinary double standard between the media’s coverage of the Tea Party versus that of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The main residual effect of Tea Party rallies is that the grounds on which the rallies were held were usually cleaner after the Tea Party held their event than before they assembled.

For Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, we saw acts of violence and sexual assault; looting, vandalism, and the burning of property; rampant anti-Semitism; defecating on police cars; and all sorts of just plain trashy behavior. Yet the media seemed completely uninterested in the damage inflicted by the Occupy Wall Street movement even as it made up false things about the Tea Party. In fact, much of the coverage of OWS was downright sympathetic.

One can only imagine if the incidents that happened at OWS protests had occurred at Tea Party gatherings. We would have seen wall-to-wall coverage condemning the Tea Party. Yet when it came to the ugly and violent face of OWS, the offenses just weren’t all that troubling.

There’s nothing terribly deep or profound going on here. It is what one imagines it to be. What is happening is captured in the three words that cause many mainstream journalists to recoil but which are nonetheless true. And just what are those three words? Liberal media bias.

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Worst Prank You Can Play on an Egyptian?

Producer Allen Funt turned his “Candid Camera” show where unsuspecting people were filmed while being subjected to pranks into a television institution that lasted for decades. It spawned modern, and often less gentle successors, such as “Punk’d” as well as foreign imitations. But, as Memri.org reveals, the Egyptian version of this genre found a way of freaking out their victims that seems to be straight out of a Sacha Baron Cohen movie. Al-Nahar TV tricked three Egyptian celebrities into coming in for an Arabic-language interview that they were told was for German television. But once the cameras were rolling, the interviewer and the staff on the set let it slip that they were really Israelis. As they say in the world of comedy, complications ensued.

All three of the prominent victims of this stunt were outraged at the thought of even being in the same room with people they presumed to be Jews, let alone appearing on an Israeli program. Two grew violent, with one burly male even assaulting the young female interviewer. The prank speaks volumes not only about the level of hatred for Jews and Israelis in Egyptian popular culture but about what is considered acceptable behavior in the Muslim world.

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Producer Allen Funt turned his “Candid Camera” show where unsuspecting people were filmed while being subjected to pranks into a television institution that lasted for decades. It spawned modern, and often less gentle successors, such as “Punk’d” as well as foreign imitations. But, as Memri.org reveals, the Egyptian version of this genre found a way of freaking out their victims that seems to be straight out of a Sacha Baron Cohen movie. Al-Nahar TV tricked three Egyptian celebrities into coming in for an Arabic-language interview that they were told was for German television. But once the cameras were rolling, the interviewer and the staff on the set let it slip that they were really Israelis. As they say in the world of comedy, complications ensued.

All three of the prominent victims of this stunt were outraged at the thought of even being in the same room with people they presumed to be Jews, let alone appearing on an Israeli program. Two grew violent, with one burly male even assaulting the young female interviewer. The prank speaks volumes not only about the level of hatred for Jews and Israelis in Egyptian popular culture but about what is considered acceptable behavior in the Muslim world.

Viewing the invective about Jews and Israel being spewed on the show by three apparently prominent members of the Egyptian arts community is damning by itself. It says a lot that the show’s producers thought one of the most outrageous things they could do to Egyptians was to trick them into sitting down with Jews. Nor is it surprising that the response generated hate speech about the character of the Jewish people and the authenticity of the Holocaust.

But the punch lines of each segment in which the subjects are informed they are on a candid camera show, which was required in two cases to avert more violence if not bloodshed, is also illustrative. There were no reproaches from the hosts for the violent behavior that followed when the guests were told they were on Israeli TV. It was only when they were pretending to be Israelis that they tried to push back against the slanders. Once they were back in their own identities, all was forgiven.  The host only had praise for her dupes — even the one who slugged her — for demonstrating what she described as “patriotism” by their anger about being set up to talk with Jews.

To be fair to the Egyptian actors who were subjected to this prank, had they really been tricked into appearing on Israeli TV, there would have been serious consequences for their careers. Egyptians who appear to be friendly with Israel or with Jews are often blacklisted from their professions.

Nevertheless, the show tells us all we need to know about the depth of Egyptian and Muslim anti-Semitism. Those who believe peace with the Arab world can be bought by territory or by Israeli concessions continue to ignore the current of hatred that runs through the political and arts culture of the Muslim world, even in a country supposedly at peace with the Jewish state.

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If Obama Had Been Talking About Olympians….

Think Progress dug up an old quote from Mitt Romney saying that Olympians succeeded with help from the community, and the left is predictably trying to equate it with President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech. Here’s the excerpt from Romney’s speech:

“Tonight we cheer the Olympians, who only yesterday were children themselves,” Romney said. “As we watch them over the next 16 days, we affirm that our aspirations, and those of our children and grandchildren, can become reality. We salute you Olympians – both because you dreamed and because you paid the price to make your dreams real. You guys pushed yourself, drove yourself, sacrificed, trained and competed time and again at winning and losing.”

“You Olympians, however, know you didn’t get here solely on your own power,” said Romney, who on Friday will attend the Opening Ceremonies of this year’s Summer Olympics. “For most of you, loving parents, sisters or brothers, encouraged your hopes, coaches guided, communities built venues in order to organize competitions. All Olympians stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them. We’ve already cheered the Olympians, let’s also cheer the parents, coaches, and communities. All right! [pumps fist].”

The comparisons between Romney’s Olympics comments and Obama’s businesses comments are absurd on multiple levels. Romney isn’t arguing that we should tax Olympian salaries at higher rates to pay for more coaches and athletic venues for other athletes. He is making a moral argument for modesty and gratitude, not a political argument for wealth redistribution.

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Think Progress dug up an old quote from Mitt Romney saying that Olympians succeeded with help from the community, and the left is predictably trying to equate it with President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech. Here’s the excerpt from Romney’s speech:

“Tonight we cheer the Olympians, who only yesterday were children themselves,” Romney said. “As we watch them over the next 16 days, we affirm that our aspirations, and those of our children and grandchildren, can become reality. We salute you Olympians – both because you dreamed and because you paid the price to make your dreams real. You guys pushed yourself, drove yourself, sacrificed, trained and competed time and again at winning and losing.”

“You Olympians, however, know you didn’t get here solely on your own power,” said Romney, who on Friday will attend the Opening Ceremonies of this year’s Summer Olympics. “For most of you, loving parents, sisters or brothers, encouraged your hopes, coaches guided, communities built venues in order to organize competitions. All Olympians stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them. We’ve already cheered the Olympians, let’s also cheer the parents, coaches, and communities. All right! [pumps fist].”

The comparisons between Romney’s Olympics comments and Obama’s businesses comments are absurd on multiple levels. Romney isn’t arguing that we should tax Olympian salaries at higher rates to pay for more coaches and athletic venues for other athletes. He is making a moral argument for modesty and gratitude, not a political argument for wealth redistribution.

Romney also didn’t imply that Olympians have been mooching off society without paying their fair share, which was how Obama framed his speech. Still, let’s try a thought experiment. Here’s what it might have sounded like if Obama’s speech had been directed at Olympians instead of business owners:

Look, if you’re an Olympian, 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 athletically gifted.’ There are a lot of athletically gifted people out there. ‘It must be because I trained harder than everybody else.’ Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hard-training people out there. (Applause.)

If you’re an Olympian, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great coach 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’re competing in the Olympics — you didn’t do that. Somebody else made that happen.

The fallacies in the speech become even more clear when you think about this in terms of athletic success. It’s one thing to say people should be grateful for the help they receive from their parents and community. It’s another to say that the successful among us only got that way through sheer luck — not brains, not hard work — and therefore owe a massive debt to the giant societal lottery pool.

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The Girl Who Is Always Just Out of Reach

Sarah Terez Rosenblum, Herself When She Is Missing (Berkeley, Calif.: Soft Skull Press, 2012). 272 pages.

Her publisher is casting Sarah Terez Rosenblum’s tantalizing debut as a postmodern novel “told in lists, 3×5 notecards, and even the occasional screenplay.” I was immediately hooked. I’ve been a sucker for the Junk Drawer Novel — the novel into which everything is thrown, without apparent order — ever since I tore through E. L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel as a very young man. Seven years later, nauseated by the Left’s reaction to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, I turned Right and found I could no longer abide Doctorow’s politics. Yet I remained vulnerable to his cagey and sundry method for telling the story of atomic spies who were exactly like the Rosenbergs. I realized that, along with straightforward narrative, Doctorow had also evaded the truth about the Rosenbergs, but still I admired the way he was able to digress without a jolt into little essays on Old versus New Left, the genealogy of the Cold War, crowd control at Disneyland, the irresponsibility of graduate studies. I admired the form even as I shuddered at the content.

Rosenblum’s lesbian romance had almost exactly the opposite effect upon me. Herself When She Is Missing is a brilliant case study in romantic obsession, and in particular the special kind of romantic obsession that nearly everyone has suffered through (and no one, so far as I know, has ever written about): namely, the obsessive attraction to a partner who is elusive, emotionally unavailable, just out of reach. Unlike Doctorow, Rosenblum has no political ax to grind. She is more interested in the experience of lesbianism than in its ideology:

Both earnest Women’s Studies majors, Andrea and Linda touch each other carefully, Linda keeping meticulous score of how many orgasms they each have. After Andrea goes down on Linda, Linda thanks her politely, then plops herself between Andrea’s legs. “Scootch up,” she says. Their mouths and hands have no relation to Bogart and Bergman, no connection to history or literary passion or anything greater than themselves.

I love that “Scootch up.” Is there a heterosexual equivalent to politically correct sex? When lesbianism is uncoupled from ideology, it is no longer earnest or equitable, but it is a lot more familiar: “Andrea has no word to describe sex with Jordan”; Jordan is the lover whom the protagonist is powerless to resist; “in fact, the act empties her of words.” Rosenblum’s ambition is to connect lesbian passion to literary passion, to something greater than the lovers themselves.

Herself When She Is Missing mostly succeeds, although the story must be pieced together after the fact. Andrea, a UCLA graduate student in her early twenties, meets fortyish Jordan at a concert given by Cry Wolf, a brother-and-sister rock duo. Andrea has followed Cry Wolf since she was a teenager, nursing a crush on the sister of the act, writing her love letters, driving hours to grab a spot near the head of the line for tickets. In fact, she selected UCLA’s English program, moving to the coast from Wisconsin, in order to be closer to the singers, who live 15 minutes away in Venice. Andrea goes to their concerts by herself, because (as she confesses to Jordan at their first meeting) it is embarrassing to be “obsessed like this.” “Are you kidding?” Jordan replies. “This isn’t obsession; this is what makes us who we are.”

Their affair begins two months later. Jordan is living with another woman, but as Andrea observes afterwards, she has cheated on everyone she has ever been with. The sex is so good it is “drastic.” For the first time in her life, Andrea feels like “one solid person” — whenever she is having sex with Jordan, that is. Meanwhile, Jordan proves herself trustworthy only when she is having sex with Andrea. (There is a lot of talk about sex in the novel, but few sex scenes.) Andrea takes to calling her the Criminal Mastermind. Jordan embezzles money from the church where she works as an office assistant, steals from her live-in lover Patricia. She is also a racist. But Andrea focuses on the sex and ignores the warnings. After two years or so together, Jordan deserts her for a hairdresser. And then, after another two years, she makes her way back into Andrea’s life, only to leave again after another two years or so. “Her departure is implied by her arrival,” Rosenblum writes, “inevitable, like a cresting wave.” Jordan is unapologetic about her behavior. “I just hold a little something back,” she explains to Andrea. “No one wants everything I have.”

But Andrea does, and the portrait that emerges of the self-abnegating lover, who forfeits her integrity “because she can’t live without the sex,” is frightening and unforgettable. The novel’s biggest problem, however, is that its form interferes with its content. The documentary bricolage, the avoidance of one-thing-after-another storytelling, encourages Rosenblum to resort to set pieces. When these are dramatic vignettes, they are tense and arresting, such as the time Andrea arranged for her best friend Roslyn to meet the oft-discussed Jordan at a diner. After some back and forth, Jordan manufactures a pretext to stalk out of the restaurant. “She couldn’t charm me,” Roslyn comments, “so she decided to throw a fit.”

       “It’s not that simple.”
       “Andrea,” Roslyn takes her hand, an unexpected move, “simple is exactly what it is.”
       “What, you think she’s stupid?”
       “Not stupid, no.” Roslyn settles her sunglasses on top of her head.
       “She’s sensitive; don’t judge her.”
       “She’s not worth judging. I’m judging you.”
       “Don’t do that either.” Andrea stands.
       “Where are you going?”
       “I have to find her.” Jordan must be halfway down the block by now.
       “Andrea, when is enough enough?”
       “You don’t understand. I can’t let her walk away angry — who knows what she’ll do?” Voice rising, Andrea pulls cash from her pocket.
       “You know what? I can’t do this.” On her feet, Roslyn throws money on the table.
       “What is that, a threat?” Andrea swallows, certain she’s going to be sick.
       “I feel like a goddamn enabler.”
       “You can’t leave me alone in this.” Panicked, Andrea waves her arms crazily, her gesture taking in the diner, absent Jordan, everything empty inside.
       “Look how scared you are. This isn’t a normal way to feel.”

With a few deft strokes, Rosenblum captures both the fear of abandonment which lurks within romantic obsession as well as the unmistakable tones of women’s friendship. (“To hell with her,” a man would have said, or words to that effect. “Let her go.”) The stacks of 3×5 cards, the lists of Things Jordan Convinces Andrea (Against Her Better Judgment) to Do or Other Reasons to Stay (In Order), set off from the narrative in an IBM Selectric typeface, encourage Rosenblum to dwell on the kind of close and detailed over-analysis of another person’s actions and motives that someone engages in after a breakup. As a result, Herself When She Is Missing is full of observations and almost entirely devoid of ideas. Jordan is just not interesting enough, or representative enough, to support the weight of the analysis. Rosenblum writes beautifully, sharply, distinctively. But after a while, readers may get tired of hearing about the girl who is always just out of reach. They may react like Andrea’s friend Roslyn: “You can call when you get your shit together; until then, please don’t.”

On the evidence of the talent on display in her first novel, though, Sarah Terez Rosenblum is a good bet to get it together wonderfully and completely in her next book. In the mean time, Herself When She Is Missing is an insightful window into the obsessiveness of a lesbian romance.

Sarah Terez Rosenblum, Herself When She Is Missing (Berkeley, Calif.: Soft Skull Press, 2012). 272 pages.

Her publisher is casting Sarah Terez Rosenblum’s tantalizing debut as a postmodern novel “told in lists, 3×5 notecards, and even the occasional screenplay.” I was immediately hooked. I’ve been a sucker for the Junk Drawer Novel — the novel into which everything is thrown, without apparent order — ever since I tore through E. L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel as a very young man. Seven years later, nauseated by the Left’s reaction to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, I turned Right and found I could no longer abide Doctorow’s politics. Yet I remained vulnerable to his cagey and sundry method for telling the story of atomic spies who were exactly like the Rosenbergs. I realized that, along with straightforward narrative, Doctorow had also evaded the truth about the Rosenbergs, but still I admired the way he was able to digress without a jolt into little essays on Old versus New Left, the genealogy of the Cold War, crowd control at Disneyland, the irresponsibility of graduate studies. I admired the form even as I shuddered at the content.

Rosenblum’s lesbian romance had almost exactly the opposite effect upon me. Herself When She Is Missing is a brilliant case study in romantic obsession, and in particular the special kind of romantic obsession that nearly everyone has suffered through (and no one, so far as I know, has ever written about): namely, the obsessive attraction to a partner who is elusive, emotionally unavailable, just out of reach. Unlike Doctorow, Rosenblum has no political ax to grind. She is more interested in the experience of lesbianism than in its ideology:

Both earnest Women’s Studies majors, Andrea and Linda touch each other carefully, Linda keeping meticulous score of how many orgasms they each have. After Andrea goes down on Linda, Linda thanks her politely, then plops herself between Andrea’s legs. “Scootch up,” she says. Their mouths and hands have no relation to Bogart and Bergman, no connection to history or literary passion or anything greater than themselves.

I love that “Scootch up.” Is there a heterosexual equivalent to politically correct sex? When lesbianism is uncoupled from ideology, it is no longer earnest or equitable, but it is a lot more familiar: “Andrea has no word to describe sex with Jordan”; Jordan is the lover whom the protagonist is powerless to resist; “in fact, the act empties her of words.” Rosenblum’s ambition is to connect lesbian passion to literary passion, to something greater than the lovers themselves.

Herself When She Is Missing mostly succeeds, although the story must be pieced together after the fact. Andrea, a UCLA graduate student in her early twenties, meets fortyish Jordan at a concert given by Cry Wolf, a brother-and-sister rock duo. Andrea has followed Cry Wolf since she was a teenager, nursing a crush on the sister of the act, writing her love letters, driving hours to grab a spot near the head of the line for tickets. In fact, she selected UCLA’s English program, moving to the coast from Wisconsin, in order to be closer to the singers, who live 15 minutes away in Venice. Andrea goes to their concerts by herself, because (as she confesses to Jordan at their first meeting) it is embarrassing to be “obsessed like this.” “Are you kidding?” Jordan replies. “This isn’t obsession; this is what makes us who we are.”

Their affair begins two months later. Jordan is living with another woman, but as Andrea observes afterwards, she has cheated on everyone she has ever been with. The sex is so good it is “drastic.” For the first time in her life, Andrea feels like “one solid person” — whenever she is having sex with Jordan, that is. Meanwhile, Jordan proves herself trustworthy only when she is having sex with Andrea. (There is a lot of talk about sex in the novel, but few sex scenes.) Andrea takes to calling her the Criminal Mastermind. Jordan embezzles money from the church where she works as an office assistant, steals from her live-in lover Patricia. She is also a racist. But Andrea focuses on the sex and ignores the warnings. After two years or so together, Jordan deserts her for a hairdresser. And then, after another two years, she makes her way back into Andrea’s life, only to leave again after another two years or so. “Her departure is implied by her arrival,” Rosenblum writes, “inevitable, like a cresting wave.” Jordan is unapologetic about her behavior. “I just hold a little something back,” she explains to Andrea. “No one wants everything I have.”

But Andrea does, and the portrait that emerges of the self-abnegating lover, who forfeits her integrity “because she can’t live without the sex,” is frightening and unforgettable. The novel’s biggest problem, however, is that its form interferes with its content. The documentary bricolage, the avoidance of one-thing-after-another storytelling, encourages Rosenblum to resort to set pieces. When these are dramatic vignettes, they are tense and arresting, such as the time Andrea arranged for her best friend Roslyn to meet the oft-discussed Jordan at a diner. After some back and forth, Jordan manufactures a pretext to stalk out of the restaurant. “She couldn’t charm me,” Roslyn comments, “so she decided to throw a fit.”

       “It’s not that simple.”
       “Andrea,” Roslyn takes her hand, an unexpected move, “simple is exactly what it is.”
       “What, you think she’s stupid?”
       “Not stupid, no.” Roslyn settles her sunglasses on top of her head.
       “She’s sensitive; don’t judge her.”
       “She’s not worth judging. I’m judging you.”
       “Don’t do that either.” Andrea stands.
       “Where are you going?”
       “I have to find her.” Jordan must be halfway down the block by now.
       “Andrea, when is enough enough?”
       “You don’t understand. I can’t let her walk away angry — who knows what she’ll do?” Voice rising, Andrea pulls cash from her pocket.
       “You know what? I can’t do this.” On her feet, Roslyn throws money on the table.
       “What is that, a threat?” Andrea swallows, certain she’s going to be sick.
       “I feel like a goddamn enabler.”
       “You can’t leave me alone in this.” Panicked, Andrea waves her arms crazily, her gesture taking in the diner, absent Jordan, everything empty inside.
       “Look how scared you are. This isn’t a normal way to feel.”

With a few deft strokes, Rosenblum captures both the fear of abandonment which lurks within romantic obsession as well as the unmistakable tones of women’s friendship. (“To hell with her,” a man would have said, or words to that effect. “Let her go.”) The stacks of 3×5 cards, the lists of Things Jordan Convinces Andrea (Against Her Better Judgment) to Do or Other Reasons to Stay (In Order), set off from the narrative in an IBM Selectric typeface, encourage Rosenblum to dwell on the kind of close and detailed over-analysis of another person’s actions and motives that someone engages in after a breakup. As a result, Herself When She Is Missing is full of observations and almost entirely devoid of ideas. Jordan is just not interesting enough, or representative enough, to support the weight of the analysis. Rosenblum writes beautifully, sharply, distinctively. But after a while, readers may get tired of hearing about the girl who is always just out of reach. They may react like Andrea’s friend Roslyn: “You can call when you get your shit together; until then, please don’t.”

On the evidence of the talent on display in her first novel, though, Sarah Terez Rosenblum is a good bet to get it together wonderfully and completely in her next book. In the mean time, Herself When She Is Missing is an insightful window into the obsessiveness of a lesbian romance.

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Hugo Chavez: “Let Them Drink Juice”

New York City isn’t the only place in the world where preventing the consumption of sugary sodas has become a political imperative. In his televised broadcast yesterday, Venezuela’s Comandante, Hugo Chavez, urged his viewers to safeguard their waistlines by ditching Coca-Cola and Pepsi in favor of a locally-produced fruit juice.

Reports the Associated Press:

Chavez says consumers should buy “Uvita,” a grape juice made by state-run Corpozulia as a means of increasing the consumption of Venezuelan-made products instead of buying sugary sodas made by foreign companies.

Venezuela’s socialist leader often dispenses advice to supporters during his marathon televised speeches, calling on them to eat healthy foods, get plenty of exercise, and avoid drugs and alcohol.

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New York City isn’t the only place in the world where preventing the consumption of sugary sodas has become a political imperative. In his televised broadcast yesterday, Venezuela’s Comandante, Hugo Chavez, urged his viewers to safeguard their waistlines by ditching Coca-Cola and Pepsi in favor of a locally-produced fruit juice.

Reports the Associated Press:

Chavez says consumers should buy “Uvita,” a grape juice made by state-run Corpozulia as a means of increasing the consumption of Venezuelan-made products instead of buying sugary sodas made by foreign companies.

Venezuela’s socialist leader often dispenses advice to supporters during his marathon televised speeches, calling on them to eat healthy foods, get plenty of exercise, and avoid drugs and alcohol.

In common with other forms of dictatorship, Chavismo is based on the idea that there is nothing more important than the relationship between the leader and his people — hence, Chavez believes it is his duty as well as his right to tell Venezuelans what to consume. No matter, then, that Chavez has yet to prove that the contents of “Uvita,” whose manufacturer’s mission is to “promote the socialist development of western Venezuela,” are in fact healthier than the imperialist soft drinks he bemoans. Such detail is doubtless a bourgeois trifle.

Still, many Venezuelans will be wondering why their leader is lecturing them about their own health when he hasn’t exactly been forthcoming about his own. When campaigning for October’s presidential election began in earnest last month, Chavez was dogged by speculation about his imminent death from cancer, further fueled by his continuous absences in Cuba for medical treatment. For his main opponent, the 40-year-old Henrique Capriles, the opportunity to contrast his own sculpted physique with that of the ailing, portly Chavez has been too good to pass up.

The strong impression that Capriles, a moderate social democrat, is eminently electable explains, at least in part, the air of desperation around the Chavez camp. In what may well be a sneak peek of the October election’s aftermath, everything is being rather hastily rigged or fixed to boost Chavez’s fortunes. The story of Chavez’s cancer has been fixed; he now claims to have banished the disease, although the infrequent and carefully-planned nature of his public appearances, along with his reluctance to divulge any actual details about his cancer, suggests otherwise.

Access to the airwaves has been rigged; despite a ruling from the toothless National Electoral Commission prohibiting TV and radio messages longer than three minutes, Chavez has contemptuously refused to stop his cadenas, the marathon broadcasts that last for hours, insisting at the same time that “The major part of the radios, television channels and newspapers are in the hands of the bourgeoisie.” The campaign messaging has been fixed; Chavez has compared Capriles with Mitt Romney — and also offered Barack Obama the dubious gift of an endorsement — by asserting that the lavish social spending programs he instituted will be wiped out in the event of a defeat. Because Venezuelans are already living with spiraling inflation, rising unemployment, and a crime epidemic that threatens to turn their country into a Latin American equivalent of Zimbabwe, they can be forgiven for thinking that outcome had already been reached.

The polls, too, are being fixed. While one poll shows that Chavez and Capriles are neck and neck, the others all predict a landslide for the Comandante. In a poll conducted in the northern state of Anzoátegui by IVAD, the Venezuelan Institute for Data Analysis, Chavez comes out an astonishing 30 points ahead. Writes Venezuela’s most perceptive dissident blogger, Daniel Duquenal:

Few states have been has battered as Anzoategui has been under Chavez. It holds the dubious distinction to be the state with the most blackouts, the worst roads, etc….  The fact of the matter is that in 2010 legislative election, the opposition made a grand slam in Anzoategui, surprising most pundits, some even did not expect the opposition to win there. And yet the latest IVAD gives Chavez ahead — which I can still buy, why not — but ahead by 30 points!!!!!!

Capriles should start making plans for a rigged election. As Duquenal points out, foreign election monitors from the European Union and the Organization of American States — denounced by Chavez as a tool of the U.S. — have already decided not to risk their reputations by being asked to endorse a crooked vote. Only former President Jimmy Carter’s Carter Center remains in the frame, and on this one Duquenal doesn’t pull any punches:

We know very well that the Carter Center et al. are basically useless, and quite often make things worse, because paradoxically in Venezuela veiled criticism has become indirect approval, such is the state of immorality and cynicism that the regime has reached.

Let’s hope someone in Atlanta is paying attention.

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Swiss Circumcision Decision an Ominous Portent for Euro Jews

Last week, Germany’s parliament acted expeditiously to squelch the attempt of a Cologne judge to ban circumcision. A cross-party motion promoted by Chancellor Angela Merkel passed by the lower house urged the government to present a bill in the fall that would specifically protect the right of circumcision. This both reassured the Jewish and Muslim communities as well as prevented Germany from being seen as, in Merkel’s words, a “laughingstock” for seeking to render illegal a key Jewish religious ritual only a generation after the Holocaust.

But Germany’s efforts may not be enough to halt the momentum of those seeking to infringe upon religious liberty. As Haaretz reports, two Swiss hospitals have just announced they will stop performing circumcisions. This illustrates that the movement to ban circumcision, fueled as it is by the rising tide of European anti-Semitism, is still gaining ground.

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Last week, Germany’s parliament acted expeditiously to squelch the attempt of a Cologne judge to ban circumcision. A cross-party motion promoted by Chancellor Angela Merkel passed by the lower house urged the government to present a bill in the fall that would specifically protect the right of circumcision. This both reassured the Jewish and Muslim communities as well as prevented Germany from being seen as, in Merkel’s words, a “laughingstock” for seeking to render illegal a key Jewish religious ritual only a generation after the Holocaust.

But Germany’s efforts may not be enough to halt the momentum of those seeking to infringe upon religious liberty. As Haaretz reports, two Swiss hospitals have just announced they will stop performing circumcisions. This illustrates that the movement to ban circumcision, fueled as it is by the rising tide of European anti-Semitism, is still gaining ground.

Even if Merkel follows up on her pledge to ensure that circumcision is protected in Germany, the problem is that the Cologne ruling granted a veneer of respectability to its opponents. Whereas in the past those railing against Jewish practices were largely marginal, the court victory legitimized their campaign to drive one of the key principles of Judaism — the Abrahamic covenant that circumcision symbolizes —underground. As with other expressions of Jew-hatred in the current atmosphere in which Israel and its supporters are demonized, it is now possible to be more open with contempt for Judaism and to advocate measures that might have been unthinkable not that long ago.

Moreover, the court placed a doubt in the minds of doctors and others in the medical profession that they would be exposed to penalties for performing the procedure. After the Cologne ruling, the German Medical Association advised doctors to stop their participation in circumcision.

It bears remembering that, as COMMENTARY contributor Ruth Wisse once wrote, anti-Semitism is the most successful ideology of the 20th century. It helped inform Fascism, Nazism and Communism and today is a useful tool for Islamists and their European leftist allies. The campaign against circumcision, like the even more successful European efforts to ban kosher slaughter, is driven in no small measure by a desire to drive Jews out of the continent. That it is harming Muslims as much as Jews is an irony that ought not to prevent joint efforts by the two communities to combat this noxious proposal.

But taken in the context of a noticeable increase in violence against Jews in the aftermath of the shootings in Toulouse this past spring, the circumcision bans are an indication that the future of European Jewry is by no means assured.

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November Surprise?

Last week, I wrote about how the sequester will trigger the WARN Act, which requires employers to warn staff of pending layoffs a minimum of 60 days in advance. That means potentially hundreds of thousands of public and private sector workers would receive layoff warning notices on November 2 — 60 days before sequestration hits, and just five days before the presidential election.

Needless to say, this is a BFD for President Obama. So you may not be too shocked to learn that the administration might be pressuring employers to delay these notices until after Election Day. HotAir’s Tina Korbe flags this key item in Sen. Jim Inhofe’s floor speech last week:

“I have every reason to believe, because I’ve heard from people in industry, that the president of the United States is trying to get them to avoid sending pink slips out until after the November 7 election,” said Inhofe.  “I would remind him that we have something called the Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, the WARN Act.  It requires these companies to give 60 days’ notice of pending layoffs.

“Since sequestration will take place on January 2, these workers must be notified of their pink slip by November 2.  This is what I’d like to remind those companies:  they don’t have to wait. If they want to notify workers today, they can do that. I think it is imperative that the workers who are going to be laid off work as a result of the Obama Sequestration be notified in advance of the November election. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that happens.”

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Last week, I wrote about how the sequester will trigger the WARN Act, which requires employers to warn staff of pending layoffs a minimum of 60 days in advance. That means potentially hundreds of thousands of public and private sector workers would receive layoff warning notices on November 2 — 60 days before sequestration hits, and just five days before the presidential election.

Needless to say, this is a BFD for President Obama. So you may not be too shocked to learn that the administration might be pressuring employers to delay these notices until after Election Day. HotAir’s Tina Korbe flags this key item in Sen. Jim Inhofe’s floor speech last week:

“I have every reason to believe, because I’ve heard from people in industry, that the president of the United States is trying to get them to avoid sending pink slips out until after the November 7 election,” said Inhofe.  “I would remind him that we have something called the Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, the WARN Act.  It requires these companies to give 60 days’ notice of pending layoffs.

“Since sequestration will take place on January 2, these workers must be notified of their pink slip by November 2.  This is what I’d like to remind those companies:  they don’t have to wait. If they want to notify workers today, they can do that. I think it is imperative that the workers who are going to be laid off work as a result of the Obama Sequestration be notified in advance of the November election. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that happens.”

As Inhofe says, failing to send the layoff notices a minimum of 60 days in advance would be a violation of the WARN Act; and the last thing these companies want is a slew of employee lawsuits to compound their budget cuts. One thing is clear — if sequestration is to take place, the massive impact on the job market will be felt before the election. Potentially just days before.

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Brown Camp Hits Warren’s Own “You Didn’t Build That” Moment

Politico’s James Hohmann points readers of his “Morning Score” to a two-and-a-half minute web ad the Scott Brown campaign will deploy against Elizabeth Warren. It capitalizes on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line by tying it to Warren, who made similar comments earlier in the campaign. It’s a powerful ad, using audio and video of Democratic presidents–Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton–as well as a few Republicans to drive home the extent to which the current Democratic Party has veered leftward, away from historically bipartisan agreement on the virtue of private industry.

The video then shows Obama delivering his infamous line, and closes with Warren’s–a much harsher version. Warren is frowning, raising her voice, and pointing fingers; as a demagogue, she puts Obama to shame (and that’s saying something). The contention that the Democratic Party has moved left is rather obvious; no one believes that Harry Truman, with his overt religiosity and lack of a college education, could earn the modern Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Equally out of place would be John Kennedy, simultaneously cutting taxes across the board–including for the rich–while promising that we would “pay any price, bear any burden” for the cause of liberty and to ensure the survival of “those human rights to which this nation has always been committed.”

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Politico’s James Hohmann points readers of his “Morning Score” to a two-and-a-half minute web ad the Scott Brown campaign will deploy against Elizabeth Warren. It capitalizes on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line by tying it to Warren, who made similar comments earlier in the campaign. It’s a powerful ad, using audio and video of Democratic presidents–Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton–as well as a few Republicans to drive home the extent to which the current Democratic Party has veered leftward, away from historically bipartisan agreement on the virtue of private industry.

The video then shows Obama delivering his infamous line, and closes with Warren’s–a much harsher version. Warren is frowning, raising her voice, and pointing fingers; as a demagogue, she puts Obama to shame (and that’s saying something). The contention that the Democratic Party has moved left is rather obvious; no one believes that Harry Truman, with his overt religiosity and lack of a college education, could earn the modern Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Equally out of place would be John Kennedy, simultaneously cutting taxes across the board–including for the rich–while promising that we would “pay any price, bear any burden” for the cause of liberty and to ensure the survival of “those human rights to which this nation has always been committed.”

But everyone knows the end of Johnson’s administration was the end of an era for the Democrats. It’s the consistent appearance of a living ex-president, Bill Clinton, that marks current GOP messaging strategy. The sudden appreciation for the opposing party’s past standard-bearers is common to both the Democrats and Republicans. Once they were pinko commies and neo-fascists, now they are centrist Democrats and compassionate Republicans. Even Bush saw the need for comprehensive immigration reform, says one. Even Clinton signed welfare reform, says the other.

But Clinton polls better among the nation and his own party than Bush, so he will find a place for himself in this campaign on both sides. Democrats will ask him to campaign for them, preferring him to Obama. Republicans will remind Democrats at every turn just how “reasonable” Clinton was compared to Obama. Mitt Romney hit this theme after Obama’s heavy-handed attempt to gut welfare reform by executive fiat:

“President Obama now wants to strip the established work requirements from welfare,” Romney said.  “The success of bipartisan welfare reform, passed under President Clinton, has rested on the obligation of work. The president’s action is completely misdirected. Work is a dignified endeavor, and the linkage of work and welfare is essential to prevent welfare from becoming a way of life.”

The Brown campaign’s video is only the latest, but almost surely not the last, time voters will see the GOP attempt to plant a flag on centrist territory abandoned by Obama. Because of Obama’s lack of private-sector experience, and Warren’s apparent attempt to claim minority status–paired with an inability to substantiate that claim–to get ahead in the academic world, the two make easy targets for such ads. Their opponents can criticize them not only for saying such nonsense, but for believing it too.

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Morality and the False God of Amateurism

The decision of the NCAA to impose draconian penalties on the Penn State University football program in reaction to the child sex abuse scandal is an attempt by the college sports authority to demonstrate the seriousness of what happened at the school. In that sense it is entirely appropriate and it is telling that the sanctions, which will reduce the former powerhouse to second-rate status for the immediate future, was meekly accepted by the university. The ruling, however, is interesting in that the NCAA’s policing of inter-collegiate athletics are, in this case, focused more on morality than nitpicking infractions of its arcane rules that seek to guard the false god of amateurism.

But while the sports authority is right to punish Penn State, the decision to vacate all of Penn State’s football victories since 1998, when evidence first appeared that the school was covering up the predatory behavior of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, strikes me as both inept and somewhat unjust.

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The decision of the NCAA to impose draconian penalties on the Penn State University football program in reaction to the child sex abuse scandal is an attempt by the college sports authority to demonstrate the seriousness of what happened at the school. In that sense it is entirely appropriate and it is telling that the sanctions, which will reduce the former powerhouse to second-rate status for the immediate future, was meekly accepted by the university. The ruling, however, is interesting in that the NCAA’s policing of inter-collegiate athletics are, in this case, focused more on morality than nitpicking infractions of its arcane rules that seek to guard the false god of amateurism.

But while the sports authority is right to punish Penn State, the decision to vacate all of Penn State’s football victories since 1998, when evidence first appeared that the school was covering up the predatory behavior of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, strikes me as both inept and somewhat unjust.

As those who follow college sports know, the NCAA’s focus in most of its investigations is to prevent schools from compensating athletes with anything but scholarships. The aim of this is, at least in theory, to prevent schools from gaining a competitive advantage on each other by bidding for athletes. Yet the hypocrisy of the exercise undermines the moralistic nature of the NCAA’s vengeful efforts to ensure that no college recruit receives a dime’s worth of benefits that is not strictly listed in the rules.

College football is a big business, and the universities that seek to play at the top level of the sport generate enormous sums of money for their exchequers. While star coaches, like Joe Paterno, are paid king’s ransoms, the athletes get nothing but a free education. That’s a valuable commodity, but because many who play are “student athletes” in name only they derive little benefit from it. Penn State prided itself on ensuring that its players actually went to school, a practice that set it apart from many other football powers and, ironically, led to the self-righteous attitude that motivated Paterno to see the football program’s good name as more important than the lives of Sandusky’s victims.

The attempt by the NCAA to monitor recruiting practices has a faux moral veneer. It does little to cover up the fact that college athletics is a bit of a sham. Most of the players are to one extent or another, “ringers” brought in to boost the team rather than genuine students. The games are fun and the bands, old school loyalties and rivalries bring enjoyment to the fans and alumni, but professional sports is a lot more honest.

Unfortunately, the NCAA’s censure of Penn State is likely a one-off event rather than the start of the trend. College sports might be better off if its governing body were to focus more on genuine questions of ethics than its often absurd recruiting rules. But the only reason it was able to impose these penalties without even the pretense of due process or appeal is that Penn State is so eager to take its medicine and move on that it didn’t give a thought to a challenge. That wouldn’t apply in less notorious cases, and the result would tie up the NCAA in legal fights for years. Even so, it was heartening to see a group better known for a pretense of morality than any actual defense of good behavior seeking to punish actual wrongdoing.

That said, it should be pointed out that the erasure of Penn State’s football wins is still absurd. The great thing about most sports is that the outcome is determined objectively by the skill of the participants. Penn State derived no competitive advantage from Paterno’s cover up of his longtime aide’s crimes. Those games were won or lost by what happened on the field. Taking the wins away does nothing to compensate Sandusky’s victims. If anything, it would make more sense to penalize Penn State’s wins prior to 1998, not after it, because that is when they had a presumably active pedophile taking an active part in their football program.

This is a clumsy add-on to an otherwise principled attempt to remind the American sports world that there is more to life than wins and losses of their favorite team. Let’s hope Paterno’s moral failure stands as an example that coaches at all levels of sports and those in positions of authority in other endeavors will always remember. In the meantime, there is every likelihood that the NCAA will soon return to its main job: propping up the pretense that amateurism is alive and well in college sports.

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The Reinvention of an Anti-War Activist

You wouldn’t normally expect Washington Democrats to spend much time fretting over a congressional primary in Arizona. But the three-way Democratic race between Kyrsten Sinema, Andrei Cherny, and David Schapira is getting a surprising amount of attention from national Democrats, the pro-Israel community and the political media.

Ten years ago, Sinema was one of those radical left-wing activists who donned pink tutus at anti-war rallies and organized with anti-Israel groups. Today, the 36-year-old is running for Congress as an AIPAC-supporting moderate who would have voted in favor of the Afghanistan intervention.

The problem? Some Democrats say her evolution doesn’t add up. For one, Sinema’s been involved with anti-Israel and anti-war groups much more recently than her campaign has acknowledged. And while she recently released a strongly-worded pro-Israel position paper, her latest comments on foreign policy issues have been dodgy and confusing.

“Is she for or against killing bin Laden?” asked former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block. “Based on her record, you don’t know. You would think when you’re considering a member of Congress, you would know their positions on these issues.”

One Democratic Arizona state representative who has worked with Sinema said her views are impossible to decipher.

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You wouldn’t normally expect Washington Democrats to spend much time fretting over a congressional primary in Arizona. But the three-way Democratic race between Kyrsten Sinema, Andrei Cherny, and David Schapira is getting a surprising amount of attention from national Democrats, the pro-Israel community and the political media.

Ten years ago, Sinema was one of those radical left-wing activists who donned pink tutus at anti-war rallies and organized with anti-Israel groups. Today, the 36-year-old is running for Congress as an AIPAC-supporting moderate who would have voted in favor of the Afghanistan intervention.

The problem? Some Democrats say her evolution doesn’t add up. For one, Sinema’s been involved with anti-Israel and anti-war groups much more recently than her campaign has acknowledged. And while she recently released a strongly-worded pro-Israel position paper, her latest comments on foreign policy issues have been dodgy and confusing.

“Is she for or against killing bin Laden?” asked former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block. “Based on her record, you don’t know. You would think when you’re considering a member of Congress, you would know their positions on these issues.”

One Democratic Arizona state representative who has worked with Sinema said her views are impossible to decipher.

“When she wanted to be an activist, she was anti-war, all these kinds of things that now she says she never was,” he said. “I don’t think she actually has a foreign policy core, I think she has a political core.”

According to the Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo, Sinema didn’t just dabble in radical circles; she helped organize and lead extreme anti-war groups that took anti-Israel positions on issues like the right of return and Israel’s self defense. Townhall’s Guy Benson reported that she was involved in anarchist riots that encouraged property destruction.

Sinema’s campaign disputed the claim that she was involved with anti-Israel activism, calling it a smear tactic by opponents.

“These weren’t anti-Israel groups. These were ‘Let’s not go to war with Iraq and Afghanistan groups,’” Sinema’s spokesman Rodd McLeod told me. He acknowledged that there may have been anti-Israel elements at some of the rallies she attended, but that this never represented her own view. “Frankly it’s sexist. She has to agree with the people she marches with, when she’s a 25-year-old grad student?”

That phrasing is slightly misleading, since Sinema’s involvement with radical and anti-Israel causes continued well beyond her mid-20s. Two years ago, Sinema was a featured speaker at an anti-war rally sponsored by Code Pink, the End the War Coalition, and Women in Black. She also sat on the board of the Progressive Democrats of America in 2006 and 2007, when she was entering her second term as an Arizona state representative. During that time, PDA issued a statement condemning the pro-Israel lobby and equating it with Palestinian terrorism.

“PDA opposes the powerful and dangerous lobbies that distort US foreign policy in the Middle East, much as we condemn those Palestinians guilty of waging and supporting terrorist war against Israeli civilians,” read the statement.

The organization also blamed Israeli policy for Palestinian terror attacks.

“[W]hile we condemn such terrorism, it remains our belief that the root cause of violence in Israel and Palestine is the Israeli occupation and intransigence, despite Israel’s trumpeted withdrawal from Gaza.”

When I raised this with McLeod, he said he wasn’t aware Sinema was ever a PDA board member and that the statement didn’t reflect her views. “She does not believe Israeli intransigence is the root cause of the conflict,” he said. “To conflate terrorism…with political activity is just absurd. She would never support that.”

Some of Sinema’s positions on national security are also unclear. In a May questionnaire requesting an endorsement from the PDA, Sinema wrote that she “led efforts opposing these wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan] before they even started.”

That same month, she told The Hill newspaper that she would have voted to authorize the 2001 Afghanistan intervention if she had been in Congress at the time — and added that she also supports military intervention in Sudan and Somalia.

The campaign doesn’t believe this is a contradiction. “She makes a distinction between an invasion and occupation, and the use of military force,” McLeod explained.

Sinema also seems unfamiliar with some of the content in her staunchly pro-Israel position paper. The Jewish Journal’s Shmuel Rosner obtained private email conversations in which Sinema contradicted portions of the paper and seemed perplexed by what a “demilitarized” Palestinian state meant.

When I asked McLeod how much involvement Sinema had with the paper, he said she had done much of the work herself. “I did one edit on it, but she worked with members of the community on it.”

But in one of the emails cited by the Jewish Journal, Sinema claimed that her staff had written the paper, not her.

“You are right, staff writes position papers,” she wrote. “I will ask staff to edit and get an updated and accurate position uploaded to the website this week.”

Sinema refused to answer questions about her history when I called her on the phone. Instead, she said I would have to request an interview through her office.

“I assume you got this [cell phone] number from my opponents, and I’m sure they’re trying to spread some horrible stories about me,” she said,

When I got in touch with her spokesperson, McLeod, he said Sinema was busy and wouldn’t have time to talk to me directly.

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Government Didn’t Build That Internet

The shooting attack in Aurora, Colorado, was the sort of news event that stopped the political world dead in its tracks. Despite the initial attempts of some foolish journalists and politicians, the slaughter didn’t fit into any convenient political narrative, but it did benefit President Obama in two ways. The first was that it demonstrated again the advantage of incumbency in which a sitting president is called upon to represent the feelings of all Americans. In this case, Obama’s performance as mourner-in-chief reminded us of his rhetorical strengths as well as the potent symbolism of his presidency.

The other benefit he received was that the killings pushed his “you didn’t build that” gaffe out of the spotlight for at least a couple of days. That relieved liberal pundits of the burden of twisting themselves into pretzels while attempting to argue that Obama didn’t really mean that the government was more important than individual effort in creating businesses. The pause in the parsing of the president’s all-too-revealing comment will only be temporary, as the Romney campaign will be reminding us of it for the next three months. But just as important as the “what did he mean by that” debate is an effort to understand just how wrong the president is about big government’s role in paving the way for business success. Gordon Crovitz writes today in the Wall Street Journal, taking aim at one of the central planks in Obama’s spiel in which he claimed “Government research created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet.” Not true. The Internet was primarily the work of private business initiative in which federal involvement was conspicuous by its absence.

As Crovitz writes:

It’s an urban legend that the government launched the Internet. The myth is that the Pentagon created the Internet to keep its communications lines up even in a nuclear strike. The truth is a more interesting story about how innovation happens—and about how hard it is to build successful technology companies even once the government gets out of the way.

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The shooting attack in Aurora, Colorado, was the sort of news event that stopped the political world dead in its tracks. Despite the initial attempts of some foolish journalists and politicians, the slaughter didn’t fit into any convenient political narrative, but it did benefit President Obama in two ways. The first was that it demonstrated again the advantage of incumbency in which a sitting president is called upon to represent the feelings of all Americans. In this case, Obama’s performance as mourner-in-chief reminded us of his rhetorical strengths as well as the potent symbolism of his presidency.

The other benefit he received was that the killings pushed his “you didn’t build that” gaffe out of the spotlight for at least a couple of days. That relieved liberal pundits of the burden of twisting themselves into pretzels while attempting to argue that Obama didn’t really mean that the government was more important than individual effort in creating businesses. The pause in the parsing of the president’s all-too-revealing comment will only be temporary, as the Romney campaign will be reminding us of it for the next three months. But just as important as the “what did he mean by that” debate is an effort to understand just how wrong the president is about big government’s role in paving the way for business success. Gordon Crovitz writes today in the Wall Street Journal, taking aim at one of the central planks in Obama’s spiel in which he claimed “Government research created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet.” Not true. The Internet was primarily the work of private business initiative in which federal involvement was conspicuous by its absence.

As Crovitz writes:

It’s an urban legend that the government launched the Internet. The myth is that the Pentagon created the Internet to keep its communications lines up even in a nuclear strike. The truth is a more interesting story about how innovation happens—and about how hard it is to build successful technology companies even once the government gets out of the way.

It was researchers at the Xerox Corporation who developed the Ethernet to link different computer networks, the first personal computer and the first graphical user interface. They did so because they couldn’t wait for the government to connect the different computer networks that existed in the 1970s. Government researchers were burdened by regulations and rules that inhibited innovation and flexibility that private companies did not — and still don’t — suffer from.

But, as Crovitz points out, Xerox’s failure to profit from its innovation highlights why the top-down government model doesn’t create business success. Solely focused on promoting its lucrative copier business, Xerox didn’t know what it had and wound up letting Steve Jobs and Apple take advantage of the concepts they had created.

As Crovitz concludes:

As for the government’s role, the Internet was fully privatized in 1995, when a remaining piece of the network run by the National Science Foundation was closed—just as the commercial Web began to boom. Economist Tyler Cowen wrote in 2005: “The Internet, in fact, reaffirms the basic free market critique of large government. Here for 30 years the government had an immensely useful protocol for transferring information, TCP/IP, but it languished. … In less than a decade, private concerns have taken that protocol and created one of the most important technological revolutions of the millennia.”

It’s important to understand the history of the Internet because it’s too often wrongly cited to justify big government. It’s also important to recognize that building great technology businesses requires both innovation and the skills to bring innovations to market. As the contrast between Xerox and Apple shows, few business leaders succeed in this challenge. Those who do—not the government—deserve the credit for making it happen.

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The Obama Narrative

It’s no secret that popular media has served dutifully as Obama White House megaphone. What is less remarked upon is the extent to which messaging moves in the opposite direction. Barack Obama has repeatedly come around to echoing the assessments and slogans furnished by his support network in the mainstream press, especially at key moments for his legitimacy.

In June 2011, he told the country of his controversial plan for drawing down troops in Afghanistan and announced his vision for “nation building at home,” a formulation pushed repeatedly by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman since Obama took office. More recently he sought a defense of his presidency in the claim that while his policies have been sound, he has failed to “tell a story” about those policies that could inspire the American people. This bit of literary analysis has long been on offer from numerous Obama boosters throughout the mainstream.

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It’s no secret that popular media has served dutifully as Obama White House megaphone. What is less remarked upon is the extent to which messaging moves in the opposite direction. Barack Obama has repeatedly come around to echoing the assessments and slogans furnished by his support network in the mainstream press, especially at key moments for his legitimacy.

In June 2011, he told the country of his controversial plan for drawing down troops in Afghanistan and announced his vision for “nation building at home,” a formulation pushed repeatedly by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman since Obama took office. More recently he sought a defense of his presidency in the claim that while his policies have been sound, he has failed to “tell a story” about those policies that could inspire the American people. This bit of literary analysis has long been on offer from numerous Obama boosters throughout the mainstream.

If it’s dangerous to believe one’s own press, surely it’s worse to preach it. The notion that Obama has failed at National Story Hour is a product of a supportive but worried punditry that wants him to tell the story they long to hear from him. That story has a comforting narrative whose arc would start at countrywide introspection, move gently upwards to pragmatically informed policy, and come down at a restored national project. Unlike Obama’s truly ecstatic fans outside of seasoned media, those inside have never wanted a miracle tale. Leaders who promise miracles think themselves miracle workers, and Obama’s mainstream enthusiasts have staked their credibility on his being a new kind of moderate–one in unfortunate and inconsequential radical dress. Therefore, the story has to be reasonable and balanced. Thus Friedman’s latest column, suggesting Obama articulate “a narrative worthy of America in the 21st century, one that ties together the new world in which we’re living with our traditional strengths and a set of policies for enhancing them.”

One can dream. But as I was once advised, you cannot make people say what they don’t want to say.

Obama hasn’t merely told his own story. He’s composed an epic, a thematically coherent anthology of fantastic interwoven tales. The Obama epic culminates in the birth of a new America, whose redemption lay in the final renunciation of its exceptional character and embrace of benevolent social democracy. It is the story of a republic transformed, broken of its reckless and hypocritical obsession with personal liberty and repurposed as a kindly nation of “brother’s keepers.” It is not coincidental that Obama has a Lincoln Complex. President Lincoln is sometimes said to have “re-founded” postbellum America—so Obama has sought to do in his time.

Connecting the “spread the wealth” preamble of the 2008 campaign to the Buffet Rule’s revenge fable to the promises of “The Life of Julia” to the “you didn’t build that” morality tale of business development is an overarching narrative so clear and pure it should be taught in writing class. The government will help all Americans prosper. First, that means getting money from the richest among us who won’t miss it. That money is to be used to furnish Americans with federal assistance in a great many areas of life, from birth to death. Ultimately, what successful Americans view inaccurately as theirs was partly attained with government help and is therefore partly the government’s to redistribute.

That is, without editorializing, Obama’s story for the American people. He has stuck to it faithfully. It is not the story his pundit supporters in the “pragmatist” camp want. So they ignore, reinterpret, or deny it as circumstance dictates.

But most Americans don’t share this need for denial. In fact, many Americans these days can’t afford it. Not only are they not inspired by the Obama narrative, but they find it a little scary. To business owners, it sounds dire. And all Americans can’t help but notice the gap between the Obama story and the Obama record. If government initiative is so crucial to our future well being, why is Obamacare so chaotic? If government spending is fundamental to prosperity, why did an $800-billion stimulus keep us in a recession without producing one identifiable public work? In short, if government can deliver things we never dreamed of having, why can’t it simply restore what we had four years ago?

The story doesn’t fit the facts. The pundits know it and deny it. Americans know it and worry. The president? He built it.

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