In recent months, I’ve written in support of the Catholic Church’s effort to fight back against the Obama administration’s attempt to force it to pay for services that contradict the teaching of its religion via the Health and Human Services insurance mandate. But this issue is not just about church institutions, it is also about the ability of individuals to conduct business without violating their faith. The Newland family, owners of an HVAC distribution company named Hercules Industries and devout Catholics, believe the HHS mandate created by the ObamaCare legislation that would force them to pay for free contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drug coverage to their employees is a violation of their religious freedom. In response, they sued, and fortunately, days before an August 1 deadline that would have forced the company to begin making changes in its insurance plan to comply with the dictates of the administration, a federal district court judge appointed by Jimmy Carter granted a temporary injunction against the government. This victory in the case of Newland v. Sibelius will allow them to bring their case to court before crushing fines (the penalties could amount to as much as $10 million per year) are levied against them.
While the Obama administration has issued a narrow religious exemption to houses of worship, it has not extended that to other religious institutions, let alone individual business owners. As Judge John L. Kane ruled, any delay in enforcing the government’s demand “pales in comparison to the possible infringement upon [the Newlands’] constitutional and statutory rights.” While the injunction is limited to the Newlands rather than to all private businesses, the family’s fight is one on which hinges the future of religious liberty in this nation.
Last week, I noted that White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer claimed to have caught columnist Charles Krauthammer in a gaffe about the bust of Winston Churchill that sat in the Oval Office prior to Barack Obama becoming president. Pfeiffer said Krauthammer was wrong to say it had been returned to the British Embassy and that it was instead merely lodged in a different though less prestigious spot in the White House. Though I pointed out that Krauthammer was right on the symbolism of the removal of the bust from the Oval Office as it signified the president’s downgrading of the alliance with Britain, I wrongly assumed that Pfeiffer was right about the bust’s current location.
In fact, as Krauthammer pointed out in a blog post yesterday, the British Embassy confirms the president gave the bust back in January 2009. What’s more, the photo released by the White House claiming to be of President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron looking at the bust is one of them viewing a different bust of Churchill, not the one that had been in the Oval Office. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who believed the White House’s easily discovered deception. Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times did too, but has since apologized and criticized the administration for its “weaselly follow-up” that “failed to acknowledge” what they had said was “false.”
Today’s Gallup poll found that on a list of 12 voting priorities, raising taxes on the wealthy comes in last place, with 49 percent of respondents saying it’s “very” or “extremely” important.
The first five, in order, are “creating good jobs” (92 percent), “reducing corruption in federal government” (87 percent), “reducing the federal budget deficit” (86 percent), “dealing with terrorism and other international threats” (86 percent) and “ensuring the long-term stability of Social Security and Medicaid” (85 percent). Gallup concludes with this analysis:
Americans’ to-do list for the president on Jan. 20, 2013 — whether it be Obama or Romney — includes creating good jobs, reducing government corruption, and reducing the federal budget deficit. Supporters of both candidates agree about the importance of jobs and corruption, while the deficit is a higher priority for Romney supporters than Obama supporters. In turn, Obama supporters believe the next president should have healthcare, Social Security and Medicare, and public education among his highest priorities.
Job creation has certainly been and will continue to be a major topic during the remainder of the campaign. And both candidates will surely need to outline their plans for reducing the federal budget deficit. However, it is unclear whether government corruption will become a major issue in the campaign, even though Americans see reducing it as an important goal.
After committing the supposedly awful gaffe of saying what everyone was thinking–there were some “disconcerting” indicators in the run-up to the London Olympics–Mitt Romney has now once again told the truth, this time in Israel, only to have the press eagerly jump all over him for another supposed “gaffe.” This is what Gov. Romney (to whom I am, full disclosure, a defense adviser) said, as summed up by Politico:
“As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” the Republican presidential candidate told about 40 wealthy donors who ate breakfast at the luxurious King David Hotel.
Romney said the economic history of the world has shown that “culture makes all the difference.”
“And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things,” Romney said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the “hand of providence.” He said similar disparity exists between neighboring countries, like Mexico and the United States.
This drew an outraged reaction from veteran Palestinian processor Saeb Erekat who claimed: “It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation.”
For those who wish the Republican presidential candidate ill, there is really nothing he can do to avoid criticism. Case in point was Mitt Romney’s visit yesterday to Jerusalem. At the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg accuses him of being “vulgar” for showing up at the Western Wall on Tisha B’Av. Predictably, Peter Beinart goes even further in the Daily Beast and accuses Romney of “misusing Judaism” to bolster his campaign.
Both are dead wrong. Nothing Romney did was in poor taste or in any way showed disrespect for Jewish sensibilities. In fact, the truth was quite the opposite. Their real problem with Romney is that what he said in Israel illustrated President Obama’s shortcomings. Romney rightly expressed a more realistic assessment of the Iranian nuclear threat than the Obama administration as well as reaffirmed his commitment to reverse the president’s policy in which the U.S. has distanced itself from Israel (at least in those years in which he is not running for re-election).
Reactions to the report that Bill Clinton will place President Obama’s name into nomination at the party’s convention in September, and that he will play a more high-profile role than the vice president himself, have generally fallen into two categories: mocking Joe Biden for his party’s treatment of him, and acknowledging that Obama believes he needs Clinton to win.
Both are correct. But there is another aspect to Clinton’s role as nominating figure: passing the torch. Obama wants to make clear that this is his party now. He has never been able to fully conceal his contempt for Clinton’s “third-way” politics, which seek to, like chess players, control the center. While Obama has tried to have his cake and eat it too, by spurning Clintonian politics while taking credit for the popular aspects of some Clinton policies, he has also tried to outrun Clinton, who is more popular than Obama.
Because the entire purpose of Newsweek’s cover now seems to be a) Generating stories for Fox News pundits to yell about, and b) Royals! Some editor apparently called up Michael Tomasky an hour before the magazine went to press and asked him to punch out a bunch of filler words to go along with the headline, “Romney: The Wimp Factor. “The result is a barely-readable 5,000-word blog post full of wisdom like, “Liberals, men of caution and contemplation, are obsessed with data” and “A Republican president sure of his manhood had nothing to prove” and “Harvey Mansfield must have swooned while watching that gripping 60 Minutes segment when Obama and others discussed how [the bin Laden raid] all went down.”
At the Daily Beast, David Frum compares Tomasky’s thesis with the claim that Obama is inspired by Kenyan anti-colonialism:
Michael thinks that Romney is insecure on the inside. Who knows? It’s possible. It’s also possible that Barack Obama is motivated by anti-colonial rage, or by a secret commitment to socialist ideas. It’s possible that George W. Bush was driven by daddy issues, and that Bill Clinton triangulated—not as a political strategy—but because (some) children of alcoholics become compulsive pleasers.
These beguiling theories can energize or console political partisans. They don’t answer the question for which we turn to political journalism: what will the politician do in office? Politicians are masters of appearing to be many different things to many different people. For this reason, the quest for the “real” Romney or the “real” Obama or the “real” anybody else is bound to lead nowhere unless it is bottomed on the hard ground of their record-to-date. Anything else evanesces into gas.
You can’t prove Obama isn’t driven by Kenyan anti-colonialism, just like you can’t prove Romney isn’t secretly insecure. Political bloggers and pundits are always going to try to get inside the heads of politicians. That’s what they should be doing, because it’s important for trying to understand what decisions they’ll make in the future. But Frum is right that it needs to be based on the hard facts of their records and statements.
It is a cardinal rule of foreign policy that it is almost always a mistake to interfere in another country’s elections. When it comes to the United States’ interest in Israel, that is a maxim that has often been observed in the breach. U.S. government attempts to influence Israeli elections are ill-advised and don’t always work, as Bill Clinton learned in 1996 when he did everything but go door to door canvassing voters in Tel Aviv in a vain attempt to stop Benjamin Netanyahu from becoming prime minister of Israel. But any Israeli efforts to signal their preferences in American presidential elections may have unfortunate consequences. That’s why Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been at pains throughout the past year to make it clear he wants no part in the 2012 contest between President Obama and Mitt Romney. But however hard Netanyahu has tried to stay out of the fractious debate about which of the two is a better friend to the Jewish state, Romney’s visit to Israel yesterday left little doubt that while officially neutral, there isn’t much daylight between the GOP candidate and Jerusalem.
The upshot of Netanyahu’s meeting with Romney made it clear that his government is much closer to the Republican’s position on how to deal with Iran than Obama’s. Netanyahu’s saying, “Mitt, I couldn’t agree with you more,” about the need to stop Iran came on the same day that he reiterated his belief that the Obama administration’s reliance on sanctions and diplomacy was not working. Combined with Romney’s acknowledgement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the day’s events might leave some with the impression that Israel has a rooting interest in the U.S. election. That isn’t what Netanyahu wants, as he knows there is a good chance he will be stuck dealing with Obama next year. But there is no way of escaping this dilemma. Because the administration’s positions on Iran, like the stances it took on settlements, the 1967 lines and the status of Jerusalem prior to the president’s election year Jewish charm offensive, are antithetical to Israel’s point of view, it is only natural for observers to conclude that Netanyahu would rather not find out what a second Obama administration will be like.
Fox News’ Chris Wallace conducted a fascinating interview with the longest-serving member of the Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia. Justice Scalia is on a media tour promoting a book he has co-authored (with Bryan Garner), Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts. It offers what the authors consider to be 57 valid canons of construction and dispels 13 false notions about legal interpretation.
The time has come, Justice Scalia told the Wall Street Journal, “to sum up the things I care most about with respect to the law.” The main controversy among judges, he said, “is not conservative vs. liberal. The main controversy is how to approach the application of legal text.”
The book’s preface and introduction beautifully frame the competing judicial philosophies in the modern era. On the one side are textualists like Scalia and Garner, who “look for meaning in the governing text, ascribe to that text the meaning that it has borne from its inception, and reject judicial speculation about both the drafters’ extratextually derived purposes and the desirability of the fair reading’s anticipated consequences.”
Conservative pro-Israel groups are preparing for a massive assault on President Obama’s Israel record that will dwarf any similar efforts from four years ago. But this time around, Obama won’t have support from his top Israel surrogate, Dennis Ross, a trusted face in the Democratic pro-Israel community who stumped at synagogues and helped calm Jewish voters in 2008. Eli Lake reports:
“I am the counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy,” [Dennis] Ross said in an email on Friday. “The Washington Institute is a non-profit organization and I cannot do political work from here. When I acted for the campaign in 2008, I had to take a leave of absence to do so. Having only recently returned to the Institute, I cannot now again take a leave of absence.” …
Ross himself said, “I can give substantive advice to the administration, the president’s campaign, or any campaign that would ask for it. And, of course, when I speak I can talk about my views on policy and I have been supportive of the president’s policy on leading foreign policy issues.”
It is now customary for American presidential candidates to visit Israel and to express their warm support for the Jewish state. In that sense, Mitt Romney’s visit to Jerusalem may be viewed as just typical smart politics, especially for a Republican seeking to shore up evangelical support as well as hoping to make inroads among Jewish voters. Indeed, there was a good deal of overlap between some of Romney’s speech yesterday to the Jerusalem Foundation and positions that President Obama has taken the past few months, notably about rejecting containment of a nuclear Iran.
But Romney’s speech went further on several points than the standard American political pledge to back Israel. He not only acknowledged Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he laid down a position on the Iranian nuclear threat that went much further than that of the administration. By saying Iran must not be allowed to enrich nuclear material, by saying stopping it is the highest national security priority of the United States and by explicitly and pointedly endorsing Israel’s duty to defend itself, Romney laid down a marker that signals if he is elected, American policy on the issue will be very different.