Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 30, 2012

A Small Victory for Religious Freedom

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.

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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.

Though supporters of the administration have tried to represent the attempt to halt the administration’s push for these mandates as a “war on women,” what is really going on is an effort to redefine religious freedom as merely the right to public worship rather than the ability to live and conduct business while respecting one’s religious precepts. If successful, the Obama drive to force individuals as well as institutions to break with their faith in order to do business would mean that such freedom would only exist in the privacy of one’s home, church and synagogue and not in the public square. Such an interpretation would effectively drive believers not just out of public life but out of the marketplace as well. This constricted view of religion bespeaks an attitude that regards the commitment of believers to act on their principles in every aspect of their lives, including business, as outside the protection of the Constitution. That is not a position that can be sustained if faith is to be protected and allowed to thrive in this nation.

This case merely illustrates the intrusive nature of ObamaCare and the way it gives the federal government unprecedented power to impose its will on almost every aspect of American life. Allowing the Newlands and any other business owner who thinks they have a right to abide by their own consciences does no injury to women or to anyone. The right to contraception or even abortion is not being abridged if they are allowed to choose an insurance plan that does not include them. But if they are compelled by government fiat to trample on their beliefs, their First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion will be trampled.

This Newland injunction is a minor victory in what will be a long, hard fight against the administration’s drive to squelch religious freedom as groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom (which represented the Newlands) and the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom take the issue to the courts. Nevertheless, it gives believers and all those who wish to resist the tyrannical impulse to aggrandize federal power hope that liberty will ultimately prevail.

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Re: Where’s Winston?

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.”

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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.”

The point of this kerfuffle was not so much where the bust was but the way Obama had chosen to symbolically “move on” from George W. Bush’s admiration for Churchill and how it reflected his disdain for traditional allies like Britain and Israel.  Contary to Rosenthal’s apology, that is a legitimate issue, and the administration’s fallacious response shows they understand this is a problem.

Pfeiffer owes Krauthammer a real apology, but so do I. I apologize for not only relaying the White House misinformation as truth but for trusting their word over the sage Krauthammer. I won’t make that mistake again.

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Poll: Raising Taxes on Rich Isn’t Priority

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.

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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.

The biggest surprise is that “reducing corruption in the federal government” ranks so high. Gallup’s March poll on voter priorities apparently didn’t include that issue in its survey on voters’ top 15 concerns. It would be interesting to know if concerns about government corruption are growing, and if so, if it has anything to do with the actions of the Obama administration. But clearly there seems to be a lot of untapped anxiety about this. The Romney campaign hasn’t spent much time hitting Obama over Fast and Furious and Solyndra, though you can bet with these poll numbers Romney is going to start. Not only is Obama’s biggest campaign issue (taxes on the rich) a nonstarter with the public, the corruption issue is untread territory that’s ripe for GOP attacks.

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Romney Tells the Truth in Israel

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.”

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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.”

In point of fact, there was nothing offensive–or particularly novel–in Romney’s observation. His words could have been drawn from the UN’s Arab Human Development Reports, written by Arab intellectuals, which have reached damning conclusions about the lack of freedom, education, women’s rights, and other factors holding back the Arab world. As the latest such report notes: “The Arab region is dominated by long-standing state structures which have inhibited the empowerment of Arab individuals and communities.”

The Arab Human Development Reports were considered big news when they first started coming out a decade ago because they represented a break with an age-old tradition in the Arab world: that of blaming outsiders for all of one’s woes. For decades Arab rulers, echoed by compliant intellectuals, have chosen to blame “Zionists,” “imperialists” and other bogeymen for their countries’ shortcomings. Thankfully, the Arab Spring represents a moment of self-awareness in which Arab publics are realizing that their own leaders are the cause of their woes.

There has been a corresponding, welcome development in the Palestinian Authority, where Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has been working to increase educational and economic development in the West Bank rather than simply claiming that “Israeli occupation” (which is nonexistent in the entire Gaza Strip and much of the West Bank) makes any progress impossible. Yet when push comes to shove, it is all too easy for veteran politicos like Erekat to fall back into veteran “blame the oppressor” mode and to damn anyone who speaks the truth–namely, that if Israel could prosper with no mineral resources, while surrounded by vastly larger enemies bent on its destruction, then why can’t Palestinians prosper with the support of the entire Arab world?

Much of the answer, of course, is that Palestinian development has been hijacked by corrupt opportunists (like those who dominate the Palestinian Authority) and fanatical extremists (like those who run Hamas). Gov. Romney was guilty of no gaffe. He was just telling it like it is: If Palestinians are to prosper, their culture–characterized all too often by anti-Semitism and blame-mongering–needs to change. Saeb Erekat’s comments only underline the point.

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Did Romney Exploit a Jewish Holiday?

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).

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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).

Goldberg’s post has an inflammatory headline, “Temple Mount Tackiness,” which seems to imply that Romney went up to the site of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which is now occupied by mosques. Any visit to the Temple Mount is fraught with symbolism and controversy (think Ariel Sharon’s 2000 stroll there which was falsely represented as the second intifada). Though the place is truly the most sacred spot in Judaism, Jews are forbidden to pray there lest Muslims think they are plotting to blow up or move the mosques. But Romney did not go up there. He merely joined the throngs praying at the Wall on the anniversary of the Temples’ destruction.

Goldberg seems to think it is wrong for a candidate to go there for a photo op on that day. Had Romney and his entourage barged in and disrupted prayer services, Goldberg might have had a point. But he did not. There was no service going on there at the time, just the usual milling crowds of tourists and the faithful who can be found there on any day. Romney’s behavior was exemplary. To speak of vulgarity is absurd and says more about Goldberg’s crush on Barack Obama than it does about Romney.

More to the point, the symbolism of an American politician going to the Wall on the day that Jews remember the tragedies that have befallen them throughout history is particularly apt. Given the existential threats that still face Israel, the reaffirmation of the U.S. alliance seems to be exactly the sort of thing Jews ought to welcome.

But, of course, that reaffirmation is exactly what troubles Beinart.

Beinart is offended by Romney’s belief the United States ought not to show any public daylight between its positions and Israel. Doing so, as President Obama has done, damages the already dim hopes for peace because such actions encourage the Palestinians to become even more intransigent. Obama’s pressure on Israel has led the Palestinians to believe they don’t have to negotiate with the Jewish state because they think the U.S. will hand them Israeli concessions on a silver platter without them having to give an inch.

But, of course, Beinart doesn’t want any politicians, be they Democrats or Republicans, to show the kind of heartfelt support that Romney expressed. He wants the U.S. to run roughshod over the democratic will of the Israeli people in order to further his unrealistic vision of peace with a Palestinian people who have little interest in such a scheme.

Beinart backs up this point of view, but assuming the pose of a scholar of Judaism and Jewish history is the conceit of his laughably inept book about saving Zionism.

From his perspective, the comments of Romney and Prime Minister Netanyahu on Tisha B’Av in which they noted the need to ensure that the Jews are saved from future catastrophes, are “bad Judaism.” Beinart is right to note that one of the keynotes of the observance of the ninth of Av is introspection in which Jews should learn to avoid the mindless hatred that tradition tells us caused the fall of the Temples. A cynic would note that if anyone is in need of lessons on “introspection and humility” it might be an author who presumes to preach to Israelis while demonstrating little understanding of their concerns. But leaving Beinart’s shortcomings aside, that is not the only perspective on the holiday. It is certainly not the only thing those tasked with dealing with the geo-strategic realities of the Middle East should be thinking about.

It is all well and good to say, as Beinart does, that we all have a little bit of evil within us. But according to him, this insight should lead Israelis not to obsess about the fact that much of the Muslim and Arab world still wishes to wipe them out. Even worse, he thinks that on the day that Jews contemplate the crimes and atrocities committed against them during the last three millennia, they should worry more about the sensibilities of those who are still plotting such evil. Indeed, he thinks the mere fact that Romney failed to mention the Palestinians in a speech devoted to the U.S.-Israel alliance and the need to stop Iran from making good on its genocidal threats “denied the humanity” of the Palestinians.

The most charitable thing that can be said about such an analysis is that Beinart is about as much of an expert on Judaism as he is representative of American Jewish opinion. President Obama’s election year Jewish charm offensive shows he understands the overwhelming majority of American Jews reject Beinart’s view that Israel must be saved from itself or that selective boycotts and brutal pressure should be employed to bring it to its knees so as to facilitate his vision of its future. Tisha B’Av is an apt day for Jews and all people of good will to remember the stakes in the Middle East conflict and of the need to ensure that Jerusalem never again falls to those who would destroy the Jewish people.

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Barack’s Message to Bill: It’s My Party Now

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.

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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.

Consider:

  • Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); Obama campaigned on unilaterally renegotiating it and possibly withdrawing from it–even running “Buy American, Vote Obama” ads during the election–and waited years to sign other free-trade agreements that were ready for him on day one.
  • Clinton signed welfare reform; Obama handed down an executive fiat to gut the very successful legislation.
  • Clinton tried, and failed, to pass health care reform; Obama tossed congressional Democrats under the Tea Party bus just to have health care legislation bear his name.

Clinton’s message to Democrats in 1992 was that they could either have a very liberal party, or they could win the White House. The country would not let them have both. Even so, the Democrats took a shellacking in mid-term elections, leading to the first Republican House majority in four decades. Clinton understood that this was a partial rebuke to his more liberal first attempt at governing, and was forced to the center to keep his job.

We should not overstate Clinton’s centrism, of course. He did not craft NAFTA; he inherited it from George H.W. Bush and signed it. He did not craft, nor even like, welfare reform; it was a Republican initiative that Clinton vetoed repeatedly before accepting it.

But Clinton left office with a high approval rating and was celebrated for his move to the center: he became the first Democrat to win a second full term as president since Franklin Roosevelt. Obama wants to step out of Clinton’s shadow and win a second term as well—but it won’t be enough for him to win it on Clinton’s terms. It has to be on his own terms, with a party remade in his image. That image is becoming clearer by the day, as moderate Blue Dog Democrats disappear, as do pro-life Democrats. And this year, as Joshua Muravchik writes for COMMENTARY this month, is the last in which the Congress will have a Scoop Jackson Democrat, as Joe Lieberman is retiring.

It’s a different party, and Clinton’s role at the nominating convention will make that clear.

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The Bogus Wimp Factor Argument

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.

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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.

Tomasky makes no real effort to figure out what makes Romney tick, and he obviously didn’t delve into the subject with empathy or open-mindedness or an interest in truly understanding the man. It’s unfortunate, because Romney is so guarded, and it would actually be interesting to know more about what drives him as a candidate.

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Bibi Caught Between Obama and Romney

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.

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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.

Netanyahu will be careful in the coming days to avoid any further “agreement” with Romney. And he will warmly greet Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who will be the second major Obama Cabinet member to arrive in Israel in the past couple of weeks. But Panetta, like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is there to persuade the Israelis to continue trusting the administration on Iran. Given Netanyahu’s correct assessment of Obama’s foolish reliance on diplomacy and sanctions (which the president has undermined with the granting of exemptions to China and India to continue buying Iranian oil), that is impossible.

Indeed, the problem for Netanyahu is that while he may privately believe that a President Romney may have a far better grasp of the realities of the Iranian nuclear threat, as David Horowitz wrote yesterday in the Times of Israel, by January it may be too late for him to make a difference. If by next year, Iran’s nuclear progress is such that its program will have already reached a point of immunity where no amount of Israeli or American air strikes will be able to stop them, then it won’t matter who wins the U.S. presidential election.

What was on display yesterday is not so much a warm friendship between Netanyahu and Romney as the complete disconnect between Israel and Obama. So long as the United States is pursuing a diplomatic process with Iran, it is difficult to imagine an Israeli strike on Iran. The administration has little sense of urgency about the issue and it is worry about that, rather than any great affection for Romney that is motivating Netanyahu these days.

Netanyahu must, as much as he can, stay out of American politics. Anything that could be interpreted as an endorsement of Romney would be rightly viewed as damaging to the U.S.-Israel alliance. But the one thing Romney’s visit does do is give Netanyahu a bit of leverage as he seeks to convince the Americans to face up to the failure of their Iran strategy.

Yet as difficult as Netanyahu’s position may be, Obama must be equally careful. As much as he has made his dislike for the Israeli leader even less of a secret than Netanyahu’s views of the president, the difference is that while Obama is in the fight of his life to hold onto his office this year, Netanyahu is in a commanding position in Israeli politics and will likely hold onto power there throughout the next U.S. presidential term. Netanyahu has good reason to fear what a second Obama administration will have in store for his country. But the president is aware that Netanyahu is just as capable of making his life miserable via an Iran attack. At least until November, the Israeli may be holding more cards in his hand than the American president.

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Justice Scalia’s Place in Judicial History

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.”

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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.”

On the other side is purposivism (where the author’s purpose, not text, is king), consequentialism (which argues that statues should be construed to produce desirable results regardless of what the text may say), and those who argue that a text has no independent meaning apart from authorial intention, which means interpretation is wholly subjective and left completely up to the interpreter.

What connects all these theories is the effort to, in the words of Scalia and Garner, “avoid the constraints of a controlling text.” The appeal of this approach is obvious: it allows judges to effectively write legislation rather than merely interpret it. They can encode into law their own political views. There is something tempting, even intoxicating, in “letting the intangible, protean spirit overtake the tangible, fixed words of authoritative texts.”

There are, however, several problems with this improvisational approach to judicial philosophy. For one thing, it is contrary to the views of the founders and our charter of government (see the United States Constitution, Article One/Section One, Article Three/Section One, as well as Federalist Number 78 for more).

In addition, as Reading Law points out, a philosophy of judicial hegemony and anti-textualism – of turning judges into “statesmen” and even quasi-kings — has led to the politicizing of judges, greater social rancor, less certainty in the law, and less faith in judicial institutions. Nor does it allow for any guiding principle for constitutional interpretation. The Constitution might be interpreted to align with the philosophy of James Madison — or the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Non-textualists simply make it up as they go along. Which is why the constitutional scholar Gary McDowell has said, “[I]t is not too much to say that the preferences for the rule of law over the rule of men depends upon the intellectual integrity of interpretation.”

Antonin Scalia has spent the last four decades of his life seeking to restore intellectual integrity to the interpretation of the law. Borrowing from an observation by Frank Easterbrook, no one since Justice Joseph Story has done it quite as well.

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Obama Loses Pro-Israel Surrogates

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.”

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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.”

Ouch. Ross can advise any campaign? And speaking in the past tense about supporting Obama’s policies? It doesn’t sound like there was much love lost there. Ross did just return to the Washington Institute, but it’s hard to imagine he would be blamed for taking some time to help the president of the United States on the campaign trail. Note that Ross also bluntly criticized the president’s early focus on the settlement freeze in WaPo last month.

Aaron David Miller, Ross’s deputy on the peace talks under the Clinton administration, suggests that Ross wasn’t thrilled with the idea of trying to sell Obama’s Israel record to Jewish voters:

“Dennis is about doing things,” said Aaron Miller, who was Ross’s deputy on the peace process during the Clinton years and is now a scholar at the Wilson Center, a public policy think tank in Washington, D.C. “The peace process is stuck and is likely to remain stuck. The fact is no amount of hand-holding is going to assuage the concerns and suspicions of a pro-Israel community which has now seen some of its fears realized. It may well be that this is the other piece of this. I wouldn’t want to try to sell Obama to the Jewish community in this environment.”

Whatever the reason for Ross sitting this one out, it doesn’t look good for Obama or his pro-Israel outreach. The New York Times reports that another one of Obama’s top Jewish surrogates, Penny Pritzker, is also taking a less active role in the campaign than she did in 2008. Obviously, the president will always have the die-hard believers to stump for him at synagogues — Alan Solow, DWS, Robert Wexler. But will that be enough to combat the GOP’s serious play for the Jewish vote?

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Romney Lays Down a Marker in Jerusalem

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.

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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.

On Jerusalem, cynics are entitled to view Romney’s statement that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital as something that will not be translated into policy if he wins in November. For decades, American candidates and parties have pledged to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and always renege. It is not likely that Romney will be any different in that respect. Coming as it did in the days after both the White House and the State Department refused to make the same acknowledgement, Romney’s remark sought to increase their embarrassment and angered the Palestinian Authority.

It should be remembered that in 2008, candidate Barack Obama acknowledged a unified Jerusalem as the capital of Israel when speaking to a Jewish audience and then quickly backtracked a day later. Though the embassy will probably not be moving in a Romney administration, it is doubtful he will retract his remarks.

On Iran, Romney’s position was much stronger than even the president’s often-tough rhetoric on the issue. Both say they will not tolerate a nuclear Iran and will stop it. But the administration draws the line in a different place. They seem willing to live with an Iran that might have the capability of getting a nuke, which explains the president’s going along with compromise proposals set forth by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton that would allow Iran to go on refining uranium. Romney rightly opposes any such measure.

While Romney said, “It is our fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will” stop Iran, he made it clear that no other option — an obvious reference to the use of force — “should be excluded.” And by explicitly endorsing Israel’s right to self-defense in this same context, he also sent a signal (unlike Obama), that stopping Israel from acting on this issue will not be his priority.

Although the specifics of the speech were enough to present a strong contrast with the positions of the administration, the strength of his remarks was in how he expressed these points. It is not enough for an American leader to merely acknowledge the bonds between the two countries. It is vital they show they understand Israel and care deeply about it, a test President Obama has consistently failed.

Romney didn’t merely say Israel had a right to defend itself. By placing the current crisis in the context of Jewish history and saying Israel’s leaders have, in the words of Menachem Begin, “the responsibility to make sure that never again will our independence be destroyed and never again will the Jew become homeless or defenseless,” he demonstrated he understood that history and its meaning for policymakers.

Just as important, Romney does not harbor the same illusions about Iran and its leaders that hamper the president’s understanding of the issue. Unlike Obama, who wasted most of his years in office on feckless attempts to “engage” Iran and weak diplomatic initiatives, Romney understands the conflict with Tehran is one that is, as he put it, as much a moral test as it is one of policy. He takes the Iranians at their word when they say they wish to destroy Israel and, to his credit, says, “I will not look away; and neither will my country.”

One cannot predict what a candidate will do once elected president. If he does win, Romney may well disappoint many of those who cheered his remarks yesterday. But the one thing he did establish was that he has a fundamental understanding of the moral aspects of Israel’s defense policy and the nature of the Iranian regime that threatens the Jewish state. Veteran diplomat Aaron David Miller wrote last week that President Obama is more like Jimmy Carter and unlike those presidents such as Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who were “in love with the idea of Israel.” Whatever happens in the coming years, it’s clear Romney “gets” Israel–and Barack Obama does not.

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