Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 2012

Obama Doesn’t Care He’s Been Proven Wrong About Iran

The release yesterday of a new report on Iran’s nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency effectively vindicates everything Israel’s leaders have been saying in recent months. The report says Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges it could use to make the core of nuclear warheads at its underground bunker at Fordow. It has also effectively shut down the IAEA investigation of their work at Parchin, where the Islamist regime has been conducting work on nuclear weapons development.

Fordow is the “breakout” facility where it can convert any civilian nuclear activity into military applications safe from air attack. As even the New York Times admits today, far from the Obama administration’s strategy of using diplomacy and sanctions slowing down Iran’s progress, “if anything, the program is speeding up.” It goes on to point out:

But the agency’s report has also put Israel in a corner, documenting that Iran is close to crossing what Israel has long said is its red line: the capability to produce nuclear weapons in a location invulnerable to Israeli attack.

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The release yesterday of a new report on Iran’s nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency effectively vindicates everything Israel’s leaders have been saying in recent months. The report says Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges it could use to make the core of nuclear warheads at its underground bunker at Fordow. It has also effectively shut down the IAEA investigation of their work at Parchin, where the Islamist regime has been conducting work on nuclear weapons development.

Fordow is the “breakout” facility where it can convert any civilian nuclear activity into military applications safe from air attack. As even the New York Times admits today, far from the Obama administration’s strategy of using diplomacy and sanctions slowing down Iran’s progress, “if anything, the program is speeding up.” It goes on to point out:

But the agency’s report has also put Israel in a corner, documenting that Iran is close to crossing what Israel has long said is its red line: the capability to produce nuclear weapons in a location invulnerable to Israeli attack.

The Times is right about that. Being proven right about the failure of Obama’s policy is cold comfort for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu since the administration refuses to recognize the failure, either publicly or privately. The Times of Israel reports that a meeting last week between Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro resulted in hostile exchanges with the diplomat “breaking protocol” and angrily scolding the prime minister for pushing too hard for U.S. action.

Israel’s problem is that the Obama administration doesn’t care that it has been proven wrong and feels no inclination to engage in a conversation with the leaders of the Jewish state about taking action to either reverse course or head off a catastrophe. Instead, it just sticks to its line about giving more time for diplomacy even though no one in Washington, let alone anywhere else, believes that it is possible to talk the Iranians into giving up their nuclear ambitions. The president wants no back talk from the Israelis about this. But even more than that, he desires no trouble in the Middle East in the next two months as he fights for re-election.

That leaves the Israelis with a difficult choice. It can, as most foreign policy mavens keep telling them to, simply shut up and hope that either a re-elected Obama will keep all the promises he’s made on the subject or that a President Romney will make good on the tough statements he’s made about the peril from an Iranian nuke. But given the speed of the Iranians’ progress and the possibility that by next year it could already be too late for an attack on their nuclear facilities to do much good, waiting may not be an option consistent with Netanyahu’s responsibility to spike any existential threat to his nation’s future.

The administration’s silence about the latest troubling IAEA report, as well as the insolent attitude of its envoy to Israel, seems to indicate the president thinks the Israelis are bluffing about acting on their own. He has good reason to think so.

Despite the assertions that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are alone in their convictions about the Iranian threat, there’s a consensus in the Israeli defense and intelligence establishment that Iran must be stopped. But many there fear the consequences of a unilateral Israeli military campaign. They are right that only the United States has sufficient resources to do the job right. Moreover, the consequences of launching a strike and the inevitable retaliation from Iran’s terrorist auxiliaries are extremely grave. If the United States does not back up Israel in the aftermath of such a strike, it could materially damage the country’s security as well as leading to its complete diplomatic isolation.

On the other hand, if Israel meekly accepts Obama’s dictat to stand down, it may lead to a nuclear Iran, which is something that may be far worse than the blowback from an attack. It would place the security and the future of the Jewish state solely in the hands of a president who has shown little interest in the country’s welfare.

President Obama clearly seems to think there is no pressure Israel could put on him short of an actual attack on Iran that can move him to do something about the situation. And he believes, not without reason, that even if his Republican opponent steps up his criticism of the administration on Iran — a topic that rated a strong mention in Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech last night — he is not politically vulnerable on the issue.

In other words, Netanyahu has no good options available to him. No matter which way he goes on Iran in the coming weeks, thanks to President Obama’s complacent stand, danger lurks.

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Armstrong and America’s Sense of Fair Play

One of the bigger, nonpolitical stories of the summer has been the decision by Lance Armstrong to drop his fight to clear his name in proceedings before the US Anti-Doping Agency which accuses him of using “banned blood transfusions, the blood booster EPO, testosterone and other drugs” to help win his record seven straight Tour de France titles. The affair is in many ways a tragic one, since Armstrong, a cancer survivor who is doing admirable charity work via his own foundation, has been one of the most beloved and admired athletes of recent times–certainly the only cyclist to break through to popular adulation in the United States.

He was not repentant in announcing that he would no longer fight the charges that will lead to him being banned from the sport and stripped of his titles. He called the proceeding “an unconstitutional witch hunt” and said the process was “one-sided and unfair.” He did raise some legitimate questions about the process, and in particular about the lack of physical evidence and that belated nature of the proceedings, coming after his retirement and many years after the acts in question. But by all accounts the USADA had compiled overwhelming evidence of Armstrong’s infractions from among his own former teammates. All legal proceedings are subject to some doubts, but on the whole I believe the process is one that Americans can be proud of even if it brought down one of our sporting icons.

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One of the bigger, nonpolitical stories of the summer has been the decision by Lance Armstrong to drop his fight to clear his name in proceedings before the US Anti-Doping Agency which accuses him of using “banned blood transfusions, the blood booster EPO, testosterone and other drugs” to help win his record seven straight Tour de France titles. The affair is in many ways a tragic one, since Armstrong, a cancer survivor who is doing admirable charity work via his own foundation, has been one of the most beloved and admired athletes of recent times–certainly the only cyclist to break through to popular adulation in the United States.

He was not repentant in announcing that he would no longer fight the charges that will lead to him being banned from the sport and stripped of his titles. He called the proceeding “an unconstitutional witch hunt” and said the process was “one-sided and unfair.” He did raise some legitimate questions about the process, and in particular about the lack of physical evidence and that belated nature of the proceedings, coming after his retirement and many years after the acts in question. But by all accounts the USADA had compiled overwhelming evidence of Armstrong’s infractions from among his own former teammates. All legal proceedings are subject to some doubts, but on the whole I believe the process is one that Americans can be proud of even if it brought down one of our sporting icons.

For the USADA is a non-government agency (although it does receive some money from the drug czar’s office) that is charged with policing our own athletic house. In other countries–say the old East Germany or today’s Communist China–the government is the primary culprit behind cheating and rule-bending to give national athletes a leg up on their competitors in the Olympics or other competitions. If the machinations of those athletes are exposed, it is inevitably done by the World Anti-Doping Agency or some other international body. There is scant hope of those countries policing themselves because they have a win-at-any-cost mentality and want to use international athletic glory to make up for the deficiencies of their country.

The U.S. has a very different–and more admirable–ethos, inherited from Britain, which can be exemplified by the old chestnut, “It’s not whether you win or lose…” Of course we love winners–athletes like Lance Armstrong. But not to the extent that we will connive in their cheating. It is very much to America’s credit that we are willing to police our own ranks and to mete out justice even to a beloved superstar athlete with vast resources to fight the charges against him. That sends an important signal of equality before the law that, even if we take it for granted, will resonate in countries such as China where the rule of law does not exist.

And it’s not as if our devotion to fair play hurts us in the end. After all, U.S. athletes–even without enjoying the benefits of state support for training, much less for rule-breaking–still won more medals than any other country at the London Olympics: 104 compared to 88 for China, which has turned medal production into a state-sponsored industry.

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Conventional Rhetoric

Listening to three days of the Republican Convention, I was struck by some very effective speeches (Governor Susana Martinez, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio), one shall we say idiosyncratic speech (Clint Eastwood), and the nominee’s own, which if not a modern-day Cross of Gold was certainly more than adequate.

The best line, undoubtedly, was, “President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.” In one sentence it contrasted President Obama’s unpleasant narcissism and Romney’s instinctive self-deprecation, Obama’s utter disregard (even after the severe rebuke of the 2010 election) of what the country wanted him to work on in order to pursue his own personal agenda, and Romney’s concentration on the ailing American economy and the impending fiscal crisis. It reminded me a bit of what is surely the best pun in American political history, Gerald Ford’s “I’m a Ford not a Lincoln.”

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Listening to three days of the Republican Convention, I was struck by some very effective speeches (Governor Susana Martinez, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio), one shall we say idiosyncratic speech (Clint Eastwood), and the nominee’s own, which if not a modern-day Cross of Gold was certainly more than adequate.

The best line, undoubtedly, was, “President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.” In one sentence it contrasted President Obama’s unpleasant narcissism and Romney’s instinctive self-deprecation, Obama’s utter disregard (even after the severe rebuke of the 2010 election) of what the country wanted him to work on in order to pursue his own personal agenda, and Romney’s concentration on the ailing American economy and the impending fiscal crisis. It reminded me a bit of what is surely the best pun in American political history, Gerald Ford’s “I’m a Ford not a Lincoln.”

Obama, a mountain of evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, regards himself as a Lincoln at the very least. Romney regards himself as a man who has a job to do.

But I was also struck by a rhetorical dog that didn’t bark in the night. The word “mom” rang through the hall repeatedly. But, at least judging from the convention rhetoric, the word “mother” has completely dropped out of the American lexicon. If it was used even once, I missed it.

When I was growing up, “Mom” was a term of address, used only in the vocative. (Well, not to my mother. For some reason she hated the word and when we were young my brother and I called her “Mum,” which is just the British equivalent, although my mother was not British. By the time we were nine or ten we called her Mother.) Today, mom is used in all cases (“American moms,” “tell your mom,” “your mom’s apple pie”). The word survives only as metaphor (“the mother of all battles”).

I suppose it is just an example of the ever-increasing informalization of the language (in the 19th century it was not uncommon for upper-class kids to use the Latin terms Mater and Pater in addressing their parents). But, at least to my aging ears, it sounds off key.

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GOP Convention Lesson: Biography Matters

The electoral strategies of both the Republican and Democratic parties contain an element of identity politics, though generally of very different kinds. Republican identity politics usually centers on faith and a middle America culture distinct from the coastal elitism of the Democrats. The Democratic Party bases its electoral strategy more and more on race to the exclusion of almost anything else, though this year the Obama White House has conjured a “war on women” to highlight gender as well.

Republicans and conservatives often complain that the Democrats’ race-obsessed political outlook has two major faults: one, that candidates and voters are judged to an overwhelming degree on the color of their skin, and two, that when a member of a racial or ethnic minority group that usually votes Democratic becomes a high-profile Republican, the left seeks to destroy their career with unusual ferocity. (Think Miguel Estrada, Clarence Thomas.) But at the Republican National Convention this week conservatives saw just why the left’s identity politics can be so effective, and why they try so hard to tear down any dissenters: biography matters.

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The electoral strategies of both the Republican and Democratic parties contain an element of identity politics, though generally of very different kinds. Republican identity politics usually centers on faith and a middle America culture distinct from the coastal elitism of the Democrats. The Democratic Party bases its electoral strategy more and more on race to the exclusion of almost anything else, though this year the Obama White House has conjured a “war on women” to highlight gender as well.

Republicans and conservatives often complain that the Democrats’ race-obsessed political outlook has two major faults: one, that candidates and voters are judged to an overwhelming degree on the color of their skin, and two, that when a member of a racial or ethnic minority group that usually votes Democratic becomes a high-profile Republican, the left seeks to destroy their career with unusual ferocity. (Think Miguel Estrada, Clarence Thomas.) But at the Republican National Convention this week conservatives saw just why the left’s identity politics can be so effective, and why they try so hard to tear down any dissenters: biography matters.

Of the politicians who spoke this week, easily three of the most impressive were Condoleezza Rice, Marco Rubio, and Susana Martinez. Their values are conservative values, and their political outlooks consistent with the conservative movement’s message: America is a place where, thanks to freedom and free enterprise, anyone can succeed. But, as the Democrats learned with President Obama, when you have spokesmen for that vision who embody the potential for its greatest achievement, the words take on a heft they don’t possess when spoken by others.

So when the preternaturally likeable Martinez, the Republican governor of New Mexico who is also the country’s first Hispanic female governor, took the stage, she said: “Growing up, I never imagined a girl from a border town could one day become a governor. But this is America. Y, en America todo es possible.” It’s a simple message and one that American politicians repeat quite often (though not always in Spanish). But it meant a bit more coming from Martinez, who told a charming story about how little girls often see her in public places, stare, point, and finally run up to her and ask “Are you Susana?” and then hug her.

And when Condoleezza Rice said that “Ours has never been a narrative of grievance and entitlement,” it was all the more powerful because she also said this:

And on a personal note—a little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham–the most segregated big city in America–her parents can’t take her to a movie theater or a restaurant–but they make her believe that even though she can’t have a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, she can be president of the United States. And she becomes the secretary of state.

Rubio, as the son of Cuban immigrants and now a popular senator from Florida, often speaks about American Exceptionalism in the tone, and with the authority, of someone who is only standing before you because of that exceptionalism. Biography was a centerpiece of his address as well. He said:

A few years ago during a speech, I noticed a bartender behind a portable bar at the back of the ballroom. I remembered my father who had worked for many years as a banquet bartender. He was grateful for the work he had, but that’s not the life he wanted for us.

He stood behind a bar in the back of the room all those years, so one day I could stand behind a podium in the front of a room.

That journey, from behind that bar to behind this podium, goes to the essence of the American miracle — that we’re exceptional not because we have more rich people here. We’re special because dreams that are impossible anywhere else, come true here.

That’s not just my story. That’s your story. That’s our story.

That last bit is a particularly effective line, since the conservative movement has consistently stressed the fact that this country was founded on an idea, and it is that idea, rather than a common ethnic heritage, that produces a national identity.

Martinez recounted the story of when, before her campaign for district attorney, two Republicans invited her and her husband for lunch. Martinez knew they were going to try to convince her to join the Republican Party, but she didn’t take the idea seriously. They never asked her to switch parties—they didn’t have to. At the end of the conversation about a whole range of political issues, Martinez turned to her husband as they left and said, “I’ll be damned, we’re Republicans.”

That’s because the conservative message has broad appeal. But the convention seems to have shown that conservatives have realized how well that message translates across cultures, and the personal engagement that is sometimes necessary to get it across. The message doesn’t have to change, but sometimes the choice of messenger is just as important.

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Republican Convention Winners and Losers

After a week of speeches, a hurricane watch, endless clips of President Obama saying “You didn’t built that,” speeches, silly hats, balloons and whatever it is that you want to call what Clint Eastwood did last night, the Republican National Convention is finally over.

We’ll have the Labor Day weekend to catch our breath and then be confronted with the Democrats infomercial in Charlotte. But before we get ready to digest the Obama and Biden show, here is a roundup of some winners and losers from Tampa.

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After a week of speeches, a hurricane watch, endless clips of President Obama saying “You didn’t built that,” speeches, silly hats, balloons and whatever it is that you want to call what Clint Eastwood did last night, the Republican National Convention is finally over.

We’ll have the Labor Day weekend to catch our breath and then be confronted with the Democrats infomercial in Charlotte. But before we get ready to digest the Obama and Biden show, here is a roundup of some winners and losers from Tampa.

Winners

Mitt Romney: The candidate did everything he needed to do in his acceptance speech. The address managed to overcome the handicap of his low-key personality and reluctance to talk about himself, while revealing his intense patriotism as well as his love of family and the importance of his faith. But the speeches by his wife and those families that he helped while serving as a Mormon lay leader did even more to humanize a man the Democrats have gone all out to demonize. After hearing the Oparowskis talk about his loving friendship for a dying boy, it’s going to be tough for liberals to keep yapping about him killing people at Bain or the dog on the roof. Romney emerges from the convention with a strong running mate, a party united in its dislike of his opponent and some wind in his sails. We’ll find out in November if that is enough but right now, he’s looking stronger than he has all year.

Paul Ryan: The intense effort by the liberal media to try and debunk his smashing acceptance speech is testimony to how scared they are of him. The left has to falsely brand him a liar because now that America has gotten a good look at him, it’s not going to be possible to depict him as throwing granny off the cliff anymore. Ryan doesn’t just leave the convention with his reputation as the intellectual leader of his party intact. Republicans clearly love him more than the top of the ticket but their affection seems matched by Romney’s for his choice. And if you’re thinking about 2016 if Romney loses, Ryan is now automatically at the top of the list.

Marco Rubio: Rubio had the disconcerting task of following Clint Eastwood’s bizarre act. But he gave a speech that was second only to that of Condoleezza Rice’s address in terms of eloquence. Like Chris Christie, he talked a lot about himself rather than Romney but he still tied his story to that of Romney in a credible manner. He showed us that he is the most natural speaker of the GOP’s young guns. It’s hard to imagine that he won’t be on the ticket the next time the nomination is open.

Susana Martinez: Martinez was just a name and a statistic — the first female Hispanic governor — to most Republicans before she spoke on Wednesday. But even though she had the misfortune of following Condi Rice on the platform, she still earned the love of the delegates and, no doubt, much of the television audience, with her plucky style. Her comments about packing a Smith & Wesson .357 magnum delighted them and her, “I’ll be damned, we’re Republicans,” may have been the best line of the convention. She’s someone with a big future in national politics. Honorable mentions should also go to Mia B. Love and Sher Valenzuela. Both also will be heard from again.

Jeb Bush: Given the talented GOP bench that was on display this week, it looks as though Jeb Bush is going to have a steep hill to climb if he ever decides to try and follow his father and brother into the White House. But he scored in his speech both by defending his brother against President Obama’s attempt to blame him for everything and by making the case for school choice. Bush may never be president but he’s still a party favorite and Romney should definitely be thinking of him as a possible Secretary of Education.

Losers

Rick Santorum: Given that a year ago neither most pundits nor I though he had a chance in hell to even make it through the primaries, let alone be Romney’s toughest foe, it’s probably unfair to cast him as a loser. Nor did I think his convention speech was as bad as a lot of people labeled it. For me, it was Santorum at his best, as he talked about his values without lapsing into the angry guy persona that is his greatest weakness. But this week showed that any hopes Santorum might have of winning the nomination in 2016 are quixotic. For all of the grit he showed last winter and spring when he won more than a dozen primaries and caucuses, it’s impossible to imagine him besting stars like Ryan, Rubio or Christie. Santorum’s moment has passed.

Chris Christie: I disagree with those who termed his keynote address a failure since it was all about himself rather than extolling Romney. But sometimes a consensus of pundits can help shape public perceptions and I fear that a year from now it will have become conventional wisdom that he really did flop in the spotlight even though the speech was actually quite good and set the right tone for the party’s future which is the traditional purpose of a keynote. But even if posterity agrees with me rather than the most of the rest of the chattering classes, I still have to concede that the New Jersey governor doesn’t stack up that well when compared to the men who may be his primary competition in 2016 should Romney lose. Christie has a lot of moxie but he’s not as likeable or as much of a star as Ryan and Rubio. But perhaps a convention that is viewed as a slight setback will do him good, as it will focus the governor and his supporters on the formidable task of securing his re-election rather than pipe dreams about 2016 or 2020.

Sarah Palin: The comparison between Palin’s standing in the GOP isn’t so much between the present and her dazzling debut at the 2008 convention but between now and the early summer of 2011, when her mere appearance in the lower 48 seemed to briefly suck all the oxygen out of the GOP race. Over the course of the last 15 months she went from being a superstar to an afterthought and may even be in danger of losing her gig at Fox News, which is her last claim to prominence. Palin still has a cadre of faithful followers who can be relied upon to angrily and sometimes profanely protest whenever she is referred to in less than laudatory terms. But Tampa proved what we already knew about her. She’s yesterday’s news.

Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman and John Thune: Listening to any member of this trio, it was hard to figure out why anyone ever thought they were presidential material. Thune was simply a dud. One wag replied to my criticism of his talk on Twitter by pointing out, “you can hire a speech coach but you can’t fix ugly.” That’s true but Thune is proof that you need more than good looks to be taken seriously. As for Pawlenty and Portman’s speeches, the less we speak of them, the better. Suffice it to say that Romney made himself look like a genius by having them come on prior to Paul Ryan’s star turn.

Lastly, I’m sure we’ll find out sooner or later whoever it was inside Romney’s camp that had the bright idea of inviting Clint Eastwood to be the mystery speaker at the convention. But for his or her sake, we should hope they remain forever anonymous. That person probably shouldn’t be completely blamed for Eastwood discarding his planned remarks and providing what was one of the most embarrassing moments in modern political convention history. But I doubt either party will ever take that kind of a chance again.

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The Speech Romney Needed to Give

Mitt Romney delivered exactly the speech he needed to give last night, no more and no less. His job was to show his human side (as Jonathan wrote) and present himself as presidential, while also reaching out to key groups (women, independents, disenchanted Obama voters). He checked all of those boxes.

There were moving lines in the speech (the rose anecdote, the remarks about children growing up), but Romney seems to know his strengths, and didn’t try to compete against the superstar speakers like Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, or Chris Christie. It wouldn’t have worked, and he didn’t need to, anyway. The whole convention lineup leading up to Romney’s speech was effective at personalizing him, vouching for his character, elucidating the Romney-Ryan vision, and offering an ideological critique of Obama’s presidency. By the time Romney took the stage, most of it had already been said; he just had to get the convention over the finish line.

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Mitt Romney delivered exactly the speech he needed to give last night, no more and no less. His job was to show his human side (as Jonathan wrote) and present himself as presidential, while also reaching out to key groups (women, independents, disenchanted Obama voters). He checked all of those boxes.

There were moving lines in the speech (the rose anecdote, the remarks about children growing up), but Romney seems to know his strengths, and didn’t try to compete against the superstar speakers like Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, or Chris Christie. It wouldn’t have worked, and he didn’t need to, anyway. The whole convention lineup leading up to Romney’s speech was effective at personalizing him, vouching for his character, elucidating the Romney-Ryan vision, and offering an ideological critique of Obama’s presidency. By the time Romney took the stage, most of it had already been said; he just had to get the convention over the finish line.

Some wondered why Romney didn’t offer more policy details. After the full-fledged media assault on Paul Ryan yesterday — which was baseless, and ended up detracting from the coverage of an excellent speech — why should Romney have put himself in the same position? While I agree that he has to put out more details on his tax, budget and Medicare plans, he did not have to do it last night. He can do that on the campaign trail or on his website. Voters already trust him over Obama on economic issues. Where Romney lags is on empathy — Americans don’t believe he cares about the struggles of others as much as Obama does. That was the gap he was working on closing last night.

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Romney Passes His Big Test

Heading into the Republican National Convention, the big question for Republicans was whether their candidate could be humanized as well as whether he could deliver an acceptance speech that could properly launch the fall campaign. At the conclusion of the convention, the answer to both questions is an unequivocal yes.

Over the course of the three days, viewers got a better idea of who the man Republicans were nominating. They heard stories about his humanity, service to others and his faith as well as his business success. And in his acceptance speech, he showed himself a plainspoken man who was moved by the ordinary gifts of life as well as by his love of country. It may not have been a great speech but it was probably the best one he has ever given on a night when he needed to be come across as more than a middling political talent. Though no acceptance speech is really the make or break moment of any presidential election, Romney passed the test he had been set.

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Heading into the Republican National Convention, the big question for Republicans was whether their candidate could be humanized as well as whether he could deliver an acceptance speech that could properly launch the fall campaign. At the conclusion of the convention, the answer to both questions is an unequivocal yes.

Over the course of the three days, viewers got a better idea of who the man Republicans were nominating. They heard stories about his humanity, service to others and his faith as well as his business success. And in his acceptance speech, he showed himself a plainspoken man who was moved by the ordinary gifts of life as well as by his love of country. It may not have been a great speech but it was probably the best one he has ever given on a night when he needed to be come across as more than a middling political talent. Though no acceptance speech is really the make or break moment of any presidential election, Romney passed the test he had been set.

In a sense, the Democrats did Romney a favor by spending the last few months doing their best to demonize him. With the left determined to portray him as a heartless plutocrat the bar was set fairly low for Romney as far as brightening up his image. While the convention had its less than edifying moments — Clint Eastwood’s bizarre and sometimes tasteless dialogue with an imaginary Barack Obama being the most prominent — the time spent discussing Romney’s life and philosophy was very well spent.

Beginning with Ann Romney’s star turn on Tuesday night and continuing on Thursday with the testimonials from those whose families the candidate had helped as a Mormon lay leader, the nation was given a more realistic portrait of the man the Democrats have sought to besmirch. Though Romney is obviously not comfortable talking about himself, he was able to convey some of his depth of feeling about his family, his faith and his principles.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the convention was the way it showed how deep the Republican bench is with new stars like Marco Rubio, Susana Martinez, Chris Christie and Romney’s vice presidential choice Paul Ryan. But as much as a lot of the attention was devoted to these new faces, Romney still succeeded in putting forward a strong case that he has the ability to tackle a weak economy and the backbone to stand up for American interests and the cause of freedom. He also came across as an admirable if not as likeable as some critics seemed to demand.

Romney touched on familiar themes about Obama’s failures as well as trying to counter the Democratic charge that the GOP is waging a war on women. But when Romney contrasted the president’s messianic pledge about turning back the oceans with his own more humble promise to help American families, he struck exactly the right note. By choosing Ryan and by setting forth a critique of Obama’s creed of big government, Romney also gave voters a clearly delineated choice about the future of the country.

Romney has now passed the humanity test and showed he can articulate a coherent argument for his presidential ambitions. The stage is now set for a fall campaign in which the Republicans are no longer facing quite as uphill a slog as many thought they would have. President Obama has enormous advantages heading into his own convention. He has the power of incumbency, a status as an historic figure, an adoring mainstream media and a party that is willing to brand any criticism of him as a form of racism. Yet this week, Romney took an important step toward giving himself a chance to win in November.

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The Man the Republicans Nominated

We’ve heard a lot of political rhetoric this week from the Republican National Convention. Most of it centered on President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” quote and other GOP talking points. Paul Ryan showed his party was ready to rumble with the Democrats in defense of a stand in favor of entitlement reform. But tonight for the first time this week and perhaps even this year, we’re hearing about who this man the Republicans nominated really is.

This evening, we heard from those who worked with and were helped by Romney during his years as a Mormon pastor. The Oparowski family spoke of how Romney befriended their 14-year-old son who was dying from Leukemia. It was a sad touching story and the reaction from the audience showed there didn’t appear to be a dry eye in the house except perhaps in the MSNBC booth. After that we heard from a woman with a similar story of Romney’s goodness. His assistant pastor told of how Romney didn’t so much preach as lead by example. His theology was service to others. No matter what your faith is or even if you don’t believe in religion, there is no escaping the fact that this is a righteous and very good man.

A major aspect of the way we judge presidential candidates is by their character. Disagree with his policies if you like, but there’s no doubt that this is a man of sterling character whose personal virtues are beyond question. Given the vicious attacks launched against Romney’s character by the Obama campaign, these are stories that need to be told and retold by Republicans.

We’ve heard a lot of political rhetoric this week from the Republican National Convention. Most of it centered on President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” quote and other GOP talking points. Paul Ryan showed his party was ready to rumble with the Democrats in defense of a stand in favor of entitlement reform. But tonight for the first time this week and perhaps even this year, we’re hearing about who this man the Republicans nominated really is.

This evening, we heard from those who worked with and were helped by Romney during his years as a Mormon pastor. The Oparowski family spoke of how Romney befriended their 14-year-old son who was dying from Leukemia. It was a sad touching story and the reaction from the audience showed there didn’t appear to be a dry eye in the house except perhaps in the MSNBC booth. After that we heard from a woman with a similar story of Romney’s goodness. His assistant pastor told of how Romney didn’t so much preach as lead by example. His theology was service to others. No matter what your faith is or even if you don’t believe in religion, there is no escaping the fact that this is a righteous and very good man.

A major aspect of the way we judge presidential candidates is by their character. Disagree with his policies if you like, but there’s no doubt that this is a man of sterling character whose personal virtues are beyond question. Given the vicious attacks launched against Romney’s character by the Obama campaign, these are stories that need to be told and retold by Republicans.

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The George W. Bush Alibi Doesn’t Cut It

The 43rd president is the man who didn’t come to dinner at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Other than a brief video tribute of President George W. Bush with his father President George H.W. Bush, the immediate past Republican president has been conspicuous not only by his absence from the convention but by the way he is never mentioned. There are good reasons for this. When Bush 43 left office he was deeply unpopular due to the Iraq war and the legacy of Hurricane Katrina. Tea partiers and conservatives also rightly deprecate his profligate spending.

But for all of his faults, George W. Bush doesn’t deserve the egregious abuse to which he has been subjected. And his brother Jeb went off script tonight at the convention to speak bluntly about the way his brother has been treated not only by the public but also by his successor. In paying tribute to his family Bush said, “I love my brother. He is a man of integrity, courage and honor and during incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe.” Then he spoke directly to the president and said, “Mr. President it is time to stop blaming your predecessor for your failed economic policies. You were dealt a tough hand but your policies have not worked.”

He’s right and though George W. Bush is the last person on earth that most Republicans want to talk about this week or during the campaign this fall, they should be taking direct aim at the idea that he can serve as an all-purpose alibi for every failure of the current administration. It’s been almost four years since Barack Obama was sworn into office and he still refuses to take responsibility for the state of the country. The weakness and cowardice of this stand is appalling. Jeb Bush was right to call him out on this. So should the rest of an ungrateful party that doesn’t appear to remember the job W did on 9/11 and its aftermath.

The 43rd president is the man who didn’t come to dinner at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Other than a brief video tribute of President George W. Bush with his father President George H.W. Bush, the immediate past Republican president has been conspicuous not only by his absence from the convention but by the way he is never mentioned. There are good reasons for this. When Bush 43 left office he was deeply unpopular due to the Iraq war and the legacy of Hurricane Katrina. Tea partiers and conservatives also rightly deprecate his profligate spending.

But for all of his faults, George W. Bush doesn’t deserve the egregious abuse to which he has been subjected. And his brother Jeb went off script tonight at the convention to speak bluntly about the way his brother has been treated not only by the public but also by his successor. In paying tribute to his family Bush said, “I love my brother. He is a man of integrity, courage and honor and during incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe.” Then he spoke directly to the president and said, “Mr. President it is time to stop blaming your predecessor for your failed economic policies. You were dealt a tough hand but your policies have not worked.”

He’s right and though George W. Bush is the last person on earth that most Republicans want to talk about this week or during the campaign this fall, they should be taking direct aim at the idea that he can serve as an all-purpose alibi for every failure of the current administration. It’s been almost four years since Barack Obama was sworn into office and he still refuses to take responsibility for the state of the country. The weakness and cowardice of this stand is appalling. Jeb Bush was right to call him out on this. So should the rest of an ungrateful party that doesn’t appear to remember the job W did on 9/11 and its aftermath.

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Romney Campaign Plays Up Bain Record

Mitt Romney continued his Bain Capital defense blitz today, unveiling a website and video campaign touting his record at the firm. The name of his new website, SterlingBusinessCareer.com, alludes to Bill Clinton’s praise of Romney a few months back. The videos feature former Bain employees extolling Romney’s work at the helm of the company:

Despite Obama’s barrage of attacks on Romney’s Bain record, it’s not clear whether the attacks have stuck. The Obama campaign has hammered almost every conceivable anti-Bain angle, going so far as to suggest Romney committed a felony on the company’s SEC filings. What else do they have to say on the topic? They’re running out of stories.

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Mitt Romney continued his Bain Capital defense blitz today, unveiling a website and video campaign touting his record at the firm. The name of his new website, SterlingBusinessCareer.com, alludes to Bill Clinton’s praise of Romney a few months back. The videos feature former Bain employees extolling Romney’s work at the helm of the company:

Despite Obama’s barrage of attacks on Romney’s Bain record, it’s not clear whether the attacks have stuck. The Obama campaign has hammered almost every conceivable anti-Bain angle, going so far as to suggest Romney committed a felony on the company’s SEC filings. What else do they have to say on the topic? They’re running out of stories.

In contrast, there are plenty of Bain successes the Romney campaign can highlight. As his website notes, 80 percent of the companies in the firm’s portfolio have increased revenues since its founding. The media focus on the relatively few companies that filed for bankruptcy — 5 percent, according to the Romney campaign — has given a distorted view of Bain. And much of the information on his website and in the videos will probably be new, even to Romney supporters.

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If States Were Treated Like Corporations

Standard and Poor’s has downgraded Illinois’s credit rating, from A+ to A, with a negative outlook. It sited the accumulated $44 billion in budget deficits over the last five years as one reason. Illinois has a balanced budget requirement in its constitution, so how did it run five years worth of unbalanced budgets? Easy, it cooked the books because, unlike corporations, it doesn’t have to conform to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles or have its books certified by an independent authority.

Even worth is its $83 billion in unfunded liabilities in its pensions funds. The Illinois Legislature met in special session this summer to deal with the problem. It adjourned after doing exactly nothing. Again, the rules that apply to private-sector pension funds don’t apply to government ones. So they can play all sorts of games that allow them to make big promises and then not have to pay for them, at least in the short term. The estimable Walter Russell Meade explains the unholy alliance between public-service unions, governments, and Wall Street hedge funds.

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Standard and Poor’s has downgraded Illinois’s credit rating, from A+ to A, with a negative outlook. It sited the accumulated $44 billion in budget deficits over the last five years as one reason. Illinois has a balanced budget requirement in its constitution, so how did it run five years worth of unbalanced budgets? Easy, it cooked the books because, unlike corporations, it doesn’t have to conform to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles or have its books certified by an independent authority.

Even worth is its $83 billion in unfunded liabilities in its pensions funds. The Illinois Legislature met in special session this summer to deal with the problem. It adjourned after doing exactly nothing. Again, the rules that apply to private-sector pension funds don’t apply to government ones. So they can play all sorts of games that allow them to make big promises and then not have to pay for them, at least in the short term. The estimable Walter Russell Meade explains the unholy alliance between public-service unions, governments, and Wall Street hedge funds.

One wonders why corporations are held to a greater degree of scrutiny and more rigorous rules than are states like Illinois. After all, is there a corporation in the country (or even the world) that has seen two of its last thee CEO’s go to jail (and four of its last nine)? That’s the record for Illinois governors.

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Banks Make a Joke Out of Iran Sanctions

Those wondering about Iran’s ability to confidently defy the sanctions that the Obama administration has belatedly imposed on the rogue regime have previously pointed to the lax enforcement of the regulations. The Treasury Department has granted over 10,000 exemptions to companies desirous of avoiding the sanctions. The U.S. has also given Iran’s largest oil customers a pass on having to give up purchasing Tehran’s supplies. But it turns out that even those sanctions that are enforced aren’t working and this time the fault can’t be pinned on President Obama’s lack of will.

The New York Times reports that federal prosecutors say Chinese banks and other international institutions have been playing the role of middleman in a con game allowing Iranian banks and corporations to conduct business in the West that ought to be curtailed by the law. Through their U.S. branches, the Chinese institutions have reportedly funneled billions of dollars to Iran’s coffers. When added to the president’s timorous diplomacy, this fraud helps explain why the Iranians are going full speed ahead with the nuclear program with few worries about the sanctions that Secretary of State Clinton claimed would be so tough it would bring them to their knees.

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Those wondering about Iran’s ability to confidently defy the sanctions that the Obama administration has belatedly imposed on the rogue regime have previously pointed to the lax enforcement of the regulations. The Treasury Department has granted over 10,000 exemptions to companies desirous of avoiding the sanctions. The U.S. has also given Iran’s largest oil customers a pass on having to give up purchasing Tehran’s supplies. But it turns out that even those sanctions that are enforced aren’t working and this time the fault can’t be pinned on President Obama’s lack of will.

The New York Times reports that federal prosecutors say Chinese banks and other international institutions have been playing the role of middleman in a con game allowing Iranian banks and corporations to conduct business in the West that ought to be curtailed by the law. Through their U.S. branches, the Chinese institutions have reportedly funneled billions of dollars to Iran’s coffers. When added to the president’s timorous diplomacy, this fraud helps explain why the Iranians are going full speed ahead with the nuclear program with few worries about the sanctions that Secretary of State Clinton claimed would be so tough it would bring them to their knees.

The Times named two London-based banks with extensive Asian operations, HSBC and Standard Chartered, as being under investigation for complicity in helping Iran evade sanctions. But the ability of Western law enforcement agencies to stop Chinese shenanigans may be limited. It may be that as banks come under scrutiny, the Justice Department will gain cooperation and stop more such schemes. But the impression given by the Times piece is that of an unending game of “Whack a Mole” in which one Iranian scam can pop up as quickly as another is put out of business.

While the Justice Department is to be commended for pursuing these banks and hopefully seeing that they are severely punished, the case also illustrates the futility of a U.S. Iran policy that is based on the hope that diplomacy and sanctions will stop Tehran. And as long as billions are flowing into Iran’s treasury, there is no chance that economic measures will suffice to halt their nuclear ambitions.

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Texas Voter ID Case Determined by Past, Not Present Discrimination

The Obama administration won a victory today in their campaign to strike down voter ID laws. Only days after the United States District Court for the District of Columbia invalidated Texas’s new congressional and legislative districts, the same court struck down the state’s voter ID law. The court accepted the Justice Department’s arguments that the bill placed an undue burden on poor and minority voters. Texas has said it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and its attorney general says he can prevail there because the court has previously ruled that voter ID laws are constitutional. State courts have upheld a voter ID law in Pennsylvania but Texas’ problem is that because of its past history of racial discrimination, it must get federal approval for anything relating to voting rights. But those looking for the Supremes to reinforce their previous decision on voter ID may be disappointed. The issue at stake in the Texas case will be the constitutionality of the federal Voting Rights Act that gives Washington the power to oversee the state’s laws rather than voter ID itself.

In states not affected by the Voting Rights Act, courts can weigh efforts to prevent fraud on their own merits. The overwhelming majority of Americans back voter ID laws because they are inherently reasonable. If you need a picture ID to board an airplane, an Amtrak train, conduct even the most simple transaction with the government or a bank as well as buy a beer, most people rightly think that you should have to do as much to vote. Given that, contrary to fallacious Democratic talking points, voter fraud has always been a concern in American politics; the courts have upheld such laws as both prudent and obviously constitutional.

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The Obama administration won a victory today in their campaign to strike down voter ID laws. Only days after the United States District Court for the District of Columbia invalidated Texas’s new congressional and legislative districts, the same court struck down the state’s voter ID law. The court accepted the Justice Department’s arguments that the bill placed an undue burden on poor and minority voters. Texas has said it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and its attorney general says he can prevail there because the court has previously ruled that voter ID laws are constitutional. State courts have upheld a voter ID law in Pennsylvania but Texas’ problem is that because of its past history of racial discrimination, it must get federal approval for anything relating to voting rights. But those looking for the Supremes to reinforce their previous decision on voter ID may be disappointed. The issue at stake in the Texas case will be the constitutionality of the federal Voting Rights Act that gives Washington the power to oversee the state’s laws rather than voter ID itself.

In states not affected by the Voting Rights Act, courts can weigh efforts to prevent fraud on their own merits. The overwhelming majority of Americans back voter ID laws because they are inherently reasonable. If you need a picture ID to board an airplane, an Amtrak train, conduct even the most simple transaction with the government or a bank as well as buy a beer, most people rightly think that you should have to do as much to vote. Given that, contrary to fallacious Democratic talking points, voter fraud has always been a concern in American politics; the courts have upheld such laws as both prudent and obviously constitutional.

But under the Voting Rights Act, anything that even inadvertently affects minority voters, even if the purpose is constitutional and the impact incidental can be construed as a violation of the law. Thus, attorneys for Texas were given the impossible task of being forced to defend their state against a hypothetical assertion that could not be definitively disproved. Only a Supreme Court decision striking down the entire Voting Rights Act can prevent the Obama administration from stopping voter ID in Texas.

Proponents of voter ID can rightly assert that any comparison such as that made by Attorney General Holder that these bills are “Jim Crow laws” is an outrageous distortion of the truth. Minority voters are just as capable of getting themselves a free state ID card, as are whites. Anyone capable of registering to vote can do so. Unless opponents of these laws are prepared to argue that officials have no right to ask a prospective voter to prove his identity or even his citizenship, the charge of discrimination doesn’t hold water.

But the bottom line in the Texas case is that since it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will strike down the entire Voting Rights Act, the administration will be able to stop voter ID in the Lone Star State. Though Holder claimed the state was discriminating against minorities the case was determined by past injustices, not proof of present day bias. A true test of the constitutionality of such laws will have to wait for other challenges to make their way to the high court.

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Turkey’s Love-Hate Affair with Syria

When it comes to any resolution to the Syrian problem, Turkey is at the center of it. After all, Syria’s largest land border is with Turkey. Most Syrian refugees are fleeing north or west into Turkey, and there can be no safe-haven unless, as in 1991 with Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey plays host to the forces that would protect it.

At the same time, Bashar al-Assad is in many ways a monster of Turkey’s creation. Sedat Ergin is Turkey’s foremost journalist, editor, and columnist. He is neither polemical nor easily cowed. Amidst Prime Minister Erdoğan’s war on the press (and anyone else who might criticize him), Ergin has remained un-intimidated, even as Erdoğan has maneuvered to muzzle him.

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When it comes to any resolution to the Syrian problem, Turkey is at the center of it. After all, Syria’s largest land border is with Turkey. Most Syrian refugees are fleeing north or west into Turkey, and there can be no safe-haven unless, as in 1991 with Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey plays host to the forces that would protect it.

At the same time, Bashar al-Assad is in many ways a monster of Turkey’s creation. Sedat Ergin is Turkey’s foremost journalist, editor, and columnist. He is neither polemical nor easily cowed. Amidst Prime Minister Erdoğan’s war on the press (and anyone else who might criticize him), Ergin has remained un-intimidated, even as Erdoğan has maneuvered to muzzle him.

His column today is a must-read to understand not only the evolution of Turkey’s policy toward Syria, but also to understand how Erdoğan’s turn on Assad is based more on Erdoğan’s impetuous personality and less on principle.

Let’s go to the very beginning. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, much before the Arab Spring was seen on the horizon, had headed for very close and intimate cooperation with the Bashar al-Assad administration in Syria. This policy had reached, in the year 2009, such an advanced level that joint Cabinet meetings were held between the two countries and mutual visa restrictions were lifted. Also, the affectionate relations between the Erdoğan and al-Assad families somewhat warmed up the climate between the two countries. Interestingly, during this period, the AK Party government immediately opposed the United States’ efforts to put the brakes on its cooperation with the al-Assad regime – on the grounds that it supported terror.

More broadly, the lesson of Erdoğan’s Syria policy (and his Libya policy before that) should remind us how unwise it is to embrace dictatorships or to believe that words alone will convince them to reform.

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Mitt Romney’s Moment

Since the real drama of the political nominating conventions—the actual nominations—no longer applies, the pressure is on the big names, especially the headliners, to deliver a rousing speech. The press corps still have stories to file from the conventions, and “Republicans nominate Mitt Romney for president” just isn’t going to cut it—we all knew that going in. So the speeches themselves—words, not action—become the moments to analyze.

The expectations only build as the nights wear on–as Chris Christie found out when he delivered a solid speech but had to follow Ann Romney’s blockbuster. Last night, it seemed for a while that Paul Ryan would not have too high a bar to clear–until Condoleezza Rice brought the house down. But Ryan rose to the occasion nonetheless. Tonight, it’s Mitt Romney’s turn, and he will be swinging for the fences. The Washington Post reports that Romney is taking the task as seriously as expected:

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Since the real drama of the political nominating conventions—the actual nominations—no longer applies, the pressure is on the big names, especially the headliners, to deliver a rousing speech. The press corps still have stories to file from the conventions, and “Republicans nominate Mitt Romney for president” just isn’t going to cut it—we all knew that going in. So the speeches themselves—words, not action—become the moments to analyze.

The expectations only build as the nights wear on–as Chris Christie found out when he delivered a solid speech but had to follow Ann Romney’s blockbuster. Last night, it seemed for a while that Paul Ryan would not have too high a bar to clear–until Condoleezza Rice brought the house down. But Ryan rose to the occasion nonetheless. Tonight, it’s Mitt Romney’s turn, and he will be swinging for the fences. The Washington Post reports that Romney is taking the task as seriously as expected:

So it is that as Romney prepared to deliver the most important speech of his political career Thursday night at the Republican National Convention, he spent months reading past nominating and inaugural speeches (including President Obama’s) and biographies. By the middle of last week, as the guts of the speech were coming together, he asserted, in a conversation with an associate, “I still have to write it.” On Friday, Romney told talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, “Mine is still a work in progress, kind of early stage.”

Over the weekend, Romney took two days off the campaign trail to finish his drafts and rehearse with teleprompters at his New Hampshire getaway home. When reporters asked him after one rehearsal for a sneak peak of his speech, Romney previewed just five words: “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.” He was laughing, but advisers said the rest was in fact still subject to change.

On Wednesday, advisers were chiming in on this line or that line. One of them said that Romney will keep tinkering until just before he steps onto the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired convention stage shortly after 10 p.m. Thursday – because, well, “he just likes to tinker.”

Yet Romney’s speech tonight, more perhaps than is usual for such addresses, is a genuinely fascinating moment in American politics. Romney’s journey from governor of Massachusetts to presidential contender to presidential nominee was a rollercoaster. If you want to understand just how differently Romney was perceived by the Republican electorate in 2008, watch his (energetic, but substandard) convention address from four years ago. He gets a full minute standing ovation from the crowd before he utters a word.

And as I have written before, watching Romney’s address to CPAC in 2008 is like stepping into an alternate universe. He is the free market hero they’ve been waiting for who, to their vivid disappointment, could not wrest the nomination from the campaign-finance regulator McCain. Yet after Obamacare passed, the original suspicion with which the conservative movement viewed Romney for his previous stance on abortion returned, ironically at the moment the country seemed desperate for an economic guru.

But Romney kept a cool head throughout, and earned the nomination—he outraised, outdebated, and finally outran his rivals. Romney has always struggled when he has tried to be what he thought the conservative movement wanted him to be, rather than trying to show the party’s base they should want him as-is. For good or ill, those days are behind him now. Tonight he’ll deliver a speech he’s thought about for at least five years, despite being written off and counted out numerous times throughout. For a man of uncommon equanimity, and in the era of scripted and predictable conventions, that’s high drama.

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Romney’s Faith is an Asset, Not a Problem

Heading into this year’s Republican primaries, it was an open question as to whether Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith would be a hindrance to his presidential hopes, as it may have been four years earlier. Evangelical resistance to voting for a Mormon was exploited by Mike Huckabee in 2008. Last October, when a pastor affiliated with Texas Governor Rick Perry spoke up about Mormons being part of a cult and said it was acceptable for voters to reject a candidate because of his faith, it was reasonable to wonder whether religious prejudice might play a role in this election too. But this time the attacks on Mormonism didn’t work and tonight Romney will be in the spotlight as he accepts his party’s nomination.

Just how much Romney will talk about his faith in the speech is a subject for speculation. But rather than shy away from it, tonight’s convention program will talk about the subject openly. Given that faith has always been central to him, that’s appropriate. But it’s also good politics. Though Democrats have at times spoken as if they could profit from a campaign aimed at portraying Romney as “weird” — coded language that could only be a reference to the uber-conventional Republican’s faith — the more the public understands about the candidate’s religiosity, charitable giving and belief in helping others, it can only help him.

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Heading into this year’s Republican primaries, it was an open question as to whether Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith would be a hindrance to his presidential hopes, as it may have been four years earlier. Evangelical resistance to voting for a Mormon was exploited by Mike Huckabee in 2008. Last October, when a pastor affiliated with Texas Governor Rick Perry spoke up about Mormons being part of a cult and said it was acceptable for voters to reject a candidate because of his faith, it was reasonable to wonder whether religious prejudice might play a role in this election too. But this time the attacks on Mormonism didn’t work and tonight Romney will be in the spotlight as he accepts his party’s nomination.

Just how much Romney will talk about his faith in the speech is a subject for speculation. But rather than shy away from it, tonight’s convention program will talk about the subject openly. Given that faith has always been central to him, that’s appropriate. But it’s also good politics. Though Democrats have at times spoken as if they could profit from a campaign aimed at portraying Romney as “weird” — coded language that could only be a reference to the uber-conventional Republican’s faith — the more the public understands about the candidate’s religiosity, charitable giving and belief in helping others, it can only help him.

Too many political pundits make the mistake of forgetting how religious Americans are as a people. It’s true that there are fewer Mormons than Jews in this country, but most voters have a deep respect for faith. That’s a lesson Democrats should have learned in 2000 when Joe Lieberman’s observance of Judaism proved to be an asset in terms of building respect for both him and Al Gore’s ticket.

Talking about Romney’s faith is important because it illustrates that the Obama campaign’s caricature of him as a heartless plutocrat bears little resemblance to the person running for president. As much as Ann Romney’s impressive speech about her husband helped fill in some of the blanks in his profile for most viewers, they also need to hear more about the way religion shaped the choices he made and the way he has always conducted himself.

Democratic opposition researchers wasted a lot of time this year trying to dig up non-existent dirt about Romney. The best they could do was a half-baked story about a high school prank. The connection between Romney’s dedication to his faith and the lack of success that such fishing expeditions experienced is obvious.

It is true that bias against Mormons is still a potent factor in American life and may exceed even anti-Semitism in terms of its influence. Though the bias that created pogroms in the early years of the faith and even a shooting war between Mormons and the United States in the 1950s is not a subject most voters know about, the image of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a cult is far from dead.

Nevertheless, Democrats ought not to be happy about more discussion of Romney’s faith. The more Republicans talk about it, the better their chances of convincing the public that he is the sort of person who can be trusted with the nation’s affairs and, of ultimately prevailing in the election, will be.

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Will Congress Take Military into the 1970s?

Sequestration—the $500 billion automatic budget cuts to Defense, which will be triggered if Congress cannot reduce the budget by $1.2 trillion as per the Budget Control Act of 2011—is a looming disaster. The sequestration cuts would be in addition to already scheduled budget cutbacks.

Owen Graham, a brilliant young scholar at the Heritage Foundation, has penned an important article in the Charlotte Observer outlining just what is at stake:

According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, sequestration would also eliminate a leg of the nuclear Triad, deliver a heavy blow to U.S. missile defenses, and eliminate next-generation fighter and bomber programs. The findings of the House Armed Services Committee were just as bleak: the smallest Air Force in its history; the smallest Navy since before World War I; and the smallest ground force since before World War II…

The reality is it is far from balanced. Military is less than one-fifth of the federal budget and absorbs fully 50 percent of the sequester. Meanwhile, 70 percent of entitlement spending, the key driver of the debt crisis, is exempt from the impact of the cuts.

Sequestration—the $500 billion automatic budget cuts to Defense, which will be triggered if Congress cannot reduce the budget by $1.2 trillion as per the Budget Control Act of 2011—is a looming disaster. The sequestration cuts would be in addition to already scheduled budget cutbacks.

Owen Graham, a brilliant young scholar at the Heritage Foundation, has penned an important article in the Charlotte Observer outlining just what is at stake:

According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, sequestration would also eliminate a leg of the nuclear Triad, deliver a heavy blow to U.S. missile defenses, and eliminate next-generation fighter and bomber programs. The findings of the House Armed Services Committee were just as bleak: the smallest Air Force in its history; the smallest Navy since before World War I; and the smallest ground force since before World War II…

The reality is it is far from balanced. Military is less than one-fifth of the federal budget and absorbs fully 50 percent of the sequester. Meanwhile, 70 percent of entitlement spending, the key driver of the debt crisis, is exempt from the impact of the cuts.

Admiral James “Ace” Lyons observed wryly at a roundtable a few weeks ago that already the U.S. Navy has fewer ships under his command than he had at his disposal when he was in charge of the Pacific Command under Jimmy Carter. Obama’s talk of a pivot toward Asia is just empty talk; his priorities suggest a willingness to cede Asia.

If entitlements are cutback, we know what will happen: the economy will expand and charities and faith communities will pick up the slack; the government will still care for the most needy. If the U.S. ability to project its power is reduced to beneath even Carter administration standards, then the world in which we function will be far different. This may be the Obama administration’s goal. After all, as the Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Cliff May notes, the scariest statement to which the mainstream media has given short shift was his promise to then-Russian President Medvedev to pursue even more devastating cutbacks once he no longer has to stand for election.

There will be no savings: When enemies perceive the United States as weak, they act. And—be they Russia, North Korea, China, or Iran—the United States has no shortage of adversaries.

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Iran’s Prominent Visitors Go Off Script

It’s always nice to see a totalitarian propaganda show disappoint its sponsors. Thus it’s hard to avoid chortling at the embarrassment suffered by Iranian leaders today when the much-heralded meeting of the Nonaligned Movement in Tehran went off in an unscripted direction.

The ayatollahs had made much of the attendance of President Mohammad Morsi of Egypt–the largest Arab state–and of Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon of the United Nations. But they could not have liked what they heard from the two prominent visitors. Morsi openly came out in support of the revolt being waged by the Syrian people against Bashar Assad–Iran’s closest ally in the regime. “The Syrian people are fighting with courage, looking for freedom and human dignity,” he said prompting the Syrian ambassador to walk out.

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It’s always nice to see a totalitarian propaganda show disappoint its sponsors. Thus it’s hard to avoid chortling at the embarrassment suffered by Iranian leaders today when the much-heralded meeting of the Nonaligned Movement in Tehran went off in an unscripted direction.

The ayatollahs had made much of the attendance of President Mohammad Morsi of Egypt–the largest Arab state–and of Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon of the United Nations. But they could not have liked what they heard from the two prominent visitors. Morsi openly came out in support of the revolt being waged by the Syrian people against Bashar Assad–Iran’s closest ally in the regime. “The Syrian people are fighting with courage, looking for freedom and human dignity,” he said prompting the Syrian ambassador to walk out.

Ban also denounced the repression carried out by the Syrian government with Iranian help. Then, even better, he upbraided the Iranian leadership for threatening to annihilate Israel and for denying the Holocaust. “I strongly reject threats by any member state to destroy another or outrageous attempts to deny historical facts, such as the Holocaust,” he said.

The Iranian news media apparently did not report Morsi’s or Ban’s remarks but it seems certain that they will be become widely known within Iran, thus presenting a strong counterpoint to the propaganda line of the regime.

That said, we should not get carried away–ruthless dictatorships like the one that rules Iran can suffer a lot of embarrassment with impunity. And however discredited the regime becomes, it still yields considerable power both within Iran and outside of it–and that power will only grow unless something more is done to stop its nuclear weapons program, which has not been slowed in the slightest by the latest diplomatic efforts emanating from Washington nor even, so far, by a new round of sanctions. The Wall Street Journal reports, for example, that Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear weapons scientist, is back at work.

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After RNC Triumph, Whither Condi Rice?

Count me among the many who were wowed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s brilliant speech at the Republican National Convention last night. She didn’t just add a note of foreign policy gravitas to a convention that served up a seemingly endless roster of mid-level GOP figures riffing on President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” gaffe. Rice’s address was as much about belief in the idea of America as it was about contemporary political disputes. She left the podium not only having won the hearts of the audience with her recollection of her own rise from a childhood in the segregated south to the heights of power but left a lot of her listeners wondering whether she was interested in a future run at the presidency and making comparisons to other great convention speeches in the past that were stepping-stones to the White House.

However, those so intoxicated by her rhetorical achievement that they are now pondering Rice’s future need to take a deep breath. It was a great speech and Rice has shown she can be a formidable surrogate for Mitt Romney or anyone else she chooses to support. But Rice is never going to be a viable presidential candidate. Nor is she likely to assume any post in a Romney administration. I can’t answer the question on so many tongues this morning about what it is that Condi Rice wants. Only she can do that. But a logical analysis of her prospects requires us to accept that whatever it is she aspires to, high political office isn’t likely to be in her future.

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Count me among the many who were wowed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s brilliant speech at the Republican National Convention last night. She didn’t just add a note of foreign policy gravitas to a convention that served up a seemingly endless roster of mid-level GOP figures riffing on President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” gaffe. Rice’s address was as much about belief in the idea of America as it was about contemporary political disputes. She left the podium not only having won the hearts of the audience with her recollection of her own rise from a childhood in the segregated south to the heights of power but left a lot of her listeners wondering whether she was interested in a future run at the presidency and making comparisons to other great convention speeches in the past that were stepping-stones to the White House.

However, those so intoxicated by her rhetorical achievement that they are now pondering Rice’s future need to take a deep breath. It was a great speech and Rice has shown she can be a formidable surrogate for Mitt Romney or anyone else she chooses to support. But Rice is never going to be a viable presidential candidate. Nor is she likely to assume any post in a Romney administration. I can’t answer the question on so many tongues this morning about what it is that Condi Rice wants. Only she can do that. But a logical analysis of her prospects requires us to accept that whatever it is she aspires to, high political office isn’t likely to be in her future.

Rice is an exceptional human being and when stacked up against the vast majority of politicians, she looks like she belongs in a higher league than the one in which garden variety governors, senators and members of Congress play. But she has never run for political office and those who believe she could parachute into a tough GOP presidential nomination fight are underestimating the difficulty of such a feat. She could certainly raise the money for such a race but it is difficult to imagine her spending 2015 (assuming Romney doesn’t win this fall) beating the bushes at Iowa county fairs three summers from now.

But even if she was willing to give up her comfortable life at Stanford University and other celebrity perks, like her new membership at the Augusta National Golf Club, as long as Rice is pro-choice on abortion, she has no chance of winning a Republican presidential nomination. This is something that was pointed out last month during the brief unrealistic boomlet seeking to promote her as a possible vice presidential nominee. Rice isn’t the only prominent Republican who supports abortion but the vast majority of those who vote in primaries are very much on the other side. It’s a handicap that would make a presidential quest on her part a pipe dream, especially when a 2016 race would probably include pro-life GOP stars like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie.

That’s a fact that Mitt Romney understood when he started on his seven-year-old quest for the presidency and one that others who fell by the wayside, like Rudolph Giuliani, would have to learn the hard way. Rice is too smart not to know this, so I can’t imagine her even trying.

As for lesser posts, it’s equally hard to see where she would fit in a future Romney administration. Having been secretary of state, it’s impossible to imagine she would take a lower level cabinet post or foreign policy job. Unless she wants another shot at running the State Department, which seems unlikely to me, she’s overqualified for any other position.

Nor do I find the speculation about her running for office in California very convincing. Having seen impressive Republican women like Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman fall short in that deep blue state, it’s hard to see why Rice would do any better.

The Republican Convention has served up an impressive slate of women speakers. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, who had the difficult task of following Rice, was one. But though she may not have been as dazzling as Rice, she has a brighter political future simply because she fits into the mainstream of her party on abortion and other social issues.

Hard as it is for some pundits to admit, a good speech is sometimes just a stepping-stone to nothing other than opportunities to give other good speeches. While I was no fan of many of her policies at the State Department, Rice is a star and the Republicans are lucky to have her on their side. But it’s difficult to see any realistic scenario in which she can be said to have a political future.

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Fact-Checkers Wrong on Ryan GM Claim

The Associated Press and other fact-checkers are insisting that the line about the Janesville GM factory in Paul Ryan’s speech last night was inaccurate — and once again, the fact-checkers are wrong. Here’s the AP’s allegation against Ryan:

RYAN: Said Obama misled people in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wis., by making them think a General Motors plant there threatened with closure could be saved. “A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year.”

THE FACTS: The plant halted production in December 2008, weeks before Obama took office and well before he enacted a more robust auto industry bailout that rescued GM and Chrysler and allowed the majority of their plants — though not the Janesville facility — to stay in operation. Ryan himself voted for an auto bailout under President George W. Bush that was designed to help GM, but he was a vocal critic of the one pushed through by Obama that has been widely credited with revitalizing both GM and Chrysler.

The AP might want to check back on its own reporting on the plant closure, starting with this article from April 19, 2009, headlined “GM plant in Janesville to close for good this week”:

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The Associated Press and other fact-checkers are insisting that the line about the Janesville GM factory in Paul Ryan’s speech last night was inaccurate — and once again, the fact-checkers are wrong. Here’s the AP’s allegation against Ryan:

RYAN: Said Obama misled people in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wis., by making them think a General Motors plant there threatened with closure could be saved. “A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year.”

THE FACTS: The plant halted production in December 2008, weeks before Obama took office and well before he enacted a more robust auto industry bailout that rescued GM and Chrysler and allowed the majority of their plants — though not the Janesville facility — to stay in operation. Ryan himself voted for an auto bailout under President George W. Bush that was designed to help GM, but he was a vocal critic of the one pushed through by Obama that has been widely credited with revitalizing both GM and Chrysler.

The AP might want to check back on its own reporting on the plant closure, starting with this article from April 19, 2009, headlined “GM plant in Janesville to close for good this week”:

Production at the General Motors plant in Janesville is scheduled to end for good this week.

GM spokesman Christopher Lee says operations at the southern Wisconsin plant will cease Thursday.

About 1,200 employees were let go just before Christmas when GM ended SUV production at the plant.

Some 100 workers were retained to finish an order of small- to medium-duty trucks for Isuzu Motors Ltd.

Lee says most of those workers will be laid off Thursday. He says others will be kept on to help guide the plant’s shutdown.

The Janesville plant ended its SUV production line and laid off over 1,000 workers in December 2008, but the plant didn’t officially close. It continued to churn out an order of Isuzu trucks until April 2009, while the local union lobbied GM for a lifeline. In May, GM put the plant onto standby, meaning that it wasn’t completely shutting the door on it. There was some hope the plant would be able to resume production — and Wisconsin’s bipartisan congressional delegation, including Paul Ryan, scrambled to find a way to keep it alive — but it never happened.

To simply say that the plant “halted production” in December 2008, like AP does, is both inaccurate and misleading. It was more complicated than that. If the media wants to criticize Ryan for not being “nuanced” enough and failing to praise Obama for brilliantly saving GM, that’s fine. But Ryan’s comments weren’t inaccurate.

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