Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 15, 2012

Can Obama Admit Iran Diplomacy Failed?

Earlier this week White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the administration’s mantra about Iran, saying there was still “time and space” for a diplomatic solution to be found to resolve the impasse over its nuclear threat. While no one, not even the president’s loyalists actually believe there is even the slightest hope for diplomacy or sanctions to work, the White House is publicly clinging to this position since the alternative is unthinkable. By that I don’t refer to how unthinkable it would be for the future of the world for the ayatollahs to get their hands on a nuclear weapon. From the point of view of the administration, what is truly unthinkable is the prospect of being forced to admit that it has been wrong all along about Iran and must change course in order to avoid a catastrophe.

The spectacle of the administration standing by its determination to keep talking with Iran long after Tehran effectively scuttled the P5+1 nuclear talks has to be discouraging to Israel’s government and can, in no small measure, be the reason why the Jewish state seems to be bubbling over with speculation about an attack on Iran sometime before the U.S. presidential election. With even U.S. intelligence now finally admitting that Iran is working on a bomb and with the Islamist regime making it clear it has no interest in agreeing to a compromise agreement on the issue, those trusted with defending Israel’s existence may be rapidly coming to the conclusion that they have no alternative but to strike soon before it is too late. Though foreign policy realists and other Israel critics are denouncing the Israeli threats, the only way to convince Jerusalem to stand down and follow America’s lead is for President Obama to start speaking honestly about the failure of his belated attempt to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambition. In the absence of such honesty, there is little reason for Prime Minister Netanyahu to go on waiting until the danger cannot be averted.

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Earlier this week White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the administration’s mantra about Iran, saying there was still “time and space” for a diplomatic solution to be found to resolve the impasse over its nuclear threat. While no one, not even the president’s loyalists actually believe there is even the slightest hope for diplomacy or sanctions to work, the White House is publicly clinging to this position since the alternative is unthinkable. By that I don’t refer to how unthinkable it would be for the future of the world for the ayatollahs to get their hands on a nuclear weapon. From the point of view of the administration, what is truly unthinkable is the prospect of being forced to admit that it has been wrong all along about Iran and must change course in order to avoid a catastrophe.

The spectacle of the administration standing by its determination to keep talking with Iran long after Tehran effectively scuttled the P5+1 nuclear talks has to be discouraging to Israel’s government and can, in no small measure, be the reason why the Jewish state seems to be bubbling over with speculation about an attack on Iran sometime before the U.S. presidential election. With even U.S. intelligence now finally admitting that Iran is working on a bomb and with the Islamist regime making it clear it has no interest in agreeing to a compromise agreement on the issue, those trusted with defending Israel’s existence may be rapidly coming to the conclusion that they have no alternative but to strike soon before it is too late. Though foreign policy realists and other Israel critics are denouncing the Israeli threats, the only way to convince Jerusalem to stand down and follow America’s lead is for President Obama to start speaking honestly about the failure of his belated attempt to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambition. In the absence of such honesty, there is little reason for Prime Minister Netanyahu to go on waiting until the danger cannot be averted.

Israelis are understandably divided on the wisdom of acting on their own since they, and not the United States, would pay the highest price in terms of casualties and terror attacks that would likely follow a strike on Iran. Everyone, including Netanyahu’s critics and opponents of a unilateral strike, seem to agree that a U.S.-led action would be ideal. But the lack of confidence in the willingness of President Obama to act may leave Netanyahu and his cabinet no choice. Even after the issuing of a new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that is more realistic about the Iranian threat, the Americans are still acting as if they have all the time in the world to decide to do something about this peril. By contrast, the Israelis know that by next year, the Iranians may have refined more uranium and stored it in underground bunkers that may be impervious to Israel’s attack capabilities.

While reports about Israel telling the U.S. it needs to know by September 25 whether the U.S. will take action are unconfirmed, Netanyahu’s decision must be influenced by his confidence level in Obama’s willingness to take action. Should he wait until after November, it may turn out to be too late to make a difference. Even more worrisome is the notion that a re-elected Obama cannot be relied upon to make good on his promise to stop Iran.

Those who are calling on Israel to lower the temperature on the war talk are addressing their entreaties to the wrong capital. The only way to calm down Israel is for Barack Obama to start speaking the truth about Iran. Since there seems little chance of that happening, expect to hear even more talk of war emanating from Israel in the coming weeks and months.

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Media Decry Attacks From “Both Sides”

You have a Democratic campaign that’s painting its opponent as a felon, a tax-dodger, a dog-abuser, and a killer who will bring back slavery. On the other side, you have a Republican campaign that’s responding to these attacks as “hateful” and “inappropriate.” The media spin? Both sides need to tone down the “toxic rhetoric”:

“You thought last week was bad? Just when you thought last week’s third grade insults were as low as the campaign could go here, here we go again, the campaign has gotten even uglier,” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd said Wednesday. “It’s not faux outrage, it’s real outrage. Over the last 24 hours, the attacks from both sides have reached a new level of vitriol.”

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien said the campaigns struck a new note of negativity.

“Romney and Obama campaigns going on the offensive at the same time? What that means is nasty rhetoric, really nastier than ever,” she said this morning.

Seriously? Romney has basically stuck to attacks on Obama’s policy, it’s the Obama campaign that’s gone into the gutter. In fact, the only “negative” remarks from the Romney campaign cited in the Politico story were made in response to Democratic smears. Yes, Reince Priebus called Reid a liar — in response to Reid’s baseless accusations that Romney didn’t pay taxes for 10 years. The Washington Post gave Reid’s claim four Pinnochios, and Politifact rated it as “Pants on Fire.” Should they be criticized for toxic rhetoric as well?

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You have a Democratic campaign that’s painting its opponent as a felon, a tax-dodger, a dog-abuser, and a killer who will bring back slavery. On the other side, you have a Republican campaign that’s responding to these attacks as “hateful” and “inappropriate.” The media spin? Both sides need to tone down the “toxic rhetoric”:

“You thought last week was bad? Just when you thought last week’s third grade insults were as low as the campaign could go here, here we go again, the campaign has gotten even uglier,” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd said Wednesday. “It’s not faux outrage, it’s real outrage. Over the last 24 hours, the attacks from both sides have reached a new level of vitriol.”

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien said the campaigns struck a new note of negativity.

“Romney and Obama campaigns going on the offensive at the same time? What that means is nasty rhetoric, really nastier than ever,” she said this morning.

Seriously? Romney has basically stuck to attacks on Obama’s policy, it’s the Obama campaign that’s gone into the gutter. In fact, the only “negative” remarks from the Romney campaign cited in the Politico story were made in response to Democratic smears. Yes, Reince Priebus called Reid a liar — in response to Reid’s baseless accusations that Romney didn’t pay taxes for 10 years. The Washington Post gave Reid’s claim four Pinnochios, and Politifact rated it as “Pants on Fire.” Should they be criticized for toxic rhetoric as well?

But media figures who sold the public on the myth of Obama’s new, upbeat brand of politics back in 2008 apparently can’t admit that he’s the one spearheading the sleazy campaign tactics this time around. Hence, the more comfortable narrative that “both sides” are equally responsible for the negativity. Mark Halperin’s recommendation that Obama call Romney and propose a “truce” seems particularly unrealistic. How can anyone expect Obama to do this in good faith, after his campaign told Politico last year that it’s plan was to “destroy” Romney?

“Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney,” said a prominent Democratic strategist aligned with the White House.

The onslaught would have two aspects. The first is personal: Obama’s reelection campaign will portray the public Romney as inauthentic, unprincipled and, in a word used repeatedly by Obama’s advisers in about a dozen interviews, “weird. …

The second aspect of the campaign to define Romney is his record as CEO of Bain Capital, a venture capital firm that was responsible for both creating and eliminating jobs. Obama officials intend to frame Romney as the very picture of greed in the great recession — a sort of political Gordon Gekko.

Why should it be a surprise that the Obama campaign is doing precisely what it said it was going to do?

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Will the Left Pause After DC Shooting?

After virtually every shooting attack in which a gunman took the lives of innocents in this country, the instinct of the mainstream media and the liberal chattering classes has always been to look for a reason to blame conservatives. Whether it was the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords or the Aurora, Colorado movie theater tragedy, the initial assumption by many has been that the violence was the result of incitement or direct involvement by members of the Tea Party movement or other conservative groups. In each instance, the accusations or insinuations have had to be quickly, though often grudgingly, withdrawn when the shooter turned out to be either mentally deranged or devoid of political intent. That leaves us wondering what those who have been so quick to use these tragedies as political soapboxes to denounce conservatives or to promote liberal patent nostrums will say after today’s incident in Washington.

Only the heroism of a security guard who was wounded prevented the shooting attack at the Family Research Council, a Washington think tank devoted to promoting social conservatism, from turning into a massacre. The shooter who barged into the group’s headquarters expressed disagreement with their policies and began shooting. Fortunately, the guard was able to disarm the perpetrator before he could do more harm. His avowal to police that he was there to oppose the FRC’s stands makes it clear that this is an open and shut case of domestic terrorism. The fact that he was carrying a bag from a Chick-fil-A restaurant — the chain that has come under intense fire from left-wingers because of its founder’s public opposition to gay marriage — should cause those who have been working overtime to demonize conservatives to do the same sort of soul-searching liberals ask the right to perform because of gun violence.

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After virtually every shooting attack in which a gunman took the lives of innocents in this country, the instinct of the mainstream media and the liberal chattering classes has always been to look for a reason to blame conservatives. Whether it was the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords or the Aurora, Colorado movie theater tragedy, the initial assumption by many has been that the violence was the result of incitement or direct involvement by members of the Tea Party movement or other conservative groups. In each instance, the accusations or insinuations have had to be quickly, though often grudgingly, withdrawn when the shooter turned out to be either mentally deranged or devoid of political intent. That leaves us wondering what those who have been so quick to use these tragedies as political soapboxes to denounce conservatives or to promote liberal patent nostrums will say after today’s incident in Washington.

Only the heroism of a security guard who was wounded prevented the shooting attack at the Family Research Council, a Washington think tank devoted to promoting social conservatism, from turning into a massacre. The shooter who barged into the group’s headquarters expressed disagreement with their policies and began shooting. Fortunately, the guard was able to disarm the perpetrator before he could do more harm. His avowal to police that he was there to oppose the FRC’s stands makes it clear that this is an open and shut case of domestic terrorism. The fact that he was carrying a bag from a Chick-fil-A restaurant — the chain that has come under intense fire from left-wingers because of its founder’s public opposition to gay marriage — should cause those who have been working overtime to demonize conservatives to do the same sort of soul-searching liberals ask the right to perform because of gun violence.

Let’s specify that blaming the act of this individual on those activists and writers who have publicly opposed the Family Research Council’s stands is simply wrong. Debate is integral to democracy and it is just as much of a mistake to blame all liberals for the violence of a single leftist as it is to blame all on the right for anything done in their name but without their consent.

But liberals who have often jumped to the conclusion that all Tea Partiers are violent racists because of stray comments from extremists need to remember that such tactics cut both ways. Those who have repeatedly cautioned conservatives to mind their tongues and be careful about using language that would delegitimize their opponents now must think about what they have been saying in recent weeks and months about the so-called “war on women” or supporters of Chick-fil-A. If they thought violent rhetoric emanating from the right was a problem that could be linked to violence, then they must understand that incitement against conservatives is just as noxious. That is all the more true because almost all of the accusations of right-wing involvement in violence have been proven false while the Washington gunman’s statements make it clear that he was motivated by left-wing politics.

Civility is important and the need to speak with respect for one’s opponents and their positions is a lesson that both sides of our great political divide should heed. But as we learned today, it is not one that should be limited to just the right.

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Romney Making Inroads with Youth Vote?

That’s according to the latest Zogby poll, which found Romney topping 40 percent with young voters for the first time since the race began. Meanwhile, Obama’s youth support still lags far behind 2008-levels. The Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard reports:

For the first time since he began running for president, Republican Mitt Romney has the support of over 40 percent of America’s youth vote, a troubling sign for President Obama who built his 2008 victory with the overwhelming support of younger, idealistic voters. …

In his latest poll, Obama receives just 49 percent of the youth vote when pitted against Romney, who received 41 percent. In another question, the independent candidacy of Gary Johnson is included, and here Obama wins 50 percent, Romney 38 percent and Johnson 5 percent.

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That’s according to the latest Zogby poll, which found Romney topping 40 percent with young voters for the first time since the race began. Meanwhile, Obama’s youth support still lags far behind 2008-levels. The Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard reports:

For the first time since he began running for president, Republican Mitt Romney has the support of over 40 percent of America’s youth vote, a troubling sign for President Obama who built his 2008 victory with the overwhelming support of younger, idealistic voters. …

In his latest poll, Obama receives just 49 percent of the youth vote when pitted against Romney, who received 41 percent. In another question, the independent candidacy of Gary Johnson is included, and here Obama wins 50 percent, Romney 38 percent and Johnson 5 percent.

Zogby wonders whether Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan could be boosting him with young voters. At the very least, it probably helps that Ryan breaks the mold of the media’s Republican stereotype. He’s young, has new ideas, and has (so far) avoided the third-rail social issues. Most young people also aren’t likely to be swayed by the Democratic Party’s Mediscare tactics. If anything, they’re probably more open than most groups to new ideas for Medicare and Social Security reform.

There’s also the jobs factor. Recent college graduates have been hit hard by the economic downturn, and they count jobs and the economy as two of their top election priorities. Their frustration with the slow recovery could be a major reason for the shift away from Obama.

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Democrats’ Convention of Hypocrisy

The “hope and change” mantra that lifted Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008 raised unrealistic assumptions about his administration that were bound to be debunked after a few years in office. That’s why his re-election campaign strategy is based on demonizing his opponents rather than running on a record of all the “change” he effected. Yet there are some vestiges of the messianic tone of his 2008 run that remain, and one of them is a ban on corporate sponsors at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. The ban is a holdover from the rhetoric of four years ago that asserted the Obama candidacy would bring an end to the way lobbyists and big business attempt to influence politics. This was a joke even four years ago as the Democrat raked in record contributions from Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street titans and corporate giants. But the 2012 convention in Charlotte will be free of such sponsors, allowing the Democrats to claim they are faithful to their ideals.

However, as the New York Times reports today, the leading local booster and organizer of the Charlotte convention just happens to be the CEO of the nation’s largest energy company, which has been a major beneficiary of the president’s trillion-dollar stimulus boondoggle. Duke Energy CEO James E. Rogers claims that he and his company are going all out to help the Democratic jamboree as a matter of local pride. But the company’s costly contributions to the event have raised serious issues about the way it stands to benefit from Obama’s policies, making a mockery of the Democrats’ pose as the opponents of corporate influence. Rather than a tribute to the party’s stand against influence peddling, the lack of other corporate sponsors merely illustrates President Obama’s ongoing hypocrisy about big business and ethics.

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The “hope and change” mantra that lifted Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008 raised unrealistic assumptions about his administration that were bound to be debunked after a few years in office. That’s why his re-election campaign strategy is based on demonizing his opponents rather than running on a record of all the “change” he effected. Yet there are some vestiges of the messianic tone of his 2008 run that remain, and one of them is a ban on corporate sponsors at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. The ban is a holdover from the rhetoric of four years ago that asserted the Obama candidacy would bring an end to the way lobbyists and big business attempt to influence politics. This was a joke even four years ago as the Democrat raked in record contributions from Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street titans and corporate giants. But the 2012 convention in Charlotte will be free of such sponsors, allowing the Democrats to claim they are faithful to their ideals.

However, as the New York Times reports today, the leading local booster and organizer of the Charlotte convention just happens to be the CEO of the nation’s largest energy company, which has been a major beneficiary of the president’s trillion-dollar stimulus boondoggle. Duke Energy CEO James E. Rogers claims that he and his company are going all out to help the Democratic jamboree as a matter of local pride. But the company’s costly contributions to the event have raised serious issues about the way it stands to benefit from Obama’s policies, making a mockery of the Democrats’ pose as the opponents of corporate influence. Rather than a tribute to the party’s stand against influence peddling, the lack of other corporate sponsors merely illustrates President Obama’s ongoing hypocrisy about big business and ethics.

Rogers is under fire not so much for the way he has used his perch at the company to help raise money for the Democrats as the manner in which Duke Energy has donated office space and guaranteed a loan to enable the financing of the convention. While as the Times notes, the Democrats sent out a fundraising letter last year with Michelle Obama’s signature promising “a different convention for a different time,” the company’s outsized role as a sponsor combined with the fact that it received $226 million from the president’s stimulus and energy initiatives has exposed the Democrats to both mockery and legitimate complaints.

The problem here is not so much the obvious conflict of interest as Duke Energy, which stands to rake in even more presents from the government if Obama is re-elected, plays host in Charlotte. Rather it is the pretense that the Democrats are trying to cleanse the political system of the influence of money. Even many Democrats admit that it is not possible to eliminate corporate contributions to hold conventions and that the Republicans, who have no such faux restrictions, are being a lot more honest about it this year.

As President Obama has proved during his four years in office, his administration has broken new ground in crony capitalism as the stimulus and other measures poured money from government coffers into the pockets of companies like Solyndra that had a friend in the White House. It is not so much the spectacle of Democratic corruption that grates on the voters but the president’s pose of being above such petty concerns. Contrary to the way it is being sold to the public, the Democratic convention is a tribute to the venality of their candidate, not his ethics.

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Ignored GOP “Strategists” Vent to Media

The Wall Street Journal takes aim at the “bedwetter caucus,” its term for the anonymous “Republican strategists and campaign operatives” who were fretting over the Ryan pick in a Politico article yesterday:

Republicans who believe in something can console themselves in knowing that these “pros” are reflecting the Washington conventional wisdom. Nearly everyone in the Beltway thinks it’s impossible to reform entitlements like Medicare, and or even to restrain the size of government, so why would a candidate be foolish enough to try?

This crowd is good at forecasting the political future as a repetition of the past and present, but as Irving Kristol used to say, they aren’t very good at predicting the turns. We’ll see if this year is one of those turns.

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The Wall Street Journal takes aim at the “bedwetter caucus,” its term for the anonymous “Republican strategists and campaign operatives” who were fretting over the Ryan pick in a Politico article yesterday:

Republicans who believe in something can console themselves in knowing that these “pros” are reflecting the Washington conventional wisdom. Nearly everyone in the Beltway thinks it’s impossible to reform entitlements like Medicare, and or even to restrain the size of government, so why would a candidate be foolish enough to try?

This crowd is good at forecasting the political future as a repetition of the past and present, but as Irving Kristol used to say, they aren’t very good at predicting the turns. We’ll see if this year is one of those turns.

I’d also add that stories like the one in Politico are a hallmark of Washington. After any major political decision, there’s always a losing side, and the losing side is almost always willing to talk. Obviously not every Republican “strategist” (a ridiculously vague term that could encompass half the city) in Washington supported Paul Ryan for VP. Some actively supported other VP options, and believed their favored candidate was the smartest choice for whatever reason. So they spilled their guts to Politico when someone else was chosen. You can bet some version of this story would have run no matter who Romney picked, just with different sources voicing slightly different complaints.

In a way, this is good for Romney. He’s been criticized as a play-it-safe candidate without a political core, who bases his decisions on what the latest polls say. Even if it just looks like he’s going against “conventional wisdom” in Washington, that can only help his image.

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Democrat Ploy Fails as PA Voter ID Upheld

Democrats who have been leading a campaign against voter ID laws had their sights set on Pennsylvania, where they felt they had a good chance to have legislation passed last year thrown out by the courts. Liberal activists held rallies in Philadelphia and have been asserting that the bill approved by the Republican-controlled legislature is nothing more than a recycled “Jim Crow” law. But the attempt to trash the Keystone State’s voter ID requirement failed today when a Commonwealth Court judge in the state capital threw out the challenge. Judge Robert E. Simpson, Jr. issued a 70-page decision this morning in Harrisburg that stated the plaintiffs failed to prove their case that asking voters to identify themselves with a government-issued photo card would mean disenfranchisement and therefore denied an injunction that would have meant the law could not be enforced this year.

Simpson ruled that the voter ID opponents had not established that “disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable” and also made clear that trashing the law less than 90 days from the election would throw a monkey wrench into the state’s election system. While he expressed sympathy with those who said they would be prevented from voting, the voter ID law was constitutional. The decision creates a problem for state Democrats who have been counting on the courts to strike down the law and therefore absolve them from the task of seeing that their voters are legally registered and have proper identification when they go to the polls in November. Though liberals around the country have accused Pennsylvania Republicans of trying to steal the presidential election via the voter ID law, the law’s survival now puts the onus on the Democrats to mobilize their base without resorting to any of the tricks that helped the GOP pass the bill in the first place.

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Democrats who have been leading a campaign against voter ID laws had their sights set on Pennsylvania, where they felt they had a good chance to have legislation passed last year thrown out by the courts. Liberal activists held rallies in Philadelphia and have been asserting that the bill approved by the Republican-controlled legislature is nothing more than a recycled “Jim Crow” law. But the attempt to trash the Keystone State’s voter ID requirement failed today when a Commonwealth Court judge in the state capital threw out the challenge. Judge Robert E. Simpson, Jr. issued a 70-page decision this morning in Harrisburg that stated the plaintiffs failed to prove their case that asking voters to identify themselves with a government-issued photo card would mean disenfranchisement and therefore denied an injunction that would have meant the law could not be enforced this year.

Simpson ruled that the voter ID opponents had not established that “disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable” and also made clear that trashing the law less than 90 days from the election would throw a monkey wrench into the state’s election system. While he expressed sympathy with those who said they would be prevented from voting, the voter ID law was constitutional. The decision creates a problem for state Democrats who have been counting on the courts to strike down the law and therefore absolve them from the task of seeing that their voters are legally registered and have proper identification when they go to the polls in November. Though liberals around the country have accused Pennsylvania Republicans of trying to steal the presidential election via the voter ID law, the law’s survival now puts the onus on the Democrats to mobilize their base without resorting to any of the tricks that helped the GOP pass the bill in the first place.

Mike Turzai, the Republican Majority Leader of the state’s House of Representatives, was lambasted for saying that the law would ensure that Mitt Romney would win in Pennsylvania this fall. This was taken as an indication that the GOP’s goal was voter suppression. But though the national media continues to insist that there is no such thing as voter fraud, voter ID was passed in Pennsylvania because of a widespread belief that cheating was merely business as usual in Philadelphia. The state’s largest city routinely produces big majorities for the Democrats but the fact that some election districts in the city have been known to produce result that tallied more than 100 percent of the number of registered voters fostered suspicions about how such a feat could be achieved without fraud.

The plaintiffs thought the story of 93-year-old Vivian Applewhite would sway the judge, but it didn’t work. Applewhite, who marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr., is a sympathetic figure. She doesn’t have a drivers’ license and says the state has lost her birth certificate and therefore wasn’t able to get the free ID card Pennsylvania is offering non-drivers. But the state can find ways to accommodate her and other exceptional cases without trashing a law that most voters believe is mere common sense. As I wrote yesterday, it was no surprise to learn via a Washington Post poll that nearly three-quarters of Americans support voter ID laws.

The answer to worries about voter turnout is for the parties and the state to increase efforts to register voters. The “Jim Crow” canard is based on the false assumption that minorities aren’t up to dealing with the same burden of registering and obtaining an identification card as well as everyone else. The court rightly said this assertion is unproved and that the NAACP and other plaintiffs are unlikely to prevail in a full trial. The Supreme Court has already ruled that asking voters to prove their identity is both reasonable and constitutional. There were no grounds for Simpson to tell the state to return to a situation where anyone can simply show up and vote without being able to prove their identity or even their citizenship.

This means that instead of raising bogus claims of racism, Pennsylvania Democrats will have to attempt the more difficult job of seeing that their supporters are registered. It may well be that Turzai’s optimism about the Republicans chances of taking the state in November was unfounded. But if the Democrats win this time, they will have to do it by playing by the rules.

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The Choice Voters Wanted

There are moments in political punditry when it’s clear the so-called experts are anything but. This seems to be the case with what was by far the most common analysis of Paul Ryan’s selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate: pundits said it was a risk because the election would no longer be simply a referendum on an unpopular incumbent. But when you ask the voters about this, you get the opposite reaction. The Washington Post reports on its interviews with voters like Charles Bonuccelli:

“It’s not that I have an unfavorable impression of him. It’s that I have no impression of him,” he said. “You’re always kind of wondering, behind the facade, what are we going to get?”

The next day, he figured it out.

“This is a man who is to be taken at his word,” Bonuccelli said this week, after learning that Romney had chosen as his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), a man known for his laser focus on shrinking the government.

“The thing was that we didn’t understand who this guy [Romney] was — was he serious about these things? It was a confirmation that he is serious,” he added.

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There are moments in political punditry when it’s clear the so-called experts are anything but. This seems to be the case with what was by far the most common analysis of Paul Ryan’s selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate: pundits said it was a risk because the election would no longer be simply a referendum on an unpopular incumbent. But when you ask the voters about this, you get the opposite reaction. The Washington Post reports on its interviews with voters like Charles Bonuccelli:

“It’s not that I have an unfavorable impression of him. It’s that I have no impression of him,” he said. “You’re always kind of wondering, behind the facade, what are we going to get?”

The next day, he figured it out.

“This is a man who is to be taken at his word,” Bonuccelli said this week, after learning that Romney had chosen as his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), a man known for his laser focus on shrinking the government.

“The thing was that we didn’t understand who this guy [Romney] was — was he serious about these things? It was a confirmation that he is serious,” he added.

The Post also quotes a voter named Mike Cunningham, to similar effect:

“We’ve already lived with four years of Obama. We already know what he’s about,” Cunningham said. “Romney keeps saying he’s from the business world. So now he needs to be more specific about what he can do, as a businessman, to turn around the economy.”

Several days later, he said that picking Ryan helped.

Contrary to fretting GOP insiders and countless “experts,” the voters don’t actually want a blank referendum on the president; they want to hear about an alternative vision for the country (smart voters!). Romney seems to have understood this better than most, and his campaign is making it an explicit theme. Here’s the Post reporting elsewhere on Paul Ryan’s campaign rally yesterday:

Paul Ryan on Tuesday rallied a raucous crowd of supporters at a high school here, making the case on his fourth day as Mitt Romney’s running mate that the GOP ticket is one of ideas, not just an alternative to President Obama.

“You see, we’re not going to go to people in this country and say, ‘The other guy is so bad that you have to vote for me by default,’” Ryan said in remarks at Palo Verde High School.

Voters also tend to respond to confidence, and this is a sure sign of it. The Romney-Ryan team has something to say beyond “Obama has failed.” Unlike those who didn’t want to roll the dice, voters don’t seem to think timidity is a virtue.

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Biden Won’t Back Down on “Chains” Gaffe

Joe Biden isn’t apologizing for his “chains” blunder yesterday, but he is trying to downplay it — a sign that the Obama campaign realizes how bad this looks:

Speaking in Wytheville, Va., late this afternoon, Biden hit back at the Romney camp’s claims that his comments were outrageous, saying, “If you want to know what’s outrageous, it’s their policies.” …

Biden continued: “And I’m told when I made that comment earlier today in Danville, Virginia, the Romney Campaign put out a Tweet, you know Tweets, and went on the air, went on the airwaves saying ‘Biden’s outrageous in saying that – I think I said, instead of unshackled, unchained or – anyway, outrageous to say that, that’s what we meant. I’m using their own words. I got a message for them, if you want to know want to know what’s outrageous, it’s their policies, and the effects of their policies on middle class America, that’s what’s outrageous.”

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Joe Biden isn’t apologizing for his “chains” blunder yesterday, but he is trying to downplay it — a sign that the Obama campaign realizes how bad this looks:

Speaking in Wytheville, Va., late this afternoon, Biden hit back at the Romney camp’s claims that his comments were outrageous, saying, “If you want to know what’s outrageous, it’s their policies.” …

Biden continued: “And I’m told when I made that comment earlier today in Danville, Virginia, the Romney Campaign put out a Tweet, you know Tweets, and went on the air, went on the airwaves saying ‘Biden’s outrageous in saying that – I think I said, instead of unshackled, unchained or – anyway, outrageous to say that, that’s what we meant. I’m using their own words. I got a message for them, if you want to know want to know what’s outrageous, it’s their policies, and the effects of their policies on middle class America, that’s what’s outrageous.”

Outrageous? Yes, that’s a fair description when a vice president tells a largely black audience that the GOP policies will “put y’all back in chains.” Biden is trying to defend this as another quote taken out of context, but once again the context is perfectly clear. MSNBC’s Willie Geist had a good take this morning (via Playbook), when he pointed out the media double standard for Biden:

“It has to be said that if Paul Ryan, the Republican candidate, said that to an African-American audience, there would be calls this morning for him to get out of the race, for Mitt Romney to withdraw from the race. There’s a double standard.”

The Romney campaign knows it’s being held to a different standard, which is why it’s not going to let Biden off the hook on this. At a campaign event yesterday, Romney called on Obama to take his campaign of “division and anger and hate” back to Chicago — powerful words that highlight the contrast between Obama’s Hope and Change rhetoric of 2008 and his overtly negative 2012 campaign.

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Obama Fails as Fundraiser in Chief Too

A first-term president running for re-election always has a certain time-deficit challenge to overcome–the president, unlike his opponent, has a job to do. Electioneering takes a backseat to being leader of the free world. The president’s opponent, if not currently in office himself, could theoretically spend all day, every day at rallies in swing states while the President remains in the Oval Office, making decisions that set the trajectory for the country. The president, at the very least, has the advantage of already appearing presidential.

At least, that’s how it used to be. Mother Jones reported yesterday that President Obama has attended more than 200 fundraisers since officially relaunching his reelection campaign in April of last year. “Put another way, that’s an average of one fundraiser roughly every 60 hours for Obama.”

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A first-term president running for re-election always has a certain time-deficit challenge to overcome–the president, unlike his opponent, has a job to do. Electioneering takes a backseat to being leader of the free world. The president’s opponent, if not currently in office himself, could theoretically spend all day, every day at rallies in swing states while the President remains in the Oval Office, making decisions that set the trajectory for the country. The president, at the very least, has the advantage of already appearing presidential.

At least, that’s how it used to be. Mother Jones reported yesterday that President Obama has attended more than 200 fundraisers since officially relaunching his reelection campaign in April of last year. “Put another way, that’s an average of one fundraiser roughly every 60 hours for Obama.”

Mother Jones blames the Citizens United decision for “forcing” the president to become the fundraiser in chief to fight against the tide of shadowy Republican money, despite the existence of his own Super PAC, flush with union and celebrity cash.

Initially, President Obama set a fundraising goal of $1 billion–a world record for any campaign, anywhere. It’s become clear after the first few quarters of reporting that the president will, barring unforeseen events, miss that mark.

Why has the president’s fundraising faltered despite his constant fundraiser attendance? Put simply: the thrill is gone. Even his own wife Michelle Obama was forced to admit her husband isn’t a superhero. This from the woman who four years ago stated that Barack Obama made her finally, at long last, proud of her country. How the mighty have fallen. But in this case, it was Obama who brought himself down to earth.

President Obama has eroded his own built-in advantage: He’s stopped appearing presidential. While finding time to attend a fundraiser every sixty hours, he has not submitted himself to questions from the press in eight weeks and counting. Priorities USA, his campaign’s super-PAC, has accused Mitt Romney of manslaughter and his vice president warned a large group of black supporters yesterday that the GOP wants to put them back in chains. And it’s only August.

As Alana pointed out yesterday, in the face of the selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate, the Democrats have proven they don’t want to make this an election of ideas, but rather of fear-mongering. Voters, and potential donors, have noticed. The president’s campaigning strategy may improve his polling numbers in the short term every time they warn that Republicans are going to take away “rights” like birth control and collective bargaining, but it doesn’t inspire the hope that his 2008 campaign did. That hope energized donors (and perhaps voters) who will be sitting this election out.

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Whose Anti-Semitic Dog Whistling Now?

Democrats have spent the last few days happily beginning their effort to demonize Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. But yesterday, Ryan’s appearance at a Las Vegas gathering of GOP donors gave the left a chance to tie him to the man they really hate: billionaire philanthropist and political donor Sheldon Adelson. Adelson’s well publicized donations to first Newt Gingrich and now Mitt Romney have enraged liberals who think there’s something shady about a billionaire donating money to promote political causes as long as his name isn’t Soros and the ideas he supports aren’t liberal.

That rather unexceptional meeting between a candidate and his party’s donors was detailed in an article in the New York Times that rightly pointed out that it was likely that Adelson and other leading GOP givers probably wanted a chance to ask some questions about Ryan’s views on foreign policy and his stands on Israel. There’s little doubt that Adelson was probably satisfied with what he heard since although Ryan’s main focus is the economy and the budget, he’s also a strong supporter of the Jewish state. But the chance to link the left’s new favorite Republican demon to their old standby Adelson was irresistible. And as Ben Shapiro reported on Breitbart.com, Democrats were quick to make an issue of the meeting. The Obama campaign’s Julianna Smoot sent out an email blast saying Ryan was “making a pilgrimage” to the country’s sin capital to “kiss the ring” of Adelson. While both Ryan and Adelson are fair game for political criticism, the sort of imagery used in the email is a not too sublet attempt to use religious imagery that would depict the very Catholic Ryan as paying obeisance to a man who is a Jewish piñata for leftist attacks on the pro-Israel community. This is a classic anti-Semitic dog whistle signaling voters that Ryan is in the thrall of the “Israel Lobby.”

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Democrats have spent the last few days happily beginning their effort to demonize Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. But yesterday, Ryan’s appearance at a Las Vegas gathering of GOP donors gave the left a chance to tie him to the man they really hate: billionaire philanthropist and political donor Sheldon Adelson. Adelson’s well publicized donations to first Newt Gingrich and now Mitt Romney have enraged liberals who think there’s something shady about a billionaire donating money to promote political causes as long as his name isn’t Soros and the ideas he supports aren’t liberal.

That rather unexceptional meeting between a candidate and his party’s donors was detailed in an article in the New York Times that rightly pointed out that it was likely that Adelson and other leading GOP givers probably wanted a chance to ask some questions about Ryan’s views on foreign policy and his stands on Israel. There’s little doubt that Adelson was probably satisfied with what he heard since although Ryan’s main focus is the economy and the budget, he’s also a strong supporter of the Jewish state. But the chance to link the left’s new favorite Republican demon to their old standby Adelson was irresistible. And as Ben Shapiro reported on Breitbart.com, Democrats were quick to make an issue of the meeting. The Obama campaign’s Julianna Smoot sent out an email blast saying Ryan was “making a pilgrimage” to the country’s sin capital to “kiss the ring” of Adelson. While both Ryan and Adelson are fair game for political criticism, the sort of imagery used in the email is a not too sublet attempt to use religious imagery that would depict the very Catholic Ryan as paying obeisance to a man who is a Jewish piñata for leftist attacks on the pro-Israel community. This is a classic anti-Semitic dog whistle signaling voters that Ryan is in the thrall of the “Israel Lobby.”

Ironically, most of the accusations about such nasty tactics have been directed at the GOP. Earlier this year, Gal Beckerman at the Forward made the eccentric argument that Newt Gingrich’s attempts to tie President Obama to the legacy of leftist ideologue Saul Alinsky was, “an anti-Semitic dog whistle” intended to besmirch the Democrat as somehow the tool of a Jew with, “an obviously Jewish, foreign sounding name.” Given the fact that Gingrich is widely acknowledged, even by those who disagree with his politics, to be philo-Semitic and a staunch backer of Israel, this was absurd, especially since the evangelical base of the Republican Party today is equally friendly to Jews and Israel.

But it’s not clear that liberals who are rightly worried about anything that seems vaguely anti-Semitic will be as concerned about such things as long as the whistles are sent in the direction of Gingrich’s buddy Sheldon Adelson or Ryan.

Adelson’s gambling empire makes him an easy target for all sorts of criticism, some of it perhaps legitimate though much of the focus on his dealings in China is, as I wrote yesterday, more the function of his political prominence than about his business practices. But those who worry about the intent of those who would link President Obama to someone with “an obviously Jewish, foreign sounding name,” need to be equally vigilant about the way Democrats invoke the specter of Adelson.

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Selective “Theocracy” from the Left

Liberals who object to conservatives offering faith-based justifications for public policy proposals often do so under the guise of saving the country from a “theocracy.” It’s become increasingly clear, however, that many of these liberals object to a certain kind of religious governance, but in fact have their own version in mind.

The latest such example comes from Time’s Erika Christakis, who suggests that Paul Ryan’s budget—get ready to hear more of this—is “un-Christian” because “Jesus would advocate a tax rate somewhere between 50% (in the vein of ‘if you have two coats, give one to the man who has none’) and 100%.” Does this mean Christakis supports using Christian teachings as the basis for legislation? No, of course not. Here’s Christakis from February on the contraception controversy (emphasis mine):

People who cry moral indignation about government-mandated contraception coverage appear unwilling to concede that the exercise of their deeply held convictions might infringe on the rights of millions of people who are burdened by unplanned pregnancy or want to reduce abortion or would like to see their tax dollars committed to a different purpose.

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Liberals who object to conservatives offering faith-based justifications for public policy proposals often do so under the guise of saving the country from a “theocracy.” It’s become increasingly clear, however, that many of these liberals object to a certain kind of religious governance, but in fact have their own version in mind.

The latest such example comes from Time’s Erika Christakis, who suggests that Paul Ryan’s budget—get ready to hear more of this—is “un-Christian” because “Jesus would advocate a tax rate somewhere between 50% (in the vein of ‘if you have two coats, give one to the man who has none’) and 100%.” Does this mean Christakis supports using Christian teachings as the basis for legislation? No, of course not. Here’s Christakis from February on the contraception controversy (emphasis mine):

People who cry moral indignation about government-mandated contraception coverage appear unwilling to concede that the exercise of their deeply held convictions might infringe on the rights of millions of people who are burdened by unplanned pregnancy or want to reduce abortion or would like to see their tax dollars committed to a different purpose.

Well that would seem to absolve Ryan’s budget, no matter which way you slice it. Christakis thinks simply preferring your tax dollars be spent elsewhere is reason enough to ignore Judea-Christian precepts. Christakis is certainly entitled to think this way, but it makes her attack on Paul Ryan comically hypocritical.

I can’t delve too much into Christian theology, but I can say that we have this debate within the Jewish community as well. And the politically conservative among us are also treated to the same double standard Christakis employs against Ryan. Here, for example, is the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s David Saperstein warning elected officials not to make religious observance the foundation of their policy prescriptions, lest they deliver us unto a “theocracy.” And here is the very same Saperstein arguing that “Jewish tradition” and Midrash compelled us to pass the 2008 farm bill over President Bush’s objection.

But back to Ryan, because we’ll be hearing a lot more about his values, as the left interprets them, as this election rolls along. A very interesting example came about this week when Aaron Goldstein of the American Spectator asked why the media insists on analyzing the influence of Atlas Shrugged author and libertarian thinker Ayn Rand on Ryan, yet continue to display an utter lack of interest in President Obama’s intellectual influences, like Saul Alinsky or Rashid Khalidi. Dave Weigel makes a sharp observation in response, noting that one reason has to do with how severely Ryan’s Catholic faith clashes with Rand’s Objectivist philosophy. Indeed it does—and Rand’s worldview clashes with Judaism as well (and organized religion in general). I would also note that Rand’s poisonous Objectivism is wholly incompatible with conservatism as well, to the extent that it would be difficult for the two to thrive in the same space.

But of course there are worthwhile philosophical lessons within Rand’s books, and it should be easy enough to differentiate between those lessons and an unqualified acceptance of every utterance and thought of the author. Ryan should have no trouble explaining that, just as he should have no trouble, should he choose to respond to critics like Christakis, explaining the difference between charity and state-enforced confiscatory taxation.

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